Be careful what you wish for.”
That was another of my mother’s favorite sayings—one of the few in her wealth of warnings that didn’t predict a bad end, hell fire, and eternal damnation. It was brought out any time I expressed my childhood ambitions to see Dublin one day, to dance at a ball like a real lady, to own a horse and carriage, or just to free myself from our dreary life in Ballykillin. The end of the sentence was rarely said, but always implied—“or you may get it.”
Now it had finally come back to haunt me. My mother would undoubtedly be chuckling her head off in heaven, or wherever she was spending the hereafter. Ever since I’d arrived in New York and met Captain Daniel Sullivan, I suppose I had secretly nourished a hope that we could be together some day. Although I told myself that this would never happen, also that he was unreliable, two-faced, and all around bad news, I had never quite managed to put him out of my thoughts or my heart. And now it seemed I was being offered as much of Daniel Sullivan’s company as I ever wanted. More, in fact.
Three weeks had gone by since his release from The Tombs on bail, and he was still charged with taking bribes from a gang member, being in the pay of a gang, and setting up an illegal prize fight. Since then he’d received no news on his future or his fate, although we now knew who had so carefully plotted his downfall. It was a horrible way to be living, to be sure—like walking on eggs—and Daniel wasn’t taking it well. He was used to being cock o’ the walk, a powerful man who commanded the respect of his colleagues among the New York police and who had connections to the Four Hundred—the highest-born families in town. Those weeks in The Tombs had taxed him physically and mentally so that he was now alternately moping or prowling around like a caged tiger.
And much of his prowling was being done at my house, which is why I was pacing the floor myself one muggy September afternoon. Daniel had finally managed to engage the services of a reputable attorney, who was working on his behalf, and had arranged a meeting today with the police commissioner, Mr. John Partridge. And I was left to pace the floor at home, wondering if he’d return a free man, reinstated at his job. Please let him be freed from this terrible burden, I found myself praying, even though I was not much one for chats with the Almighty. And please let him get his old job back and leave me in peace. I was appalled at myself immediately. Wasn’t I supposed to be in love with Daniel Sullivan? Hadn’t I seriously considered the prospect of marrying him some day? And yet here I was, dreading the thought of his presence. What about for better or worse, richer, poorer, in sickness or health? This marriage question would require some serious rethinking, provided Daniel was ever in a position to ask for my hand, of course.
While I waited I cleaned the house feverishly, polishing my few pieces of furniture till I could see my face in them and still no Daniel. Surely the interview must be over by now. Surely the commissioner would have no alternative but to declare him a free man. I paced the house, exactly as Daniel had done so often these past days. I pulled back the net curtain, looked down Patchin Place, then let it fall again. Suddenly I could stand it no longer. I needed company, and I needed it now. Pleasant company, amusing company. And I knew exactly where that could be found.
I crossed the street and knocked on the door of the house on the other side of the alleyway. It was opened by an alarming vision with a deathly white face and two green circles where eyes should have been. I gasped as the vision removed one of the green circles.
“Sorry about that,” she said. “Cucumber. We’re trying out skin remedies. Sid just read an article in Ladies’ Home Journal on the subject of natural health and beauty from the larder.”
The white-faced ghost now revealed itself as my dear friend and neighbor, Augusta Mary Walcott, of the Boston Walcotts, but more usually known by her nickname, Gus.
“Ladies’ Home Journal?” I had to chuckle. “You two are the last creatures on earth I would have suspected of reading ladies’ magazines.”
“The cover promised interesting tips for decorating the home in the Japanese style, which we were thinking of doing anyway, so we bought the magazine and there was this delicious article on health and beauty, so of course we had to try it for ourselves. Come on in, you’re just in time to try our complexion paste.” She ushered me in and set off ahead of me down the hall and into their kitchen. “It’s egg whites boiled in rose water with alum and oil of sweet almonds, and a dash of honey, all whipped together into a paste, and then left to dry,” she called over her shoulder. “I must say, it feels very strange as it hardens, but you can actually sense all the impurities being drawn from the body.”
Sid and Gus had added a conservatory onto the back of their kitchen and the doors between the two were open, as were the doors to the little garden beyond, giving the place a delightfully rural feel. As we approached I could see another white-faced specter lying under a white sheet on a garden chair, looking horribly like a corpse until she started fanning herself furiously.
“These damn flies,” she muttered. “I suppose they are attracted to egg white, but they won’t leave me alone.”
“We have company, Sid darling,” Gus called. “Molly has come to share in our experiment.”
