I hated O’Brien. The fucker came over in fifty-two, just at the end of the Great Hunger. And, by sixty-three he had recruited every Fenian thug in Five Points. So, he was “Boss O’Brien” now. And there wasn’t a pie in the Sixth Ward that he hadn’t gotten his corrupt fingers into.
I was a twenty-year-old copper back then. Molly and I had been married for a year and we lived in a twenty by fifteen, tenement shack. It was on Mulberry, right behind the Church. Nobody in lower Manhattan had to ask, “Which church?” For we Irish, it was Transfiguration Catholic.
Our place was drafty in the winter, and broiling in the summer. But we loved each other and that was good enough for both of us.
Molly was the light of my life; beautiful, winsome oval face, high cheekbones, a long Irish nose and full kissable lips. But, it was her wealth of copper hair and her mischievous, laughing gren eyes that were her real glory. She was always happy and smiling and she never met a person she didn’t like. She was the prettiest girl in the whole of Five Points. And she was mine.
She worked hard, doing washing for Myrtle O’Byrne. Myrtle laundered bed linens for the toffs. Molly didn’t make much money doing it. But she wanted to contribute. She was like that, you know; very loving and loyal.
We were young then, and we had more than our share of urges. The Church told us that what we were doing was sinful. I didn’t believe it. Nothing that felt THAT good, and brought us so close together, could be evil. Father Flynn said that he abstained from sex. So, what would he know about it, anyhow?
Molly had a sturdy crofter body, wide hips, strong legs and the best tits in lower Manhattan. We’d fuck every night. Molly started it a lot of the time. She really didn’t have much else to do in the evenings. She didn’t know how to read.
Fucking was a pleasant way to end the day. That’s probably why her friends were constantly pregnant. Molly never was. There must have been something wrong with one of us. But, I thought it a blessing. I had Molly all to myself.
Most evenings, she’d just stand up, unlace her dress and drop it off her lovely round shoulders. That was a sight to behold, because she didn’t wear anything but a petticoat under the dress. Her big, round, Mick tits and those delightful pink nipples were like the sun rising over Galway Bay. You might see it every day. But the vision still moves you.
Then she would turn and climb up into our bedroom loft. The only thing more spectacular than heMolly’s boobs were those two muscular buns as they disappeared up the ladder. I’d be right behind her with my personal truncheon in my hand.
Molly was a different woman in the loft. Everywhere else, she was bright and cheerful; with a sunny nature and a lot of Irish humor. But, up ithere she was a wild Celtic lass, serious about her satisfaction; demanding and aggressive. Her family came over from the Burren, in County Clare and those girls are all as fierce and relentless as the stormy Atlantic.
She was a true daughter of Ireland though. A powerful woman, built to work and birth babies. We didn’t do anything elaborate up there. There wasn’t enough room for fancy stuff anyhow. She would just lay back panting with lust, and slowly open her legs. I would slide my cock into her hot, slippery hole. She would utter a loud groan of sensation and we would set to it.
She took and gave in equal measure. She didn’t get tired and our moments together were long and passionate. She always seemed like she was starving for sex.
The oddest part about Molly were her frequent out-of-control spasms. It was the one thing that she did during the act, that none of the other husbands talked about. I was thinking maybe, she might need to visit a doctor. But, she assured me that those fits were natural and enjoyable for a woman.
I walked a beat out of the Franklin Street Station, which is near the Collection Pond. It was along Worth to Mulberry and back. It paid a little extra since Mulberry was the dividing line between the Dead Rabbits and the Bowery Boys.
The Rabbits were a bunch of Mick thugs who worked for Tammany, and the Boys were the muscle for the nativist Know-Nothings. Tammany recruited every Irishman they could find. While the nativists, wanted all of us Hibernians shipped back to the Ould Sod. So, there were frequent get-togethers between the Rabbits and the Boys. And we coppers had to attend every one of them.
The nativists had gotten here first, and they didn’t want to share. So, saloons had signs that said, “No Dogs or Irishmen;” and they meant it. Their justification was that the Irish couldn’t control their drinking and fighting. They might have had a point. But as far as I was concerned, lumping all of us in the same category was nothing but ignorance. We Irish worked hard doing jobs the toffs were too grand, or too lazy to do.
