Propriety and Simple Honesty
Robert Morehouse heard the woman's voice coming from beside him on his bed, but he took a moment to recall who the lady was before he opened his eyes. There were plenty of times in the past when he had been unable to do that simple task of remembering for whatever reasons, not the least of which was the likelihood that he had been too inebriated to get it straight the night before. But this time his memory was crystal clear, and he looked at Elizabeth Haverford with a soft, playful smile on his lips. "Elizabeth," he said.
"I have some morning appointments, Robert," she said simply.
Taking the cue, Robert pushed the bedclothes aside. "I'll summon a carriage," he said, leaving out the obvious precursor of getting dressed before doing so.
But before he could stand Elizabeth grasped his arm, "In a moment," she said, and he saw the welcoming warmth of the previous evening return to her eyes. Robert moved close enough to kiss her, allowing himself to feel her softness both emotionally and physically. It had been a long time since he'd had a relationship with a woman that was anything other than a pathway to his own satisfaction. But Elizabeth was different in so many ways – intelligent, clever, and like-minded politically, to name a few. For the first time he was considering the possibility of a long term relationship, which was something he had always considered unnecessary if not impossible.
Finally he rose and dressed, helping Elizabeth with her own cumbersome clothes in turn, putting them on her being much less enchanting than taking them off had been. "So you'll be heading the New York business now?" she asked of him, her tone turning more formal again.
Robert understood her reference to his father's recent exile to Atlanta following his traitorous deeds with the band of Confederates. "The transition should be smooth," he said. "I've always excelled at leadership."
"And modesty," Elizabeth said.
Robert glanced at her then, and saw the hint of a smile on her lips. "That is something I've been wise enough not to lay claim to," he said. He sighed. "I'm certain you know my commission in the army was bought and paid for by my father." It wasn't a question, and Elizabeth simply nodded in response. "There were plenty of people who were certain I would fall on my face as an officer both figuratively and literally," Robert continued. "But I took to the role amazingly well. It turns out that leadership is one of the few skills that comes to me quite naturally."
"There is another that must certainly rival it," Elizabeth said subtly.
Robert met her gaze, and if he were the type to blush, at that moment he would be doing so. "Sometimes it is the company that enhances the skill level," he said.
Elizabeth favored him with another smile. "You flatter me, Robert," she said.
"As you do me," he said quietly, feeling in the moment a desire to say more and be more straightforward, but before he could begin Elizabeth spoke again.
"That carriage now, I think," she said.
"Of course," Robert replied, and he went to find one of his men to retrieve the carriage. He knew that she had blocked whatever emotional confession he had been about to make and understood that was socially appropriate, but part of him longed to step beyond the wall that society's rules placed between propriety and simple honesty. Perhaps it is too soon, he thought. With time they could surely be clearer with one another – assuming there would be time. And if not, what would it matter?
With Elizabeth safely in the carriage toward home, Robert went to the dining room for coffee and breakfast. He was looking over the morning paper when one of his servants politely coughed by way of interruption. When Robert looked up, the man said, "Mr. Morehouse, Detective Corcoran is at the door."
Corky? Robert thought. It wasn't like Kevin to make a social call in the morning. "Show him in," Robert said. "And bring more coffee and food."
"Yes sir," the man said before departing.
Corky's arrival worried Robert. Was it something about his father? He couldn't imagine that anything had happened overnight, but there was always the possibility. Why else would Corky there? But when the man himself walked in, shoulder-length dark hair disheveled, clothes wrinkled, eyes dark and sunken, Robert knew this was not about his father; this was personal to Kevin himself.
"I'm sorry to intrude, Major," Corky said, referring to Robert's former military rank as usual but looking uncomfortable in a way Robert had not seen in a long time.
"Sit down," Robert said. Then he stood and walked to the dining room door and shut it. When he looked back at Corky he was still standing looking down at the table. "Corky, I'm serious, sit," he said, walking back over to the chair he had vacated. "You look as though you're about to collapse anyway." Robert sat, and finally Corky pulled out a chair and sat as well.