Elena Goldfarb, usually known as Sid, sat up and peeled the cucumber slices from her eyes. “I wanted to send Gus to fetch you, but she said you wouldn’t be able to desert Daniel the Deceiver.”
“He’s not around at the moment, saints be praised,” I said.
“That doesn’t sound like the voice of a woman in love.” Sid attempted to frown, but her mask would not let her.
“I know. It’s terrible of me. I should be delighted that he is gracing me with his constant presence, but frankly I’m not. His gloomy, moody behavior is driving me insane. I’ve come to the conclusion that I won’t make a very good wife.”
“I’m sure every person on this earth drives his or her partner insane from time to time,” Sid said. “I know we do. Now tie back your hair and let me slather some of this mixture onto your face. Madame Vestris is said to have preserved her beauty with this very concoction until late in life.”
I had no idea who Madame Vestris was. “Oh, I really don’t think—” I began.
“Don’t be a spoil sport, Molly.” Gus was already gathering back my unruly mop of hair. “Besides, it’s supposed to draw out impurities so you may be more saintly and forgiving the next time Daniel comes to call.”
I resigned myself to my fate, and was soon laughing with Sid and Gus as they turned me into a meringue. The laughter felt strange. How long since I had laughed and allowed myself to be silly with friends? The whole summer had been one of tension and heartbreak, to say nothing of the constant worry about money. Now I was recovered from my recent ordeal, both physically and mentally, but there were no new cases on the books for my small detective agency.
“So where is the dreadful Daniel this afternoon?” Sid asked. “Sit still, or the cucumber slices will fall off.”
“His new attorney has set up a meeting with the police commissioner and is asking to have all the charges against him dropped.”
“Well, that’s finally good news, isn’t it?” Gus said.
“I do hope so,” I said. “Daniel’s reputation means so much to him. His fellow officers still think he betrayed them, and I know how deeply that has affected him.”
“All’s well that ends well,” Sid said. “Daniel will be exonerated and go back to work, Molly can get on with her life, and peace will reign in Patchin Place.”
She was just finishing the sentence when there came a thunderous knocking on their front door. Gus hurried to open it. We heard an explosive, “What the deuce?”
“Beauty treatments.” We heard Gus’s calm voice. “And if you’re looking for Molly, she’s with us.”
I hastily removed the cucumber slices from my eyes in time to see Daniel striding down the hallway toward me.
“I went to your house and you weren’t there,” Daniel said petulantly.
“So being a great detective, you deduced she might be over here with us,” Sid said calmly. “Would you like a glass of ice tea, Captain Sullivan, or something stronger?”
“I’m not in the mood for socializing, I’m afraid,” Daniel said. “I’ve just had an infuriating meeting with the police commissioner.”
“He wouldn’t agree to drop all the charges?” I asked.
“No, he damned well wouldn’t.” He checked himself. “I apologize for the language, ladies, but my patience has been stretched to its limit this afternoon. Molly, would you please remove that ridiculous concoction from your face and let’s go home.”
I put my hand up to my cheek. “I think it needs to harden first or it will be impossible to remove,” I said. “But what was Mr. Partridge’s reason for not declaring you innocent on the spot?”
“Because that snake Quigley refuses to confess to anything. So until he is brought to trial and found guilty, I am still officially charged and will still have to stand trial myself.”
“But that’s ridiculous,” I said, rising from my garden chair with difficulty. “We have the proof that Quigley is guilty.”
“Of his part in the murders, yes, but there is nothing to prove that he orchestrated my meeting with the gang member; and I have, of course, admitted to my part in setting up the prize fight.”
“But they can’t punish you for that. Half the New York Police Department was present at that fight. I saw them with my own eyes.”
Daniel sighed. “I know none of it makes sense, but I have the feeling that Partridge wants to make an example of me. The only way that he’ll let me off is if I can get the gang member in question or Monk Eastman himself to come forward and categorically deny that I was working with them.”
“Then that’s what you should do,” I said.
Daniel gave a bitter chuckle. “Ask Monk Eastman to speak in my defense? I don’t think you understand the adversary, my dear. He would like nothing more than my downfall. He’ll not say a good word on my behalf nor let any of his gangsters.”
“He might, if I asked him for you,” I said.
“Under no circumstances, Molly. And that is an order.”
“You can’t order me around,” I said. “I’m not married to you; and even if I were, I’d not take commands like some dog.”
He laughed again. “I don’t doubt it for a second,” he said. “But I’d rather suffer the indignities of a trial than send you to plead with Monk Eastman on my behalf.”
“Then send Gentleman Jack to plead for you,” I said. “He must be in favor with Monk at the moment. I’m sure he made Monk a good deal of money by winning that prize fight.”
