The water shut off and Mulligan strolled out of the washroom. He smoothed his shirtsleeves in place as he approached his desk, then lifted his topcoat off the chair back and slipped it on.
He looked ready to promenade on Fifth Avenue.
He gave her a once-over as he dropped into his seat. "Well, well. Downtown's notorious do-gooder at my door. I am honored."
She couldn't detect any sarcasm, but she wasn't certain. So she pretended he hadn't spoken and launched into her rehearsed speech. "Mr. Mulligan. Thank you for seeing me. I am here—"
"How is your sister?"
The question may have bothered some women, but not Justine. Both her older sisters were stunning, far more beautiful and interesting than her plain self. "Which one?"
"Forgive me. I was referring to Florence. She spent a bit of time here before she and Madden settled things. I enjoyed getting to know her."
Oh. Florence hadn't mentioned as much, but her sister was known for keeping secrets.
More importantly, what did Mulligan mean? The tone sounded fond, and she wondered if he'd developed a tendre for Justine's sister. Well, he wouldn't be the first in that regard. Florence had collected many a heart over the years, even refusing several marriage proposals. "She is well. The casino's nearly finished. She plans to open at the end of the summer."
"I am happy to hear it. Please give her my best. Now, what may I do for you, Miss Greene?"
Justine cleared her throat and got to the point. "I am here on behalf of a client, Mrs. Gorcey. Her husband, one Mr. Robert Gorcey, deserted her months ago, never to be seen again. She is demanding he fulfill his familial obligation by providing for his family."
"And what does this have to do with me?"
"I understand Mr. Gorcey is in your employ. I ask that you allow me to speak with him. I must press him to do the right thing by his family—or I'll be forced to turn him over to the police."
Mulligan stared at her for a long moment, his blue eyes steady and calm. They had hints of gray, almost as if the irises changed colors depending on the light. She couldn't tell what he was thinking as the seconds stretched and his attention started to unnerve her. Just as she opened her mouth to explain, he said one word.
Deep down, Justine hadn't expected Mulligan to be eager to help. Most people needed convincing. "Why not?"
"Several reasons. She could divorce him and find another man to help her. There has to be a reason Mr. Gorcey left. Furthermore, I see no cause to step into what is strictly a family matter."
"Mr. Gorcey left behind five children, the care of which now falls directly on Mrs. Gorcey's shoulders. She has taken up sewing to earn a bit of money and the two oldest children have gone to work in factories. Have you seen what toiling in a factory all day does to a ten- or twelve-year-old child?"
"No, but I certainly know hardship, Miss Greene. I've lived on these streets nearly all my life."
"As a man, yes. I ask you to put yourself in the shoes of a woman here, one who is alone and without any support. You cannot divorce your husband, because that would require traveling to Reno, thanks to the arcane divorce laws in New York. You don't have the money or the time for such a journey. So you're stuck because the care of children falls on the shoulders of women in this world. And, if you have no financial assistance for that care, then it is your children who suffer most. Children who wake up every day wondering if there will be enough food. Is our society so cruel that we will not force the men—men who co-created such children—to do the honorable thing and live up to their responsibilities?"
She took a breath and unclenched her hands. Lord knew she could get riled when discussing such matters. But it was common sense. Defending the wives against the cruel and selfish men who had deserted them shouldn't be necessary. And yet, here she was.