15th January 1934
The biting wind was keeping the streets quiet with just a few hardy souls about. Walking across 23rd street Michael Brennan must have seemed calmness personified. The military step honed on the barracks squares of Renmore and Aldershot made him look purposeful, assured. Inside he was a ball of nerves, his heart was racing so much, he thought it might leap right out of his chest. It wasn’t too late to turn back but he knew he would see this through.
He paused at the corner of 3rd Avenue and 40th to light a cigarette. As he placed the matchbox back in his pocket he felt the cold, hard shape of his revolver and it somehow reinforced his resolve to do just one more job. At the end of the day this was simply a business transaction but it was one that would help Mary and their little girl. Maybe he might leave this godforsaken country and go home. The letters from home had kept him informed of the goings on; land was cheap now and since the election many of his former comrades seemed to be starting to get on their feet. The Commandant had even left for Dublin and gotten a job as a Tax Inspector, his past as a mail train and bank robber hadn’t mitigated against that.
The Mitchells were also doing fine. Sean was now a Sergeant in the Police and Eddie would soon be ordained. If only Mary and him could catch a break, he thought. Maybe he had been too rash to leave, maybe he should have stuck it out but he had enough by then. It wasn’t so much that he hated his homeland but instead he had loved it too much. He often asked himself what it was all for? Instead of having the English for masters the poor people now had the Princes of the Church and a the bowler hat elite. He thought of Eddie Mitchell again. They had lain together for two nights in a soggy daring hiding from the tans. Eddie of the soft laugh and the firm handshake. He would make a great Priest?
It was time; he threw his cigarette butt into the gutter and briskly crossed the street. He was calm now. Eight years in this country and here he was a gun man once again. Only this time at least he was being paid. It is just a business transaction, one more job, this would be the last.
Six days later and the powerful knock woke Mary Brennan with a fright. It took her a few seconds to come to. She had fallen into a deep nap; ‘Coming, just a minute, who is it?’ as she opened the apartment door she was met a Police Uniform pegged on a strapping man standing over six feet.
– Hi Mary, is Mike home?
-No he’s not, no, but he’s due any time now, is everything okay?
– Everything is fine Mary, nothing to worry about it’s just a small matter I was to meet him about
– Well why don’t you come in Pat, he can’t be long, you know the way it is on the railroad Pat. I have some fresh currant cake, come on in and you can tell me how Annie is doing?
Officer Pat Leyden sloped inside, all the while his eyes circling, surveying the neat little apartment. He had to meet Brennan anyhow he thought and so he may as well wait here as out in the cold patrol car. Mary had turned her back on him momentarily as she began unwrapping the cake on the work top. Her fingers nervously fidgeted at the brown paper covering.
– Annie is doing well, we have just had another baby Mary, a little boy.
Mary froze for a second and Leyden realised the effect of his words and the cause of her response.
-I know you had some bad luck last year. I heard through Fr Casey. Annie has been meaning to call by. At least God has spared your little Maggie.
Mary did not respond, gathered herself and began slicing the cake into thick crumbling, slabs. She could feel his eyes upon her like prey senses the hunter. She was right, Leyden thought looked well. She still had that lovely, delicate porcelain complexion and a fine figure. It can’t be easy for her living with Brennan he thought, and him in and out of work, on and off the bottle, stubborn bastard that he is. She was always too good for him. Leyden remembered the first time he saw Mary, it was at the Embassy Ballroom in Sunnyside. Brennan may have been a big dog back at home. That was where farmer’s sons like him looked down their noses at townie corner boys like Leyden. In this New World the tables could be reversed very quickly. Leyden knew that in this City there was a different game to played from back home, with very different rules. Men like Brennan thought they could change the world but they were only dreamers. He now had Brennan where he wanted him and he was going to put him to good use.
-Is it hard to get into the Department these days Pat? I mean is there anything you could do for Mike? Please don’t tell him I asked, you know how he is, he’s proud but we could do with something regular.
Mary placed the cake on the table and a small dish with a tiny piece of butter. She began pouring Leyden a coffee into a handless cup. Her eyes barely left the floor the whole time.
-I’ll see what I can do Mary. He is not twenty one anymore and they prefer to have them at that age, I just got lucky.
Their chat was interrupted when the door opened and suddenly there stood Brennan. He was surprised to see Leyden and his expression was dour. He looked at Leyden and then at Mary before putting a brown package down on the dresser. Mary knew it was from Lombardis down the street where Luca often saved some of their off cuts for them.