“I’m sure he did, but you’ve met him, Molly. The man is so addlepated that he’d forget his own name if people didn’t keep addressing him by it. What good could he do?”
“At least give him a try, Daniel,” I said. “Write a letter to Monk and send Jack in a hansom cab to deliver it in person. He could then add his appeal to the letter.”
“Molly, I can’t go on discussing this in these circumstances,” Daniel snapped. “Would you please do as I ask. Remove that ridiculous stuff—it makes you look like an iced cake—and let us continue this conversation in private. I hardly think it appropriate to discuss my current situation in front of those who aren’t concerned with it.”
“Oh, we are most concerned,” Gus said. “It affects us too. If you are unhappy, then Molly is unhappy, and if Molly is unhappy, then we cannot truly enjoy life ourselves. And since it is our aim and pledge to enjoy every moment, the sooner the situation is rectified, the better.”
“Hmmph,” was all that Daniel could say to that.
“Captain Sullivan, let us pour you a glass of brandy,” Gus said in her soothing voice. “I’m sure you have had the most vexing afternoon, and poor Molly was quite distressed when she came to visit. It’s not easy for her either, you know.”
“I’m sure it’s not,” Daniel said. He sighed again. “Very well. I accept your kind offer, simply because I refuse to walk across the street until Molly has removed that stuff from her face.”
“Replace the cucumber slices, Molly, or your eyes won’t feel the true benefit,” Gus directed as she disappeared into the drawing room to find the decanter. Feeling stupidly self-conscious with Daniel’s eyes on me, I replaced them, then thought better of it.
“I think you should stay for dinner over here, don’t you, Sid?” Gus said, returning with a generously full brandy snifter. “We could try something Japanese. I’ve been dying to do things with raw fish.”
“I really don’t think . . .” Daniel began when there was yet another knock at the front door.
“My, but we are popular this afternoon,” Sid said, attempting to rise.
“Perhaps I should answer it,” Daniel said. “You ladies present a most alarming appearance.”
Almost instantly we heard a man’s voice saying in theatrical tones, “What a disappointment. I was expecting to see two lovely ladies. Don’t tell me they’ve hired a butler?”
“The lovely ladies you refer to are unable to receive visitors at this moment,” Daniel said. “And I am not the butler.”
“Unable? Don’t tell me they have succumbed to the horrible grippe that is felling everyone. Oh God, tell me it’s not bad news. You’re not the doctor, are you?”
“No, I’m not, and may I ask who you are so that I can convey a message?”
“Moi? I thought everyone knew me. Tell them that Ryan is pining for them and has to see them immediately. You wouldn’t happen to know where the divine Miss Molly is, would you? She’s the one I am especially seeking tonight.”
“Miss Molly is with the other ladies at the back of the house, but they are in no condition—”
Before he could utter another word there was the sound of some kind of scuffle or commotion, a yell from Daniel, and wicked Irish playwright Ryan O’Hare came flying down the hallway toward us. He was wearing a white peasant shirt, a royal blue cape, and I must say he made a most dramatic entrance.
He stopped short when he saw us then gave a delighted gasp. “It’s the complexion paste from Ladies’ Home Journal. What fun. I’m dying to try it.”
“We used up the last on Molly,” Sid said.
“Molly, my angel, is that you under there? Yes, it is. I’d know that delicate white hand anywhere. Let me give it a kiss.”
“I’m sorry about this, ladies,” Daniel said in a tight voice. “I presume you know this gentleman?”
“Oh dear. You two gentlemen obviously haven’t been introduced. Ryan O’Hare, playwright extraordinaire. Captain Daniel Sullivan of the New York police.”
“Not Daniel the Deceiver?” Ryan exclaimed. “We meet at last. I have heard much about you. We’re all so proud that our dear Molly managed to rescue you from prison.”
“Well, actually I’m only out on bail,” Daniel said dryly. “Of course I’m grateful for what Molly tried to do.”
Then it hit me. He didn’t know the truth. I had never managed to speak of that night on Coney Island, so he didn’t know what I’d been through. And would never know, I decided. That chapter of my life was firmly sealed.
“I think the paste has hardened enough,” Sid said, and began to peel it off. We followed suit. Ryan danced between us, stroking our cheeks. “Wonderful,” he exclaimed, “deliciously soft, like a baby’s bottom.”
“Really, Ryan, you’ll go too far one day,” Gus scolded. “You know you only do it to shock.”
“One just wants to have one’s little fun,” Ryan said, pouting.
“Molly, can we please leave now?” Daniel came over to me and took my arm.
Copyright © 2007 by Rhys Bowen. All rights reserved.