The heat bore down on the city in relentless waves. Young boys, enjoying the summer as only young boys can, ran, played stickball, and swam in the river. Men and women moved about wrapped in the oppressive heat and humidity that was the summer of 1930. Their emotion drained, as they walked the city hoping in vain for a cool breeze.
Away from the city, cars had begun pulling up to a pier, where a party boat would soon depart for the coolness of the open sea. People arriving grew more animated as they walked up the gangplank, onto the deck of the Robert Forster. The breeze off the water was refreshing and steady, the people began to drink and chat among themselves. A quartet began to play the popular songs of the day.
A taxi pulled up to the dock. As the doors opened, two young women stepped out, eyeing the sleek vessel moored at the dock. The attractive women, dressed in their most elegant attire, gazed about, then looked at each other and smiled.
“I told you this would be a time, Leeny.”
The other girl nodded, turning to her friend, “We’re still in port, Geri.”
“I know. Just wait ‘til we’re on the water; you’ll like it.”
A few of the young men, standing on the deck eyed the young women with interest, as they moved quickly towards the ship.
A black sedan pulled up behind the now-departing taxi in which the two women had arrived. The sedan parked off to the side, among other vehicles. The door opened, and a tall, physically impressive, man dressed in a business suit stepped out onto the pavement. Pulling the brim of his hat down over his eyes, he glanced about at the revelers, his eyes stopping at the two women as they made their way onto the ship. His face portraying a momentary look of annoyance, he started towards the ship, walking with a noticeable limp. The other people, noting
the approach of the large man, cleared a path for him. Walking up onto the ship, the man paid his fare and then moved towards a vacant area of deck. Moving casually, his eyes were everywhere as he searched for the young women. Noticing that they were engaged in conversation with some young men, laughing and at ease, he relaxed.
The deck lights dimmed as the ship’s whistle gave a long call. The deck hands began to remove the gangplank, preparing for departure, while the people on board began to cheer. The man, standing a good head above all the others, kept to the shadows. The young people looking forward to a good time were soon oblivious to the tall stranger.
He edged closer towards the young women, sipping a drink and listening to their conversation.
“Brian and I work for Chase Manhattan Bank. We’re loan officers.”
The other woman laughed. “I’m Geri and this is my friend Eileen.”
Eileen, with her fair complexion, engaging smile and her long blond hair, could only be described as beautiful. Her smile could melt any man’s heart, while her dark green eyes caught and held their attention. The other woman had set her sights on the shorter of the two men, moving in closer to him. His friend, noting this development, focused his attention on Eileen, although she seemed distracted, and her efforts at conversation were slightly strained.
The ship, having pulled away from the pier, was quickly making its way out to the open sea.
The tall man positioned himself in a quiet corner, continuing to observe the young women. He was pleased to note that Eileen’s friend seemed to be growing more preoccupied with her companion, Eileen seeming marginally interested in her young man.
The tall man turned, staring out the window at the darkening ocean. As a young man he had spent some time at sea. Looking to the south, he noted the darkening sky, thinking perhaps that a turn of the weather might suit his purpose. As he stared out the window, his senses were keenly attuned to the four young people under his watch. Catching snippets of conversation, he grew annoyed that the young woman had now begun to drink.
This would make her unpredictable.
He had taken pains to ensure that no one would recall the older man with the slight limp, counting on his ability to blend into a crowd. On the boat, among the younger crowd were a few older couples. With Prohibition having been in place for many years, older couples took advantage of opportunities to have a drink, too. Sipping his drink, he casually smiled at a woman walking past him. Turning to glance at his quarry, he observed the other woman and man were quite entwined and the object of his attention was speaking with the man’s friend, who now appeared to be growing intoxicated.
Relaxing, the tall man recalled hunting with his father, and the lesson of patience when tracking prey that he was told repeatedly by that stern, demanding man. He had learned to forget the beatings and the cruel discipline, trying like a good son to remember the rare happy times of his youth.
On the bridge of the Robert Forster, the captain scanned the water, navigating his vessel out to sea. His instructions were explicit: only an existing severe storm could prevent him from leaving port. Taking note of the cloudy sky, he addressed his first mate, “Mr. Vetter, steer south by southwest; maintain speed.” The slim man at the wheel replied, “South by southwest, aye sir.” Hearing the music from below, the captain hoped these people wouldn’t be in for a rough night.
On the deck below, people stood at the rail, taking advantage of the cool breeze. Some stared at the city lights receding in the distance, happy to be away from the heat, even if just for a short time.
Soon after, a steady mist began to fall. The swells of the ocean rose higher, forcing the revelers to make their way inside.
Eileen O’Sullivan stared at her friend, in conversation with her companion, ignoring her. Looking back at the young man with whom she had been speaking, she saw that he was now engaged in conversation with a group of men about sports, hearing references to the New York Yankees. Standing alone, feeling the movement of the ship, her thoughts turned to her childhood in Ireland.