– What are you doing here Pat? I told you I’d meet you downstairs.
Leyden stood up, half a slice of cake still in his hand crumbs on his tunic.
– Well you were late Mike and I just called up to give my regards to Mary here.
Brennan opened the door and gestured towards the landing – ‘Let’s go’
He knew now that Mary would be asking questions, awkward questions. He didn’t want her to know that he had any dependence on rats like Leyden. Pat Leyden had never been any good. He had watched him growing up and was surprised to see him sign up in the summer of ’15. He remembered Leyden going home on furlough and how he had stolen a barrel of porter from Malcolmson’s yard. It was a nonsensical crime but Leyden got a month in Sligo Jail and it prevented him leaving with the 6th Battalion for France. Leyden had the survival instinct of a sewer rat and he had avoided the big push and the bavarian machine Gunners. Brennan remembered talking to some of the boys at home. They said that Leyden had woken up all the men on Little Water Street to share the barrel of porter with. It only confirmed to him that Leyden had pulled a stunt. Now the rat was in his wake as they descended the six flights of steps and walked out onto Decatur Avenue.
– Why did you come to my home Leyden? I told you not to, I told you Mary wasn’t to know.
– I didn’t tell her anything’ I was freezing my socks off out here in the patrol car and you were late. You were supposed to be here at seven. I thought I might have missed you that’s all. C’mon you can tell her I just wanted to ask you a few questions about a fight in The Blackthorn. You’ll think up something. It’s not the first time you’ve told her a white lie.
It was done before he knew it. His two clenched fists rested snugly underneath Leyden’s chin, the stiff uniform collar tightly twisted in his fingers.
-Leyden, I’m warning you, don’t ever underestimate me. You might think you are a big boy over here with friends in high places, but if anybody ever comes near my family, I don’t care who it is, I’ll snuff them out.
-Jesus Christ man, you’re a fuckin crazy son of a bitch. I’m here to help you Michael’ Leyden was now shaking uncontrollably. ‘C’mon we go way back, the men of the west stand together for one another.
– Did you stand with us in Ypres or at Ballymacowen Leyden? Where were you then Leyden when you were needed?
For a few seconds Brennan thought about apologising but he couldn’t bring himself to. He despised Leyden, he despised his type. The type of men that professed their love of Ireland in drinking songs and yet couldn’t live there, the run with the hare, run with hound man, the type that scavenged on the bones of a carcass but would never kill themselves, yet here he was again, he Mike Brennan, even the width of an Ocean couldn’t quench the sense of Deja Vú, he was killing again to keep even more ungrateful Irishmen in privileged positions, positions they neither earned nor deserved, leeches, leeches all.
The Patrol Car took off across town, crossing the Bridge into the man made canyons of Manhattan before eventually stopping outside an impressive apartment building near Columbus Circle. Leyden hopped out and spoke to the doorman whilst pointing back at Brennan still seated in the back of the patrol car. Leyden then opened the door;
– Lemmy will look after you from here and you can make your own way home Mike. We’ll forget about earlier. I’m sorry I shouldn’t have gone near your apartment. I just wasn’t thinking.
-This way sir’ and the door man ushered Brennan into the building before handing him over to another staff member, a young lad in a bell-hop uniform and ill-fitting cap. who brought him up to the 8th floor and he was ushered into an impressive suite. ‘Miss Slowey will see you in a few minutes Sir’. He sat down on a chaise longue admiring the luxury of his surroundings.
-Mr. Brennan I presume’ A slim blonde lady dressed in evening wear approached him from down the corridor.
-Yes Miss ….
-I’m Evie Slowey, pleased to meet you at last. Come this way….. I can’t thank you enough for what you have done for us, well for me personally. Did you know Larry?
-No mam, I heard of him and saw him once. I read about him but no, I didn’t know him
-He would be happy that he was avenged by one of his own. My pappy always told us that we should forgive our enemies, but not before they are dead.
–I think I heard that saying before, mam.
–Cut out the mam stuff, I don’t do titles, I’m just a girl from Ohio who made it to the big lights and got lucky. Larry left me a wealthy gal ….. but I do miss him terribly. He was dashing and boy did he have a wardrobe fit for a king. There’s no one like him left about this town, there’ll never be another Larry Fay. Did you know this guy Moloney?
