Prompt: A promise made and/or broken.
A Promise Kept
My name is Lilac Dupree and I always keep my promises.
The man I want to kill barely spares me a glance as I pass him on the street. Violet laments the duration of our extended mourning period and bemoans the black crepes and silks that comprise our entire wardrobes. I’ve reminded her several times that it is only a matter of weeks until we can transition to half mourning when she’ll be able to wear some of her precious mauves again. She hardly cares.
No matter. Mourning attire suits my purposes just fine. People rarely pay any notice to a young woman bedecked in black from head to toe. Even the men keen to spot a well-turned ankle coming out of a carriage quickly avert their eyes when they see that ankle is covered by a black dress. Their eyes quickly pass over any pretty face obscured by a black bonnet or parasol. It helps, I think, that the black does little for my complexion beyond washing me out to a sickly pallor against my dark hair.
In mourning I am able to all but disappear. And I need to disappear if I want to exact my revenge.
The man I want to kill walks the city for most of the afternoon. I am grateful for the work boots I borrowed from Josiah and the way that they blend with the black of my skirt and petticoat. He won’t appreciate the strength of my need, or the absence of his boots, when he needs to muck out the stables. But I can hardly be blamed because Mother took the opportunity of transitioning the house into mourning to also transition my own sturdy boots into the trash. Mother claims young women of quality should always wear appropriate footwear. I would like to see Mother tromping around New York City’s cobblestones in her boots with their spool heels. At any rate I could hardly be expected to accomplish anything in such boots. Luckily Josiah is but eleven and has not yet hit his growth spurt. I only needed one extra pair of socks to make his boots fit.
If I didn’t know better I would say the man appears melancholy, morose even. I linger near a window when he walks into a corner pub. The sun is setting. It is the first time I have been out near dusk without a chaperone. I instructed Violet to tell mother I was dining with the Peabodys and staying with their daughter Olivia for the evening. I can only hope the two dollars I gave her with the promise of a new jet bead purse will help to make her a better liar.
My black dress blends into the shadows until I can scarcely tell where one stops and the other starts. Unfortunately it does little to help me blend in. Unattended women are not supposed to venture this far downtown, certainly not this close to the water. The anonymity I enjoyed in the bright afternoon light is quickly morphing into unwanted attention and lingering stares that make my skin crawl.
Just when I begin to question the wisdom of my outing, the man I want to kill exits the pub and passes entirely too close to where I am loitering near the entrance. His eyes are glassy with drink and I sag gratefully with relief when he passes me without a second glance. I lift my skirts to my ankles so that I can follow him more quickly down the street as he rushes through the intersection.
With only a rough idea of where I am in relation to the family brownstone, I can little afford to get lost tonight. I can worry more fully about how to get home after I exact my revenge. I quicken my pace again as the man begins moving east.
My father was murdered eleven months ago. He was a respected banker and much loved by his wife and his two daughters. Everyone says it is a tragedy—his life shot down far too soon. No one knows why anyone would have wanted to kill him. No one knows that I was on my way to meet Father when he was shot.
From across the street I watched the tableau unfold as Father raised his hands in the air before being pushed to the ground by the force of the bullet striking his chest. The street became a throng of people then, a mob of gawkers and Samaritans alike trying to get to Father while still others panicked and tried to run in the opposite direction.
My feet felt rooted to the spot as I watched a man taking in the scene. Our eyes met across the street before he began walking briskly through the mob.
No one stopped him. No one, I realized later, saw him. In that moment I promised myself that I would find him and I would get justice for my father.
I keep my eyes on his brown jacket now as he moves through the street. His red hair is easy to spot in the gloaming—a bright spot in the otherwise darkening night. It took months to find him, tracing his movements on that day eleven months ago by asking merchants in the area and other witnesses. I had despaired of ever finding him when I noticed him near the bank yesterday skulking from shop to shop looking for work or perhaps just gauging if anyone were tracking his movements. My vigilance was rewarded when I left the house early this morning and was able to follow him from the bank all the way downtown to here.
I stop abruptly at a corner to avoid barreling into the man. I’m not a fool. I know I cannot confront him in the middle of a crowded street. My hope, as he winds his way through the streets of the Bowery, is that I might find whatever rooming house he is calling home so that I might enter his room. I grasp my clutch in both hands. After I get him alone, Mother’s pearl handled revolver will do the rest.
