Charlie flopped down on her bed and examined the pocket watch she—no, Katriona—had snitched off of Declan Erikson. It felt so long ago now… had it just been last night?
The watch wasn’t what she had expected. The standard silver casing housed a watch that didn’t count seconds and minutes—or, it did, but it also seemed to count years. A row of tiny numbers along the rim currently read 21-5-14. Below that, a regular watch hand counted out minutes and hours, but it wasn’t against a normal backing showing numbers or roman numerals, but was instead set over a whole slew of tiny brass mechanical pieces that moved erratically underneath. On the other side of the watch was an engraving in the silver: To Declan Elias Falker, so that he never forgets himself or his time. ~EF
Declan Falker, she thought with a smirk. So she hadn’t been the only one using an alias last night. What were you trying to hide?
A bell rang in the shop below. Charlie quickly hid the watch under her pillow and went to the door of her bedroom, pressing her ear to the wood.
“What do you mean there’s no Katriona here?” a voice said from below. A very angry, Irish voice.
Charlie smirked. “Clever boy…” she muttered.
“I’m sorry, but there’s not—and never has been—anyone named Katriona living under this roof. It’s just me and my daughter,” her father said to Declan.
“Oh.” There was a moment of silence. “And you’re… a medium? I think I have met your daughter… please, forgive me. My memory’s not what it should be. Would you mind if I spoke to her? We have business… it shouldn’t take long…”
“Just let him up…” Charlie whispered, as if she could telepathically influence her father.
“Business?” her father asked. “What sort of business? Is she selling herself as a psychic again? Because I’ve told her, over and over…”
“No, nothing like that,” Declan said. “We simply met the other night, and she left before we had time to clear up a… misunderstanding.”
Her father went silent for a moment, then called upstairs, “Come down! A visitor!”
She smiled, then opened the door and went out to the landing. She stared down at her father and Declan standing together in the parlor, and grinned wider. “Oh, Mr. Falker. What a pleasure.”
Declan visibly paled at the name, but recovered himself quickly.
“Miss Devon,” he said. “The pleasure is mine.”
Her father cast a glare up at her at the use of the name he himself worked under. Charlie shrunk away from his gaze. She didn’t like making her father upset…
“Shall we talk, then?” she asked Declan. She motioned up toward her room.
Declan glanced at Charlie’s father. “Do you mind? This shouldn’t take long, as I said.”
He took a breath. “Fine. Be quick. And leave the door open.”
“Of course.” Declan rose, waiting for Charlie at the door of the parlour as her father disappeared into a back room.
“What, afraid to see my bedroom, Mr. Falker?” she asked, raising an eyebrow and crossing her arms. She was slipping into Katriona… oh well. He’d fallen for it before.
“Simply afraid of damaging your reputation with your father, Miss Devon,” Declan said in a low voice.
“We’ll leave the door open,” she replied. “And besides, what trouble could we really get up to in this short amount of time, hm?”
“After what you did last night? Plenty. We are professionals, after all.”
Charlie smirked. “Come up. We’ll talk.” No need for her father to eavesdrop on her little… escapade last night.
Declan followed her hesitantly to her room, and stood awkwardly in the doorway. “I need it back,” he said, holding out his hand.
Charlie sat on her bed. “What do you need back?” she asked innocently.
“The watch. And the wallet. You know what you took.” His accent was stronger when he was upset. It would be quite nice if he wasn’t angry with her.
“I think you’re mistaken, Mr. Falker.”
Declan scowled. “I will pay you, Miss Devon. I need them back. They are more important than you think.”
Charlie threw her head back and sighed. “It’s not Devon. It’s O’Brian. And you shouldn’t have been so careless with precious belongings.”
“I don’t expect pretty girls to pickpocket me,” Declan said defensively. Then he sighed. “But yes. I should have been more careful. Now give them back.”
“What will you give me for them?” she asked, crossing her arms and staring him down.
“Twenty dollars?” Declan said.
Charlie tilted her head and considered the offer. “And how much could I sell your watch for?”
“Less than that. Its value is to me alone.”
