The It had been a relatively quiet night in Five Points. Detective Kevin "Corky" Corcoran had just finished a long night's patrol and was debating as to whether he should go to Eva's place and enjoy a tumble with her, or go home to his dark, empty house. It wasn't much of a choice and he'd just about decided on whisky and Eva, when he caught the sound of light footsteps running away from him.
The copper's instinct, and curiosity, took over and he followed after the sound of the footsteps. He thought he'd almost caught up to whoever it was, when the footsteps suddenly stopped. He paused, listening and trying to decide where they'd come from, but there was no sign, no sound, no one at all in the empty alley. Maybe it had been his imagination, but the copper in him knew someone had followed him. Someone who walked on light cat feet and knew how to disappear into the night. He shook off the uneasiness he felt at the thought of someone tailing him so easily, and headed to the comfort of the warmth and lights of Eva's.
As on so many other mornings, he did not wake up in his own bed. He paid no attention to the girl next to him as he put on his clothes and headed down the stairs and out the door into Five Points. As usual, there no point in going home, so he headed to the precinct house, his empty stomach rumbling, and vowed he'd not leave his belly empty after a night of drinking again. He held his liquor well, but there were times when his body craved food, and he found himself wishing he'd grabbed something, if only a little. When Ellen…
"Stop that," he told himself, "Don't even think of it." Ellen was gone, and trying to resurrect memories of his dead wife and the marriage turned empty of promise, was an exercise in futility. He hadn't been able to stop Ellen from killing herself any more than he'd been able to save Annie-Annie, in the long run, had wound up saving herself. It was much better to immerse himself in whisky and Eva's, hoping the still-raw wound would heal someday.
The precinct house was dirty, smelly and ill lit, but even on the bad days it always felt more like home than the little house in Five Points. He poured a cup of the thick, bitter coffee and sat down with the mates who were not just mates, but family. He paid scant attention to the morning meeting, wondering what had happened the night before. He wondered who his mysterious stalker was, and why he was being targeted. He'd made more than one enemy in his career as a copper. There was always a potential enemy who might have put a price on his head. The coppers in Five Points might be corrupt, but there were always enemies to be made by someone who merely sought to do his job.
Like him. Maybe that was why he could not get the incident of the night before out of his mind. A mystery waiting to be solved, a phantom luring him, he itched for the chance to bring the unknown into the known. It was his nature to seek solutions to problems, unsolved problems were a thing he could not abide. It was part of what made him a good copper, but also made his life miserable at times.
In the meantime, he had a job to do. He and his boys, O'Brien and Maguire, walked their beat through Five Points, the rough neighborhood providing plenty of work to pass the time. It was a never ending variety that was a variation on the same theme. Murder, robbery, theft, assault, rape—all simply a day's work. The work suited him, an outlet for the anger he felt inside, and his personal mission to protect "his" citizens. Some saw him as a hero, but he knew he was a hero with flaws. He was not immune to graft and bribery, but in the Sixth District it did not make him a bad cop. He'd worked hard to earn the respect he felt he had coming, and Detective Corcoran was as popular with the inhabitants of Five Points as he was with the whores at Eva's.
When his shift ended, he stepped outside the precinct house and looked up at a moon shining brightly in a blue velvet sky. Not usually prone to moon gazing, he found himself hypnotized by the light it reflected in the far off harbor. Must be a spell I'm under, maybe it's a witch who's tormenting me. I'll get caught up in the spell and spend the rest of my life chasing this bogey who won't leave me alone.
He found his feet taking him, wearily, to Eva's when he smelled a sweet Turkish tobacco that few of the citizens in his Sixth District could afford. Wondering if it was the mysterious stranger of the night before, he followed the scent until he found a cigarette with a match and a stub lying beside it. He knelt down and picked up the cigarette, lighting it with the match that his tormenter had so thoughtfully provided.
"You left the one you put out so I couldn't follow the scent," he said out loud to no one in particular, "Very clever, as clever as you were thoughtful to leave one for me, complete with a match. Whoever you are, you're probably not poor, this tobacco is expensive. I bet you don't even live here. What are you doing here, and why are you following me?" He waited for a reply he knew would not come, hoping in vain that it might. Someone was deliberately teasing him, taunting him, and playing him for a fool. This he could not bear, and vowed he would keep looking for this mysterious stranger.
