Though he had been to Gallagher’s apartment on Havermeyer Steet once before, Connor had trouble locating the address. Too much had changed in Williamsburg since his last visit. Everywhere he looked, he saw new apartment buildings being put up one after the other. Workers in hard hats scrambled over the scaffolding surrounding them.
When Connor did finally arrive, he found Gallagher busy in the kitchen cooking dinner. “Hey, perfect timing, man,” the latter said as he held the door open. Connor noticed Gallagher took the time to look into the hallway to make sure they were alone. “Come on in and have some of my special chicken fricassee. It’s a work of art if I do say so myself.”
Connor gave a bleak smile. He looked about the apartment he had so recently visited with Deirdre in his dream and saw it was just as disordered now as it had been then. “Did anyone ever tell you that you need a cleaning woman to come in and get rid of this mess?”
“I’ve thought about that,” Gallagher chuckled. “What I really want is some sexy chick in a French maid’s uniform walking around with a feather duster in her hand.” He turned back to the stove and stirred some vegetables in a pot. “Are you hungry?”
“I’m Irish, remember? We only break bread with our friends.”
Gallagher turned toward him with pot in hand. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Exactly what it sounds like.”
Gallagher looked at Connor closely enough to make out the dangerous glint in his eye. “So what’s up with you? You trying to tell me we’re not friends anymore?”
“You never were my friend, you piece of shit. It’s just that I’m only now realizing how you used me all this time.”
Gallagher was startled but recovered quickly. “Fuck you,” he shot back. “If you’ve got some bug up your ass all of a sudden, you can get yourself the hell out of my home.”
“Don’t worry. I’m going as soon as I’ve said what I came to say. I don’t want to be around you a minute longer than I need to be. You can take my word on that.”
Gallagher was too surprised by Connor’s new attitude to be genuinely angry. He lowered his voice. “What’s with you tonight anyway? Your new girlfriend throw you out on the street or what?”
“Get off the act. I know all about you and Jocelyn.”
This time Gallagher was genuinely shocked. “What are you talking about? That woman say some shit to you about me and her? If she did, you know it’s a damned lie.”
“I haven’t seen Jocelyn since I visited her at her new apartment, and I’ve no plans to change that. If I don’t see her again until my dying day, it will still be too soon as far as I’m concerned.”
“That I can understand,” said Gallagher as he attempted to calm Connor down. “If she hadn’t talked you into pulling that dumb burglary job you wouldn’t be in the mess you are now. She really did screw up your life with that stupidity.”
“It wasn’t her idea, it was yours.”
Gallagher banged the pot down. “And bullshit makes the world go round.”
“Except even that wasn’t enough for you. You didn’t stop there. You called the cops while I was inside and handed me to them on a platter.”
Gallagher took a step back. “Are you crazy? Where’d you ever get that idea?”
“I was standing right here the last time you met with Jocelyn.” Connor changed his tone to mimic his ex-wife’s voice. “‘That didn’t stop you from calling the police and telling them what he was up to that night and where they could find him.’”
Gallagher’ face went white. “How the hell did you find out about that?”
“I just told you. I was standing right here while you two lovebirds were spilling your guts to one another.”
Gallagher dropped all pretense of innocence. “The hell you were. She and I were in here by ourselves with the door locked behind us.”
“You figure it out then. What the hell difference does it make anyway how I found out? What’s important is that I know you stabbed me in the back, the both of you.”
“So what are you going to do about it?” Gallagher was fast recovering his composure. He gave up attempting to appease Connor and instead moved forward to confront him. “You know as well as I do you’re fucked. You’re an ex-con. Ty to play rough with me, and the cops will have you in cuffs before you know it. They’re just waiting for the chance.”
“Don’t worry,” Connor assured him. I already figured that much out for myself. You can have your miserable life and be happy with it. You can have Jocelyn too – you two deserve one another. I don’t want anything more to do with either of you. I only came by to tell you I finally got wise to what’s been going on. God knows, it took me long enough.”
“So that’s it then. We’re done, aren’t we?”
“We’re done all right. If I saw you lying in the gutter, I wouldn’t stop long enough to spit on you. I’d just step over you and keep on walking.”
“Yeah? Well fuck you too.”
Connor stepped in close and hit the other below the belt as hard as he could. He watched as Gallagher doubled over in pain. “I just wanted to give it to you once where it would hurt and wouldn’t leave any marks. I wouldn’t want you to have anything to show the cops if you decide to turn snitch again.”
Gallagher groaned in pain. “I’ll get you for this,” he said behind clenched teeth.
“Go ahead and try. You know where to find me.”
Connor took one more look at Gallagher and headed for the door. “Sorry I couldn’t stay for dinner,” he said over his shoulder.
When Connor arrived at his own home in Bed Stuy a half hour later, he found an envelope addressed to him lying on his desk. He ripped it open and found inside a message written on a scrap of yellowed paper.