“Are you lying to me?” she asked lowly. She stood up and walked over to him, pinning his shoulders to the wall with her hands. “I can tell when people are lying to me. And you’re not in a good position to do so right now, Mr. Falker.”
“Don’t touch me again,” Declan said, pushing her off. “I’m not lying. The watch is very valuable to me for sentimental reasons.”
Charlie took a breath. He had pushed her harder than she expected him to… “Fine. Give me the money first.”
“Give me the watch, then I’ll give you the money, and then give me the wallet,” Declan said.
“I’ll give you the wallet first, then you give me the money, and then I give you the watch. You asked about the watch first. It clearly means more to you. This is the only deal I’ll accept. And make it twenty-five dollars.”
“Fine.” Declan fidgeted with his buttons. Why so nervous? Charlie thought. “Wallet. Now. Oh—and I want to know your name. Full name.” There was a slight smile on his lips. Charlie matched it.
She walked over to her nightstand and pulled out the worn leather wallet. She held it out, but didn’t let him take it. “Why do you care about my name?”
“Because you’ve inconvenienced me. Greatly. And you know my real name… so I deserve yours.”
“Fine, then.” She put the wallet in his hand. “It’s Charlie. Charlie O’Brian.”
“Charlie?” Declan asked, pocketing the wallet.
She grimaced. “Charlotte, technically. But I hate that name. So it’s Charlie. Money now.”
Declan passed her the bills a tad regretfully. She pocketed them, then—cheeks flushing slightly with embarrassment—went over to her bed and pulled the watch out from under her pillow. “And this? Why does an old watch have such sentimental value?”
“My father gave it to me,” Declan said. “When I left home.”
“Oh…” She slowly handed it over. “Why did you leave?”
“Because I had a job to do.” Declan smiled slightly. “Remember? I want to change the world.”
Charlie snorted. “Yeah, sure, and I’m psychic. People don’t just leave with an old watch and a dream. There’s more to the story.”
Declan chuckled. “It was basically a watch and a dream. And a camera. Sometimes, the unusual really does happen, Miss O’Brian. There’s more to the story, yes. But it’s not a story for you.” He turned to go.
“Why not?” she called after him, then cursed herself silently for it. She didn’t actually care. He was just some boy from the club who she wanted to have some fun with. She didn’t care…
Declan, however, had stopped.
“Because I’m psychic, too. But you would never believe the rest of the story.”
“There’s no such thing as psychics,” Charlie said, shaking her head. “Try me.”
Declan glanced at his watch. “I really shouldn’t… but…” He looked like he was searching his memory for a moment, and then he snapped his fingers. “Oh, I have it. Tomorrow, July twentieth, 1922, Limerick will fall to the National Army in the Irish Civil War.” He smiled, tipping his bowler to her, and left the room.
Charlie stared after him. It was a decent chance. She knew how to play the odds as well as the best. But he was just guessing. There was no way he actually knew… the future.
A few minutes after Declan left, her father appeared in the doorway. He crossed his arms and stared at her, one dark eyebrow raised.
“Business?” he asked.
“Business,” she replied.
“It’s fine, Father,” she sighed. She lied down on her bed, and he came over and sat at the foot of it.
“What did you take from him?” her father asked gently.
Charlie stared at the ceiling. “His wallet. It was almost empty… just a photograph.” Which she had kept. But her father didn’t need to know that. “And his pocket watch. He paid me for all of it. Twenty-five bucks. Not bad, don’t you think?”
He sighed heavily. “Charlie… you—”
“You taught me,” she said quickly, sitting up and pointing a finger at him. “You can’t have seriously expected me not to use it once you taught me what to do.”
“I wanted you to wait. Wait until you’re older… please…”
“I’m eighteen!” Charlie exclaimed. “How long do you want me to wait? You were off having your own adventures by my age. Is it so wrong for me to want that myself?”
“You’re not ready,” he said calmly. “He tracked you here, didn’t he? Why would you use Devon as an alias? It’s on the bloody sign outside, Charlie! Of course he found you!”
“Others haven’t,” she pointed out.
“You aren’t helping your case.” He rubbed his temple. “Where did you find him?”
Charlie hesitated. “The speakeasy on Second.”
