New York City, January 1888
A dark, overcast sky lingered in the early morning hours, foretelling of a short day when time blends together in a blur of grey and shadows. White, fluffy snowflakes trickled down from the low hanging clouds, settling delicately onto the surrounding rooftops, and the air was hauntingly static and dense. The courtyard of the Tombs was crowded for such a bitter January day, though it was no surprise, considering how widespread the publicity following the capture of Danny Driscoll had been. According to the papers and the New York City Police Department, Danny was caught red-handed for the murder of Beezy Garrity, though his original target had been none other than the notorious gangster Johnny McCarty. McCarty and his own organization were giving Tammany Hall a run for their money on the streets of Midtown, and Richard Croker wanted to crush the infamous gangster’s power before it was too late. Tammany Hall had almost entirely won New York City, the only exception, politically, being the consistently stubborn Swallowtails, and once McCarty was out of his way, Croker could finally claim victory over his most treacherous criminal rival. Nowadays, everyone was in Croker’s pocket, sucking off the tit of the Hall just for a little extra cash and to avoid any conflict with the most powerful man in the city… Everyone except the Madame and her underground web of
Louis stood near the entrance and watched the onlookers pass him by as they searched to find a spot in the masses, all of them bloodthirsty and jeering at the prospect of seeing one of the fore- most thugs and terrorizers of lower Manhattan sent to meet his maker. Sadly, Danny was the least of Louis’ worries. In the last few months, the Whyos had gotten out of control, and it was obvious Croker’s sway over the gang and his comrade Walsh was running thin. The hit on McCarty had been discussed amongst Croker, Will, Louis, Esther, and Walsh on multiple occasions, but no real plan had ever been put into motion, meaning the hit was unsanctioned. Personally, Louis didn’t believe that Danny killed Garrity, regardless of how rogue the Whyos’ recent antics had been. He knew Danny, had spent time with him, much to Louis’ own disdain, and to pull off something of this magnitude would require a number of resources Danny absolutely did not have. There were only two viable explanations: either Walsh killed Garrity mistakenly and pinned the fall on Danny, or Walsh framed Danny for some sort of disobedience against him. Louis’ gut told him it was the latter.
The Dannys still held face as the runner of the Whyos, but they reported to Walsh, and the gang never managed any sort of hit or venture without his permission. With Danny Driscoll out, Danny Lyons and Kitty would be at the helm. It was only a matter of time before the gang would disintegrate, and the thought gave Louis chills. He and Will discussed the notion often—if Kitty and Danny were usurped, nothing would stop Walsh from a complete takeover of the gang, and that would put Walsh in charge of all organized crime south of Midtown. No matter what he said aloud, Louis sensed that if Walsh were to gain that territory as well as a small army of delinquents, his allegiance to Croker would come to an end. New York City would be burned to the ground, and total anarchy would ensue. It was then that he spotted her, slinking into view from an alleyway across the street. She was undistinguishable from a young man, sporting a pair of brown trousers, leather boots, a worn-out wool sweater, and a heavy long jacket whipping out behind her in the fierce winter wind. Her face was smartly covered by the bill of her newsboy cap, and her hair was still as short as the day Will cut it off years ago; those beautiful green eyes would be a dead giveaway that she was, in reality, a female, though very much changed from the Esther he’d befriended at the tender age of ten. Since the time her training began, her physique transformed, and so did Esther. She was no longer thin or petite; instead, her arms and legs were sinewy, toned from the vigorous activity and exertion of her muscles on a daily basis. Blending in and being invisible were what kept her alive, a vast contrast to the parties, dinners, and social gatherings she used to attend with Celeste in her teenage years. Her family and friends consisted solely of Louis, Will…and unfortunately, Richard Croker. Drawing near, Louis caught a hint of the small shiner under her left eye from sparring with Will earlier that week; the substantial scar on her neck from Timothy Adams also stood out, to anyone looking for it. The memory of that murderous bastard made Louis’ cheeks hot, regardless of how much time had passed, and he tried to forget everything they’d lost because of Timothy.
Pausing beside Louis, Esther delicately slipped a few things in- side his jacket pocket and sighed heavily. When he glanced at her, he saw she had tears in her eyes, and he was stunned.
“I never wanted to come back here, but I guess it’s time to let it go.”
“What do you mean?” Louis asked.
She kept her eyes straight ahead. “Four years since we lost Danny…our Danny…all for nothing. All for fucking nothing.” Esther shook her head. “I gave you some things for the Vault. The Madame will be happy with it, I think, but I haven’t gotten close enough for the safe combination yet.”
“Keep trying,” Louis said, trying to be empathetic. “You are al- ready giving more than you should, you know that.”
“I know,” she admitted. “I guess my conscience needs me to give as much as I can so it doesn’t die away completely. Croker will be by to see her soon, so make sure you let her know. It’s an election year and he has some ideas on how to…well…wipe out the competition.”
“Things Will and I don’t know?”
“Yeah. You know how he gets. I am his confidant…bastard thinks I’m like a goddamn daughter to him.” Esther scoffed loudly. “How can people be so fucking twisted like that? I don’t under- stand it.”
It was a rhetorical question, so Louis moved on. “Did we finally get the details?”
“I think so.” “And?”
The little color in Esther’s face drained away. “He set this up, Louis.”
“Walsh? He set Danny up?” She nodded. “It was all a ploy.”
“Fucking son of a bitch!” Louis murmured loudly, accidentally catching the eyes of a few members of the audience. He hastily re- covered his wits and lowered his tone. “What happened?”
