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Across the East River Bridge

Kate McMurray

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When Finn’s boss sends him to a museum in Brooklyn, the last person he expects to see is his old rival, Troy. Although Finn and Troy have undeniable sexual chemistry, Finn still blames Troy for sending his career off the ra...
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When Finn’s boss sends him to a museum in Brooklyn, the last person he expects to see is his old rival, Troy. Although Finn and Troy have undeniable sexual chemistry, Finn still blames Troy for sending his career off the rails but Troy has research Finn needs. Troy also has an intriguing story; the museum he curates is haunted by the ghosts of two men who died under mysterious circumstances in 1878. Troy strikes a deal: he’ll help Finn if Finn helps him find out what happened to the men who died.

From diaries, police reports, and newspaper articles, Finn and Troy piece together the lives of the two dead men--and the romance that bloomed between them. As it becomes clear that the men were murdered, it also becomes clear that the ghosts are real and are capable of manipulating the dreams, thoughts, and actions of the living. When Finn and Troy start falling for each other, Finn worries that it’s all an illusion concocted by the ghosts to keep them working together to solve the mystery, but Troy is convinced the love between them is real. But how can he get rid of a couple of ghosts and prove it?

  • Note:This book contains explicit sexual situations, graphic language, and material that some readers may find objectionable: male/male sexual practices.

The squeal of the subway train’s brakes as it pulled into the station intensified Finn’s headache, making the pain reverberate through his head. The bumpy ride once he got on the train didn’t help much either. This was but one of many reasons he rarely left Manhattan.

Finn closed his eyes and leaned back in his seat. He mentally ran through his to-do list for the day and felt exhausted just thinking about it. The vibrations from the train intensified his headache, making it hard to think. He needed to get this little side trip over with. Then he just had a few more hours to work before he could go to sleep.

It was because of Loretta Kitteredge that he found himself in Brooklyn a short time later. She had dispatched him on a fact-finding mission. Loretta was in the midst of writing the definitive biography of Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for president, and she was looking for some dirt. Rumor had it that Woodhull had lived briefly at the Brill House, a five-story brownstone in Brooklyn Heights, so Finn was on this wild-goose chase to find information he didn’t think would be there. The Brill House was a recent acquisition of the Kings County Historical Society, which had converted the building into a museum showcasing what life was like in Brooklyn in the 1870s. Finn had scored an appointment with the curator.

Or that’s what he thought when he went into the building. Instead, he was greeted in the lobby by Troy Rafferty, of all people. As if the day couldn’t get any worse.

“What the hell are you doing here?” Finn asked, letting his gaze travel over Troy’s infuriatingly handsome face. He rubbed his temples gently, trying to get the ache to ease.

Their gazes met briefly. Troy was still hot in a Clark Kent kind of way, his broad chest hidden under an eggplant-colored button-down shirt and matching tie, dark-rimmed glasses sitting on his nose, dark hair neatly combed. Finn silently lamented that his enemies had to come in such attractive packages.

Troy laughed. “It is lovely to see you again too. As it happens, I curate this house.”

Finn knew that Troy was working for the KCHS these days, but this promotion was news to him. “You’re kidding, right? I made an appointment with a woman named Genevieve.”

Troy’s grin was unnerving. “Genevieve is my assistant. She has been doing the tours lately, but when I saw that she’d made an appointment with one Christopher Finnegan, I decided I had to follow up myself.” He straightened the cuffs on his shirt, drawing attention to his big hands. “How are you, Finn?”

“Oh, just dandy. If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were stalking me.”

“You give me too much credit.” Troy motioned for Finn to follow him into an office off the lobby. The room looked like the relic of the past that it was--given the ornate wallpaper, the thick curtains, and the severe-looking man in the painting on the wall--if you overlooked the brand-new laptop sitting on the intricately carved desk. There was a lot of clutter too; Troy had never been terribly organized. He clucked his tongue. “Or maybe you’re right. Obviously, I knew that you would one day be researching a project on nineteenth-century Brooklyn, so I quit my job at NYU to take a low-paying assistant curator job at the Kings County Historical Society in the hopes that one day I’d curate the museum in an old house the KCHS just acquired three months ago, knowing you’d want an appointment.”

“Shut up,” was the best witty rejoinder Finn could come up with. He blamed the headache.

Troy picked up a file folder from his desk and extracted a few sheets of paper. “This is the fact sheet,” he said, handing the paper to Finn. “That has all the same information as went into the press release we put out when we announced the museum’s opening, plus a few other facts that I thought the public might find interesting. The other two pages are a brief history of the building that I wrote up for the Historical Society. Was there something in particular you’re looking for?”

“My boss is researching Victoria Woodhull.”

Troy pursed his lips. “Are you sure you’re not stalking me?” He shook his head. “Right time period but otherwise wrong tree. Woodhull never lived in Brooklyn, as far as I know.”