Michael O’Doul shot Bill Poole at one of those affairs and Chief Schwartzwalder sent seven of us boys to “apprehend the miscreant;” his words not mine. I was wondering why a Heinie was running a station full of Micks. Maybe it was because, he spoke better English.
O’Brien was standing in the doorway of O’Doul’s shanty. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that the Boss was putting on a show for the Rabbits and the rest of the bog-trotting scum loitering about.
I was a junior guy. So, Sergeant O’Toole did all the talking. He said, “Now don’t be givin’ us any trouble Shamus. We gotta arrest that boy, and that’s all there is to it.”
O’Brien got up on his high horse. He didn’t give a shit about O’Doul and everybody knew it. But he was pushing his cred with the Sixth Ward crowd. So, he puffed up like Saint Patrick driving out the snakes. It played well to the throng of itinerant Irishmen, and it was a big crowd indeed.
Everybody was angry back in those days. Work was hard to find. And of course, we all blamed the newly freed blacks, who were making their way north into the City. None of us Micks ever thought that demon rum had anything to do with it.
Then somebody threw a rock. It hit Timothy O’Higgins and the fun began. I might not be the tallest Paddy. But I am built like a bull and I love to fight. O’Brien stepped off the porch with a brickbat in his hand. O’Toole had his back turned, facing the crowd. It was clear that O’Brien was going to hit the sergeant over the head. So, I belted him in the ribs with my truncheon, just as he raised his arm.
I had the satisfaction of hearing a crack and O’Brien bent over wheezing in agony. The fight didn’t last long. It was truncheons and saps against fists. We dragged O’Doul out of his house. And we added O’Brien to the pile, just for good measure. He wasn’t going to be doing anything for a while, anyhow.
It didn’t take Tammany long to spring them both. That was as sure as the sun coming up in the mornin’. I had to hand it to O’Brien. He was on his feet. But, he was bent over holding his ribs. He turned to me, as he walked out of the station-house, and said, “This ain’t over Riley, not by a long shot me bucco.” And he was right. I had made an enemy for the rest of HIS short life.
It was a gorgeous Spring day on Mulberry. I was whistling as I finished walking my beat. I strolled into our little downstairs room with a cheery smile. That quickly changed. Sitting there large as life was Shamus O’Brien. His sneer told me everything. He was going to return the favor through Molly.
Molly is preciously naïve. She just doesn’t recognize that true evil exists. So, she was excited. She bustled over to plant a chaste kiss on me and said, “Councilman O’Brien has honored us with a visit dear. He wants ME to be the Maid of Erin, at the Tammany reception for Councilman Tweed.”
The choice was understandable. Molly was really a very special woman. And she was the embodiment of pure Irish femininity. But it was clear by the glint in O’Brien’s eye that he had more in mind than Molly presenting Boss Tweed with a bouquet of shamrocks and roses.
O’Brien stuck out his big meaty paw without missing a beat. He said, “No hard feelings about that little disagreement last fall Patrick.” I thought, “I’ll bet.”
He continued with, “I wanted to smooth things over by nominating Molly for the Maid of Erin. She’s goin’ to be a perfect specimen of Irish womanhood.” The glint in his eye told me that he wasn’t going to rest until he’d fucked my wife.
The War had been going on for two years. And it was never far from anybody’s mind. That’s because the casualty lists from foreign places like Antietam and Fredericksburg kept reminding us. Everybody lost a brother, son, or nephew.
The motto of the Irish Brigade was, “fág an bealach - clear the way.” So, the “Fighting 69th” New York had been at the forefront of grisly places like, the Bloody Lane, and the Stone Wall. And Colonel Meagher had lost a lot of good Irish boys. Worse, the way things were going it was for no apparent gain.
The Union needed more men for the meat grinder. So, the damned Congress instituted something called The Draft. The “Enrollment Act,” as they called it, said that you could be yanked out of your life and made to serve in Mr. Lincoln’s army. Any able-bodied man between the age of twenty and thirty-five was on that list.