“I don’t know. I got most of it out of a belligerent Kitty last night, while I carried her home from the fucking bar after starting a fight with McGloin’s old cohorts. From what I can tell, Walsh asked Danny to do something that Croker deliberately told the Whyos to stay out of, and Danny refused Walsh’s order. Next thing you know, the police were out looking for Danny and Beezy was dead. No one knows how the authorities got the idea it was Danny who murdered him…it’s not like they caught him with the damn murder weapon in his hand at the scene of the crime…they found him holed up in a whorehouse in the Bowery, for Christ’s sake, high as hell on opium!”
“So, you confirmed the evidence was planted?” “We can assume as much.”
“Jesus Christ.” Louis took a deep breath. “I sometimes wonder what could possibly motivate Croker to keep that bastard around.” “What makes you think it’s Croker that’s keeping Walsh around?” Esther remarked quietly, shuffling her stance. “I’m beginning to think his power over Walsh is a façade. And that, above any-
thing else, is fucking terrifying.”
The crowd around them suddenly started to roar as Danny Driscoll was led out of the Tombs in the direction of the platform, where a stoic priest and the hangman waited for him. Wanting to make a show of it, the officers escorting Danny took their time, al- lowing him to get pelted with vegetables, rocks, or anything the crowd thought fitting to lurch at the man who stood as the scapegoat for the decades of gang violence in New York. Louis observed closely and could perceive in Danny’s eyes that he was already long gone from this world, probably having suffered far worse during his days in jail than any of them would ever come to know.
With the noise, Esther’s gaze went to Driscoll, and while her eyes never wavered, Louis suspected it was not easy for her to witness. Al- though she always tried to hide it, deep down, Esther had some enduring goodness in her heart, a small flicker of hope that she might actually escape this life. She had come a long way since her own time at the Tombs; her training with Louis and Will was absurdly tough, as Croker demanded she learn and succeed faster than a human being could ever be prepared for. Much to Croker’s delight and Will and Louis’ surprise, Esther persevered at an astonishing rate, becoming more skilled and more lethal than either of them could have predicted. Her first kill was the hardest, yet she pressed on afterward, not once thinking back and regretting what she’d done. The Esther standing in the Tombs’ courtyard was fast, clever, and when necessary, vicious. Louis was beyond proud. Will was too.
In her usual fashion, Esther was currently armed with a dagger strapped around the outside of her hip, mostly concealed by her jacket, yet her boldness in not worrying over its exposure was a clear sign to troublemakers that she was not to be fucked with. A glint from Esther’s hand caught Louis’ attention, and he was shocked to realize she’d brought her brass knuckles with her. Learning to fight with those had taken her nearly two years to master, evidenced in the heavy scarring on her fingers, hands, and wrists from the sharp metal. Now, however, Louis felt sorry for anyone who ended up on the wrong end of her fists.
It never ended well for them.
He grinned. “Was I supposed to have come ready for an altercation?”
Esther’s intensity eased at his words, and she smirked. “I always come ready. You taught me that.”
Danny was center stage as the priest read him his final rights, and the audience was bellowing so loudly that Louis fought to hear Esther speak.
“Do you think he’ll have us put down Walsh?”
Louis shrugged, wanting to seem nonchalant, when really, the idea made him uneasy. “Don’t forget, Walsh still has Kitty and Danny Lyons standing in his way. The gang is loyal to them first. If he tried to pursue a coup, the progress he’s made within the Whyos would go up in smoke. It’s probably the sole reason he hasn’t killed them.” “And probably why he had to frame Driscoll, to get rid of him.” The executioner put the noose over Danny’s head, and finally,
Esther turned to face Louis, her expression serious.
“We can’t do this without Thomas,” she whispered desperately. He stared back at her. “I know.”
Esther’s eyes flickered from left to right, checking for anything suspicious. “We’ve talked about this. After everything that’s happened, you said he’d come back and finish this with us. You said he wouldn’t have a choice, and that he’d even been training like we had.”
Louis put his hands on the sides of Esther’s shoulders to steady her emotions. “He’ll be here soon. His time is drawing closer, and the samurai has been training him like I foretold. Soon, Esther, I promise you that.”
“How can you be sure?”
After a small hesitation, Louis thought it best to reply with the truth. “Edward wasn’t the only friend I had at Amberleigh,” he confessed. “That’s all I am going to tell you. But trust me, all right? Soon.” With another nod, Esther seemed appeased, and she returned to Louis’ side as Danny shouted out his last words, which were completely inaudible over the swarm of people shouting. The moment his lips stopped moving, the black sack was shoved down over his head, and the mob hushed for the final scene of Danny Driscoll’s life. Dramatically, the executioner moved to the lever and gave it a large pull. Danny fell downward, followed closely by the sound of his neck snapping, which caused the crowd to let out a giant cheer. Louis and Esther departed together, and she slipped her arm through his, her head leaning against his arm. “What do you think
is going to happen?” she inquired softly. “When?”
“When Thomas does get here…what do you think is going to happen?”
He kissed the top of her head. “I am not sure. If my contact is not exaggerating, I’d say we’d finally be getting the miracle we’ve needed to win this. And if I were Croker…” Louis’ voice trailed off.
Esther peered up at him. “What?” “Well, Esther, I’d be scared shitless.”
She gave his arm a squeeze and released, banking to head north as Louis headed south. “I am late to meet Richie, but I don’t have any jobs tonight, so I’ll pick up mutton for dinner. You find us some wine.” Louis grinned and gave a small bow. “We’ll see you at eight.”