The Gilded Hour Page 117

Oscar cleared his throat. “That’s in the past, though.”

“Yes,” Anna said. “But a thorough autopsy doesn’t leave anything out.”

Jack said, “The granulomas aren’t relevant to the cause of death?”

Anna considered for a moment. “That would be conjecture on my part.”

“Go on and conject,” said Oscar. “We won’t tattle on you.”

She gave him a half smile. “The scarring indicates that she had at least one very difficult birth. Some women have such bad experiences that they simply can’t face the prospect again. This woman had an abortion, that’s undeniable, but there’s no way to know if she was driven by fear of childbirth. But she had a hard time of it, that’s a certainty.”

“The operation itself,” Oscar said. “Anything you find unusual?”

“It does happen sometimes, especially with less experienced practitioners. Too much pressure with the instrument in exactly the wrong spot, and it sliced through the wall of the uterus and severed the uterine artery. The blood loss would be catastrophic, and very fast.”

“Like cutting a throat?” Jack asked.

“Something like that,” Anna said.

Oscar said, “So no similarities to Janine Campbell’s case.”

“The outcome was the same, of course. But in Mrs. Campbell’s case no major blood vessels were damaged, which is why she had such a long and painful death. She bled, yes, but it was the infection that killed her. This second case is different. Mrs. Liljeström suffered very little beyond the initial pain of dilating the cervix to introduce the instrument. It was, relatively speaking, a merciful death. Or at least, fairly quick.”

“She arrived at Bellevue in a cab,” Oscar reminded her. “Still alive, but just barely.”

“That is odd. And another thing—” She paused, and forged ahead. “Dr. Lambert notes that she was fully clothed when she died, and she was very tightly laced.”

“You’re wondering why she wasn’t undressed for the operation,” Jack said. “And if she did undress, who got her dressed afterward and tightened her stays.”

“Yes,” Anna said. “She couldn’t have done that on her own. I’m not sure how any of this could have happened.”

“That’s our job,” said Oscar. “Figuring out the how and why of it.”

•   •   •

LATER, ALONE IN their room, Anna was thoughtful. She said, “The most unusual thing about Mrs. Liljeström is her wealth. Women with money can get excellent care when they want an abortion without looking very far at all. But whoever she went to had very poor skills.”

Jack thought, Or very good ones. He said, “There are odder deaths every day in this city, and a good number of them go unsolved.”

She raised a brow, wanting the story but not sure if she could ask for it.

“A few years ago on a January morning we found a man of about seventy dressed in the uniform of a Confederate officer sitting upright on a bench in Union Square Park.”

He could see her trying to imagine it. “Did he freeze to death?”

Jack shook his head. “Strangled. We never did identify him, though notices were put in papers all over the south. Never had a single viable suspect.”

“But this shouldn’t be one of those cases. When rich women like Mrs. Liljeström need this particular kind of help, they talk to other women like themselves. I imagine she didn’t want to take the chance of being recognized in Buffalo, and so she came here prepared to pay for anonymity and excellent care. Mrs. Campbell didn’t have the same kind of resources.”

“You don’t know what kind of resources she had,” Jack pointed out.

Anna said, “Campbell didn’t mention money at all, in his testimony.”

“Do you think he would have admitted it, if she emptied out their savings?”

“Women generally can’t just go to a bank and withdraw funds that are there in a husband’s name,” Anna said.

He shrugged, as if he didn’t care to pursue the point.

Anna paused in her slow march back and forth across the room. Then she came to sit on the edge of the bed.

“You’re still thinking that there’s a connection between the two cases,” she said. “But I don’t see it. Hundreds of women die from complications of a badly done abortion every year.”

“Poor women,” Jack said. “Or very young. Have you ever read a newspaper article about a married woman with money who died as the result of an illegal operation?”

“You’re saying that these two cases have something in common that distinguishes them from other failed abortions.” That suggestion seemed to intrigue her. “I don’t discredit it out of hand,” she said. “Can you explain what it is you’re seeing that I don’t?”

Jack thought for a while. “Not clearly.”

She said, “Is your hypothesis that the same person operated on both women?”

“I think it’s possible. They look a lot alike, the two women. Janine Campbell and Abigail Liljeström were both in their midtwenties, slender, with a great deal of dark hair and brown eyes. About the same height. I know that there are hundreds of women in the city who fit that description, but think for a moment about this. Both of them already had children and homes. They both had husbands with very good jobs, and access to money. They both had reason to fear childbirth. They were both desperate.”

Anna drew in a long breath and let it out slowly. “You are making a large logical leap about Mrs. Liljeström.”

“It’s a working hypothesis,” Jack said. “Tomorrow I’m going to talk to her husband—he’s coming in from Buffalo. She had a sister I want to talk to as well.”

“I wonder why her sister didn’t come with her to the appointment in the first place,” Anna said.

“Because the sister lives here already,” Jack said. “And that’s another question not answered. Why did she come to New York and stay in a hotel when she could have stayed with her sister?”

“Because she didn’t want her sister to know,” Anna said. “Do you really think the sister will be willing to talk to you about this?”

Jack shrugged a shoulder. “I’ll do my best to convince her. Unless you’d like to come along?”

At that she laughed, clearly pleased and embarrassed both. “I wouldn’t know where to start.”

“I think you would.”

“Yes, well,” she said. “Tomorrow I have surgery in the morning and at midday I have an appointment with Father McKinnawae on Lafayette Place, at his mission. Now I’ve surprised you.”

“Maybe I was just hoping you’d let it go.”

She pulled back to examine his expression. “Really? You really think we should just let Vittorio Russo go?”

He flopped back to lie on the bed, his feet still on the floor. “I guess I don’t want to see you drawn into the situation. It won’t be pleasant.”

“I’m already drawn in. And if I only did pleasant things—”

“You wouldn’t be you. So when did you make the appointment?”

“I sent a request in the morning mail and got a reply in the afternoon. I did plan to tell you about it, but then Oscar came and it slipped my mind.”

Jack said, “I’d go with you if I could.”

“I’m not going alone,” Anna said. “I’m taking Elise with me. She might not be a nun anymore, but she still knows how to talk to priests, I should hope.”

He made a sound in his throat he hoped she would take as mild disagreement.

She yawned and reclined against him, her head burrowing into the plane of his shoulder. Then she said, “If you think of the two dead women as the product of one diseased mind, how do you account for the difference in the way they were treated? Mrs. Campbell’s death was very hard, and Mrs. Liljeström’s was quick and relatively painless.”

A hundred answers went through Jack’s mind in a rush, but they all came down to the same thing. “The question is, was he more satisfied with his first attempt, or his second?”

Anna jerked in surprise, and for a long time Jack rubbed her back until he felt her give up the images he had put in her mind. He thought she was falling asleep and was thinking about how to rouse her to get under the covers when she spoke again.

“Why do you assume it was a man?”


AS IT TURNED out, Elise liked the idea of going to see Father McKinnawae even less than Jack did. When Anna asked her to join her for the interview, color rose in her cheeks, almost as if she had been slapped.

“You have no reason to tell him your own history, you realize. We’re going there to ask about Vittorio Russo.”

Elise looked doubtful. “But he’s a priest,” she said. “He’ll know.”

“Why would he? Do they send out a notice to all priests in the city when someone leaves a convent?”

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies