Birmingham’s natural state was grey, dim, and melancholic. It hadn’t been long since the Changretta’s had shot John Shelby cold. Their kill count was now at two, the first one unintentional.
‘Remember Angel Changretta.’
‘Remember Vicente Changretta.’
They killed his family. They murdered his brother in cold blood and possibly tortured his father before they took him too. Luca Changretta was filled with rage. But a call early that morning from a member of the Peaky Blinders gave him information that made him see red all over again.
“Mr. Changretta, the Peaky Blinders know the location of your mother and sisters, they will not hesitate to go overseas and murder them. Mr. Shelby will be at Shelby Company Limited with a response at noon tomorrow.” The caller hung up then, giving no chance for an exchange of words, but Luca didn’t have much to say as he clenched his fists, setting the telephone back done on the receiver. He bit down hard on his teeth trying to compose himself. The Cosa Nostra would keep his family safe in Manhattan but the thought of Tommy Shelby and his family knowing where his mother and sisters lived shook him up. There was no way in hell that he would let it get this far. He would not let the Peaky Blinders step on American soil.
Luca began to pace his hotel room. It was guarded by the men Don Spinietta had let him bring along to complete the vendetta. Don Cristofano Spinietta was completely on Luca’s side, if he didn’t have to deal with the Cubans in Manhattan then he would have been right there with Luca to take down the Shelby clan. But Luca was here without him, with two of his cousins and a handful of soldiers left after chaos had ensued when they were meant to kill Michael in his hospital bed. He couldn’t successfully attack anyone at this point for at least another week. The only way to go into any combat was with hired soldiers and that wasn’t Luca’s style or anyone in the Sicilian Mafia.
Luca thought to himself for hours locked up in his hotel room. If he went to Shelby Company Limited tomorrow it could mean his death. But it was too easy and he had spoken to Tommy long enough now to know he wasn’t a man to take the easy path. Luca settled down into a chair a sigh escaping his mouth. He convinced himself that going to Shelby Company Limited tomorrow was his best bet to keep his mother and sisters safe. He truly hoped it was.
Luca was armed, one gun strapped to his left side and another on his right, concealed by his tailored coat. He had looked over all his documents on the Shelby family before he had arrived. He wasn’t planning to see Tommy Shelby unprepared. He walked into the building a stoic look on his face, there was a confident swagger in his step. What was left of his men were waiting for him outside ready to drop some kind of bomb if Luca didn’t return.
Tommy was already in the room waiting for him. Tommy was sitting at the end of the long table in a meeting room, he was lounging lazily in the chair as if his brother hadn’t just almost died a few days ago. He had a cigarette in his fingers, he placed it to his mouth as Luca moved to sit down at the end of the table. He took a long drag before he began to speak to Luca.
“Smart man,” Tommy Shelby started. There was arrogance in his tone and Luca wanted to lunge himself from the table to punch the smug look off of Tommy’s face. But he didn’t, Luca placed a toothpick between his teeth and let Tommy continue. “It’s five for two now and I don’t think you’d want to make it six, am I right?”
“What makes you so confident?” Luca chuckled. It was strange sound in the atmosphere. “You wouldn’t have called me here otherwise” Luca took the toothpick away from his lips and looked at Tommy carefully. Luca smirked as he realized what Tommy wanted, it was almost too good to be true. Thoughts began to pile up in Luca’s head, trying to think of the best outcome for himself and his family. “What do you want, Mr. Shelby?”
“An alliance,” Tommy tapped his cigarette against the ashtray and leaned into the table. His hands clasped together as if he were now planning to start the meeting officially.
“I’m asking you what do you want?” Luca’s hand was in front of him his fingertips touching each other and pointing to the ceiling as he waved it back and forth. Luca had no patience for Tommy’s vague answers.
“A blood alliance, marriage” Tommy stood up from his chair and moved to the corner of the room to pour himself a glass of whiskey. He offered Luca some, but Luca declined with the slight nod of his head. “We both know we can’t afford to lose any more family. You have your affairs in New York and I have mine here. I propose marriage.” Luca exposed a crooked smile as he placed his toothpick back between his teeth.