"I didn't know where else to go," Corky said, his voice pained and hollow.
"You know you're welcome here," Robert said, gauging the moment slowly and delicately, as it seemed to require that. He knew Corky was a man of violence; he had seen it many times and learned to expect it. But that wasn't what he was concerned about triggering at that moment. There was something far more fragile here, close to breaking, and he knew that if Corky left without addressing it he might not survive.
"And you know we're different types of men," Corky said.
"Not so different," Robert said. There was a knock at the door, and Robert invited his servant in with the extra coffee and food that he set in front of Corky before leaving and shutting the door. "Eat something," Robert said to Corky. "You look like death."
"I wish I were dead," Corky said quietly. "Me and not…" Whatever it was, he didn't finish it.
"If that were true, you would be," Robert said as he sat back in his chair. "You have no limit of means to that end."
"But not the courage," Corky said.
"That doesn't take courage," Robert said. Corky looked at him then, with some deep pain swimming in his eyes. "Talk to me, Kevin," Robert said. "If you need me to say it, you have my confidence." Corky looked at him a moment longer, but no explanation was forthcoming before he looked away once again. Robert waited in silence, his own breakfast pushed aside. Robert owed this man a great deal stemming back to his time on the battlefield, but beyond that he had true affection for him. It troubled him to see Corky so deeply wounded.
Corky reached for his coffee cup and brought it to his lips. Robert noted the slight twitch in Corky's movements and realized its source. He wasn't surprised by it, but it deepened his concern. Robert understood addiction, but addiction mixed with agony was a mortal concoction. Robert forced himself to return to his breakfast, trying to let the moment soften, though Corky seemed wound so tight he didn't know if that was possible. "I heard Maguire survived the surgery," Robert said finally.
Corky set down the cup. "Yes," he said.
Robert knew something had come apart between Corky and his fellow copper and friend Maguire but wasn't clear on the extent of it. "Whatever it is, say it," he pressed.
"He slept with Ellen," Corky said.
Robert wasn't shocked by the revelation about Corky's wife and Maguire; after all he had slept with a few men's wives himself. "When we were at war," Robert said.
"Yes," Corky replied.
"And?" Robert asked. He understood the betrayal, but that was an issue for anger, not this internal collapse Corky was showing.
Corky's lips quivered, but he hesitated. Robert sipped his coffee and waited. "My Maggie," Corky said finally, "my little girl…" Robert looked at him, and saw that Corky was actually physically trembling, though Robert didn't think he knew it. God, Robert thought, what is this? He had never seen Corky so shaken to the core, not even by the discovery of the girl, and that had been bad enough. Robert stood and went to a cabinet, then took out a bottle of whiskey. It was early, far too early, but sometimes the time didn't matter. He walked back and set the bottle on the table by Corky before retaking his seat. Corky's hands shook more openly as he unscrewed the cap from the bottle and downed several quick swallows before bringing the bottle back to the table and closing his eyes. Robert thought for a moment that despite the liquid courage Corky still wouldn't able to disclose this heartache, but finally the words came. "She walked in on them," he said, the pain raw in his voice. "She was crying. She was crying for me." He stood suddenly, knocking over the bottle so that the amber liquid spilled out on the table.
Robert reached over and righted the bottle. "Keep going," he said, knowing it had to come now or it was going to tear Corky apart from the inside. He looked at Corky's face and saw the tears pouring down his cheeks. "Tell me," he said quietly.
Corky wiped the tears away with his hands. "I shouldn't be here," he said. He moved back from the table.
"Corky, sit down," Robert said.
"No, Major, this was a mistake," Corky said. "You and I, this…"
"Sit down," Robert said, knowing that if he let Corky leave now it could well be the last time he would see him alive. Corky turned away from him, and Robert played the strongest trump card he had: "Sit now. That's an order, and you will not disobey a direct order." Corky stood there a moment longer, and Robert knew he was weighing it, the will to hold on, the will to live with this pain. But Robert also knew that Corky had already weighed that or he wouldn't have come to him. Corky turned back and retook his seat like the obedient soldier he had been. Robert let a few seconds pass, and then took his coffee again.