Of course, they wrapped the whole thing in the American flag. It might have appealed to every fella’s patriotism. Except, the toffs immediately bought themselves out. The cost was absurd; three-hundred dollars. That, left nobody in the pool but the Heinies, and us Micks.
Monday, the thirteenth of July was a hot and clear summer’s day. We were expecting trouble. The casualty lists were just comin’ in from a place called Gettysburg. And, the anti-war rags spent the weekend whipping up people; with stories about how us poor white folks were paying for the Republican’s war with our lives.
They had us coppers guardin’ the platform in front of the Provost Marshall’s Office, up on 44th. That was where they were drawin’ the names. The first couple of boys just shrugged and walked over to the Provost Officers; who were there to welcome the draftees to their fate. The boys who’d been drafted probably didn’t have anything to do anyhow.
The next had his arm around a pretty girl who was obviously his wife. He said, “But I’m married.” I heard a voice from the podium say, “Doesn’t matter boy-o. That’s your name and you’re goin’.” Both man and wife burst into tears. The provost guards dragged him off, with his wife clinging to his arm. It was pathetic.
The crowd begin to grumble dangerously. Then they drew the next name. I heard, “Patrick Timothy Riley.” There were a lot of Rileys in New York and most of them were named Pat. Then I heard that same irritating voice say, “That’s him over there, boys.”
I turned to see who had said that and it was O’Brien. The sneering smirk on his face said it all. Molly’s beautiful face flashed across my mind and a sense of dread enveloped me. I said, “Wait, I’m married too; and I’m a copper. You can’t take me.”
O’Brien said mockingly, “Yes we can me bucco, and we will!! Seize him boys!!” With that, four men in blue grabbed me right out of the police line and started dragging me toward the rest of the unfortunates. It was between O’Brien and me, now. My first instinct is always to fight, and I am stronger than most people. So, I shook off the two soldiers holding my arms, shoved the other two to the ground, and started toward O’Brien.
I raged, “You won’t get away with this O’Brien. Where are the Knickerbockers? Where are the rich? You’re a traitor to the Irish O’Brien. You’re sending your own people off to die. How many pieces of silver did they give you?”
The gutless bastard was cringing behind the Chief of Police.
At that point, a gang of soldiers caught up with me. The punch to the stomach drove the wind out. The sap knocked me unconscious. But, I saw the first brickbats and stones start to fly. Apparently, I’d started the New York Draft Riot.
The riot went on for two days. A lot of the City burned, a couple of thousand citizens were injured and another hundred were killed. I had no knowledge of that, since I was chained up and hustled over to Camp Astor, on Riker’s Island. My Irish temper was boiling, and they kept the chains on until they threw me in a cell.
I spent a week in the dark. They fed me once a day. All I could think of was my Molly and what was inevitably going to happen to my bright shining lass. Shamus O’Brien was not far from my thoughts, either. I would survive to kill him.
Finally, the door opened and a couple of big beefy soldiers in sergeant’s stipes dragged me out. I was weak as a kitten by then. So, they didn’t have trouble doin’ it. A couple of dandies surveyed me, while I hung by the arms between my two jailors.
One was in a military uniform. He was a neat little man, brown haired, clean shaven. Best of all he looked intelligent. That was a contrast to the other guy. I knew him. His name was Jenkins and he was the Provost Marshall.
The guy in the uniform inspected me. It was like he was buyin’ a horse. He said, “I witnessed what you did at the Draft meeting. I hear from your Chief that you’re a pretty good fighter?”
I said, “Let go of me and you’ll find out.”
The guy in the uniform laughed uproariously and said, “He’ll do. We need men who can fight.”
The two sergeants frog-marched me over to a table. There was a paper on the table. Jenkins said put your “X” on it.
I said, “I can write.”
The military guy looked surprised. Jenkins said, “Okay Spud, sign your name.”
I said, “Not until these two let go of me.”
Jenkins said, “Release the prisoner.” The minute they did I went after Jenkins, only to be stopped by a sword point at my belly. The military guy was holding it.
He looked very cool and calm as he said, “Sign the paper.”
I knew I was signing up for the duration. I wasn’t going to be able to protect Molly if I did. But they were going to spit me like a chicken if I didn’t. The little voice in my head said, “Live to fight another day Paddy.” So, I signed.
