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I twisted my hair into a ponytail, tucking it under my cap and lowering the brim. Then I took a final look around the room full of strangers, wondering which of them would help me escape, and which would try to kill me.
I was a wanted woman and I knew that I could not stop moving until I had reached who I wanted. Without pausing any longer I shoved through the crowded station, knocking against other immigrants like me, with their suitcases and starry-eyed gazes. They all hoped they could stumble upon some vein of good luck here in this new nation, where dreamers existed. I had learned the hard way that nothing, not even a dream of something better, could come without a price.
My small bag bounced against my back as I left the station with a feeling of unease, my fake identification papers in the pocket of my jacket. Someone had been following me. I just hoped that it was an ally in this crazy hunt that had uprooted me from everything I had ever known and dumped me into a place where I was completely paranoid of every bowler hat and parasol.
I had memorized the address of where I was supposed to meet George. Or whatever his name was now. The agency always assigned names to the assassins. My papers told me that my new name was to be Bridget O’Connor. Supposedly I was half Irish, half Italian and was journeying to America as an orphan. The real objective behind this foray into new territory was to apprehend a man wanted in London but who Scotland Yard had reason to believe had escaped to the United States. The man had murdered women gruesomely and had been given the moniker of Jack the Ripper.
I rounded a corner, managing to watch every intersection that came into sight. In London, I had had my own brush with Jack, one that I was not eager to repeat and I was determined to bring this murderer into custody, dead or alive. Preferably dead. But I was jumping the gun. I wasn’t even sure where he could be in this huge country.
“Bridget!” A voice called out behind me. I turned slowly, recognizing the male bravado, and suppressed a smile. George.
“Well, Mr. Dayton, fancy meeting you here,” I said and sauntered towards the tall man standing beneath the awning of a café. George stepped forward and took my bag from me, and bent forward to kiss the back of my hand. “Always the gentleman, I see.” I smirked at him.
“Of course. Would I be any different?”
“I should hope not.” I sat down in a wooden chair at a rickety wooden table.
“So tell me, dearest…Bridget. Why Bridget? You do not look Irish at all.”
“You tell me. Apparently I am half Irish and half Italian. Which is half true.” I laughed at the irony of my supposed background.
George laughed with me. “Anyways. Have you seen or heard anything of our…friend?” This conversation was all business now. I tugged my cap up a little bit, the better to see George.
“Sadly, no. I do know for sure that he was not on the ship that I crossed on. I scoured every compartment of that blasted ship and there was no sign of him. You have any luck?”
“The agency got a tip yesterday that he was possibly in or near the Irish slum, here in New York.”
“Have you inquired on this tip?” I reached out and took the pastry that George handed to me and gave a scathing glance at the man staring at the impropriety of a lady dining with a man, un-chaperoned. Oh, the impropriety! I had never been one for…propriety.
After a moment, I moved my chair closer to George, just to spite the man who had been staring.
George caught my eye and dropped his voice so low that I practically had to be nose to nose to hear him; not that I minded in the least. “Not yet. The agency gave me specific instructions to wait for you before I did anything drastic. For once I did not scoff at them.”
“I am quite proud of your self-restraint.” I said with a smile and made to stand up. “We have some work to do, dear.”
“Why yes, of course, darling.” He bent to snatch up my bag and threw down some crumpled bills for our meager fare. I followed him to the door and glanced back around the room, just a quick sweep. Everything seemed to be in order, for a homely little café in the middle of a New York slum.
Once in the street, George took my hand, a not uncommon gesture for him. We had always been close. I was happy to be shown to the world on the arm of my dashing childhood friend, so happy that my thoughts wandered to a place where I could forget my current wanted status. He hadn’t heard the news yet. The reaction that I expected of him would be priceless.
“George, the agency didn’t inform you of any of my, uh, recent activities in London, did they?”
“Mare…I mean, Bridget, what have you done now?” His lips quirked up in a smile but I could read the concern in his eyes.
“Well.” My voice trailed off as I began to notice the disrepair and filth of the buildings as George led me farther into the city.
“Do tell, Mare. I mean, Bridget. Why do I keep doing that?!”
“I have that kind of effect on people. Don’t feel bad, George.” I grinned up at him and his deep green eyes.
At that moment, I saw him; a lone dark figure slipping through the crowd like an eel, disappearing around a corner without so much as a flash of a coattail. Abandoning my sense of propriety, if I had ever had one, I picked up my skirts and ran after him. I regretted the choice of the heavy skirt now, and fervently wished for trousers. My pistol found its way into my hand. George was running behind me.
“JACK!” I shouted as the figure slipped into a shadowed alley. “You will not escape me this time!”