“And how did you get him to let you put your hands in his pockets, hm?”
She lay back on her pillow again. “It worked, Father,” she said softly. “You’ve told me these things before… the hands and facial area are more sensitive, the lips the most so, so… distract. They’ll never realize you pinched their wallets because all they’re focusing on is… is your lips against theirs.”
“So you did kiss him.” Her father put his elbows on his knees and tented his fingers, staring at the wall and not at her. “How many times?”
Charlie closed her eyes. “Twice. I noticed the watch after I grabbed his wallet… But I left right after. That was all, I swear.”
He buried his face in his hands. “What if it hadn’t been all? What if he wasn’t satisfied? What if he tried to take you for all you had? Could you honestly say you could have defended yourself? Warded him off? Especially if you were both under the influence of alcohol, as I strongly suspect you were… What if it hadn’t gone right? You’re not ready, Charlie,” he said slowly. “You need to realize that now before you get hurt.”
“Declan wouldn’t have hurt me…”
Her father looked over at her. “You don’t know that. You can never know a person, Charlie. You might think you do… but you can never know what they’re capable of until it’s too late.”
Charlie slowly sat up and stared down at her hands. “I… I know. I’m sorry, Father. It won’t happen again.”
“Why don’t I believe you?”
“Because you taught me too well?” she said, trying to give him a joking smile. He returned it sadly, reaching out to touch her cheek.
“You know I’m only saying this because I love you. I don’t want to lose you, Charlie.”
“I know. I love you, too… but… I am ready. Can you just… trust me?”
“I do trust you. But it would kill me if anything happened to you,” he said softly. “So please. For me. Try to stay out of trouble.”
She nodded. “I’ll try.”
Charlie walked the streets of NYC the next afternoon, taking a circuitous route to her destination just because she was bored. She watched the people that she passed, carefully trying to figure out who they were to each other, to the city. Was the girl crying on a porch step heartbroken over a breakup or a death? The boy in the new suit from old money or a recent windfall? The man on the corner a banker or a plain-clothes police officer? (It was breakup, old money, police.)
The game was a nice pastime, and good practice. One day, one day, her father would let her work with him. He had to. She was good at it—she had gotten to the point where she could even bend most skeptics. Granted, as with last night, they were usually more concerned with other things than the validity of her supposedly psychic abilities… but whatever worked, right?
Eventually Charlie reached the milliner’s shop that worked as a cover for a trusted bootlegger. She slipped the young attendant a few coins and she unlocked the basement door for her. Charlie gave her a nod and descended downstairs.
“Ah, Charlie!” Norman said when she entered the room, grinning widely at her. “How’s my favorite girl?”
“Just fine, sir.” She hopped up on the bar, crossing her legs and returning his smile. “Met a boy the other night.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Oh? Has some poor soul finally stolen Charlie O’Brian’s heart?”
Charlie laughed. “Well, I may have led him to believe so. Right before I stole his wallet.”
“That’s my girl.” Norman turned away from her to the row of dusty liquor bottles he was organizing. “I’m afraid I don’t have much in stock today. I’m meant to get a new delivery in soon… he’s running late.”
“That’s fine, I’m just picking up the whiskey for my father… though if you have any, throw in a bottle of vermouth and a pack of cigarettes for me. I’m in a mood to splurge.”
He chuckled and picked out a few bottles, placing them on the bar beside her. Charlie pulled out the wad of money Declan had given her for his belongings and peeled off a few dollars, which she handed over to Norman. “Thank you, sir,” she said, packing away the alcohol.
“Pleasure’s mine, Charlie-girl.”
The upstairs door opened then, and that infuriating red-headed boy stood at the top of the stairs.
“Mr. Falker,” she sighed. “Are you following me?”
For a moment, Declan stood speechless. She saw his hand drop to his wallet, and his expression darkened just slightly.
“No.” Declan set a crate labelled BOOKS on the counter. “But now that we’re here… I do believe that you still owe me, Miss O’Brian.” He turned to Norman. “Sorry, Norm. Got hung up on the way down here… the cops are looking for me, I think. I couldn’t risk bringing much down here. I’ll bring the rest of your shipment later, if that’s all right.” He turned to Charlie. “Care to talk here? Or somewhere else? Because we’re talking. Unless you decide to make this easy, which, somehow, I doubt.”
