The Gilded Hour Page 119

“That isn’t the situation at hand.”

“But if the child already has a family—”

“Does this boy you’re asking about have parents?”

Anna pulled up. “They are both deceased. But he does have sisters, who love him and miss him.”

“Dr. Savard,” the priest said with great solemnity. “I will try again to make you understand. Where we can, we find good, stable Catholic families to adopt orphaned children, and then we step back and allow those families their privacy. I can’t talk to you about any case, even in hypothetical terms. Do we understand each other now?”

“I understand that I have to tell two little girls who have lost everything that their brother is lost to them too, because the Church won’t allow them to be reunited.”

The smooth pink mouth puckered. “You are used to getting your way, Dr. Savard. But this time you will not.”

“The girls are Catholic,” Anna said. “As a priest, would you care to explain your position to them?”

He smiled at her. “Certainly. You may bring them to see me anytime. Now tell me, who has legal custody of these two Catholic children? Are they being raised in the Church?”

Anna gave him the same insincere smile as she got to her feet. “That is not a topic open to discussion. With anyone, for any reason. I want you to know that I may decide to talk to the Mullen family without your permission.”

There had been some condescension in his manner, and now that disappeared entirely.

“Do not test me, Dr. Savard.”

“But you are having such a grand time testing me, Father McKinnawae. And turnabout is fair play, even for Catholics.”

•   •   •

ELISE SAID, “I feared as much. I’m so sorry.”

“I’m not finished yet.”

They turned from Great Jones Street onto Fourth Avenue, walking briskly. Elise wondered if it would be best to leave the subject until Dr. Savard had time to gather her thoughts, but then decided it was best not to hesitate.

“He will do what he can to stop you,” she said.

“And what would that be? Will he try to have me arrested, do you think?” She produced a sour smile.

“Would you really approach the family?”

Dr. Savard stopped and looked at her. “I might. Do you have objections?”

“Concerns.” Elise didn’t look away.

“Yes, there is no shortage of concerns.” Her posture relaxed, quite suddenly. “Don’t worry that I’m going to go marching off to Staten Island to confront the Mullen family. I have no interest in hurting them. We’ll talk about it at home, when the girls are asleep, and decide how to proceed. Does that put your worries to rest?”

Elise said, “I don’t know.”

“Fair enough,” said Dr. Savard. “Neither do I.”

They walked back to the New Amsterdam in silence.

•   •   •

DETECTIVES LIKED TO think of themselves as foolproof, able to tell an honest man from one who played at being honest. In Jack’s view of things this was true much of the time, but only because the first lesson learned on the job was not to trust anybody about anything. Something like Anna’s work, where she had to assume that all patients lied, whether they meant to or not.

Harry Liljeström wasn’t lying about anything. His wife’s death had torn him in two; at the morgue he stood looking at her remains with tears streaming down his face. Jack stood back to leave the man his privacy, then took him to the Gilsey House, where he had arrangements to make and a bill to settle.

“I have questions,” Jack said. “But if you’d like to wait until tomorrow—”

Liljeström was ashen, almost as if he were about to faint. “I have to get back home. Ask your questions now.”

They sat in a quiet corner of the hotel’s main lobby. Liljeström cleared his throat, wiped his face with a sodden handkerchief, straightened his shoulders, and looked Jack in the eye.

Jack decided that the direct approach would be best. He said, “There was a postmortem. Your wife died of blood loss following an operation.” He waited, watching Liljeström’s expression. He was a man like a thousand others in the city, someone Jack might have walked past every day and never noticed. But there was a dignity about him, and when he spoke his tone was even and unapologetic.

“We have two children,” he said. “Healthy, beautiful children. A boy and a girl. But the first confinement was hard, and the second even worse. Our doctor said that she was unlikely to survive a third pregnancy.”

“So you are aware of the operation she had.”

The man had very pale blue eyes, almost colorless. “Yes. She missed twice, you see, and we decided together that it was the right thing to go to a doctor who could bring her courses on. I wanted to come with her but she refused. It wasn’t the first time, and she thought she had nothing to fear.”

Jack said, “She had the procedure done previously? By the same doctor?”

“She had it done once before, but that doctor died, and she decided she didn’t want to approach anyone else near home. We’ve heard of women being blackmailed, you see.”

Jack sat back. “Well, no, I haven’t run into that before. Does it happen often?”

“I don’t know,” said Liljeström. “I only know of one case, a lady who goes to our church. Her daughter was in trouble and so they went to a doctor who could fix the problem. Afterward his nurse threatened the lady that she’d tell everybody about her daughter’s shame if she didn’t give her money.”

“How do you know this?” Jack asked.

“Because the lady is a close friend of my wife’s. Was a close friend.”

His eyes filled with tears. Jack concentrated for a moment on his notebook, and then in an even tone he said, “Do you know the doctor’s name, the one your wife came to see? Anything about him?”

“I only know that she was confident about his qualifications, and that his office is here in the city in a safe neighborhood.”

“To be clear, we believe that what happened to your wife might have been done with malice aforethought. Any information you have could be helpful in bringing the responsible party to account,” Jack said.

Color flooded the man’s face, rising from his neck like mercury in a thermometer. “You mean to say this wasn’t a simple error by the surgeon?”

“We have reason to believe that it may well have been premeditated. It’s still under investigation. And so perhaps you’ll understand why any information at all is important.”

“I would tell you if I knew. All I can say with certainty is that he charged two hundred fifty dollars, and was supposed to provide nursing care for up to three days, or until she was ready to come home.” He let out a harsh laugh, then pressed his handkerchief to his eyes. “He put her in a cab and sent her to a hospital. I know that I’d kill him with my own two hands, if he were standing here with me, and if it meant going to the gallows.”

“Would your sister-in-law know more about your wife’s arrangements?”

Liljeström’s head came up quickly. “No. She had no idea that Abigail was here. She wouldn’t have approved.”

“So it wasn’t Mrs. Liljeström’s sister who gave her the name of the doctor. Did she have other close friends in the city?”

“No. I really don’t know how she found him. Believe me, if I knew who was responsible, I wouldn’t keep it to myself. Are we almost done? I have arrangements to make. I want to take her home. The children and her parents—” He closed his eyes briefly, and then let out a long sigh.

“Just one more question,” Jack said. “They gave you her things at the morgue, and you’ve been through her room here. Is anything missing? Jewelry, anything of value?”

“She didn’t bring jewelry with her when we traveled,” Liljeström said. “It’s still at home in the safe. Her wedding ring was on the bedside table in her room.”

He stood abruptly. “You have my address if you have more questions.”

Jack shook Liljeström’s hand. “I’m very sorry for your loss. Would you like to be notified when we find the responsible party?”

“I want to know when he’s dead,” said Harry Liljeström. “I want to know that he’s burning in hell.”

•   •   •

ANNA SOMETIMES WOKE suddenly in the middle of the night, her heart hammering, sure that something crucial had been forgotten and left undone. Most usually Jack went right on sleeping. She wondered if it should irritate her that he was so impervious to her sleeplessness, and decided that it did not. It would be unfair, and beyond that, these short episodes provided her with the rare opportunity to study his face without embarrassing either of them. He teased her about her inability to accept compliments, but he disliked being studied and would go to lengths to distract her when she did it. Extreme lengths, on occasion.

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