“You expect me to give you my baby sister.” It sounded like a joke to Luca, he couldn’t take him seriously. “I respect her too much to give her to a man who already has a child and you have a woman don’t you? The one you killed my brother over.” Luca was unamused as his expression became hostile again. Luca shook his head, he couldn’t believe Tommy had the audacity to ask for his sister.
“Michael is unmarried and would be safer for her.” Tommy’s expression was as blank as always, he wasn’t showing all his cards. Luca knew that for sure, he had done all the research.
“Why don’t you give me your sister?” Luca had only said it to mock him, but Tommy returned with seriousness. Luca couldn’t believe it, but it really seemed like the only way out before someone else died, the next one could be him, right there in the meeting room in Shelby Company Limited.
“Ada would never agree to it. I’m sure you know she has a child too” Tommy looked away from Luca and stared at the wall.
“You have another sister, Mr. Shelby” Luca had only mentioned it to bother him and Tommy’s reaction was what he wanted. Tommy turned his head away from the wall quickly, looking sternly at Luca.
“No, that’s not happening” Luca had struck a chord in Tommy.
“I’m not here to play games.” Luca took the toothpick he had been holding with his teeth out of his mouth to give Tommy a menacing look, the look that meant ‘business’. Tommy was quiet for several minutes as he paced his end of the room, his thumb rubbing his chin as an annoyed expression crossed his face.
“Fine. But– But I can’t give you an answer right now. You have to meet her first. You might not like her.” Tommy was waving his finger in the air but it didn’t seem to be directed at Luca. Luca smirked in response. “Tomorrow, same time, Mr. Changretta.” Tommy walked the length of the room to the door, leaving Luca alone to his thoughts. Luca had no idea what he had just gotten himself into.
Luca had been looking at the Shelby files for hours. He had no idea if he had made the right choice. He knew that a marriage between the Changretta’s and Shelby’s would create peace, but marriage was important to any Italian man. Was he going to live a miserable life if he married the youngest Shelby girl or would she be miserable with him? He sighed audibly at the small table in his hotel room. He was looking at her file. It was as empty as her younger brother’s, no birth record, no hospital record, no church record, a short education and a few photographs and that was it. It was as if she was a ghost, never truly existing always shielded by the rest of the Shelby’s. Luca looked at the photographs. One was a government-issued photograph, she looked about ten years old. She was visibly upset, her wavy hair reached past her shoulders, and though the photograph was sepia-toned Luca could tell that she had the same shade of frightening blue eyes as her brother Tommy. The other photographs were taken by hired men and they were difficult to come by. One of them was of her and her sister Ada leaving a shop, her hair was much longer reaching the middle of her back. She was about the same height as her sister, but it was hard to tell as they were both wearing heeled shoes. The last photo was of her in a motor car with her cousin Michael, she was upset in the photo as well. He couldn’t fully grasp her features even with the photographs in front of them. None of them were directly on her face.
Luca leaned his head back, he had to call Don Spinietta and his mother. He couldn’t continue on this path of marriage until he discussed it with the Don, and he already knew his mother would be distraught with this new information.
Don Spinietta was unsure of the offer at the beginning but if Luca was to marry the girl and bring her to Manhattan as soon as possible it would all be in their favour. Luca was needed in Manhattan, he knew that and his Don had been gracious enough to let him carry out the vendetta while he was a wanted man in America. His name had already been cleared by the Don’s consigliere while he was in Birmingham, and they were just waiting for his return. There would be no more bank robberies in his future, he was the underboss now after all. Spinietta gave his blessing on the marriage as long as they were to marry in Manhattan for the five families to witness. Luca had made up his mind now. He was going to marry that girl, he was going to keep his mother and sisters alive, and marry this ghost girl.