“And what do we have to talk about now, Mr. Falker?” she asked, crossing her arms.
He grimaced. “Let’s step outside.” He took her by the arm and led her out onto the street, leaving Norman with a half confused, half bemused look on his face.
“Well? Talk, Mr. Falker.”
“Don’t call me that,” Declan said. “Erikson. It’s Declan Erikson.”
“Who are you hiding from, Mr. Erikson, that you can’t even use your real name in a secure basement booze house?”
“And how do you know that Falker isn’t the fake name?” Declan reached into her pocket and pulled out her lighter, lighting his own cigarette before slipping it back.
“Because your father would hardly have put your alias on your going away present.”
Declan smiled slightly. “About that. I need the photograph, too, you know. Damn, why did you even keep that? It has no value. Are you just trying to extort me?”
“Oddly enough, no… It’s just… an interesting photograph. I like finding interesting things. Studying them. You have a strange family, by the looks of it.”
“Yes,” Declan said. “Now give it back.”
Charlie tilted her head. “I don’t have it with me. What, you think I’m just going to carry around a photograph of a family that isn’t my own, like some sad memento of our one night together? Get your head out of the clouds, Falker. Life isn’t some romance. And I don’t feel like giving it back.”
“Erikson,” Declan insisted. “And I need it back. How would you like it if I took the only photograph you had of you with your family? I told you. I left home with a watch and a dream—and that photograph, to hold onto who I was and where I came from. It’s just a toy to you. It’s the world to me.”
“Exactly.” She turned and started to walk away from him. He would follow, she knew. But she didn’t have any other answers for him. Charlie wasn’t sure why she found the photograph so interesting—it was just strange, for reasons she couldn’t put her finger on. Regardless, she wanted to understand Declan Falker. And Declan Falker cared about this photograph.
“So you’ll give it back?” Declan stepped up beside her, matching her pace.
“I’m not giving you any more money. But… I hate to do this, but I might tell your father.”
Charlie laughed. “Tell him what, exactly?”
“That you go to speakeasies, pretend to be a psychic, drink cheap liquor, and break boys’ hearts. Somehow, I don’t think that would go over too well.”
She shrugged. “It’s nothing he doesn’t already know. Not that he approves… but he’s well aware of the fact. But please, tell him. I’d love to hear him start speculating that you actually care about me.”
Declan flushed. “It’s not safe, playing with people like that. Not in places like that. You got lucky it was just me. One day, you’re going to get hurt. I don’t want to see that.” He glanced at her. “I wasn’t joking, you know. You could come and model.”
“We’re past flirting,” she said. “And please. I don’t need another lecture about staying safe. I can take care of myself perfectly well.”
“I wasn’t flirting. You’re lovely. You don’t need to go seek out attention in bars to know that. And really? You know how to take care of yourself? You didn’t know that I wouldn’t try to hurt you. Or that once I discovered you’d robbed me, that I wouldn’t come after you with a gun.”
“You think I go to bars to seek attention?” Charlie asked. She chuckled and continued walking down the street, ignoring his other comments.
“You pretend to be psychic. If that’s not attention seeking, I don’t know what is.”
“I pretend to be psychic because I’m good at it. And I’m bored. I’ll admit that you’re handsome. I could also tell you had money. You were alone in a bar without a drink in your hand and without a girl on your arm. If that’s not looking to receive the attention of someone like me, I don’t know what is,” she parroted back.
“I was looking for F. Scott Fitzgerald. As you know.” They turned down a smaller side street, approaching the psychic shop.
“Yet still, even after I debunked that little theory of yours, you stayed. You kissed me. Twice.”
Declan looked away. “I was tired. I needed to lose myself.”
“And that’s precisely why you lost some more concrete things. I’m not going to sugar-coat the reality of it. You were an easy mark.”
“Thank you for educating me,” Declan said dryly. “I won’t be so foolish again. And I need the photograph back.”
