The Gilded Hour Page 114

“There was a fight in one of the tenements on Elizabeth Street,” he said. “Have you ever been in any of them?”

“When I was an intern, yes.” Dark halls barely wide enough for a man of normal size, damp walls, the smells of mildew and rats and cooking and human waste. And the noise. The noise was what Anna remembered mostly.

Jack said, “We arrested a stevedore for killing his son. Caved the boy’s head in because he tried to protect his mother.”

He was quiet for a long minute. Anna waited, wondering if he needed to tell the whole story, to shake the images out of his head. She could imagine a dozen different situations that ended just this way, because she had seen them herself. It was another thing they had in common.

She asked, “The mother?”

“She’ll end up in the poorhouse. Maybe she’ll be able to keep the oldest girl with her, but the other three will be parceled out to one of the Catholic asylums. The only thing I know for sure is this: the minute they’re out of that room the greedy slob of a landlord will have another family in there.”

They were quiet for a moment. The night was clear and cool, and the breeze from the window was comforting. Anna took Jack’s hand and threaded her fingers through his.

“And to top it all off,” he went on, “we were called out to Bellevue because they had an unidentified dead woman.”

And now she was surprised. “They must have twenty mortalities without names every day. Do they call the detectives every time?”

“This woman was young, dressed in silks and brocades. If her hands are any indication she never worked a day in her life.”

“So where did she come from?”

“A cabby dropped her off, but he was gone before anybody thought to question him. She had a purse on her, mostly empty. There were no obvious wounds I could see, no marks on her throat. They’ll do a postmortem.”

Anna traced along his knuckles with her thumb. “It is unusual. I wonder why a wealthy woman would ask to be taken to Bellevue.”

“Somebody will come looking for her, and the autopsy will explain the rest. If you want to see the postmortem when we get it, I can do that.”

“Oddly enough, I think I do want to see it,” Anna said. “A young woman who drops dead for no apparent reason.”

Jack turned on his side and lifted her hand to kiss her palm and then nipped the pad of flesh below the thumb. There was a look in his eyes she recognized, one that sent gooseflesh up her back and pooled in her breasts and everywhere else, every part of her that knew his touch.

“Enough talk.”

She found herself grinning, and thought she should be appalled to be so easily distracted from such a sad story. But she wasn’t. Not with the way Jack was looking at her.

She said, “What exactly have you got in mind?”

“You,” he said, pulling her up to press all along him. “Exactly you are on my mind.”

She said, “I thought you were going to play handball today.”

Jack stilled. “I did play handball. And?”

“You said that when you were feeling—the need, you played handball to work off energy. Don’t you remember telling me that?”

He buried his face in the crook of her neck and laughed. “Anna,” he said finally. “Having you up against me like this would rouse me out of a coma. The smell of your hair alone could raise Lazarus. I could play handball twelve hours without a break and still want you after. Though I would be pretty ripe by that point.”

Anna knew she was blushing, not out of embarrassment, but pleasure. Because he wanted her, because she pleased him. As inexperienced and clumsy as she might be, it didn’t matter.

“That’s good,” she said. “Because suddenly sleep is the last thing on my mind.”


BEFORE THEIR SHIFT started Jack found Oscar at MacNeil’s, a cigar clamped between his teeth while he squinted at the newspaper, holding it right up to his face.

He said, “If you’re done analyzing the news of the world, we should get a move on.”

“Mezzanotte,” Oscar said solemnly. “You’ll be bleeding from the ears if you strain any harder for the wit. It’s just not in you, man. Especially these days. Married—how long?”

“A week on Saturday.”

“Nine days married and you’re soft as soap already. And how is the bride?”

They left the diner and took a shortcut down the alley to the police stables, where they claimed a rig for the day. Jack took the reins and turned the horse north, debating with himself on the most direct route. It was the same debate, every time, and he never did seem to guess right. No matter which way he went, the traffic was better someplace else.

Oscar said, “You were telling me about Anna.”

Jack grinned. “I wasn’t, but I will. She’s got more energy than a lightning strike. She worked Friday and Saturday nights, and yesterday when she should have been catching up on her sleep, the freight wagon from Greenwood shows up with a load of furniture, both my sisters, and a niece.”

“Which one?”

“Chiara. She’s going to be helping Margaret with the little girls. So there’s this freight truck piled with furniture my mother sent. It was good luck that there were a half-dozen men from the nursery working in the garden or Anna would have carried every chair and table and bedpost into the house on her own. Or at least she would have tried.”

They were cut off by an omnibus, which was why Jack had the reins. Oscar would have gone after the driver and might have ended up in a fistfight, but it took more than traffic to rouse Jack’s temper. For a moment he thought Oscar might go after the wagon driver anyway, but then he settled down, grumbling.

“Sounds like you’ve got a circus going. How’s the little nun?”

“She goes by Elise these days. Or Miss Mercier, to you. She’s adjusting.”

“Full house.”

Jack wondered to himself if he could speak his whole mind, and decided that he could trust Oscar to listen without making judgments.

“Alfonso and Massimo send between eight and twelve men every day to work on the house or in the garden, and of course they all need feeding and watering. Mrs. Lee couldn’t keep up with them, so Celestina and Bambina are around all day cooking and running things. Then the Lees brought in their granddaughter Laura to help with the laundry and cleaning. So there’s a half-dozen men, Chiara, Celestina, Bambina, Margaret, Elise, Laura Lee, Rosa, and Lia around for most of the day.”

“Surrounded by females, you poor sod.” Oscar yawned.

Jack laughed as he encouraged the horse into the traffic on Broadway. When they were moving along at a decent clip, Oscar said, “You see the notice in the papers, about the unidentified woman at Bellevue?”

Jack had seen it; in fact, Margaret had drawn it to his attention. “No family’s come forward?”

“It’s been in four different city papers since Friday, and not one inquiry.”

That was unusual. The poor often went unnamed to their graves, but a young woman from a well-to-do family, that was a different matter. “Where did they run the notice?”

“From Philadelphia to Boston.”

“The postmortem?”

“Early tomorrow.”

Jack said, “Her family might not even realize she’s missing yet. Maybe she came in from some small town to stay with friends and isn’t expected back for a while.”

Oscar jerked a shoulder, as if he didn’t especially like this reading but wouldn’t argue. Just now.

“So then what were you thinking?”

“I thought maybe we could stop by a couple of the high-class hotels, see if they’re missing anybody.”

Jack thought about this as he threaded his way through traffic around Madison Square and then west into the Tenderloin. Every city had a neighborhood like this, but Jack had visited some of those places and nothing compared. Every night of the week the whole thing—some thirty blocks—was as loud and raucous as a carnival. Music from every door and window, the bellowing of the crowds watching prizefights or cockfights or dancers or musicales, street and alley brawls where broken bottles were the weapon of choice, the constant flow of men in and out of gambling dens and saloons and disorderly houses, and the women who walked the street or leaned out of windows half-naked, calling out to likely customers. This Monday morning looked like every other: as if a battle had been fought and lost.

The streets were full of trash, the sewers clogged with debris. Adults and children alike sifted through the muck and mire for anything they could sell: a cuff link, scraps of paper, empty bottles, rags. Cigar butts were especially prized because they could be sold back to the cigar factories, a nickel for two dozen.

They had an errand to run at the precinct station, where the whole complement of cops and roundsmen would be busy sorting through the aftermath. Dozens of regulars slept in the drunk tank; cells were crowded with gamblers and shysters not sober or quick enough to get out of the way, with thieves and pickpockets and prostitutes.

A filthy man staggered out of a doorway, bent over double, and vomited into the gutter.

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