The Gilded Hour Page 137

“Italian,” said the younger Malone. “I never would have guessed it.”

Jack bit back what he might have said: Imagine our surprise to get Italian orphans who aren’t filthy and diseased! Because he saw the confusion on the man’s face, his inability to reconcile the little girls he saw before him with what he had heard and read about Italian immigrant hordes ruining the country.

It was Anna’s hand on his arm that made him pull himself together and end the conversation with a curt nod.

One thing the Malones didn’t ask, to Jack’s relief, was their destination. When they finally climbed into the little rig, with the four of them squeezed together in on one seat, he set the placid old piebald mare off at a quick trot. Anna, busy with the girls, didn’t look up at him until they were on the road north toward Mount Loretto, and Jack was glad. She hadn’t seen the odd pale rectangle on the side of a building where a sign had been taken down, but Jack remembered it.


Maybe the sign was being repainted, he told himself. Maybe Mullen had moved his business to a bigger space somewhere else in Tottenville. And maybe, he had to deal with the possibility, what he had interpreted as a turn in their luck was nothing more than the eye of the storm.

•   •   •

SOMETHING WAS WRONG with Jack, something other than young Michael Malone’s careless insult. Anna saw it in the set of his jaw, in the line of his back. The girls sensed it too, because they were quiet. They were hardly out of town when Lia climbed into Anna’s lap, not looking forward but pressing her face to Anna’s shoulder.

Then he pulled to the side of the road under a stand of oak trees and tried to smile.

“I need a minute.” Jack secured the reins and jumped down, trotting back the way they had come to disappear behind a stand of bushes.

The girls seemed almost to relax, assuming, as most people would, that Jack’s distracted mood and sudden leaving had to do with nature’s call. But Anna knew somehow that it was something else entirely. He had walked off to gather his thoughts and his courage, because he knew something, had heard or seen something that she had not.

She wanted to go talk to him, but the girls would be terrified to be left alone even for a few moments in this strange landscape of fields and pastures and orchards with so much at stake just a few minutes away. For years she had trained to be able to make fast decisions in difficult situations. With a scalpel in her hand some part of her mind took over, made decisions and acted. But this was foreign to her, this kind of need, and she was at a loss.

Jack climbed back up onto the seat and took up the reins. He hesitated for a long moment and then he turned to the girls.

He said, “I have a feeling that the family we’re going to see isn’t going to be there. That they’ve gone away. I want you to be prepared for that possibility, both of you. Once we know whether I’m right, we can talk about what to do next.”

It took considerable effort, but Anna held her questions back. When they turned onto the narrow lane that would take them to the little house near the beach, her stomach gave a lurch and climbed into her throat. The girls looked stunned, like children who have passed beyond fear to a protective numbness.

In the first few seconds it seemed that Jack had been wrong. The house wasn’t deserted; the front door stood ajar, and the sound of someone chopping wood came from somewhere behind it.

Jack looked at Rosa and then at Lia, his expression not exactly grave, but solemn. He said, “Wait here. Mind me now, you need to wait here.” Then he squeezed Anna’s hand and was gone.

•   •   •

WHEN JACK JOINED the police department one of the first and hardest lessons, one that he still struggled with, was something obvious. In his case, at least, anger was far harder to manage than a gun. As he walked toward the front door of the cottage, he reminded himself that he was not here as a police officer. He had no right to ask questions, much less demand answers. That thought was still in his mind when a woman came to the door.

Two facts presented themselves immediately. This small, dark-haired woman was close to giving birth—her hands were folded across the great expanse of her belly—and she was not Mrs. Mullen.

Jack took off his hat and inclined his head politely. “Ma’am,” he said. “We’re looking for the Mullen family. Have I got the right house?”

It was the right house, without question, but the Mullen family had moved away. In her uncertain English the lady of the house explained to him that her husband had bought the house and the business from Mr. Mullen, who had moved away a week ago with his family.

“I don’t know where they went,” she said, and seemed to be searching for words. “Would you like to come in, you and your family?” She stepped back and opened the door in a welcoming gesture. Behind him Jack heard a scuffle and Rosa’s voice, raised in protest.

He did not want to bother these people, but he could see no other way to convince Rosa of the truth.

As she arrived at his side, breathless, trembling, he said, “Rosa, this lady has invited us in to talk for a few minutes.” In Italian he added, “If you can’t mind your manners, you’ll have to wait outside.”

The truculent look on her face did not escape him.

•   •   •

MAGDA AND ISTVAN Szabó were Hungarian immigrants who had come to the States five years earlier and finally saved enough money to buy a place of their own.

With Lia on her lap Anna spoke to Mr. Szabó, who had come in to talk with them because his English was very good. His gaze kept shifting to Rosa, who stood stiffly by the door with Jack.

It was obvious that nothing but the truth would do in this situation. She said, “Mr. Szabó, I realize this is very odd, but if I could just explain—”

Drawing on all the skills honed in years of recounting patient histories during rounds, she told the story of the four Russo children, how they had come to Manhattan, and the loss of the boys. He held up a hand only when he wanted her to pause long enough so he could translate for his wife.

Anna fixed her gaze on Mrs. Szabó. She had a kind face and an open expression, where her husband was more reserved.

“We believe that the Mullens adopted Vittorio,” Anna finished. “And his sisters want so much to see him, we couldn’t keep the truth from them any longer.”

The Szabós were talking, a hushed conversation that was impossible to interpret. Anna was paying such close attention that Lia had slipped from her lap before she realized what was happening. She walked toward Mrs. Szabó, her eyes as big as silver dollars.

“May I see my brother? He’s so little”—a small sharp hiccup escaped her—“deve avere molto paura.”

Rosa spoke up, her voice strained. “She says he must be very afraid.”

The room was suddenly so still that Anna could hear the far-off crash of waves on the beach. In the quiet Rosa came forward and put an arm around her sister. They looked so much alike, and were so different in the way they saw the world. She wondered if Rosa might have been a child more like her sister if circumstance hadn’t demanded the impossible of her.

Mrs. Szabó was clearly moved by the two girls. She looked very near to tears.

“I am very sorry, but I don’t know your brother. I saw him once, a very beautiful boy. A happy boy. But he moved away with his—”

She looked to her husband. “Az új családja?”

“His new family,” he supplied.

“Yes, his new family. We don’t know where they went. I’m very sorry that we can’t help you. But maybe—”

Rosa’s head came up sharply.

“Maybe if you talk to the priest—”

“Father McKinnawae?” Jack asked.

“Yes. Father McKinnawae,” she said. “At Mount Loretto. Maybe he can help you.”

•   •   •

AS THEY CAME over the hillside to see the mission spread out before them, it seemed to Anna that quite a lot of progress had been made since their last visit. On the day they got married, she reminded herself. Only one of the buildings looked to be finished, its chimney putting out a long dark streak of smoke. The two largest buildings were far from finished, but today there was no sign of monks or workmen of any kind. She wondered if they had run out of supplies or volunteers or both. It would be many months before any boys could be made at home here. And she really could not work up any interest. She would always associate this place with Vittorio’s loss. Because he was lost. They went to see the priest because Rosa must see this through, but in Anna’s mind there was no doubt: Vittorio would live his life as Timothy Mullen. She wished him happy and well.

Anna met Jack’s eye over the girls’ heads and understood that he had most probably reached the same conclusions she had come to. There would be time enough to talk about it, once they were back home again. What she had to do now was prepare herself for Father McKinnawae.

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