Audrey had been hysterical over the phone. She had asked Luca a million times over in the short period they were on the phone if he had gone mad. Luca’s mother hated the idea of her firstborn son marrying the sister of the men who killed her precious son, Angel, and her beloved husband, Vicente. It took awhile for her to calm down over the phone but when she did, she asked him if he was sure. It was he who was going to have to live the rest of his days with a woman he did not even know. She tried all she could to change his mind, to settle the vendetta in another way, but Luca was sure. He was sure that this would be the best way to stay alive, to keep his mother and sister safe and possibly even gain a business alliance.
Luca could hear the sadness in his mother’s voice but she had given in. She knew that with Vicente gone, Luca was head of the family. She thought she had raised Luca the best she could, so she rationalized herself to believe that this would not end badly.
Luca was unprepared the next day. He had no idea was he was getting himself into, but he wouldn’t dare show it. His toothpick was in his mouth, he was well dressed, his hair swept back underneath a hat and he kept his expression unreadable. As he walked to the same meeting room he had met Tommy in the day before, he could see the group assembled in the room as the windows had their blinds drawn up. He paused for a second, waiting for his two men to catch up with him. He was vastly outnumbered, he wouldn’t win a fight if it came down to it. Luca looked at the faces in the room before he entered. Tommy was seated at the end again with Arthur at his side, on the other side where Luca had expected John to sit at if he were still alive sat the girl in question. Her long hair cascading her face, she was speaking to Tommy, her body posture screamed that she was incredibly uncomfortable. Luca opened the door to the room, scanning it with his eyes. There was anger in Arthur and Polly’s eyes. The girl hadn’t even turned to see him, she was still speaking to Tommy in a hushed tone before Tommy told her to be quiet. Luca had expected that the girl was never included in the family business, completely hidden from all the crime her family committed. But Luca still didn’t understand why they kept her so guarded. Ada was already integrated into the business and made her regular visits to Shelby Company Limited. Even Finn, after John’s death, had been given a more prominent role in the family business, but the girl she was still hidden away. But why, why was she hidden?
Luca’s men took a comfortable stance behind him as Luca adjusted himself in the chair. Luca cleared his throat to get everyone’s attention, but Tommy was first to speak. The girl hadn’t even tried to look at Luca, she stared down at the table, her hair hiding her face.
“This meeting has been called to negotiate peace between the Changretta family and ours.” Tommy started as he stood up from his chair startling his sister next to him with his sudden movement. Mr. Changretta and I have proposed a marriage between our families. As John once did for us with the Lee family.” Almost all the Shelby’s turned to look at Luca except for the youngest sister as Tommy mentioned John’s name. “Mr. Changretta has offered his youngest sister, but she is far too young for any of us to marry.” Tommy looked at Michael and then at Finn who looked like he had been caught in a compromising position. “So, instead I’ve offered Rose to Mr. Changretta.” A collective gasp sounded in the room as if they already knew Tommy’s word was final.
“Are you fuckin’ mad, man?” Arthur got up first as he shouted at Tom while grabbing him by the lapel of his suit dangerously.
“Thomas, what in God’s name do you think you’re doing?” Polly had shouted at him from her seat, disgust on her face.
Ada had already gotten up to stand behind her youngest sister, Rose. Ada had begun to whisper things into her ear. But all Luca did was rub his thumb against his jaw and fix the position he sat in while he watched the entire room go into chaos. Even the youngest brother, Finn was pointing fingers around the room with an angry expression on his face. They truly hated the idea of Rose being married off to an American Mafioso. But all Luca could look at in the end was Tommy’s youngest sister, Rose Shelby; Who was sheltered from the world, too innocent for her family, too pretty, maybe even too frail. He watched her expression cautiously, he watched how her frame moved.