“I’ll be at the Purple Onion on West 3rd Street at 9 o’clock. Meet me there. Deirdre”
There was no stamp on the envelope and Connor had no idea how it had ended up in his room. Neither of his roommates was in the apartment to tell him who had dropped it off. Connor crumpled the note and put it in his pocket. Looking at his watch, he saw it was already almost 8. Without missing a beat, he grabbed his jacket and headed back out the door.
The address Deirdre had given was right around the corner from the West 4th Street subway station. There turned out to be a nightclub at the location. A glitzy neon sign hanging above the entrance identified it as The Purple Onion. Inside was the usual Village crowd of N.Y.U. students, tourists and well-to-do couples who paid for their overpriced martinis with platinum credit cards while taking in the local color.
Connor didn’t pay that much attention, though, to the audience that filled the club’s darkened interior. His gaze was instead riveted on the small stage where Deirdre sat playing piano. A single spotlight shone down on her and reflected the glow of her blonde hair. She was dressed in a full length strapless gown that made her seem a visitor from another, more glamorous, era. There was no score on the piano, and Deirdre barely looked at the keyboard as her fingers raced across the keys.
No host or waiter was in sight, so Connor took a seat at a table in the back of the room. From there he could see and hear everything. A lit candle had been placed at the table’s center, and its flame fluttered and created reflections on the empty glassware.
Deirdre continued to play as if unconscious of those about her. Her selections were familiar standards that ranged from Duke Ellington’s Take the A Train to Cole Porter’s Night and Day. Each one she performed as perfectly as the last.
“She’s marvelous,” whispered a woman at the next table to her distracted husband. “I wonder who she is. She’s never played here before that I can remember.”
The performance went on for the next half hour as Deirdre progressed through an eclectic program that veered from the Big Band era to the classical. For her final number, she played Debussy’s Claire de Lune. When she had finished, the entire audience broke into wild applause. Some even stood up at their tables as they clapped.
Deirdre looked up and smiled at the crowd who, as if awaiting their cue, at once broke into cheers. She stood then beside the piano and gave a formal bow in their direction.
Seeing Connor sitting alone in back, Deirdre stepped down from the stage and made her way across the room while ignoring the curious stares of those she passed along the way.
As soon as Deirdre sat down beside Connor, a waiter in a white jacket rushed to their side. In his hand he held an ice bucket containing a bottle of Roederer Cristal. He first set elegantly cut flute glasses before them both and then handed to Deirdre a small package wrapped in white paper. “This is the item you asked the manager to hold for you.” His voice was almost a whisper as he prepared to pop the cork from the champagne bottle.
After the waiter had filled their glasses and left, Connor leaned smiling toward Deirdre. “In the old days,” he joked, “you’d have held a Turkish cigarette in a long ivory holder and I’d have lit it with a monogrammed silver lighter.”
“Oh, no. I’d never in my life smoke a cigarette,” laughed Deirdre. She pretended to shiver at the thought.
Connor nodded toward the stage. “I see you haven’t forgotten any of the piano skills you learned in our dream.”
“Yes, it’s amazing, isn’t it? I can’t remember ever having heard some of those songs before. They just seemed to play themselves.”
“I’m glad you invited me here to listen. You have quite a career ahead of you as a concert pianist. I’ll be able to say I knew you when you were first starting out.”
Deirdre shook her head. “No, it’s too late for any career for me. But at least I’ll have this wonderful memory of having been here with you.”
Connor lifted his glass toward her. She raised her own and they touched rim to rim before they drank.
“There was another reason I wanted to meet with you tonight,” said Deirdre. “I have something I want to give you. It once belonged to someone very close to me.” She took the wrapped package the waiter had given her and handed it to Connor.
Not knowing what to expect, Connor tore away the paper and found inside a book. Looking at it more closely, he saw it was the I Ching, the same Bollingen edition he had at home. “Hey, I already own this book,” he exclaimed in astonishment. “And this looks exactly like the copy I have, only it’s not so badly worn and tattered.”
“Where did you get yours?”
“I picked it up years ago second-hand at the Strand. I found it was much better than the translations I’d used in college.”
“And you still ask it questions every now and then?”
“I consult it every time I have a decision to make,” answered Connor seriously. “I believe everything I was taught about it.” He frowned. “Not that I can always understand the answers the oracle gives me.”
“You have to keep your mind open.”
“And that’s the problem. We always know what answer we want the book to give us before we toss the coins. The real difficulty is in not imposing our own wishes on it when we try to interpret the hexagrams it’s shown us.”
“Oh, you do understand,” Deirdre said and clapped her hands appreciatively. “That’s the same explanation Donny always gave too.”
“There’s that name again.” Connor regarded his companion reproachfully. “You never did tell me who this Donny is. What’s the big mystery?”
“You’ll meet him. But you have to be ready first. Then I can take you to him.”
“In my dreams, right?”
“Where else?” Deirdre asked as she took another sip of champagne.
Connor started to say something else but then thought better of it. “I guess I should be jealous of how much you care for this guy,” he finally told her, “but if he’s half as cool as you are then I can’t wait to meet him.”
“You two will get along great. I promise.” Deirdre gave an enigmatic smile. “Believe me when I tell you that you’ll feel you’ve known him forever.”