Read The Fatal Flame Online

Authors: Lyndsay Faye

The Fatal Flame

A
LSO BY
L
YNDSAY
F
AYE

Dust and Shadow

The Gods of Gotham

Seven for a Secret

G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS

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Copyright © 2015 by Lyndsay Faye

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Faye, Lyndsay.

The fatal fame / Lyndsay Faye.

p. cm.

ISBN 978-0-698-15594-7

1. Irish Americans—New York (State)—New York—Fiction. 2. Police—New York (State)—New York—Fiction. 3. New York (N.Y.)—History—1775–1865—Fiction. I. Title.

PS3606.A96W37 2015 2014008958

813'.6—dc23

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Version_1

For my great-great-grandmother Katie, whose true surname was lost after she traveled here from Ireland—and for Grandma Meg Fay, who told me the story

CONTENTS

Also by Lyndsay Faye

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Selected Flash Terminology

Woman’s Rights

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Epilogue

Historical Afterword

Acknowledgments

About the Author

SELECTED FLASH TERMINOLOGY
*

A

ARTICLE.
A man. “You’re a pretty article.” A term of contempt.

AUTUMNED.
Married.

B

BAT.
A prostitute who walks the streets only at night.

BESS.
A pick of a very simple construction.

BLEAK-MORT.
A pretty girl.

BOARDINGHOUSE.
City prison.

C

CAVED.
Gave up; surrendered.

CHAFF.
Humbug.

CHAFFEY.
Boisterous; happy; jolly.

CHANT.
To talk; to publish; to inform.

CHINK.
Money.

COLE.
Silver or gold money.

COVE.
A man.

CROSS-COVE.
A thief; any person that lives in a dishonest way.

CRUMEY.
Fat; pockets full; plenty.

D

DARBIES.
Handcuffs; fetters.

DARBY.
Cash. “Fork over the darby” (Hand over the cash).

DIMBER-MORT.
A pretty girl; an enchanting girl.

DOXIE.
A girl.

DUSTY.
Dangerous.

F

FADGE.
It won’t do; “It won’t fadge.”

FARMER.
An alderman.

FIGNER.
A small thief.

FLAM.
To humbug.

FLY-COP.
A sharp officer; an officer that is well posted; one who understands his business.

G

GAMMY.
Bad.

GIGGER-DUBBER.
A turn-key; a prison-keeper.

GRAFT.
To work.

GRUEL.
Coffee.

GUNNED.
Looked at; examined.

H

HAMLET.
A captain of police.

HASH.
To vomit.

HATCHES.
In distress; in trouble; in debt.

HICKSAM.
A countryman; a fool.

HOCKEY.
Drunk.

HUSH.
To murder.

K

KATE.
A smart, brazen-faced woman.

KEN.
A house.

KINCHIN.
A young child.

KIP.
A bed.

KITE.
A letter.

KITTLE.
To tickle; to please.

KNOCK-ME-DOWN.
Very strong liquor.

L

LACE.
To beat; to whip.

LAG.
A convicted felon.

LAND-BROKER.
An undertaker.

LAY.
A particular kind of rascality.

LEAK.
To impart a secret.

LEERY.
On guard; look out; wide awake.

LENTEN.
Having nothing to eat; starving.

LION.
Be saucy; frighten; bluff. “Lion the fellow.”

LOOBY.
An ignorant fellow; a fool.

LULLABY-KID.
An infant.

LUNAN.
A girl.

LUSH.
Drink.

M

MAB.
A harlot.

MANDERER.
A beggar.

MAZZARD.
The face.

MILL.
A fight.

MIZZLE.
Go; run; be off.

MOLL.
A woman.

MOLLEY.
A miss; an effeminate fellow; a sodomite.

MOUSE.
Be quiet; be still.

N

NIX.
Nothing.

O

OAK.
Strong; rich; of good reputation.

ON THE MUSCLE.
On the fight; a fighter; a pugilist.

OPTIME.
Class. “He’s optime number one as a screwsman” (He is a first-class burglar).

P

PAP LAP.
An infant.

PEACH.
To inform.

PECK.
Food.

PECULIAR.
A mistress.

PEERY.
Suspicious.

PHILISTINES.
Police officers; officers of justice.

POLT.
A blow. “Lend the pam a polt in the muns” (Give the fool a blow in the face).

PRIGGER-NAPPER.
A police officer.

Q

QUARRON.
A body.

QUEER.
To puzzle.

R

RABBIT-SUCKER.
Young spendthrifts; fast young men.

RIG.
A joke; fun.

ROPED.
Led astray; taken in and done for.

S

SANGUINARY.
Bloody.

SKINNERS.
Small lawyers who hang about police offices and figuratively skin their clients.

SKY BLUE.
Gin.

SLIM.
A punch.

SLUICE YOUR GOB.
Take a good long drink.

SNUG.
Quiet; all right.

SPICER.
A footpad.

SPOONEY.
Foolish.

SPUNG.
A miser.