At that, the military guy, whose name was Merritt said, “Escort Mr. Riley to the cars and chain him up there. He has an appointment in Buffalo and I want him to keep it.” He knew I would jump off the train if I wasn’t chained to it. So, I rode the entire way up to Buffalo in a box car carrying boots and other military gear.
After a day and a half without sleep, I arrived at a bare patch of land in Lockport. It was a place that they laughingly called a “recruit training” camp. As we passed the encampment, they literally threw me off the train.
I rolled down the embankment, right at the feet of sergeant Michael Brennan. He picked me up and said with a big leprechaun grin, “Welcome to the army Boy-o;” that, as he was unlocking my handcuffs.
Most of the belligerence had been beaten out of me. I had finally accepted that my life in Five Points was over. And that for better or worse, my wife was now in the clutches of a guy whose only aim was to humiliate me. Killing him in creative ways was the only thought that was keeping me going.
I grieved for Molly. She couldn’t write. So, we weren’t going to be exchanging any flowery love letters. None of my friends could read, or write either. So, it was pointless to try to hold on to my old life. I might as well be on the moon as far as she was concerned. I hoped she was alright. I feared she wasn’t.
I am one very tough Mick. But I cried a lot in the deepest, darkest hours of the night. It was SO unfair. I told God that he could forget about seeing me at the Pearly Gates. Because, any deity that would let this happen was no friend of mine.
I coped because I knew that there would be vengeance at the end of my rainbow. And the Devil was my Master. My heart was hard, and cruelty was my best mate. Molly was too good for me now.
Brennan dragged me off to a filthy collection of tents. Three guys were in the nearest one. None of them looked any happier to be there than I was.
He said, “I’ll be givin’ you lads a bunkmate, make him feel right at home.”
That must have meant beat the shit out of the Mick.
Like I said, I’m a good fighter. I got plenty of practice growin’ up in the Points. I’m short. But, I have a neck like a bulldog and the rest of me is thick and powerful. I can also take a punch. That’s because my skull is thick and Irish and I’m an ugly wall of muscle. I didn’t go out of my way to get that way. It was just handed down through generations of Hibernian potato excavators.
I reached an understanding with those boys; once they had been revived. Hence, I had my pick of places to spread my new army blanket. There was also more room. Since, they had to send the one whose jaw I broke, home. He thanked me profusely for getting him out.
I could barely sit on a horse, let alone ride one. The only horses that I had encountered in the Points were pulling carts. And I hadn’t fired a gun. They fixed all that in the four weeks before we were shipped down south. In the meantime, I fell off a lot of horses.
I hated the horses. Most of us were drafted from the City itself. So, I had plenty of company falling off the things. But I adored the gun. I’ve got a steady hand and I love the power a gun gives you. By the end of the month I could regularly hit a target at 300 yards. They hung a sharpshooter medal on me and then shipped me south.
That was how I came to be sitting on a moth-eaten nag in Northern Virginia; in the spring of 1865. The Second Mounted Rifles, better known as The Governor’s Guard, were not the hoity-toity cavalry. We were a collection of shantytown misfits trained to ride to the party.
We fought on foot; like infantry. So, I was toting a 58-caliber Springfield rifle with an almost two-foot bayonet, instead of a sword and a fancy Sharps carbine. Colonel Fisk, was our commander. He was a fellow who got crosswise with his superiors a lot. In short, he was just like me.
The guy who’d made me sign the paper was in charge of the whole Brigade. I liked Wesley Merritt. He could fight. And, unlike Custer, he seemed to care whether the rest of us got killed.
For some reason, he liked me too. He made me a sergeant. Here I was, twenty years old and bossin’ around a bunch of older guys in my troop.
Sometimes, I’d run into a trooper who didn’t hear so well. That’s where my bareknuckle skills came in handy. In the two years after I was coerced into the army I never lost a fight. Eventually the whole troop came to respect me, even if I was a kid.
We were in some real battles, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, Petersburg. But, the generals didn’t know how to use us. We were too much like the cavalry, to be trustworthy as infantry. And we were way too untrained to be much good in a cavalry fight. Most of the time we just scouted and guarded the backs of the people who were doing the actual fightin’.