Her father had been a fishing captain in Galway. It was a hard life but she had loved it. Her mother had died shortly after giving birth to her; while her father, brokenhearted, never remarried. Without sons, he had taken her aboard his craft, seeking to teach her of life on the sea. She tried, but lacking the physical strength, he decided to put her ashore and hire a mate. This had stretched their already meager finances.
She tried to help out by getting work in Brady’s Pub on the Claddagh Quay. An unexpected storm, which had sunk five vessels including her fathers, was what started her on her journey to America. Big Jack Brady, the pub owner, had sponsored her ticket to America, arranging for her to have employment with a friend. Eileen had left Ireland with grand hopes for her future, which had been cruelly dashed when Brady’s friend had tried to rape her. Fleeing his house, she had spent time on the streets, hungry and cold, until another woman, taking note of her beauty, had suggested she seek out Virginia Maitland.
Virginia “Ginny” Maitland was one of the most influential women in New York. Prior to her marriage to local businessman Charles Maitland, it seemed people knew very little of her. A woman of undeniable intellect, she had helped build her husband’s already sizable fortune into an array of vast holdings, stretching into every aspect of American industry. A woman of average height, she was elegantly beautiful; her face a delicate visage with slightly high cheekbones and an endearing smile. Possessed of a wicked sense of humor, she could hold her own with any man. She was true to her friends and she suffered fools lightly.
A cornerstone of her operation was a bordello, situated at a posh Fifth Avenue address. It wasn’t the typical whorehouse. Ginny had never forced or coerced a woman to work in the bordello. Recognizing the limited opportunities open to women, her single instruction to those who chose to work in the house was to gain information. Experience had shown her that most men were prone to bragging. The women were charged with telling their tales to Ginny’s assistant, and she would then transcribe them into a summary for Ginny’s review. Ginny would then take action based upon their reports, with any financial gain incurred being shared with the woman who had gained the information.
Ahead of her time, Ginny had established “retirement funds” for her girls, as she liked to call them.
She had also arranged for a physician to make regular visits to ensure their health. The women, when they chose to leave her, always retired in comfort and security.
She was loyal to them and they were fiercely loyal to her.
Ginny also had another enterprise of which she was justifiably proud. Her agents throughout the city helped young women gain honorable employment. Given their limited educations, the positions were often as domestic help; but it was honest work and they were grateful for it.
It was in such a situation that Eileen O’Sullivan had met Ginny Maitland.
Eileen had made her way to the address that the woman had provided, arriving she had doubted her ability to gain entrance to the grand house. Shortly after knocking, the door opened, with a seriously large man staring down at her.
“Yes? What is it you want, lass?”
She sighed, inwardly grateful, hearing his Irish accent.
“I would like to speak with Mrs. Maitland.”
Expecting rejection, she was relieved.
His voice higher than expected, he bid her “Come in then, I’ll see if she is available.” Ushering her in, he pointed at a richly upholstered chair. Leaving her, he moved through a nearby doorway. Sitting, she felt her body collapse into the comfortable chair. She gazed about the small waiting room, feeling a comfort she hadn’t known since Ireland. After a few moments, a, stylishly dressed woman entered, looked at her, and smiled.
Eileen was quickly to her feet, her voice anxious “Mrs. Maitland, I’m an honest woman looking for work; I was told you might help me.”
The woman gazed at her, and Eileen saw compassion in her eyes.
“That’s fine, dear. I’m Claire, Mrs. Maitland’s assistant. Would you follow me, please?” Taking her by the elbow, she directed her into the house. “I was about to have a cup of tea, would you join me?”
Eileen gave her a weary smile. “Yes, that would be grand, thanks.”
They walked into a larger sitting room and Claire directed her to a chair. As they sat, Claire casually asked, “What’s your name?”
Embarrassed by her lack of introduction, Eileen flushed. “Eileen O’Sullivan, miss, I apologize for not.”
Claire held up her hand, silencing her. “There’s no need to apologize. Please, tell me, how long have you been in America?”
A maid entered the room carrying a tea service, setting it by Claire. “Thank you Bertie,” Claire said. “That will be all.” Smiling at the women, the maid quickly departed.
Pouring the tea, Claire gave a quick look at Eileen. “Do you take cream and sugar?”
“Yes, miss, please.”
“Call me Claire, please.”
Taking a sip of her tea, Eileen savored the hot liquid as it slid down her throat.
Claire watched her a moment, then proceeded with more questions. “Now, tell me, how long have you been in America?”
Relaxing, Eileen opened up to Claire, telling her of her arrival just a few short weeks ago, of her promised employment, and finally of Big Jack Brady’s friend’s betrayal. Claire listened intently as the girl spoke, sipping her tea. When she had finished, Claire’s face had a hard look about it.
Her voice cold, “The miserable bastard, what is it about men always thinking like that?”
Eileen smiled at the comment. Claire made a note to have someone pay the man a visit. Claire continued to ask her questions about her schooling, and if she had any professional training or experience. Finishing their discussion, Claire stood up. Eileen rose as well, with a hopeful look in her eyes.
“Eileen, I will speak to Mrs. Maitland about you.”