SQUEAKER.
A child.

STAG.
One who has turned state’s evidence.

STAIT.
The city of New York.

STARGAZERS.
Prostitutes; street-walkers.

STIR.
A fire.

STOGGER.
A pickpocket.

T

TAP.
To arrest.

TO RIGHTS.
Clear. “Oh! Then you are to rights this time” (There is a clear case against you).

TUNE.
To beat.

W

WARE HAWK.
Look out; beware.

WHIDDLER.
An informer; one who tells the secrets of another.

WHIPSTER.
A sharper; a cunning fellow.

WOMAN’S RIGHTS

It is her right to watch beside

The bed of sickness and of pain,

And when the heart almost despairs,

To whisper hopes of health again.

Her right to make the hearth-stone glad,

With gentle words and cheerful smile:

And when man is with care oppress’d,

His wearied spirit to beguile.

It is her right to train her sons

So they may Senate chambers grace—

Thus, is she with more honor crown’d,

Than if herself had filled the place.

It is her right to be admir’d

By ev’ry generous, manly heart,

When with true dignity and grace,

She acteth well a woman’s part.

. . .

What would she more than to perform

On earth, life’s holiest, sweetest tasks

When you a perfect woman find,

No other rights than these she asks.

—MRS. N. P. LASSELLE, 1850

Prologue

D
UNFHLAITH
Ó
D
UFAIGH
, as she had been called in the green mother country, where the rocks pierced the grasslands the way gaunt collarbones pierced the peaceful slumbering corpses in the streets, recalled what it felt like to be hungry. To long for thick brown bread with salt, to taste pipe smoke on her tongue as if it were solid charred beef. To find mushrooms in a tree stump and sell them for whiskey—not out of recklessness but because mushrooms could barely touch her appetite, while a pint of whiskey might help her forget her ravenous belly for an entire day. With care, maybe two.

Dunla Duffy, as they called her in New York City, remembered Ireland with a fondness that lingered like the mists which used to flinch away from the doorstep of her hovel when the stern sun rose. Because Dunla Duffy wasn’t hungry anymore.

These days Dunla was starving.

When I was a younger version of Timothy Wilde, not copper star 107 of the New York City Police Department but a kinchin running feral through the streets, I knew hungry
like I knew my own name. But I’ve never known
starving—
and if my brother, Valentine, had never done me a single other good turn in his mad life, that would have been enough.

He did more for me than that, of course. But if I get ahead of myself, I’ll never manage to put any of this on paper.

Just before dawn on the day we met, Dunla and I, she sat in the corner of a ground-floor chamber in Pell Street, listlessly hemming ankle cuffs in the rented room she shared with other molls who did manufactory outwork in their living quarters. Trousers were heaped into ziggurats throughout the room, waiting for the brutal sunrise and for the women to rouse themselves. Both the workers and their wares were on the splintering floor, furniture being a luxury. Both were, by Manhattan standards, worthless, because the year was 1848 and the British Isles hadn’t glimpsed a potato that wasn’t blackly leprous since 1845. At daybreak others like Dunla would arrive. Such women were similar to the piles of garbage heaped on our street corners.

No one wanted to look at them. And there would be more the next day.

“You thief,” snarled a crone’s voice from the opposite corner.

Dunla, distracted by a rash that had recently bloomed along her limbs like frenzied spring wildflowers, didn’t reply.

“You’re a
thief
.”

The room’s twelve other residents stirred fitfully at the noise. Dunla managed, with an effort she found frankly unfair, to raise her head.

As Dunla informed us later, she was fourteen years old. Her huge eyes shone out pale green from straggling locks of equally green and greasy hair framing her round face. She’d once owned pale copper tresses and couldn’t recollect quite how they’d faded to the color of rotting corn silk—I worked out the mystery of her seaweed-bright curls for myself eventually, of course, as I’ve a tendency to unravel puzzles. For all the meager good it does my acquaintances. Dunla did remember that, with her sweetly blank expression and her unnerving eyes, the villagers had given her wary glances when she was a child. But her mother had once lifted her high in the air toward the full silver moon and called Dunla her brightest light, brighter even than the
gealach lán
above their heads. Whenever Dunla’s imagination attempted to reproduce fresh butter and failed, she thought about being someone’s moon.

Dunla, to be truthful—because Christ knows the tale is too grim to be anything but true—was simple. But she managed in spite of the fact.

The moon seems far off and all,
she told me on the day she watched my heart break,
but the tide still comes in. Don’t it, now?

From Dunla I learned that people, like deities, can move in mysterious ways.

“Thief.”

“What?” she said toward the rusty voice.

“I say you’re a whorish, no-good, shit-eating
thief
,” the old woman snapped.

Dunla blinked in surprise.

The Witch continued sewing. She stitched quickly and without finesse, her iron hair massed in thunderstorm billows under a disintegrating scarf. The others whispered that the Witch was mad. Dunla had never seen cause to disagree with them. Anyway, she’d glimpsed the Witch before they shared this stifling Pell Street purgatory—she’d been conjuring flames out of a cauldron, Dunla was sure of it.