"Ellen wanted to quiet her," Corky said. "She didn't intend to…kill her." Robert said nothing, waiting. "I should have been there," Corky said finally. "None of this would have happened if I had been there."
"You know that isn't how it works, Corky," Robert said. "Things happen how they happen…"
"You don't understand…"
"Don't I?" Robert said. "You lost your daughter because of the war; I do understand. I lost part of my body. How can you think I don't understand?"
Corky looked at him surprise, and he knew why. Robert had been so careful for so long not to voice the pain of losing his leg aside from a few jokes that it was easy to forget that he had lost it. But that loss was part of him every day, part of who he was and what his life was. Yes, he understood a constant, permanent, life-changing loss like that.
"I'm sorry," Corky said.
"I was just making a point," Robert said, dismissing it. It was a difficult thing to live with, to be sure, but at least he was alive. "You're not to blame for this, Corky," he said.
"I am," Corky said, "like you were, for being in the war."
Robert sighed. "The war took from all of us in some way," he agreed.
"I wish it had taken my leg instead," Corky said.
"No," Robert said. "You don't."
"If it meant I had my daughter, yes," Corky said.
"I know you think so, but you underestimate the difficulties," Robert said. "There are a lot of things we take for granted when we have them. To not have a leg, forever, has an impact you can't imagine." This was far more personal than his discussions with Corky had ever been, but then what Corky had told him required some sort of equal reveal. And shifting the focus from Corky's pain might be helpful at this point – not that losing his leg was easy for Robert to talk about. Like everyone else he preferred to pretend it hadn't happened, and sometimes he could do that. But not now.
"I'm sorry, Major," Corky said. "It seems I may have overstayed my welcome." He stood again. "I should get to work and let you get to yours," he added.
"What about Maguire?" Robert asked.
"I don't know," Corky said. "I couldn't kill him, and I couldn't let him die."
"That's a shame," Robert said. "I've never liked him much."
Corky smiled, and Robert was glad to see it. "I've liked him too much, I think," he said.
"You've told me he's good at the work," Robert said.
"That he is," Corky said.
"Then keep that in mind," Robert said.
"I will," Corky said. He walked the length of the table toward the door before looking back at Robert. "Thank you, Major," he said.
"There's one other thing," Robert said and didn't hesitate in saying what it was. "The drugs."
Corky looked away. "I'll manage that," he said.
"You'll need to do it better than you have today," Robert said. "Or if you'd rather stop I'll pay for the treatment."
Corky looked back at him. "I didn't ask for that," he said.
"I'm offering it," Robert said. "Just let me know, and you'll have it."
Corky glanced away and then brought his eyes back to Robert's. "Thank you," he said. He turned toward the door and then hesitated and looked back again. "I know I've already…"
"Just ask it," Robert said.
"Ellen is still…weak," Corky said. "She needs some looking after, and I can't have Eva and Annie…"
"I'll dispatch one of the staff," Robert said.
"I'll pay whatever…"
"No," Robert said.
"I'm not a charity case, Major," Corky said.
"No, you're my friend," Robert said. "I don't have many – or really any – others. So, you'll take it as a gift."
Corky was silent for a moment and then he said simply, "Yes, sir."
Robert smiled. "That's better," he said. "I'll send someone today. Let some of this weight come off your shoulders, Corky. It's too much for one man."
"Yes," Corky said. He put his hands over his face for a moment, and then dropped them to his sides. "Thank you for all of this," he said. "You're a far better man than any of them know."
Robert laughed. "Don't go overboard on this," he said. "There's still a selfish motive in me wanting to keep my favorite copper around."
Corky smiled and nodded before opening the door and walking out of the room. Robert leaned back in his chair and released a breath before returning to his now-cold breakfast.