Once Tommy had managed to get everyone settled down again and in their seats, Rose Shelby finally spoke out loud. Her speech was foreign to Luca. Rose directed her words directly to Tommy. Luca expected she was speaking in her language, the one the gypsies spoke. Whatever she had told Tommy had made him angry, as he got close to her face and spoke back to her with a poison she hadn’t given him. Luca recognized John’s name in Tommy’s words but that was it. Polly put her head in her hands as the rest of the family sat around the table uncomfortably. Tommy had shut them all up with whatever he had said but Rose was still looking at him, pleading with her brother silently. For a split second, Luca thought about calling off the truce but he had begun to play out in his head how it would all look to them. Would they be insulted? Would they kill him then? He instead waited for Tommy to speak.
“Where would you want the wedding to be?” Tommy asked bluntly. Luca had been ten steps behind.
“Manhattan,” Luca answered casually, keeping himself composed. He discarded of his toothpick and leaned into the table, his jeweled fingers clasping together. “Members of the five families have to be present to acknowledge any truce.”
“Manhattan it is.”
Rose Shelby was sitting in front of the fireplace in Polly’s home. Ada and Polly were with her making tea and figuring out what to say to her after everything that happened at the company earlier that day. Rose could hear her aunt talking about curses and the devil. She had always mentioned it when something was going wrong, and maybe she was cursed, maybe the whole lot of them were. As the silence consumed Rose, she felt like running away was her only solution, but she was afraid of that idea more than marrying a man she did not know, let alone the man behind John’s murder. At least she knew her brother had done it for her, and she would not be to blame if anything went wrong. But the feeling in her stomach was taking over her, she didn’t know what to do, and she didn’t know why this was all happening to her.
Rose held her hands tightly in her lap, all the frustration making her nauseous. Without any words, she got up abruptly and left the room. She walked out the front door, slamming it as she left. She was being dramatic, but she wanted her point to come across clearly. She was angry and afraid. She knew she wasn’t allowed to walk outside alone, especially because of the last time she had done so, but she wasn’t going to wait for Polly and Ada to give her more reasons to be angry with Tommy. She walked for a long time until she reached Arthur’s house. Linda gave her a hug at the door but she let her walk to her bedroom without any questions. She and Finn had been living with Arthur since he had moved into the country house just outside of Small Heath. Rose liked the atmosphere and all the space for horses. But today she wasn’t going to pay the horses any attention. She went straight to bed, shedding tears as she laid her head on her pillow.
Rose woke from a dream, as the stars glittered out her window. She rubbed the sleep from her face. The skin around her eyes was swollen from all the crying she’d done earlier. She moved to the bathroom to wash her face before she quietly went down the stairs. She had expected that Billy was already fast asleep in his crib, Linda would probably be in bed too. She had no clue where Finn could be at this hour, but she hoped Arthur would be in his study.
There was no sound in her steps as she moved down the stairs. She wanted tea, but she didn’t have the patience to make any. She poured milk into a teacup and drank it with more speed than necessary. The tears were threatening to fall again. But she really wanted to be brave.
Tommy had even told her at the meeting that they needed to do this if the rest of their family was going to survive, John’s death was already too much for them. She knew Tommy would never sell her off, not if there wasn’t a good enough reason. But she knew how important this was to the family, and she had never contributed to the company before. ‘I’m not being sold off, I’m not.’ She was trying to convince herself. She put her empty teacup on the kitchen counter and gripped the edge the sink with her hands. She shut her eyes tightly as if it would help force out any courage she was hiding away. As she gave up she made her way towards Arthur’s study hoping he would be there.
She opened the door peaking inside to see if he was seated at his desk. He wasn’t, he was standing by the long window, a glass filled with amber liquid in his hand. He wasn’t meant to be drinking, Linda was trying to get him off of it.
“Arthur?” She made her presence known. Arthur turned to look at her. He waved for her to come closer. She walked to him, as he pulled Rose in for an embrace.
“It’s okay. Everything will be okay.” She didn’t have to say anything to Arthur. He always knew what she was thinking. Rose couldn’t hold it in anymore. She cried into Arthur’s shirt as he told her that everything would be fine. Arthur had practically raised her and Finn, and although she had always said he was her brother, she thought of him as her father figure too. He had saved her so many times. She had really thought she would be living with Arthur until she felt sure enough of herself to finally have someone to marry. But here she was, crying in Arthur’s reassuring arms, knowing she would be leaving soon, taken by a Sicilian mafioso to Manhattan, New York.
