Oh Danny Boy (Molly Murphy Mysteries, #5)
New York, August 1902
There was that maniacal laughter again. I looked around, but I couldn’t detect where it was coming from. It seemed to be part of the very darkness itself. Black water lapped up at me as I stepped onto the iron lacework of a walkway. I thought I could hear a child’s voice calling, “Save me, save me,” and I started toward it. But beneath me were other faceless forms, and they held up white arms to me, calling out, “Help us first.”
The laughter grew louder until it was overwhelming. I started to run. Water splashed up at my feet and when I looked down at my shoes they were black. That’s when I noticed it wasn’t water at all. It was blood.
I woke with my heart pounding and sat up, my hands grasping the cool reality of the sheet before I realized I was in my own room. I sat still for a while, conscious of the empty quiet of the house around me, wondering what the dream might mean. It was the third time I had dreamed it this week. The first time I’d put it down to an exotic Mongolian meal at my friends’ house across Patchin Place (they were into a nomad phase at the moment), but dreaming the same thing three times must mean more than just plain indigestion.
Back in Ireland dreams were always taken seriously. My mother would have been able to interpret mine for me in a wink, although I rather think her interpretation would be influenced by the fact that I was rude, didn’t mind my elders, and was heading for a bad end. But I recall the women sitting around in our cottage over a cup of tea, debating whether dreaming of a black cow meant future wealth or a death in the family. What would they say about an ocean of blood? I shuddered and wrapped my arms around myself.
My life had certainly been in turmoil since I had returned from my assignment on the Hudson, but I couldn’t think what could have sparked such a terrifying nightmare. There was my frightening ordeal in the river, of course. That might have prompted me to dream of water. And I had almost lost little Bridie O’Connor to typhoid. She was still far from well and had been sent to a camp for sickly city children in Connecticut, run by the ladies at the settlement house on Sixth Avenue. Was it her voice I had heard in the dream? Had she been calling for me to come to her? Should I have gone to the country to be with her?
I got up and walked across the landing, feeling the cold of the linoleum under my bare feet. I paused at what had been Bridie and Shamey’s door, almost expecting to hear the children’s regular breathing. But the only sound was the rhythmic ticking of the clock on the mantel downstairs. I shivered suddenly, although it was still midsummer and the night was warm. I went back to bed, but I was afraid to sleep again. It occurred to me that this was the first time in my life that I’d been alone in a building. Normally I would have been proud to be mistress of my own establishment, but at this moment all I felt was overwhelming loneliness. I sat hugging my knees to my chest, staring out of the window at the shadows dancing on the houses across the alleyway. When the first streaks of dawn showed in the sky I got up and made myself a cup of tea, drinking it with one eye on the front window until I saw my neighbor Gus go out to buy their breakfast rolls from the Clement Family Bakery around the corner on Sixth Avenue.
I dearly wanted company at the moment. I knew I was always welcome at their house, but my pride and disgust with my own weakness wouldn’t let me barge in on them uninvited at this early hour or tell them about the dream. So I waited until Gus returned, opened my front door with the pretence of shaking out crumbs, then feigned delighted surprise at bumping into her. Of course she invited me in for breakfast, and of course I accepted.
“Look who I just found, Sid dear,” Gus called as we went down the hall to their bright and airy kitchen. At this hour it was still cool. The French doors were open, and the sweet scent of honeysuckle competed with the enticing aroma of freshly brewed coffee.
Sid was standing at the stove, dressed this morning in an emerald green silk gentleman’s smoking jacket and baggy black pants that looked as if they had come from a harem. The striking effect was completed with her black hair, which she wore straight and chin length, like a child’s page-boy bob.
“Molly, my sweet. How good to see you. You’re looking pale. Sit down and have some coffee and a hot roll.” Sid gave me a beaming smile and started pouring thick, murky liquid into a small cup, then handed it to me. I took a sip, pretending, as always, that I liked my coffee to look and taste like East River sludge. Sid always insisted on Turkish coffee and French croissants in the morning. I’d no objections to the croissants, but I’d never learned to appreciate the coffee.