Finn already suspected that this trip out to Brooklyn was a dead end. Woodhull had spent most of her years in New York in the same house in East Village, and the date Finn had been given for Woodhull’s supposed residence at the Brill House conflicted with the date she’d left for England to start over after she’d been ruined. Still, Loretta had insisted he check it out. Plus he didn’t want to waste the trip. “She spent time in the area. She gave speeches in Brooklyn, for sure one at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and it’s pretty well known that she befriended Theodore Tilton. He lived a few blocks from here, right? As did Henry Ward Beecher.”

Troy appeared to consider this. “I’ve spent the better part of the last two months poring over almost everything ever written about this house. If Victoria Woodhull had ever been here, I’d have run across her name. I’m pretty sure I haven’t yet.” He shrugged. “You want the tour anyway?”

Finn had come all the way into Brooklyn. “Sure, what the hell?”

Troy grabbed a small notebook from his desk. “Let’s go.”

He led Finn down the hall. Finn took a moment to check Troy out again; looking at him certainly stirred something in Finn. Troy had always been classically handsome, but whether it was his good looks or their long history together that got Finn’s blood pumping, it was hard to say. Probably a little of both. Finn found that frustrating; this would be so much easier if he could just get the information he needed and leave without having to think about all of this.

“We’re setting up exhibits on the first, second, and third floors. The fourth floor is the library, and the fifth floor is mostly storage. The third floor has a portrait gallery of famous residents of Victorian Brooklyn and a gallery of mediocre landscapes by Brooklyn artists, mostly the cast-offs of the main KCHS museum. Do you care about those?”

“Not especially.”

Troy nodded and continued walking toward a stairwell. He mounted the first step and said, “I want to add a photography gallery, but I’m still sorting through several boxes of prints from the KCHS archive. I’ll keep an eye out for Ms. Woodhull.”

“Thanks. What’s on the second floor?”

Troy smiled. “This is the real highlight of the museum, as far as I’m concerned. We’ve recreated what a building like this would have looked like in the 1870s. A lot of this furniture was in storage at the KCHS or other museums in the city, waiting for a home. Some of the pieces are really extraordinary.”

When they got to the second floor, Finn followed Troy into what looked like a bedroom. There was a grandiose four-poster bed off to the side with heavy green damask draped all around it. The bed was made of oak, Finn guessed, as was the ornate chest of drawers on the other side of the room.

“The building was originally constructed in 1868,” Troy said, flipping through pages in his notebook. “It was intended to be a single-family residence according to the plan, but from very early on, before 1872 at least, the owner rented out rooms on the upper floors. My guess is he needed the income from the boarders. At any rate, this was the master bedroom. It’s been many other things over the years, too, and this whole building was converted into apartments in the sixties, but this is our best guess for how the room would have looked when the first owner lived here. We had some floor plans and even a fuzzy photograph.”

Finn wondered if he should be taking notes. “You’ve had to do a lot of work on this room.”

“Yeah, in its last incarnation, this was a studio apartment with a kitchen and everything. We took out the kitchen. It’s been kind of fun, watching this house devolve into its original form. Like backward time-lapse photography.” Troy walked over to the bed and ran a finger up one of the posts. “The house is said to be haunted too.”

“Oh, please.”

“I’ve seen enough weird stuff that I can’t stay completely skeptical, let’s just say. There have been a number of documented ghostly occurrences here. A woman who lived here briefly in the forties kept a journal detailing her encounters with the spirits. Most of it’s classic haunted-house stuff. Strange noises, cold blasts of air, doors suddenly slamming shut. Interestingly, almost every account of paranormal activity here indicates that the ghosts are two men.”

“Okay.” Finn had run into many ghost stories over the years he’d been working as a researcher and thought most of the stories were pure nonsense. He humored Troy, though, who seemed to be enjoying himself. “Do you know anything about who the ghosts might be?”

“No one has ever specified, but I have a guess.” Troy’s eyes practically sparkled with excitement.

“Did the previous owners know?”

“No, but I don’t think they bothered to find out.”

Troy enjoyed drawing things like this out, Finn knew. He held out a hand and motioned for Troy to keep talking. “What’s your guess?”

“The first owner of this house was Theodore Cummings Brill. He was the youngest son of a large and moderately wealthy family. He and another man, George Washington Cutler, were found dead in this very bedroom in 1878.”

A shiver went up Finn’s spine. Someone had died in the room in which he was standing. “So that’s who you think is haunting this house?”

“Yes. The facts fit, given when the sightings started.” Troy walked closer to Finn. “I’m working on digging up causes of death. There was a story in the Times, but it was vague, saying only that the circumstances of their deaths were unusual. I’ve been piecing together other evidence, though.”

“And you have a theory. You always have a theory.”

“Suicide. Possibly murder-suicide, but I’m pretty sure they both took their own lives. Because they were gay.”

Finn rolled his eyes. “You always think everyone was gay. You bought that horseshit about Lincoln being gay. Sometimes there’s a simpler and much less biased explanation. What makes you think murder-suicide?”

