Ruth Long’s Picture Choice: 1
Title: Little Miss Notorious
NEW YORK - 1940
Corky Gallagher’s legacy filled the shelves in his office with trophies and covered his office walls with news clippings that had long since yellowed, cracked and curled at the coroners.
Conversely, his only child’s legacy had been swept under the rug and they endeavored to keep it there. But the morning she picked up the newspaper and saw one of her father’s rookies in the headlines, she knew her days of anonymity were at an end.
No way was Jimmy Spires the criminal mastermind behind the Chinatown deaths. The kid was looking to make a name for himself in the boxing ring, not the opium market. She needed two things to prove he was innocent and they’d be easy enough to get. Five minutes at her father’s office ought to do it.
However, when the cab dropped her in front of Gallagher’s Gym, there were precious few autos in the lot and when she poked her head through the door, the only mug on the floor was Sheamus O’Mara, reigning welterweight champ.
The man was all lithe motion and muscle. Not someone she was comfortable being alone with. But the mingled scents of stale sweat, recycled air and weathered leather were familiar enough to levy her trepidation.
Smoothing her hair and steeling her nerves, she approached him. “O’Mara, a moment of your time, please.”
That was rule number one in Corky’s playbook, the one he’d developed to help his daughter safely navigate the world inside the gym walls. Never call them by their first name. Keep things impersonal and maintain the upper hand.
Sheamus stopped mid-punch, turned from the bag and let his eyes take a leisurely trip up the lovely curves unconventionally dressed in slacks and a button-down shirt before lifting them to the face that was almost flawless, save for an odd scar on her chin. “I got all the time in the world for you, Gallagher.”
She held her ground. “That’s ‘Miss Gallagher to you’, O’Mara.”
He smiled, appreciating the flash of temper in her usually cool eyes. He liked that she’d reprimanded his manners, while breaking them herself. Every other dame was in such a hot hurry to call him by his given name but Gallagher’s girl had never directly addressed him, carefully staying out of his way and effectively keeping him at bay.
Squaring her shoulders, she said, “I need your professional opinion of Spires. Could he lift a grown woman’s dead weight and push her over a ledge?”
He snorted, the motion sending rivulets of sweat racing down his thick neck and into the convex shallows of his collarbones. “Kid couldn’t bench press a postage stamp. Why you asking?”
“The story that ran on today’s front page says he was booked for the death of Li-liang Chin,” she said, tossing him the newspaper. “She took a swan-dive off the roof of Hartwell’s Mortgage wearing nothing but red ink tattoos and a ceremonial headdress.”
He skimmed the article and tossed the paper back to her. “The kid doesn’t fully apply himself because he’s young, not because he’s a bad seed. He wouldn’t know where the opium dens are much less have the kind of money that gets you into a suite like Chin’s.”
She steadied herself against the cold brick wall. “How much does something like that cost, O’Mara?”
He kept the grin under wraps, giving her a nonchalant shrug instead. “A man hears things. Doesn’t mean he knows firsthand.”
“You happen to know where Spires was on Wednesday night?”
He came off the mat, dropping to the floor beside her. “Here with me, in front of a crowd of about five hundred. Shouldn’t be too hard to scrounge up a couple dozen witnesses. Especially if folks hear I’m speaking up on Jimmy’s behalf.”
“You’d do that? Speak up for Jimmy?”
“You have my word.”
She drew herself up, straight and tall, and looked him in the eye. “I’d sure appreciate that. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to stop by the Herald. I have a friend over there that might be able to get Jimmy’s name cleared.”
“Why would you go to the newspaper instead of the cops?”
Rule number seven in Corky’s playbook was ‘don’t tell ‘em you can hold your own unless you got no other option.’ Long as they think you’re a lady, they’ll treat you like one. Moment they learn otherwise, or think otherwise, you lose credibility – and worse, any pretense of safety.
She held his gaze. “Seeing how my father trusts you enough to invest his future in you, you may as well hear how he nearly lost it all on my account. I’m going to the paper instead of the cops because three years ago I nearly beat a man to death.”
He stood there waiting for the rest of the story, feet planted, chest open, chin steady.
“That I happened to be married to him at the time didn’t lessen the gravity of the situation. It took the bulk of my father’s reputation and a good chunk of his fortune to keep me out of jail and secure a bill of divorcement.”
His pulse stuttered like a syncopated tango trapped inside his veins. What was that delicious sensation? The thought of her in danger? No, it was the thought of her fighting - fists primed, back sweaty, muscles fluid - that ratcheted up his already precipitous interest in her.
His eyes wandered to the scar on her chin. “Did he deserve it?”
“Yes, but that’s not the point. I knew the risk of raising my fist to him, but in that moment, I didn’t care. I just wanted to hurt him, and hurt him I did.”
“I’m surprised you were able to avoid sentencing, considering that with your father’s training, your hands should have been registered.”
She stepped into his personal space. “I only walked free because I agreed not to talk about the drugs or women that started the fight with my husband, a bargain I regretted five seconds after signing it. Someday, O’Mara, I’ll burn those dens down. They ruined my life. They almost ruined my father’s life. And I will die before I let them ruin an honest man like Jimmy Spires.”
He leaned in, stinking of testosterone and sincerity, and said, “When you’re ready, I’ll be right there with you. I don’t need a reason to get involved beyond your righteous indignation any more than I need to use my lethal hands to quench your thirst for justice.”
She stared at him, taking in the lean thighs, trim waist and broad chest that filled out the snug khakis slacks and white t-shirt.
He smiled, that slowly enchanting and slightly invasive smile of a snake-charmer waiting for his victim to realize the venom has hit their bloodstream. “You know it’s true, don’t you, Little Miss Notorious? I know how to make men suffer without using my hands just like I know how to use my hands with finesse a woman would never expect from meat hooks.”
Good heavens, he was silver-tongued trouble in a muscle suit. Best to rein him in here and now, if not for his sake, than simply to tamp down her impulse to shut him up with a kiss or an uppercut. The two were somehow tangled up in her head right now.
Rule Number four in Corky’s playbook was ‘refrain from fraternization’ … but Eileen Gallagher was seriously considering making her own rules from now on, beginning with ‘stop running away from who and what you want.’
A reader by birth, paper-pusher by trade and novelist by design, story-telling in my passion. If you enjoyed reading today's story, please consider checking out my blog bullishink.com, joining my creative community sweetbananaink.com or participating in the madcap twitter fun @bullishink.