The Gilded Hour Page 120

In the dimmest light she saw that his eyes were moving behind closed lids. Scanning for trouble, even in his dreams.

Almost a week had passed and they had made no progress with Mrs. Liljeström’s case. There was still no indication of where she had gone the morning she died, or how she had found the person who operated on her. Apparently a case like this one became more difficult to solve with every passing day.

Oscar and Jack were still convinced that there was a connection between Janine Campbell and Abigail Liljeström, something they had missed. Anna wished—as she did every day—that Sophie were here to talk through this with her. Sophie had always been the better diagnostician, able to jump with dexterity from fact to fact, weaving them together until she had spun an answer.

Now Jack turned on his side and gave her his back, broad and high and hard as a wall. As if he had heard her thinking and was irritated with her inability to see something so obvious. She moved so her face almost touched the back of his head, better to draw in his smell, soap and shaving cream and something peppery, the very essence of Jack Mezzanotte himself. She drifted back to sleep, just exactly in that position.

With the first light she woke again. Jack was talking, but not to her. He sometimes had long conversations in his sleep, always in Italian. Another thing on her list as yet not even begun. Italian lessons. At least, Italian lessons that she could put to use in company. Everything Jack taught her was very much focused on the personal. It made her blush to think of it, and then she was irritated with herself for blushing. A trained physician familiar with every aspect of human anatomy and physiology, and he could make her blush. He delighted in making her blush.

She would learn Italian, if for no other reason than to scold him when he was being outrageous. Somehow she would make room in her day, one more difficult but not impossible task on a long list, with Vittorio Russo and Father McKinnawae at the top. For the sake of the little girls, but also for her own sake she needed to make a plan, come to some kind of resolution.

The problem was that she didn’t really know what she wanted, what was best for Vittorio or Rosa and Lia, the Mullens, and everyone else. The subject was never very far from her mind. Just a few days ago Jack had made an observation that had struck her to her core, though he didn’t seem to realize it.

For Rosa, he had said, losing a brother was like losing a part of herself. She had failed him in her own mind, if nobody else’s, and would never forgive herself.

It wasn’t often that Anna allowed herself to think about her own brother. Even after so much time it was almost too painful to bear. One day soon she would need to talk about Paul, pull out the few memories she had, and explain it all to Jack. The last person she had told about him was Rosa, standing in the basement of a Hoboken church with her youngest brother held protectively to her heart.


AT THE DINNER table on Saturday evening the little girls were more excited than usual. A long summer afternoon out of doors, running between Roses and Weeds, had not slowed them down at all. They fidgeted and giggled and whispered, waiting impatiently for Jack to come to the table. He came in late, almost twenty-four hours since he had been called out on a robbery.

He went around the table kissing cheeks, something he had done one evening not realizing he was initiating a routine he would never be allowed to forsake. He ended with Anna and slid into his place with a sigh.

Margaret said, “Go on, girls, or you’ll burst with the news.”

Lia jumped in place. “Il palazzo delle erbacce è finito!”

“No,” Rosa corrected her sister. “We shouldn’t call it Weeds anymore because there are no more weeds, not one.”

“Too late,” Jack said. “Once a name sticks, it’s stuck for good. Ask Anna about that, she’ll tell you.”

Rosa wrinkled her whole face, trying to decide whether to argue. Then she set the subject aside.

“It is finished,” she repeated. “Your sisters put up the last curtains and Georgio and—” She hesitated.

“Mario.” Chiara supplied her with the name she was missing. Anna was continually surprised that Rosa remembered as much as she did, given all the Mezzanotte cousins who had been in and out during the renovation. She herself didn’t remember exactly where Mario and Georgio fit into the family tree.

Rosa was saying, “And Mario finished with the gaslights and now it’s ready.”

Anna turned to Jack. “Really? It’s ready?”

One eyebrow peaked. “I’m as surprised as you are.”