Eva's was a welcome refuge. He sat at the bar, watching and listening as he always did. Friends came up and bought him drinks. Men currying his favor offered to buy and he did not turn them down. He half listened to their requests, their problems, assured some that he'd look into it, ignoring the others.
He didn't know if his stalker would be here, but his detective instincts told him that if his movements wear familiar to the mysterious stranger, he would know that he always made his way to Eva's at night. He looked around, trying to see something, then heard a conversation being carried on in French.
There was a poker game at a table not far from the bar. A disagreement was going on, undoubtedly about whether someone was cheating. He could not understand the words, but the argument was becoming heated, the participants dangerously close to coming to blows. Two of the them were clearly French, the other was fluent, but spoke the language with an accent that revealed it was not his native tongue. A slender almost feminine hand held a cigarette and pointed it in the face of one of the players. A woman's hand, Corcoran guessed, despite the fact that she was dressed in men's clothes, with a hat pulled low over her eyes. And she was tall, taller at least than one of the other players.
And she was smoking Turkish tobacco! He could smell it.
Suddenly she swept the money off the table and put it in her pocket. "Pig", she said in English, "Don't ever accuse me of cheating. If you can't play, then don't, and you won't lose your money. I won fair and square." This did not sit well with the other players, and she began to argue, again, in French, until suddenly she began to run through the maze of tables and head towards the door.
He was fast, but she was faster. Corcoran cursed as she broke through the door and ran down the street. For a block he pursued her, certain he could catch her, but she had turned into the maze of alleyways and he could not find her. He could search for her all night, with no results, and the thought of spending the night searching the nooks and crannies of Five Points did not appeal to him. He turned and made his way back to Eva's.
She had a drink waiting for him at the bar. She watched while he drank it, then refilled the glass. "You would not have caught her," she said.
"What? That's a her? Was that really a women? Who is she, Eva? Where did she come from?" He held his glass up for a refill.
She playfully held the bottle back, then tipped the neck and poured whisky into his glass. "She started coming in here a few months ago. I thought she was a young man until I realized that she never went upstairs to visit any of my girls. I got a good look at her one night and noticed she had smooth skin and no beard. Her neck and hands belonged to a woman, not a man, but I decided to leave her alone. She drinks, is popular with my customers, and plays excellent poker. She generally walks away from the table with her pockets full. If a professional gambler comes in, well, you could say she has to work for her money. The professionals are the only ones she loses to, and even then, she doesn't always lose. She tips well, she's polite, so I let her keep coming in here."
Eva scrutinized his face. "Why are you so concerned with her, Corky? She's just a girl who likes to drink and play cards. She's caused no harm, so why so interested?"
"Because I think she's been following me," half embarrassed to admit it, "And since I had no idea who she was, I didn't know if she was a threat or not."
Eva burst into laughter. "A teenage girl has been following you and you were afraid she might be a threat! Corky, from what I have seen of this girl, she wouldn't hurt a fly. And I don't think she's been following you. You've been working too hard. You need to come see me more often." She sat the bottle next to his glass and turned to talk to another customer.
Which did not sit well with him on this particular night. He took Eva by the hand and dragged her upstairs to her room. When he woke the next morning, he thought she might be right and decided to leave the mystery of the Turkish tobacco and mysterious footsteps alone.
Brendan Donovan summoned him to his office the next day. Corcoran didn't know what the bandy legged ward boss wanted. It was not uncommon for Donovan to summon him, it was just strange that he had asked him to come alone.
General Donovan was sitting at his desk, smoking a cigar. "Ah, Corky, me boy, 'tis good to see ye." For all the years he'd spent in the United States, Donovan's brogue was thick as clotted cream. His red hair showed more grey these days, but Donovan had the air of a man who was satisfied with where he'd come from and where he'd arrived. His family now resided in a house on Twenty Third Street. His only daughter had just graduated from Vasser College in Poughkeepsie. His second wife had given him two sons and if Donovan was not happy with what he had, he was adept at concealing it.
He held a picture in his hands, handing it to Corcoran. "My Fiona, newly graduated. She's a beauty, isn't she, just like her mother was. Tall and graceful, smart as a whip, too. The first of my family to graduate from college. Had to talk me into it, she did, but she did me proud."
Corcoran examined the figure in photo. A girl stood, holding the back of a chair, looking almost defiantly into the camera. She was tall and graceful, as Donovan had said, and the face that stared out from the picture seemed full of character.