What was particularly unfair about my situation, was the fact that all the other boys got time off to go back and see their folks. I never did. It was Merritt’s doing. He knew I would run away if he ever let me out of camp. He was right.
The guy who’d been drafted before me was something of a friend. His name was John Blake and he was a good steady guy, quiet, decent and trustworthy. He’d been a mechanic on the docks before he’d been ripped out of his life. His wife Nelly, was an Irish lass, and he loved her as much as I loved Molly.
We talked a lot about how one-sided the whole thing was. He had been making a good living before he got drafted and they were thinking about buying a house. Fortunately, they had been living with Nelly’s folks. So, she had a place to stay.
Molly was all I had and vice-versa. Her parents had died on the voyage over. And I was found in a basket in front of the church. So, our situation was different. They let Blake go back home for a whole week after the fiasco at the Crater. They just laughed when I asked.
Maybe, it was for the better. Blake came back a lot sadder. He really missed his wife. But he said she was still alright, without him. I asked him about Molly. He said he hadn’t heard anything about her. I had the feeling he was holding something back. But, I never got another word out of him.
We finally get our opportunity at a place called Marshall’s Crossroads. They needed all the mounted help they could get. They had found a hole in the rebel line and we were pouring through it to surround them. The distance was too great for infantry to march. So, they called on every mounted regiment in the Army of the Potomac; even us.
Once we got around behind them they had to try to break back out. It was the first time I killed a man in battle. I had no regret. It was a Reb officer. I shot him off his horse from over 350 yards. THEN I put paid to a few his men.
The Rebs tried to get through the cordon around them. They were desperate to escape. We were behind a rail fence. We stood up and volley-fired into them. The field was swathed in black powder smoke. So, you couldn’t see more than thirty yards. Dim figures emerged out of the fog and we shot them down.
We couldn’t miss from that distance. It was like watching corn stalks fall in front of the reaper. They kept coming and we slaughtered them ruthlessly. The sound was indescribable; the crash of our rifles, the shrieks of the dying and that infernal rebel howl.
I was prominent in the fight, remaining standing and calmly yelling the, “LOAD!! PRESENT!! FIRE!!!” volley commands.
I wasn’t being brave. The only reason I was doing that, was because I figured that the faster we ended this thing, the quicker I could get back to my Molly. But, they thought I deserved to be an officer. So, they promoted me on the spot to Lieutenant. I didn’t do anything different as a lieutenant. But, I DID get my own tent.
I was only “officially” a combat officer for a week. Then, the whole thing ended at Appomattox. It didn’t matter. I knew that I’d never be anything but bog-trotting Irish scum in the eyes of my “betters.” But then again, being an officer DID make my separation pay a little bigger, since the Mounted Rifles were the ones who bagged Wilkes Booth. So, we got the biggest share of the reward money. Maybe I could buy a real house for my Molly when I got back.
We were mustered out after the usual folderol. It was in a big parade in Washington City, where the great-and-good polished their credentials for political advancement. I had been away from my former life for exactly two years and one month.
I hadn’t heard anything from anybody in all that time. I had a few friends on the police force. But they were as illiterate as Molly. And Blake had claimed that Molly’d disappeared. She was probably stayin’ with one of her many friends.
The boys had a little farewell party at the National Hotel over on Pennsylvania. There were some toasts, none of which I shared. I was nurturing a red-hot, burning coal of resentment. Then I hopped the Baltimore and Ohio back to New York. It took us almost three days to go down to Virginia on that line. It took a day going back. There wasn’t a terminus in Manhattan, like there is now. So, I just jumped off at Paulus Hook.
In the morning, a waterman took me across to the docks on the Manhattan side. I walked the mile or so from the Battery, to The Points. It was a warm sunny day in late August. The City was buzzing with excitement like I remembered it. I was in my full Lieutenant’s fig with the cavalry yellow trim.