“Hey, listen Rose.” He moved her away with his hands to her shoulders. He held on to her firmly, looking straight at her. His cup of whiskey balanced between his fingers against Rose’s shoulder. “It’s gonna be hard for you, and I can’t tell you to disobey Tommy. But you have to try for the family. You heard what Tommy said today and the Italians won’t harm ya’ if you’re Changretta’s wife. It might be safe for you, and for us if you go with him, as much as I hate sayin' it out loud.” Arthur put his glass on his desk, struggling to continue holding it. He moved to one corner of the room opening a cabinet, and Rose watched as he did so. He was turning the dial of a safe he had, it was rather large, and Rose had never known it to be there.
Arthur pulled two wads of British pound notes out of the safe and locked it up again.
Arthur walked back to Rose and handed her the money. Rose took it and stared at Arthur confused. “If anything ever goes wrong, you use the money, ok? You get yourself on a ship and you come straight home.” Arthur patted her cheek gently, it was an attempt to lighten the mood as even more fear flooded her body. “Don’t tell anyone about it. You keep it hidden, don’t tell Tommy, and especially not Ada.” He knew how even when she was told to keep a secret she could never keep it from her sister. The situation was different this time, she wouldn’t make a sound about it.
Arthur made her go back to her room. She hadn’t slept long apparently, and Arthur told her tomorrow would be a long day for her. Was she leaving already? Rose felt dread in her stomach as she walked up the stairs in silence, her thoughts were unable to contain themselves. That night she dreamt of Luca Changretta and a loveless life she was now destined for.
Luca had all his belongings packed, it wasn’t much, he hadn’t planned on staying in Birmingham long. He had one of his men carry his suitcase as he checked out of the hotel. He was meant to meet the entire Shelby clan again that day at the Birmingham train station, at half-past one. He was ready to go home, he was tired of Birmingham.
Luca and his entourage stuck out like sore thumbs, many people made sure not to touch shoulders with them on the crowded train station. It didn’t take long for the Peaky Blinders to find them on the platform headed to Liverpool. Luca and Tommy met with a handshake and a nod of their heads. It was almost too peaceful to be true.
“You best take care of my sister. You really don’t want to know what will happen if someone harms her.” It wasn’t much of a threat, it was more of the empty words fathers gave when their daughters began to go out with men or that was just how Luca had taken it.
“Don’t expect so little of me” Luca smirked, his New York drawl could have enticed any woman, even Rose had perked up as she hid behind Arthur.
Arthur stepped forward handing one of Luca’s men Rose’s suitcase, it was just one suitcase. Luca had expected much more from a girl from a wealthy family. Arthur then turned to Rose and kissed her temple. He whispered to her in Romany, and she nodded at him, giving him one last hug in return. Then she began to hug the rest of her family. Moving from her Aunt Polly to Michael, then Finn, her Sister Ada and then Tommy last. The rims of her eyes were threatening tears but she hadn’t shed one yet. She whispered something to Tommy and then embraced him. He kissed the top of her head, and then spun her around by her shoulders to face Luca.
It was the first time Luca had looked at her properly. Her photograph he had obtained from her government files had pretty enough photos, but it definitely did not do her justice. She was a lot more beautiful then he had expected.
Rose wasn’t looking at him properly though, she was avoiding his gaze, but Luca took the opportunity to scan her body. She was wearing a loose-fitting blue dress that hung just below her knees. She had a forest green overcoat with a fur trim around the collar to catch the March breeze. Her hair was pushed back by a blue ribbon wrapped around her hairline. Luca caught his breath before he motioned for her to hold onto his arm.
“I’ll send you a call when we're in Manhattan.” Luca took one last look at Tommy standing in front of his family before he patted Rose’s hand placed between the crook of his elbow.