He remembered the twelve year old girl who had come with her father to the precinct. How she'd managed that, he didn't know, but somehow she'd talked Donovan into it. She'd clung tightly to her father, but had looked about her, full of curiosity. Her eyes had met his for moment, and he almost melted at the sight of the blue green eyes staring into his. Waves of long brown hair had framed her face and he remembered thinking what a beauty she would be when she grew up. The promise was already there, it would only take a few years for it to bloom.
"I remember her," he said slowly, "I didn't know why you brought her to the precinct, but you practically had to drag her away. She didn't seem intimidated by anything. It's a shame that she wasn't a boy." He handed the picture back to Donovan.
"Aye, you're right, she should have been a boy. She's smarter than I'll ever be. All those fancy schools she begged to go to, and always at the head of her class. I was hoping she'd make a friend who would have a brother or two so she could make a good marriage, but she never had much use for girls. She gets along with her step mother, but that's it."
He sighed. "Corky I have a problem. She's taken it into her head that she wants to go to medical school and join a mission in Africa or India. I'll no have my daughter running off to some godforsaken place. She'd waste another four years of her life trying to be a doctor and then discover there's no place for her. It's still a man's world, as much as she tries to fight it."
"Corky, I want to ask something of you I'd never think to ask before. I want only the finest man I know to marry my little girl. Someone who's as headstrong and stubborn as she and who I know could make her happy. You're the best man I know for it, Corky, would you marry me girl?"
He almost fell out of his chair. "General I don't know what to say. I don't think I'm ready to marry, it's still too soon after Ellen.I don't know Fiona, so how would I know if I wanted to marry her, or if she would want to marry me?"
The General looked at him shrewdly, "Corky, you're wanting a wife, though ye may not know it. I know ye keep company with Eva and though she's a good woman, she's a whore all the same. Fiona is someone who will always surprise you. She's 20 years old now, and it's time she be married. I know my Fi well enough, and the two of you would make a good match. Now you just think on it before you give me an answer. Come to Sunday dinner—the missus and I will return after mass is over. Fiona has lapsed and will probably be at home, so if you come early, you can talk. Now don't you worry, I've said nothing to her, but she'll marry you if I say so. Now run along, I have work to do."
Corcoran put on his hat, "Yes sir," he said as he turned to leave the room, but Donovan interrupted him.
"Oh, and Corky, that's an order now. We'll see you on Sunday." Corcoran sighed and left the General's office, feeling like a man newly condemned.
Sunday came and the condemned man shaved and put on his best jacket, shirt and trousers. He walked up to Donovan's new abode on Twenty Third Street and knocked on the door. He waited, looking around, wondering if he could make his escape like an errant schoolboy, or go inside and face the music.,
Alas, it was too late to run, but he was pleasantly surprised by who answered the door. A girl, no a young woman with the most magnificent blue green eyes he had ever seen was holding the door half open, as wary of him as he was of her. She was tall, had a trim figure, and her round face was far more lovely than her picture revealed. Maybe Donovan had been handsome once, for this creature who stood before him had her father's features stamped on her face, but her dark hair and tawny skin had not come from him.
"If you're done staring at me, Mr. Corcoran, you could come in." She held the door wider, and he entered and removed his hat and coat. A butler appeared from nowhere and whisked them from his arms, disappearing down the hall. "Come," she said, and gestured to a small parlor not far from the entrance. He sat down on a small sofa, staring at her because he could not help it. He wondered what this young Juno thought of him. Surely she had boys courting her who were far more worthy.
"Would you like a drink?" she asked, but did not bother to wait for an answer, pouring two glasses with generous portions of whisky, then handing one to him as she sat down.
"Surely Miss Fiona, your father would not want…" he began but she cut him off.
"I'm half Irish, Mr. Corcoran, whisky is my heritage." She held up her glass, regarding him frankly.
"Half?" This was something he did not know.
"My mother was French. She died when I was ten years old. I get my dark hair and my coloring from her. She had tawny skin, just like me." She sat back reminiscing, "It was a love match—they adored each other. She defied her parents to marry him and never regretted it. He was devastated when she died and for a while I thought he'd never get over it. I don't know if he married my stepmother for love, or if he thought I needed a mum and he needed a wife. She's very nice and we get along just fine, but I don't think he loves her the way he loved Ma. I don't ask, so I don't know. We have a happy family, I guess that's all that counts."
She took a long, deep drink of her whisky, then stared at him, eyes over her glass. "Why are you here? He's never invited you before. He's up to something, I can always tell." She squinted her eyes at him, "What has he put you up to?"