As I got into the old neighborhood, I discovered that people didn’t recognize me. That was understandable. If I had been a bit of a hard case when I left, I was something entirely different now. I wasn’t the innocent twenty-year-old who had been dragged out of his boyhood life in chains. I had spent two years enduring danger and hardship. I had commanded men in battle and I had killed the enemy. I had seen acres of horribly mutilated bodies at the Crater and watched men die for every conceivable reason.
Now, I was death on a pale horse and I was looking for O’Brien.
I walked up to our little shanty. My heart was in my throat. It had always been a happy place, full of peace, joy and love. Now it was an abandoned wreck, much like my life. There wasn’t anything inside, but a litter of cheap whisky bottles; no doubt left by squatters seeking a handy place to drink. In many ways, the desolation of that place was a perfect analogy for my soul.
Molly was nowhere to be seen. I didn’t expect her to be there. She had to live somehow. I had no idea where she was. But I knew where O’Brien lived. He had a fine house on Broadway near Washington Square. It was late afternoon when I arrived at his doorstep. I could have probably gotten the servants to let me in. I looked trustworthy in my cavalry finery, even if I was really nothing but a mounted infantryman. But I preferred not to be hanged. So, I wanted fewer witnesses.
I just loitered around doing reconnaissance. I wanted to get the routines down. I would normally have seemed suspicious to the neighbors. But, I got a lot of approving looks. They appreciated the uniform.
It was finally nightfall. At that point, the gas lamps were on. I was across the street from O’Brien’s house, just watching the traffic going into and out of the house. A lot of politicians, whose faces I recognized, were coming to kiss the great man’s ring; or whatever part of his anatomy he so desired.
There was a stirring and a fine coach pulled up. The front door of the house opened and out walked O’Brien. He was dressed in top-hat and tails, obviously headed for a night on the town.
He had an absolutely sensational woman on his arm. She was all dolled up for the evening, in a tight-fitting emerald green gown that contrasted beautifully with her wealth of copper curls.
The dress showcased a spectacular pair of tits. I knew those tits intimately. They belonged to my wife. That explained everything.
She was nothing like my bright little bird, now. She was a painted New York society lady. O’Brien put his arm around Molly’s waist, as the slimy Mick bastard escorted her to the carriage. She leaned into him intimately. She looked cool, relaxed and content.
Witnessing that infuriating display, I felt nothing. No jealousy, no anger. I had already cried my way into a state of emotionlessness. At least I knew Molly was well, now. She would inherit a lot of money soon.
I had been out there all day observing. I counted four servants in residence; a butler, two parlor maids and a cook; three women and one older man. The rest of the large household was clearly day-help.
I rapped on the door after everybody had gone. The old butler answered it. I was hoping that the servant women had retired for the night. I didn’t want them to witness what was going to happen. It would be gruesome.
The butler surveyed the full uniform and the military bearing and said dismissively, “The Master is at the symphony. He’ll see you in the morning.” He was used to turning away people who were a lot more important than a humble cavalry lieutenant. He began to close the door.
I stopped the door with my foot and said in my best authoritarian voice, “This won’t wait my-man. It comes directly from General Wool. I have to deliver it tonight.” Wool had been put out to pasture just after the riot. I didn’t know that. Fortunately, neither did the butler.
The man was starting to protest. So, I said sternly, “I just told you; friend! This must be delivered tonight!” I added menacingly, no argument expected, “I’ll wait in his office?” as I bulled past him.
The butler was an old man. He reluctantly stepped aside and pointed to a room that was slightly more opulent than Lincoln’s. I went in, turned to him, and said peremptorily, “Send him in as soon as he arrives!!”
Then I slammed the door and began to explore the office. O’Brien had made it big that’s for sure. I didn’t realize how big until I opened his bottom desk drawer and discovered a huge leather bag full of gold eagles. It was just lying there like the money was nothing to him. It must have been O’Brien’s personal stash of bribe money. It was a vast fortune. I dropped it in my satchel. Added to my mustering out bonus, I had a huge pile of cash.
O’Brien arrived home three hours later. I was sitting in his plush leather chair, smoking one of his expensive cheroots and enjoying his Napoleon brandy. The rest of his cheroots were lining my pocket.