“I can’t remember offhand. Something I read, a contemporary account of the crime, I think. It makes more sense than any other theory of the crime I’ve seen.” Troy rocked on his heels. “Some of the flooring is original. If you squint, you can still see the blood stains in the wood paneling on the floor.”

Finn shivered again. “Show me something else.” He left the room.

Troy’s shoes squeaked on the floor as he caught up to Finn. “The theory has merits.” He led Finn across the hall to another room. It had an elaborate sofa and a couple of chairs, everything Rococo revival. It was not a style Finn especially liked, but he knew it was popular in the 1870s. The upholstery on all of the pieces was beautiful, almost like new, except for a chaise longue in the corner that looked faded and worn.

Finn bent to take a closer look at the scrollwork on the sofa. Troy said, “This is the parlor. The furniture is mostly from the 1850s, but we had everything reupholstered, save for the chaise, obviously. The upholstery on the other pieces had disintegrated, but, I don’t know, I kind of like the old faded quality on the chaise. What do you think?”

“I agree. It looks kind of...soft and homey.” Finn meant it. He bet that chaise would be an excellent place to take a nap. Of course, thinking about that made Finn think about beds, and he had a sudden flash of Troy, hovering over him, naked. That certainly got his blood pumping. He coughed, trying to keep his body’s reaction to the memory at bay. He reminded himself that he didn’t like Troy much.

“Both men were bachelors,” Troy said. Finn was about to stop him and ask who Troy was talking about but realized Troy was still on the alleged ghosts. “They were both in their midthirties when they died, but neither had ever been married, which is telling, don’t you think?”

“Not so unusual as an unmarried woman,” Finn said, trying to focus on the furniture.

“Fair enough. By all accounts, they were also very close friends.”

“But, I’m guessing, not so close that there was any speculation. And may I remind you that men sharing beds with no sexual motives was not so unusual in the nineteenth century?”

“I hadn’t even gotten to the bed-sharing part. I want the record to show that you made that conclusion.” Troy walked over to Finn. “Have you been sharing your bed with any men lately?”

“Like that’s your business,” Finn said, though the truth was he hadn’t, not since he’d taken the job with Loretta. There hadn’t been time.

Troy seemed nonplussed. “Anyway, I’m not the first one to make the gay conclusion, thank you very much. There was speculation about them in their own time. I found a mention of them in the diary of Thomas Fledgeling Longwood, who lived a few houses over. Prolific diarist, I assume you’re familiar.” He tugged on the cuffs of his shirt again. “Anyway, you can’t tell me you’re not a little intrigued.”

“I’m researching Woodhull.”

“Of course. But come on! Murder, intrigue, a couple of men more than just friends way back in the nineteenth century, when going outside without a hat on was a scandal? That doesn’t pique your interest at all?”

“It’s interesting,” Finn said. “Not the ghost stuff--that’s a bedtime story--but two men who died under mysterious circumstances? You’ve got my attention, okay? Are you happy? It might be fun to pursue, but I’m up to my armpits in work for my paying job, and I don’t have time to investigate, least of all with you.”

“You wound me, Finn.” Troy pressed a hand to his chest. “Are you still so petty after all the years we’ve known each other?”

Finn couldn’t decide if he wanted to stay and spar verbally with Troy--just like they had in the good old days, back when Troy had been working at the Butler Library at Columbia and Finn had been fumbling his way toward an undergraduate degree in history--or run screaming from the building. Finn thought back on the last time he’d seen Troy, which made him lean toward the latter.

“It’s not pettiness,” he said. “You and I...don’t work well together. Besides, what are you even proposing? That we buddy cop our way through solving a one-hundred-and-forty-year-old mystery, just for kicks? Because I don’t know about you, but I work for a living.”

“When did you get that stick up your ass?” Troy produced a handkerchief from his pocket, which Finn found pretentious but so typical of Troy, and then pulled his glasses from his face and wiped them off. He glanced up, and Finn was suddenly faced with the fact that Troy’s blue eyes were stunning when they weren’t hidden behind those lenses. Troy slid the glasses back on his face. “I know you’ve never liked me much, but I don’t remember you being quite this hostile.”

There was, of course, a lot more to it than that. The whole reason Finn was working for Loretta Kitteredge to begin with was that she was the only one who would hire him after he first failed to finish his PhD and then failed to finish his compromise masters in library science. Troy Rafferty had played a starring role in his first failure. It was hard to look at him, no matter how attractive he was, and not remember that. Because the bottom line was that he was still angry about how everything had gone down, even after all the time that had passed, even after everything that had happened since he dropped out of the PhD program at NYU. “Can you do me the favor of letting me know if you find anything on Woodhull? Even some photographs would be great. You’re going through those old prints anyway, right?”

“Sure. Anything for an old friend.” Troy gave Finn an ostentatious bow.

Copyright © Kate McMurray

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