-I never knew of him until I got here.
-He was a no-good double crossing rat Mr. Brennan. You have done this city a great service but you have also done me a great honour. I have your reward here. You received the down payment already. The Commissioner advised me that the Department have to carry out an investigation…. Don’t worry it’s a formality ….. you have nothing to worry about.
-That’s good, I have a young family, I can do without the hassle.
Miss Slowey handed the package to Brennan. He had never held so much money in his hands before. His younger brother had written to him last month. Land prices had dropped dramatically at home. What he earned on this one job could buy a fine place. Mary would need convincing to go back. They had Maggie to think of now too and maybe her best chances were here in America. He was torn but at least now he could pay off his debts, perhaps rent a bigger apartment on the Grand Concourse and with what was left he could send some home, maybe buy a few acres to begin with.
–Just one thing Mr. Brennan, Did he suffer? Did you make that bastard suffer? Did you let him know that this was because of what he did to Larry?
-Yes it was the last thing he heard before he left this mortal earth Miss Slowey, he knew he was going to die for killing Mr. Fay.
– We may require your services again Mr. Brennan. I think you are made of the right stuff sweetie.
Brennan never wanted to see this cold-hearted siren ever again sitting there in her sequined evening dress, giddy on revenge and drunk on blood lust. Brennan knew that its was simply an eye for an eye but soon the whole world would be blind from eye gouging. The ‘job’ hadn’t played out like he told her, he didn’t want her gloating over the death of a brave man, that wasn’t part of the deal. He had already disarmed Moloney before he walked him down the alley behind the Pearl Street Warehouses. Their conversation, if it could even be classed as such, was brief and to the point. Moloney knew he was going to die at any moment. It struck Brennan how calm he was, even having the presence of mind to make three final requests; ‘do it quick and clean brother and say an Act of Contrition before you leave me here tonight’. He wanted to make peace with his maker and Brennan nodded that he would do that for him. Who can blame a man for hoping to save his soul, even at this late stage . The third and last request worried and weighed on Brennan, who was conscious of leaving any clues that might link him to the killing. Moloney asked that he take the holy scapular from around his neck and post it to his mother in Tipperary.
Miss Slowey was done with him now and she walked him towards the elevator.
-Thank you so much Mr. Brennan They shook hands and he noticed the size of the diamond rings she was wearing. – I hope we do business again. Now Schulz will see you out. The young bell hop came out from the shadows at the end of the hall.
–You’re welcome Miss Slowey but it’s not a business I’m intending to expand.
–What a shame, you are very good at it!
It was a business transaction. That is all. As the elevator began its descent Brennan recalled how Moloney had called him brother, somehow that had made his task easier.
-I won’t shake hands with you in this life brother, whoever you are, but at least I know who sent you and I know why.
–It’s a crazy country we left and a crazier one we came to’ replied Brennan.
-I’d imagine we have both done things against God but if he does show us mercy and we meet in the hereafter, we will share a glass and toast dear old Ireland.
Brennan did not reply, he squeezed the trigger. Thy will be done. Tears began to roll down his face as he stood over the body of his fallen countryman. He had killed a brother but wasn’t this the way it was always destined to be since Cain and Abel. What a fool he had been to think that their noble fight back home would have changed anything. When the dust settled and the guns put away, the men had no work, their families had no food. What difference did it make to the rich in their comfortable drawing rooms,? Not a whit. He was finished railing against the world. He opened the dead mans blood soaked collar, with the penknife from his hip pocket he cut the scapular from around Moloney’s neck. He saw that the wound was neat passing right through the base of the neck. Oblivion was instant. The exit hole in his throat was large but the morticians would cover it and the family, if he had one out here, could have an open casket.
Brennan rolled up the scapula and the little medal attached to it before carefully placing it in his inside jacket pocket which it now shared with the .38. He knew that he would find out over the next few days where Moloney was from. Word would quickly pass through the bars and speak-easys about the killing. He scooped out the contents of the dead man’s wallet and would send on the contents to to the relatives anonymously. This would also make it look like a robbery saving the Cops having to invent a motive. Finally with the chorus of foghorns, steamers and an overhead train, he knelt down on the cold cobbles. Holding the still warm hand of the man whose life he had just taken, he leaned in and whispered contritely into his ear.
‘Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee, may this soul and the souls of all the departed, rest in peace, amen’