In a Gilded Cage

Molly Murphy Mysteries (Volume 8)

Rhys Bowen

Minotaur Books

Chapter One

 

It is a well-known fact that we Irish are prone to bouts of melancholy, even without the help of the bottle. I suppose it goes along with the Celtic temperament and long, wet winters. Anyway, I was experiencing such a bout myself as I trudged home through a rainstorm that was wetter and colder than anything I had experienced at home in Ireland. March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers—that was how I learned it at school in Ballykillin. Well, it was now the middle of April and the gale that was accompanying the rain was worse than anything we'd experienced in March. I would never understand the New York weather! One minute it could be sunny and springlike and suddenly the temperature would plunge thirty degrees and we'd be back in winter again.

 

We had endured a particularly long, cold winter, with snow well into March. The bleak conditions had produced all kinds of sicknesses and people had been dropping like flies as influenza of the nastiest kind had turned to pneumonia. Even I, usually known for my robust constitution, had succumbed and spent over a week with a raging fever that finally subsided, leaving me feeling weak and drained. It had been almost three weeks now and I had hardly left the house until my small detective agency, P. Riley and Associates (I now being sole proprietor and associate rolled into one), received a job offer I simply couldn't turn down. It was from Macy's new department store, at Thirty-fourth Street and Herald Square. They wanted me to look into a case of shoplifting that even their own store detectives had not managed to stop. Naturally I was thrilled and flattered, and I accepted immediately. I would have crawled from my deathbed for such an assignment. If I was successful, who knew where it might lead?

 

The weather had finally been springlike when I set off for work that morning, which was why I'd worn my light business two-piece and not thought to take a top-coat or a brolly. Both of which I was now regretting as I came out of Macy's to find that the temperature had plunged again and it was blowing a gale. Within seconds I was soaked to the skin, freezing cold, and thoroughly miserable.

 

I should have been feeling on top of the world. I'd just concluded another successful case. In the guise of a new counter assistant I had spotted the pilfered goods being smuggled out in the trash by one of Macy's own employees and then retrieved from the big trash bins by an accomplice. I had been handsomely rewarded for my ser vices and was glowing with pride, dying to share my news with somebody when I stepped out of Macy's back door and into the gale.

 

I had hopped on a passing Broadway trolley and later regretted this move as well, as I had to walk home from Broadway with the rain driving straight into my face and one hand jamming my charming spring hat onto my head. By the time I was halfway home I was well and truly sorry for myself. I was still weak, of course. I was not usually the kind of person who wallowed in self-pity or thought of her-self as a helpless female. But as I trudged onward I was overwhelmed with gloomy thoughts. I longed for home and family and someone to take care of me.

 

I suppose this wave of blackness and insecurity had something to do with my intended, Daniel Sullivan. We weren't officially betrothed yet, but we had definitely reached the stage of an understanding. And it was this that was making me unsettled and jittery.

 

Had my mother still been alive, she would have relished telling me that I was never satisfied. I suppose she was right—when Daniel had been in disgrace and on suspension from his position as captain of police, he had shown up on my doorstep every single day, and I had found myself wishing he'd be reinstated quickly, not just for his sake but for mine too. I found myself seriously wondering whether marriage and domestic bliss were what I wanted for myself.

 

But recently he had been reinstated under the new commissioner of police and since then I had scarcely seen him. He had popped in once while I was at the height of my sickness, expressed concern, and then .ed, not to be seen again. So now I was filled with doubts: did this lack of attention mean that he had tired of me, or was he merely taking me for granted now that he had more interesting ways to spend his time? If I married him I'd have to come to terms with the fact that this was what life as a policeman's wife would be like. And how would I take to being the good little woman, sitting at home with my darning, waiting for him and worrying about him? Plenty of food for thought there. Never satisfied, I chided myself. Wants security but doesn't want to be tied down. Wants love but wants freedom. Wants . . .