Eileen flushed. “Oh thank you, miss, I…”
Claire held up her hand again, a small smile on her face. “No thanks are necessary. You’ll need a room for the night.” She held a card out to Eileen. With the card was a ten dollar bill. “Go to this address, and mention my name at the door. They will be expecting you. The money will cover your cab fare and allow you to have some dinner.”
Eileen asked. “What is your last name, Claire?”
Claire looked at her for a moment and gave a deep, throaty laugh. “Porter. Claire Porter.”
Her eyes full of appreciation, she replied softly. “Thank you, Claire Porter.”
Claire smiled back, naturally liking the young woman. “After a bath and a good night’s sleep, you’ll feel like yourself again,” and then “tomorrow, you will meet Mrs. Maitland.”
After giving her directions to the address on the card, Claire ushered her out. Walking back into the house, she went upstairs and knocked on a door at the end of the hall. From the room, a woman’s voice answered, “Come.”
She entered; behind a desk sat Ginny Maitland, Claire waited patiently while Ginny finished writing. Placing the pen down, Ginny met her gaze.
Interested, Ginny asked “Well, what did you think?”
“A good woman, I’m thinking more for the domestic side, not the castle.” The “castle” was their name for the bordello. Ginny nodded. Experience had taught her to trust Claire’s instinct in such matters.
“All right then, why don’t you bring her around about ten and I’ll speak with her. Thank you, Claire.”
Claire nodded, recalling the rape, “I’d like to send Frank to see the bastard who attacked her.”
Ginny thought for a second and agreed. “Yes, I think a visit by Frank is merited here, please speak with him.” Aware of the story, having listened on the intercom
The next morning, a car was waiting to drive Eileen back to the house to meet with Mrs. Maitland. As the prior day, she was met at the door, this time by Claire. Exchanging pleasantries, Eileen thanked Claire for the new dress which was sent to the rooming house. Turning inward, Claire said “Follow me,”
Eileen followed Claire up the elegant, wide staircase; she took note of the décor of the house. It was as grand as any fine manor in Ireland. She felt that Mrs. Maitland must indeed be a woman of influence. They came to a door, on which Claire knocked.
A woman’s voice answered “Come.”
Opening the door, Claire guided her into the office.
Sitting behind an ornate desk was a woman, stylishly dressed, Eileen thought her quite attractive. She put her pen down; she rose, and came around to meet the two women. Offering a smile that put Eileen at ease, she held out her hand. “I’m Ginny Maitland. You must be Eileen.”
Eileen found herself instantly liking the woman. “Yes, I am, Mrs. Maitland.”
Ginny held up a hand to stop her. “Ginny, please, we’re friends here.”
Eileen was struck by the honest sincerity of the woman. Ginny gestured towards the chairs, and the two sat.
Claire spoke, “Ginny, if you’ll excuse me, I do have other matters to attend with.”
Ginny nodded. “Thank you, Claire.”
She turned back to Eileen. “Claire has told me of your situation. I have some enterprises around the city; I think I might be able to assist you in obtaining employment.”
“I would be eternally in your debt.”
Ginny noted the honesty. The gratitude in her eyes raised feelings she had not felt for some time. They both sat silently for a few seconds.
Ginny considered her words for a moment, “I have a very dear friend whose wife has recently passed, due to illness. I would like to help him during this tragic time. He has no family in the city, and it would I think help him to have someone to keep his house, until his grief lessens. If this is a position that might appeal to you, we would arrange for you to stay at your current lodging while you work for my friend during the day.”
Eileen stared, sensing the woman’s pain. “Ah, the poor man; of course I accept. Is he an older gentleman?”
Ginny shook her head. “No, he’s about ten years older than you.”
Eileen nodded. “What is it the gentleman does for a living, if I might ask?”
Ginny gave her a half-sad smile. “He is a police detective.”
Surprised, Eileen smiled, and the deal was struck.
Eileen’s thoughts returned to the present as the swells continued to rise. She easily stood the deck, having grown up around fishing vessels. Amused, she watched the others having trouble navigating the dance floor, especially after a few drinks.
Alone with her thoughts, she ventured outside.
Confronted by the pitch black of the ocean, and being far offshore, she made her way to the rail. The soft rain on her face felt good, returning her to her childhood and her father’s boat. When thoughts of her current situation intruded, she pushed them aside.
It was just a night to enjoy the elements.
Watching her, the large man had made his way out onto the deck a distance away from her. Staying in the darkness, he moved slowly towards the young woman, senses alert, observing all about him. It was the opportunity for which he had been waiting.
Once he got close to her, he drew a stiletto. Keeping it near his body, avoiding any telltale reflection, he was soon next to her.
Turning, she gave a slight cry as he startled her. Her emotions quickly turned to fear as she recognized the man.
“Quiet, fraulein,” he whispered as he held the knife to her chest.
“Please, don’t hurt me…I’m sorry.”
The large man pushed the knife into her chest, covering her mouth to stifle any cry. As she stared into his eyes in shock, he spoke gently to her, “You should have been happy.” He easily lifted her, tossing her over the side into the dark water. As she sank into the cold dark water, her life gently flowing from the wound in her side, her last thoughts were of her revenge.