Corcoran opened his mouth, not sure what would come out, but he was saved by the arrival of Donovan and his wife in the little entryway. They entered the drawing room, and Corcoran noticed that Fiona did not bother to hide her glass.
"Ah, Corky, tis good to see you. I trust Fiona has been entertaining you?"
"Well enough, sir, well enough." Corcoran stood stiffly, reminding himself of standing in parade formation in his days in the army. He looked over at the vision in the grey silk dress whose eyes he could not look away from.
"Well, that's good enough," Donovan said contentedly, "Now let me have my whisky while the women set out our dinner. Fiona has been cooking all morning, she's scarcely left the cook a thing to do."
Fiona filled their glasses, casting him a cryptic look as she exited the room. "A man could get used to staring at those eyes," he thought to himself, "She's a stunner, no doubt about that."
"So, Corky, what do you think of me Fiona? A beauty that one is, and sometimes I can scarce believe she's mine. She's smarter than both of us, as I said before. You could do far worse than her—a man would be lucky to have her, even if it is me saying so."
"But why, sir? I thought she wanted to go to medical school. Five Points could use another doctor, Matthew Freeman is overwhelmed as it is."
"I don't want a daughter who's an educated freak," Donovan spat out the words, "She'd be wasting her life, trying to be a doctor. I want grandchildren, not a daughter who's in some god forsaken place like Africa or India. Your Ellen's been gone now for three years, it's time you married again. Fiona is 20, it's time she settled down and became a wife, and I think you are the only man I know who could handle her."
Dinner was an unpleasant affair. Corcoran was as pleasant as he knew how. Fiona held her head up, made polite and interesting conversation, often directed more towards her father than him. By the end of the meal, though, he knew his fate was sealed. It was something he could somehow not help. Every time those aquamarine eyes stared at him, he felt himself sinking into silent waters. If he'd never seen her, it would have been easy to refuse. Now that he had looked upon a young goddess, it appeared that mere mortals would no longer do. He wanted to have, no possess, this girl who could look at him with eyes that seemed to stare into his soul.
When he left, it was Fiona who saw him to the door. "I'm sorry," she said softly, "I'm sorry he's dragged you into this. Once he sets his mind on something, he has the tenacity of a bulldog." She curled her lips up into a smile, "If I were you, I'd run. You're a marked man now, Corcoran."
"Why don't you call me by my Christian name?"
"All right, Kevin it is. But it's a married Kevin you'll be if you can't think quickly on your feet." She closed the door behind him.
He should have gone to the station, but he wanted to shake off the memories of the afternoon. He went instead to Eva's, and began to down whiskies, trying to forget a girl he did not want to marry, but wanted very badly to have.
"What is wrong with you?" Eva asked, "You look like you're angry, you won't talk to me, or take a girl upstairs, or even try to convince me to go to bed with you. If you're going to have a face like a thundercloud, I wish you'd either cheer up or leave, you're frightening the customers.
"Thanks, Eva," he muttered, and stomped out of the bar. So much for trustworthy friends.
He decided to take the long way home. He'd had just enough whisky to forget about his shadow and was almost half way home when he heard to tapping of light footsteps behind him. He melted into darkness of an alley and waited, hoping that this time she would show herself.
She did. Her eyes met his and she took off, running down the alleys, taking twists and turns that would make her vanish from his sight, but always reappearing. Running for her life like Daphne from Apollo, running with more speed than Corocoran thought possible.
He was starting to breathe heavily, his heart pounded painfully in his chest. She was younger, more fleet of foot, he should give up this vain chase now and let her go, but something would not let him stop. Whoever she was, he had to catch her, even if it meant his death.
A scream split the dim light of the alleyway. He ran to where the sound came from and saw her, lying on the ground, her dark hair streaming out from under her hat casting a shadow around her. She struggled to get away, but was trapped by her hair and her ankle. Now he wondered why he had not recognized her before, for the eyes that stared at him, unafraid, were like aquamarine crystals, and he knew only one person who had eyes like that.
"I've twisted my damn ankle," she said, looking straight at him, "You got lucky Corcoran."
"Fiona?" he asked, though somehow he knew he had known.
"I can't walk, Corky, you've got to help me." She was down but not defeated.
He knelt next to her on the cobblestones. "That depends," he said slowly.
Before he could even think about them, the words came out of his mouth.