 

I never did get to the third want, as a great gust of wind swept off the Hudson and snatched my hat from my head. I gave a scream of despair and leaped after it. It was a new hat, my first extravagant purchase since my detective agency started to make money, and I wasn't about to see it disappear under the wheels of a passing wagon or hansom cab. I lifted my skirts and chased it in most undignified fashion to Fifth Avenue. Then a particularly violent gust caught it again and swept it out into the street just as I was about to pick it up. I didn't think twice as I ran after it. There was an angry honking and I was conscious of a low black shape hurtling toward me.

 

"Holy mother of God," I gasped as I flung myself to one side. The automobile screeched to a halt inches in front of my hat, which now lay in the mud.

 

"What the devil do you think you're doing," shouted an angry voice. "You could have gotten yourself killed."

 

"I'm sorry," I began, then my mouth dropped open as the gentleman removed his driving goggles and I recognized him at the same moment he recognized me. "Daniel!" I exclaimed.

 

"Molly, what a damned stupid thing to do," he snapped. "These machines go fast, you know. And they don't stop on a dime. They're not like horses."

 

"I said I was sorry," I snapped back, feeling foolish now as a crowd gathered. "The wind took my hat and I wasn't about to lose it." As I said this I stepped gingerly into the mud and retrieved the hat, which was rain-soaked and definitely the worse for wear.

 

"Climb up," Daniel reached across to open the door for me, "and I'll drive you home. You look as if you've been dragged through a hedge backward."

 

"Thank you for the compliment, kind sir," I retorted, and was about to say I'd rather walk. But common sense won out, of course, and I dutifully climbed up to sit beside Daniel in the automobile.

 

"What were you doing out in this rain without an umbrella?" Daniel said, still glaring at me angrily. "You have no business being out at all on a day like this. You've been seriously ill, Molly."

 

"I was feeling better and, anyway, I had an assignment," I said. "It was too good to turn down. And if you want to know, when I left home at seven this morning the sky was blue. And believe me, I've regretted the decision to wear my spring clothes every moment of the last half hour."

 

Daniel looked at my angry face, with my hair plastered to my cheeks and drops running freely down my nose, and started to laugh. "I shouldn't laugh, I know." He attempted to stop smiling. "But you really do look like the orphan of the storm. Come here. Let me kiss that little wet nose."

 

He pulled me toward him and kissed the tip of my nose, then put his hand under my chin and repeated the process on my lips. His mouth was warm against mine and I found myself climbing down just a little from my high horse.

 

"Right, let's get you home and out of those wet clothes before you catch pneumonia," Daniel said. "I have to be back at headquarters within the hour, though."

 

He released the brake and put his foot on the accelerator pedal. The machine responded by coughing, bucking like a wild bronco, and then dying. Daniel muttered a curse under his breath and stepped down into the storm. "Now I've got to start the blasted thing again," he said. I watched while he took out the crank, went around to the front of the vehicle, and cranked several times before the contraption coughed and sprang to life. Daniel hopped in smartly before it could stall again and we were off. I glanced at him and started to laugh. "Now who looks like the orphan of the storm?" I said triumphantly.

 

In a minute or so we had pulled up outside my little house in Patchin Place. It is a street some might describe as an alley, but I think of it as a charming backwater in Greenwich Village. Miraculously the rain chose the same moment to stop, and a patch of blue appeared between the dark storm clouds. Daniel climbed down and came around to assist me. I opened the door, put on the kettle, and went to change out of my wet clothes. There wasn't much to be done about my sodden hair but at least the rest of me looked dry and respectable as I came downstairs again.

 

"Sometimes I despair of you," Daniel said. "Sit down. I'll make the tea."

 

He took the kettle from the hob and filled the teapot. "You don't have any brandy or rum to put into it, I suppose?"

 

"I don't," I said. "I live a very frugal life, as you well know."

 

He smiled. "Pity. Well, at least this will be hot and sweet. Better than nothing." He poured me a cup. "Get that down you, woman." He looked at me with fond exasperation. "You haven't an ounce of common sense in your body, have you? When you're not risking your life by chasing murderers you're risking it by not taking care of your health. This is not an ordinary influenza, you know. I can't tell you how many funeral pro cessions I've witnessed in the past weeks. One of our own men, a strapping lad of twenty-five, went down with it and was dead within three days. And yet you go running around in a storm when you should still be in bed."