Chiara said, “Just in time for the picnic.”

Now Jack’s look of surprise was more genuine. “That’s tomorrow?”

Anna said, “Jack, we’ve been talking about it all week.” And saw that he was grinning.

“We’re all going,” added Margaret.

“Unless you have to go chase robbers again,” Rosa said to Jack.

“Or Auntie Anna needs to sew somebody back together,” Lia added. Her small face took on a troubled look, as if she imagined that possibility for herself.

Anna tried not to smile as the girls related the plans for the next day in a manner that was worthy of a stage production. Every Italian in the whole United States, as Lia understood it, would be coming to their own park, just down the street, to eat and sing and dance and listen to music by the Seventh Regiment Band. Under the direction, Chiara added with considerable pride, of Uncle Cappa.

Margaret sat up straighter at this and directed an incredulous look directly at Jack. “Carlo Cappa is your uncle?”

“Not exactly,” Jack said. “His daughter Susanna is married to my brother Matteo. He’s my—I don’t know. What do you call your sister-in-law’s father?”

“Uncle,” said Lia, in a decisive tone.

“You call everybody aunt or uncle,” said Rosa.

Lia looked both furious and terribly affronted.

Anna said, “I’m happy to be called Aunt. Or Uncle, if you prefer, Lia.”

The girls gaped, and then all of them, Elise included, burst into laughter.

Jack held up a hand as if he were directing traffic, and the laughter cut off. “I can’t allow that,” he said in his most serious tone. “No Uncle Anna here, unless I can be Aunt Jack.”

Aunt Quinlan was smiling, but her eyes were damp. “Yes,” she said. “That’s the house rule. Aunts and uncles and grandmas and grandpas, all around. For anyone who needs one, at any time.”

•   •   •

AFTER DINNER JACK wanted to go for a walk, Anna suspected because he had something to talk about that he didn’t want others to hear. They started out in the direction of Washington Square, passing a group of young men coming out of New York University in high spirits, charwomen on their way home, and Mr. Pettigrew, a neighbor. He stopped right in front of them, all but demanding an introduction that was, strictly speaking, overdue. They should have gone to see all the neighbors as a newly married couple, but as they had done everything unconventionally, the visits had been put off.

Jack was attentive and friendly to Maynard Pettigrew, but his smile was a little strained. When they had finally extracted themselves and crossed the street to enter the park, Jack took her hand and pulled her arm through his so they were walking as close as they could without tripping over each other’s feet.

He said, “Tell me about your day.”

“It wasn’t very good.”

“Tell me anyway.”

She thought for a long moment and told him about the fourteen-year-old girl with syphilis, a mouth full of suppurating ulcers, and ascites.

“Ascites is a condition where a lot of fluid builds up in the abdomen so that it looks bloated. It can be very uncomfortable.”

“And what causes that?”

“Nothing very good. Possibly cancer, more likely liver failure, as she spends most of her time at the Grand Duke’s Theater and lives off nothing but stale beer. Why is it the police keep closing that place down only to have it open again a few days later?”

With his free hand Jack rubbed his thumb against his fingers in the universal signal for hard cash.

Anna, expecting nothing less, shook her head. “I aspirated a half gallon of exudate to give her some relief, but she’ll probably be back again before long. If she stops drinking immediately her liver could recover. I sent inquiries to some of the missions, see if anyone has room for her. If she comes back, of course.”

“You’re right,” Jack said. “You didn’t have a very good day.”

“And I only gave you the highlights. But then neither did you, by the face you’re making. No progress with the Liljeström case?”

“Just the opposite,” he said. “Another case a lot like it.”

They came to the bench where they had once sat together, when they had barely known each other. She tugged, and he sat down. There was a lovely evening breeze, and from not very far off the sound of children romping with a very excited dog. From an open window came something that Anna thought was supposed to be music, an oboe being played, very badly but with real enthusiasm.

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