I heard a brash angry voice in the hallway and the butler’s deferential answer. He said loudly, in a lecerhous sounding voice, “I’ll be up as soon as I throw this intruder out, my dear. We still have some unfinished business tonight.” That statement was followed by a seductive giggle.
The implications of THAT, caused a real pang. I guess my heart wasn’t as hard as I thought it was. But it DID seal the bastard’s fate. He flung open the door and came striding into the room, looking like a bear with a thorn in his ass.
I was sitting relaxed in his desk chair, feet on his desk, smoking his cheroot and holding a snifter of good brandy in my left hand. The thing that got his attention though, was the big Army colt that I was holding in my right.
I said, “Close the door Shamus, and sit down. We really need to catch up.”
His eyes narrowed, his face darkened with anger and he looked like he was about to explode. I made a “close the door” gesture with the gun. There was something in my eyes that convinced him to do that.
He stormed over to confront me. I stared at him calmly. The thing I had lived for was about to happen. I was utterly serene. Then he recognized me. His eyes bugged out, and his face screamed his terror.
He flopped in a chair and said placatingly, “Now, now, don’t be doing something you’ll regret Pat.”
I said, “And what would that be Shames? Do you think I’ll regret killing the man who shipped me off to be slaughtered? And then, stole my wife?”
He said smoothly, “Now Pat, you know it was just one of those things. You hurt me, I hurt you. It’s over, now. We’re even. We can shake hands and go our merry way.” That was a hoot. O’Brien was ever the Irish politician.
The premise was so absurd that I threw back my head and laughed loudly. But the gun didn’t waver. I had killed good men in the war. I didn’t have the slightest misgiving killing this piece of shite.
I said conversationally, “Are you going up stairs after I leave? Molly’s a great fuck isn’t she, Shamus? How long did you wait?”
I could see it in his eyes. But, he was STILL searching for a way out. He looked exactly like a trapped rat.
He said, trying to sound noble, “After you left, the poor lass didn’t have anybody to take care of her. I just did the Christian thing and took her in. I can’t help it if she fell in love with me.”
I believed him. At heart, Molly was a simple soul. She depended on people to take care of her. I suppose she was more-than appreciative when O’Brien showed up on her doorstep. I also imagine it didn’t take long for him to lure her into his bed. Molly was always a hot-blooded Irish lass.
I said, “When did you tell her I was killed?”
He looked miserable as he said, “After Spotsylvania. There was another Patrick Riley on the casualty list.” He thought he saw a ray of hope. He added, “We ALL thought it was you Pat. I was just takin’ care of your widow. No hard feelings, hey?”
My eyes told him that I knew THAT was bullshit. I said, “When did you two marry?”
He said, “We were married right after that. It was in the church. So, it’s legal and all. You’d been declared dead.” I thought, “That declaration wouldn’t be hard for O’Brien to arrange through his political friends. Now, it would ensure that Molly’d be a rich woman.”
I said wearily, “Well, that’s all water over the dam Shamus. I would really like to stay and make your death long and excruciating. But I have a train to catch. So, I guess I’ll just have to get down to business. Do you have any last words?”
He said, “Please Pat?” He had tears in his eyes. The guy really wanted to live. But of course, he was rich, and powerful. Better yet, he had the most beautiful woman in New York City to fuck senseless every night.
I understood; If I had Molly, I’d want to live too. But I didn’t have her. She was O’Brien’s wife now. So, it was time for him to go.
It was ironic. It only took a determined man and a gun to topple his empire. I said, “I’ll see you in hell Shamus.” And I pulled the trigger.
The heavy, 44-caliber slug, tore the center out of his chest. I watched it with fascination. Shamus O’Brien slumped, lifeless. I stood, and calmly packed the brandy bottle in my satchel. I put it next to the heavy bag of gold. My heart was suddenly lighter.
Then, there was a frantic scrambling in the hall and the door flew open. She was standing there in a shift and long black stockings. I fondly remembered her bright red bush. She looked gorgeous and terrified.
The room was full of the haze from my cigar and the gunsmoke. She saw the big hole in the back of the chair; where her husband’s head was lolling lifelessly. She put both hands over her mouth in a horrified gesture. Then she turned her panicked eyes toward me.