“Fine. I’ll give you your photograph back.” He opened his mouth, but she held up a finger. “If you take me to meet your family. As is fair.”
“They’re very far away…” Declan said hesitantly. “That is, after all, why I need a photograph.”
“If you’re so desperate for it back, you could spare the trip to see them, couldn’t you?” She smirked at him.
“I could. But there are… problems with that. Going home’s not easy. Not physically, not emotionally. So I need the photo.” They stopped outside of the shop.
She shrugged. “Not my problem. This is the deal I’ll make with you. If you’re uncomfortable with the terms… I suppose I get to keep your photograph.”
“Why do you even care to keep playing with me? Surely you have better things to do.” Declan gestured to the shop. “Working here, for instance. Or getting drunk. Lots of things to do.”
“You would think that, but no,” Charlie said bitterly. “I really don’t have much to do other than sneak out at night to go to clubs. I did say I was bored. You’re interesting. You’re fun to play with.”
“That doesn’t give you a good reason to keep messing with a person whom you’ve robbed,” Declan said. “I could hurt you. My family could hurt you. And you really shouldn’t care enough to want to meet them.”
“But you won’t,” Charlie said, leaning against the wall of the shop. “If you wanted to hurt me, you could have done so when we met. You could have done so when I brought you into my bedroom yesterday. You could have done so at any point walking from Norman’s to here. If you really wanted to hurt me… you would have.”
“Maybe I was waiting to see what you wanted.” Declan placed his back against the wall next to hers, contemplating his cigarette. “Maybe now’s the perfect time. Maybe I will hurt you.” He pulled out a knife, flipped it open—and then flipped it closed again, and stashed it back away in his pocket.
She smirked again. “Like I said. I bet you’ve never hurt anyone before. Especially not a girl.”
“I’ve been in fights. But no. Never a girl.”
“Did you want to?” she whispered. “The other night.”
“No.” Declan took out the watch and flipped it open. “No. I never want to hurt people. You were just frustrating. You are frustrating.”
“I happen to prize myself on that.” She looked over at the watch, with its strange timekeeping abilities and intricate backdrop. “But that wasn’t what I meant.”
“Then what did you mean?”
“If you wanted it, you would know.”
“Did I want to fight you?” Declan sounded confused. “No, I just wanted the watch and the wallet back.”
“Goodness, you’re dense…” Charlie shook her head and stepped toward the door. “And just so you know, I could have taken you in a fist-fight. Even a knife fight. That doesn’t scare me.”
“Wait. Miss O’Brian. The photograph. We still haven’t come to an agreement.” Declan stepped after her.
“I think we have. Let me meet your family. I give you the photograph.”
Declan sighed, running his hands through his hair. “I can’t let you meet my family. They don’t live in the city. The country.”
“Pity.” She reached into his pocket and grabbed his cigarette tin, pulling one out for herself before slipping it back. “Fine, then. Convince me to give it back another way.”
“Another way?” Declan said warily.
“I don’t care what you pick. But convince me. I’m interested to see what you try, Mr. Falker.”
“Don’t call me that.” He sighed. “If Mr. Erikson doesn’t work for you, then just call me Declan.”
Charlie lit the cigarette. “All right. Convince me, Declan.”
Declan narrowed his eyes at her. “Fine. But you have to model for me.”
The fingers holding her cigarette started trembling. She placed the cigarette between her lips to disguise it. “You promise it’s just modeling?” she asked quietly.
“I promise. Wear whatever you want. It’s just modeling.” Declan raised an eyebrow. “I thought you said you could take me, anyway.”
“In a fight. There’s quite a difference between that and…” She shook her head. “But fine. I’ll model for you.”
Declan smiled. “Good. And I’ll convince you.” He gestured toward the shop. “No time like the present. Go change. I’ll wait.”
“Five minutes,” she said, then entered the shop and quickly went upstairs. She shed her clothes and took out the same dress she had been wearing the other night—the shimmering black one that had cost a fortune. He had seemed to like it, though…
Before leaving, Charlie opened her nightstand drawer and took out the photograph of Declan and his family. She looked at it for a moment, then saw what it was that had intrigued her.
One of the women in the photograph had glowing eyes.