It is full dark now. I can only hope we are near his destination. Already my attire is drawing stares amidst the poverty of this neighborhood. Women here have no money to spare for full mourning and women who can do not walk alone at night. I am drawing unwanted attention. The part of my mind not occupied with watching the man’s progress begins to worry how I will get home in one piece much less unnoticed.
The man rounds a corner and I follow quickly down an alley. The only light comes from a door that has been wedged open with a discarded brick. It is not enough to illuminate the man I have been following where he hides in the shadows. I walk into his hard chest before I realize what has happened. His hands clamp around my arms before I can think to back away. No one knows where I am or what I had planned today. Not even my little sister Violet. For the first time since I began my search, I realize I have been the worst kind of fool.
The man turns me so that we are both closer to the light. I am surprised when I see that his eyes are concerned and not at all glassy after his time in the pub. Instead his gaze is shrewd. His hold on me loosens when something like recognition passes across his face.
I waste no time reaching for my clutch. The effect is somewhat ruined by the way my hands shake as I pull Mother’s revolver out of my clutch. “You killed my father.” I raise the revolver until it points to his chest.
“We both know you aren’t going to shoot me, Miss Dupree.”
“You don’t know anything about me,” I say as I fumble with the hammer on the back of the revolver. Much to my horror it catches on the lace of my glove. He stares at me a moment before he easily palms the revolver.
“I know many things about you, Miss Dupree. Including the fact that you placed yourself in great personal peril by following me today,” he says as he places the revolver into his jacket pocket.
I open my mouth to deliver a choice retort when a more pertinent question occurs to me. “How do you know my name?”
“Why do you think I killed your father?” he replies as he leans against one of the alley walls, eyeing me warily the entire time.
“I saw you there. You looked at me, calm as you please, before walking away. What else would you have been doing there?”
He clenches his jaw and stares at something just above my shoulder. “What would you say, Miss Dupree, if I told you that I had been hired to protect your father?”
“I’d say you did a miserable job of it for starters!” I reply indignantly.
“No one would argue that point,” he says with a shake of his head. He returns his focus to me. “My name is Cormac Breen. Your father had reason to believe his life was in danger and he hired me to provide some measure of protection.”
“I dare say you’ve been out of work for the better part of this year then,” I snap. “And I will need that revolver back, Mr. Breen. My mother will miss it.” I hold out my hand for the gun.
“You’ll get it back when I know you won’t try to shoot me again.”
“I thought you said we both knew I wouldn’t shoot you,” I reply caustically. “Changing your mind already, Mr. Breen?”
“Let’s just say I hadn’t heard about the elder Miss Dupree’s temper. As to the matter of my employ: Your father paid generously and I dislike failing. I have been conducting an investigation into your father’s shooting.”
“Wouldn’t that fall into the jurisdiction of the police department?”
“It would,” he says with a nod. “Which is why it’s fortunate that I was only moonlighting for your father.” He lifts the lapel of his jacket to show me a badge. “It’s actually Detective Breen, if you would be so kind, Miss Dupree,” he adds with a smile that is entirely too flattering to his overall countenance.
I do not smile back. “It would seem to me,” I say after a moment, “that between your so-called moonlighting and your official job with the police department that you might have found answers long before now.”
Detective Breen leans forward unexpectedly; close enough for me to see the green of his eyes and the ghost of stubble along his jaw. I take a careful step back as he says, “What would you say, Miss Dupree, if I told you that your father’s death is but the beginning of a conspiracy I am only now beginning to fully grasp?”
“My father was just a banker, Detective,” I say with a scoff as I wonder if Bellevue is missing one of its inmates.
“I assure you I am deadly serious, Miss Dupree. Your father was involved with something that got him killed. I intend to find out what.”
“And what does any of that have to do with me?”
He takes a step closer so that now I am the one against a wall. He has an excited gleam in his eye as he answers my question. “A police detective can only go so far in your family’s world. Particularly an Irish one. You, however, have no such barriers and have already proven yourself an adequate investigator. Since you are so keen to avenge your father and clearly have no regard for your personal welfare in the process, I may be persuaded to accept your assistance so that I can keep my eye on you and assure that another tragedy does not befall your family.”
I stare at him for a moment.
He takes my hand and places the revolver in it. “What do you say, Miss Dupree?” he asks as he holds his hand out to me.
I place the revolver into my clutch again before I reply. I already know my answer. I suppose I’ve known since Detective Breen told me what he was really doing. I suspect he knows as well.
“I promised myself I would find out what really happened to my father, Detective Breen. And I always keep my promises.”
We seal the bargain with a handshake before I can change my mind.