I said with jaunty irony, “Hello Molly my-lass. I’m back from the war. Did you miss me?”
First, she looked bewildered. Then her look changed to utterly aghast, as the recognition washed over her. She whispered weakly, “But, but, you’re dead??” Then those beautiful emerald-green eyes rolled up in her head and she fainted.
I looked down at her voluptuous body. She was lying sprawled open legged, with nothing but a pair of thigh high silk stockings covering her nakedness. A brutal pang of regret seized me. It was so heartbreakingly, powerfully disorienting, that I almost joined her passed-out on the floor.
But I could hear the old butler beginning to stir below stairs. So, instead I walked out into the night, making sure to carefully close the office door behind me. I had to get to the Jersey side before the hue and cry started. That would require stealing a rowboat. But there were plenty of watermen’s boats down by the Battery.
I had wanted to stay and hold her, love her and tell her that it was all right. But it wasn’t. She had betrayed me, even if she had been tricked into it. She was the widow of my hated enemy now. And she would inherit O’Brien’s fortune, thanks to me.
I was free now. I had accomplished the thing that I’d come to do. Molly might not be able to read. But, she was canny. It would cost her the inheritance if she told the authorities that I did it. So, she had one million good reasons to make up a story about a mysterious intruder.
I was the nameless ghost of the former Lieutenant Patrick Timothy Reilly. I had a pocket full of cheroots, a huge bag of gold coins and my substantial mustering out pay. I was only twenty-one-years old and I thought I’d try my luck out west.
A new man emerged when I pulled that trigger. It was like dying and being reborn. Even in the depths of my despair, in all those rainy nights in Virginia, I held onto hope of resuming my old life with the woman I loved.
Discovering that, Molly had spent that entire ordeal pleasuring the man who had put me in harm’s way would have killed me; literally. No wonder Blake kept his mouth shut.
I knew she had been tricked into it. Molly was sweet and beautiful. But she was also simple and trusting. Her gullibility changed nothing about my present situation. The irrefutable fact was that I was on my own now.
Some men might weep, some might brood. I just got harder and more pitiless. It was like all the joy of life, and my humanity, had been boiled out of me. The West was a vast space full of nothing but buffalo and Indians. It seemed like the perfect spot for a man who wanted nothing to do with humanity.
I had my ear to the ground for several weeks after killing O’Brien. I was wondering if they might be comin’ after me. Eventually, I learned that O’Brien’s widow had told the police that she had witnessed a “foreign looking fellow” murder her husband and then disappear into the night.
That settled it. I would never know whether Molly protected me out of greed, or a residual sense of loyalty. But I cherished the thought that she did it for love. I was Timothy O’Hara now, a Mick who had made a lot of money in the Boston bar trade, and wanted to make a lot more in the wild west.
I traveled by rail to St. Louis. It only took two days. It was an amazing example of the modern world of steam.
I bought a good horse in St. Louis. It cost to get kitted out, horse saddle and saddle bags. I spent almost two-hundred of O’Brien’s dollars doing it. But the horse was young, and sound and it could go all day at a reasonable clip.
After two years in the mounted infantry I was as good a horseman as anybody, even if I was a city boy. I could also live under any tree where I could unroll a blanket. I had no idea what I was going to do, perhaps join the miners out in California. It was more a direction, than an intention. I already had an enormous stake in gold thanks to O’Brien.
It all sank in on the ride down to St. Louis. I had been numb when I left New York. But green-eyed jealousy was eating me up now. I couldn’t stop visualizing Molly gasping and quivering, legs spread wide, while O’Brien pounded her. Her willingness to give her body to him utterly crushed me.
I never had parents. I was brought up in the hardship of an orphanage. By the time I was seventeen, my ability with my fists was obvious to everybody. Tammany ran the police force. So, they used that. They made me a copper. Working the streets of Five Points, you quickly learn to trust nobody but yourself.
I first saw Molly when I was walking my beat. She was with a group of Irish washer women. She stood out from the rest like a swan among geese. Her fiery copper hair and laughing green eyes and that perfect round figure were like a beacon calling to me. I knew that I could love and trust this woman. Our marriage was a foregone conclusion.