It’d been five weeks since Irene O’Connell’s father collected her from the Dominican Convent of Our Lady of the Rosary Orphanage on 63rd street. He turned up on a June day in ’39, driving a borrowed Model T Ford, not mentioning the borrowed part until they were well into the Bronx. Irene was sixteen, old enough to live at home again and take a job in a sewing factory.
The factory was hot and dusty, although the women said in the winter it would be cold and dusty, so pick your hell. Six days a week, Irene took the subway alone downtown to work. Her father drove a delivery truck—delivering cheese, he’d claimed. Sometimes he was gone for days.
“Your old man ain’t delivering no cheese,” Miss Mulligan from across the hall said. “Gin maybe, but no cheese.” She was a pretty woman with gorgeous red hair and a small waist. She said she’d, too, gone to the orphanage when her mother died and her father couldn’t take care of her. The phone in the hall rang often and it was usually for her. “Mary Mulligan around?” they’d ask.
Miss Mulligan gave Irene a brass hatpin with a lady sitting on a crescent moon at one end and a sharp point at the other.
“For when them men on the subway get fresh.” Then she added darkly, “Or, if that fella your father has boarding in the apartment tries something, you poke ‘im with it. Keep it in your pocket book. Keep that close by.”
Mr. Reznecki was as a friend of Irene’s father and he slept on the couch in the parlor. Irene didn’t engage with the man much. She heard him come in after midnight, stumble around. If she got up to go to the bathroom, the stink of liquor and beer wafted through the parlor like rancid milk. In the mornings, she’d see Mr. Reznecki on the couch, his head faced towards the ceiling, eyes closed, his mouth open like a corpse.
He did get fresh with her. Cornered her in the middle of the night when she walked into the kitchen to get her pocket book—she’d left it on the table and the thought woke her.
There he was, Mr. Reznecki, leaning against the small stove, swaying from drink, watching her as she slipped by to grab her pocket book. She caught his eye and he grinned slowly. Pushed her onto the table. “Doll,” he muttered while he tried to kiss her. Irene jerked the hatpin out of the pocket book and stabbed him in his left leg.
“Goddammit!” he screamed, jumping back, knocking against the stove before falling sideways towards the icebox. He pulled the pin out of his leg, threw it across the room. Irene went for her purse on the table—her money was in there—and then tried to escape, but he got hold of her again. She had no pin but she was able to get her hand around the handle of the cast-iron pan left on the stove. She swung it like a small ax. Smashed it into his head.
He buckled to the floor and blood oozed from his temple.
Later, Miss Mulligan stood in the kitchen. “Them boys get too drunk these days. They fall and hit their heads.”
“He didn’t fall, Miss Mulligan.” Irene was sick with guilt. She’d committed murder. Hell awaited her, no matter how long she lived on Earth.
“Oh, sure he fell, honey. I seen it with my own two eyes.” Then she winked, snapped the gum she was chewing. “Go wash the pan and we’ll find something he banged his head on.” The pretty woman’s eyes scanned the tiny kitchen, noticed something in the corner. “Like that metal stool over there.”
“But I murdered him.”
“No, you pushed him away and he hit his head.”
“The police will never believe that.”
Mary leaned down, picked the hatpin off the floor, placed it through her gorgeous red hair, right above her left ear. The lady on the moon glistened in the kitchen light. Mary posed like a glamour girl and smiled, the devil glinting in her eyes. “How much you wanna bet?”