 

"I couldn't turn it down, Daniel," I said. "It was Macy's department store. They were offering a handsome fee and it was a case their own store detective hadn't managed to crack."

 

"And were you successful?"

 

"I was. They thought they had a clever shoplifter, but it turned out to be a conspiracy of their own employees—a counter assistant who dropped small items into a passing trash bin and another accomplice who retrieved the items from the trash. I was lucky enough to spot a bottle of perfume disappearing from a counter."

 

"Good for you," Daniel said. "Now let's hope you live to enjoy the spoils."

 

"I'm feeling much better," I said. "Or at least I was when I set out this morning. And I can't say you've seemed overly concerned about the state of my health until now. You took one look at my fevered brow and beat a hasty retreat, never to be seen again."

 

Daniel grimaced. "Yes, I know. I'm sorry about that."

 

"I understand that gentlemen have an aversion to being around sickness."

 

"No, it wasn't that, I assure you. I was most concerned about you."

 

"So concerned that I've not seen you in two weeks and had to throw myself in front of your automobile to get your attention."

 

He managed a grin. "Actually I've been on a case that has kept me busy day and night. I've hardly even had a chance to sleep."

 

"What kind of case is it?" I took a long swig of hot tea and felt the warmth going through my body. "Let me know if I can be of help."

 

Daniel smiled in a way that I took as patronizing. "My dear girl, you know I can't discuss a criminal case with you, and I certainly wouldn't let you help me."

 

"You don't think I'm any good as a detective?" I asked.

 

"I think you're very competent in your own way," he said cautiously, "but I have to play by the rules, and besides, I try to keep you well away from murders of any sort. So you stick to your kind of investigations and I'll stick to mine."

 

"Don't be so damned patronizing." I flung the tea towel in his direction.

 

"My, we are testy, aren't we?" He laughed. "And I wasn't intending to be patronizing. I'm glad that your business is going well, but you know my feelings. I'd be much happier if you didn't have to work and especially if you didn't have to put yourself in harm's way. Now that I'm back on the job, we can make proper plans for the future. I'm saving up for a house, Molly."

 

"You haven't asked me to marry you yet," I reminded him.

 

"I intend to do it properly, at the right moment," he said.

 

"And you don't know that I'll say yes."

 

Those alarming blue eyes flashed. "No, I don't know that, but I'm hopeful. At least you're now seeing the reality of what life with me will be like. Odd hours. Coming and going. Calls in the middle of the night, and times when you'll see nothing of me for days on end."

 

"You make it sound so delightful. It's a wonder I don't accept you on the spot," I retorted, and he chuckled.

 

"I know I've been neglecting you recently," he said. "I'll make it up to you when this case is successfully concluded, I promise."

 

"You must get Easter off, surely? Why don't we walk in the Easter Parade? I've always wanted to do that."

 

"The Easter Parade? Oh come, Molly. That is for the nouveaux riches wanting to show off their expensive hats, and I'm afraid that sodden chapeau of yours wouldn't be able to compete."

 

"I don't wish to compete. I just want to experience things that New Yorkers do," I said. "And I'd like a chance to stroll up the avenue with my beau on my arm for once."

 

"I wish we could, but the answer is no, I don't get Easter off. Not while people are killing each other all over the lower portion of Manhattan." He drained his teacup and stood up. "Speaking of which, I have to go, I'm afraid. I'm expected at headquarters. Good-bye, my sweet. Take care of yourself, please. No more walking out in the rain until you are completely recovered." He came over to me, kissed me on the forehead, and was out of the front door before I could even respond. I went to the door after him and watched him working furiously to crank that machine to life.

 

"You should stick to horses, they're easier to start," I called after him.

 

He looked up and grinned. "This is an experiment. The commissioner of police wants to find out if automobiles might be useful in police work. So far I'm not impressed." He gave another mighty jerk as he said this and the machine sputtered into action. With that he leaped onto the seat, waved, and reversed down Patchin Place.

 

Excerpted from In a Gilded Cage by Rhys Bowen
Copyright © 2009 by Rhys Bowen
Published in March 2009 by St. Martin's Press

 

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