Dunla had crossed herself, terrified, and hurried away.

“There are laws in this country,” the Witch declared.

The Witch had moved into the front room the previous month, carrying seven vile candles she’d made from rancid lard and twine contained in clay cups. When alight, the contraptions reeked of smoldering entrails. One burned now, and Dunla was using the devilish dregs of its glare by which to sew. She’d woken the instant the glimmer touched her eyelids. Mistakenly thinking it dawn.

“Laws, ye say?” Dunla repeated, frightened. She’d never broken a law before.

“I
do
say. Laws against stealing light.”

Twelve other pairs of eyes narrowed, appraising. The young mother and her daughter. The two sisters. The stargazer and her very close friend, the other stargazer. The three German women who were always weeping, staring at the walls and clutching one another’s hands. The pregnant lass curled on a pile of newspaper. The girl from the House of Refuge with her hair shorn off. The eleven-year-old kinchin mab.

“It’s
my
light,” the Witch hissed. “You want to use it, you pay me. What can you pay me, little rat?”

When Dunla saw the other women staring, her spine began to quiver. Some looked vexed, some pitying.

All looked afraid of the Witch.

A knife appeared in the Witch’s hand. It shimmered in the glare of the sputtering animal fat.

“Pay up now, precious,” the Witch whispered, “or I’ll carve my dinner out of your backside.”

“Tomorrow,” Dunla squeaked. “I can sure enough pay ye tomorrow.”

“By tomorrow I’ll have every last one of you roasting over a spit.”

“Please—”

“Pay up now, or suffer the consequences.”

A minute later, maybe less, after screams and chaos and cries of
Get out, for God’s sake
, Dunla found herself on Pell Street—shoeless, as she’d been for months—with her arms full of unfinished trousers. A thin, miserly rainfall heralding her arrival.

Huddled half under the clothing, Dunla remained on the front steps until the feeble clouds expired and the April sunlight glared dully down at her, illuminating the hordes of Africans and emigrants bustling through Ward Six—the neighborhood known worldwide as a ripening lesion on the face of New York.

It’s my ward too, of course. So I don’t mean that
personally.

Tottering through horse droppings and far worse, Dunla staggered past the unconscious drunks with the flies buzzing about their grog-stained shirts, past the drooping wooden houses parroting her own imbalance, past a legless veteran returned from Mexican glory, propped against a porch. We all refer to them as the “returning volunteers,” which makes a pleasanter time for us than saying “ruined men.”
This one had tied his uniform into knots at the knees and sipped steadily at a bottle of morphine. The veteran made a bitter grab for Dunla’s skirts. But he was nearly as weak as she was, and so she lurched with her armful of pantaloons onto Chatham Street and turned south.

On Chatham Street it’s impossible to tell where the shops end and the road begins. The borders fluctuate, as porous and fickle as our laws. The storefront of
WM. DOWNIE’S HARDWARE EMPORIUM
gushed into traffic in the form of tool-burdened tables and a dozen open boxes of carpentry nails. Dunla nearly overturned a precarious pyramid of hats stacked before
HABERDASHERY BY P. J. COPPINGER
but avoided it when the shop attendant shoved her aside and she fell into the fragrant spring mud.

The next thing Dunla remembered was standing before the foreman of the manufactory in Nassau Street for whom she did “outwork.” That’s a new market, modern as the telegraph, meaning “work without the sordid taint of decent wages.”

“You’re daft,” Mr. Simeon Gage said, incredulous. “I’ll have to
charge
against your next batch for these materials. They’re ruined.”

Dunla looked down at the mud-soaked pantaloons and couldn’t think of a single word to say.

On her way out of the manufactory, past rainbow rows of flashily dressed Bowery girls at tables doing the more difficult cutting, one familiar face hurried up to her. A pretty peaches-and-cream face with clear, defiant amber eyes, framed by the palest shade of ash-brown waves.

“Oh, Dunla, thank heaven,” the cutter said softly, pressing a folded paper into her hand. “I’ve been looking for you. Here’s four bits. You can pay someone to read this note and then have enough left for some real peck. Lord, but you’re lenten, my girl. Run along now! And you mind what it says!”

Of this dialect, spoken by our criminal element and our rowdier gentry and called flash patter, Dunla comprehended little. Just then she understood it precisely as well as she did the note in her hand, which was not at all.

Thanks to my downright bizarre thirty years of informal education surviving here in New York, I can both speak flash and read English, so I know that her friend had said,
You can pay someone to read this note and then have enough left for some real food. Lord, but you’re starving, my girl.

And I know that the note said:

I fear that my friend means to set your house aflame and burn you all alive.

Dunla did understand the fifty cents, however, and soon found herself shoving a fried-oyster sandwich into her mouth, weeping as she did so, salty juices and tears running down her chin and fingertips while the world flowed soundlessly around her like a cold river eroding a stone.

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