The Gilded Hour Page 139

The biggest surprise thus far—and she must believe there were more to come—was that Bambina and Celestina went to temple once a month or so. Every other Italian Elise had ever known or heard about was Catholic—as Catholic as the pope—but half the Mezzanottes were Jewish, while others seemed to be nothing at all.

She should have been shocked and worried about her own immortal soul in this hotbed of cheerful heretics; a year ago she likely would have had just that reaction. Now nothing seemed so simple. She had no basis on which to make judgments about the Mezzanottes. She hoped they would do as much for her.

•   •   •

AT HALF PAST five Jack slipped out of bed, grabbed his clothes, and dressed in the hall, determined to let Anna sleep on. Despite a long day of traveling in damp clothes while dealing with distraught children, she had had a restless night. It was after three when she finally slipped into a deep sleep. He knew, because he hadn’t slept well himself, aware of every chime of the mantel clock from the parlor.

John McKinnawae had robbed them both of a peaceful night’s sleep, and Jack was sure there would be more such nights. Then at six in the morning a runner from Mulberry Street had knocked on the door with a message. The chief was calling a meeting at seven about the Campbell and associated cases. Associated cases. They were in for it now.

•   •   •

FOUR DETECTIVES AND two patrolmen were gathered in Chief Baker’s office, including Oscar and himself. Jack counted four case files spread out on the table and knew the names on the labels without looking: Janine Campbell, Abigail Liljeström, Eula Schmitt, and Irina Svetlova. More folders sat in a pile front of Oscar, the looks of which filled Jack with dread.

“I’ve got three more likelies and one possible,” Oscar was saying.

One by one he went over the cases that fit the profile, all of them ferreted out of death certificates going back six months. Mariella Luna, Esther Fromm, Jenny House, and the one uncertain case, a Jane Doe. All of them had died of peritonitis following an illegal abortion, and all of them had died hard.

The three who had been identified were married to successful men with substantial incomes; they had well-appointed homes, servants, abundant and expensive wardrobes, and somewhere between two and six healthy, well cared-for children. They were all between twenty-five and thirty-five years old. Jenny House had died at her home on Gramercy Park; Esther Fromm and Mariella Luna, both from out of town, had died in rooms at the Astor and Grand Union hotels. Jane Doe had been dead on arrival at Women’s Hospital.

Baker said, “We’ll need new postmortems on all of them. Sainsbury, get going on the exhumations. I want shovels in the ground no later than noon. Maroney, do you have a forensic specialist in mind?”

“Nicholas Lambert at Bellevue, if he’s willing. That will save some time, as he did the Liljeström autopsy and we won’t have to bring the remains back from Buffalo. And he’s good.”

“Go talk to him today. We have to get moving on this before the newspapers pick it up. Larkin, what about the letter?”

Michael Larkin was the youngest detective in the room, but he was not looking his age. His eyes were red-rimmed and bloodshot, his skin mottled and doughy. The thing was, he might be fighting a hangover complete with sour stomach and a headache, but his voice and hands were steady. It was nearly impossible to knock a Larkin down; even harder to keep him there.

“I’ve got a draft.” He slid a piece of paper down the table toward Baker, who took it up and held it at arm’s length to read. In ten seconds flat he was scowling at the man who had written it.

“Christ on the bloody cross, Larkin, do you know any lady who talks like this?” He cleared his throat and read. “‘I write to you in utter despair, a foolish girl taken in by the promises of a rake.’ Reading penny dreadfuls in your time off, Larkin?”

Oscar handed Baker another piece of paper. “Maybe this will work.”

This time the captain read aloud from the start. “. . . regard to your advertisement . . . if your medical practice . . . hygienic, modern . . . prepared to pay a premium . . . respond with particulars.”

He grunted. “That’s more like it. Larkin, get it postmarked first thing tomorrow and into the right post office box. Then set up a rotation to stake out the lobby. I want to hear from you every couple hours.”

•   •   •

TURNING THE RIG north on Second Avenue toward Bellevue, Jack said, “I could have used you yesterday, talking to that priest.”

Oscar had been brought up Catholic and still went to mass when he was sober enough on a Sunday morning. He had no illusions about priests and was generally hard to shock, but he frowned when Jack told him about the Mullens and McKinnawae.

“I don’t know what I was expecting,” Jack said. “But it didn’t occur to me that he could make the whole family disappear, like a magician’s rabbit into a hat.”

The muscles in Oscar’s jaw began to tick and roll, but his tone was even. “A trickster of the first order, and him not even a Jesuit. I’m sorry for the girls, but it’s a miracle you got as close as you did. I don’t suppose Rosa sees it that way.”

They rode along in silence for a while. Jack glanced at his partner and said, “Lia is calling me uncle and Anna auntie.”

“And Rosa?”

“Don’t know if she is even talking to us,” Jack said. “Remains to be seen.”

•   •   •

ANNA WOKE IN stages, like a swimmer drifting toward land until the water itself pushed her out into the waking world.

Three things came to her all at once: she was alone in bed in a quiet house, which meant that Jack had left for Mulberry Street without waking her, the rotter; the winds that had battered them all Saturday had subsided, but left behind a hypnotic rain as soft and warm as new milk; and she had a cold.

She barely got the handkerchief out from beneath her pillow before she produced a triplet of wet sneezes.

After a day of travel in damp clothes the head cold was no surprise, but it was something of a catastrophe in purely practical terms. Until her symptoms had gone, she could not see patients or even step foot in the hospital. A head cold was not a real threat to an otherwise healthy, well-nourished person, but it could be the end of someone whose health was already compromised. And she hated colds, the fuzziness of mind and head, the impertinence of a body that would not obey simple commands. The oddest thoughts came to her when she had a cold.

She hoped the girls had escaped this, and somehow knew that she needn’t worry about Jack. Lying in the bed they shared, half-asleep, sniffling, she willed him healthy and untouched while he did whatever detective sergeants did on a Sunday morning.

Now she had to get up and talk to the girls. To pretend yesterday was just a bad dream would only make things worse. But it would not be easy.

Dressed and armed with three fresh handkerchiefs, she made her way through the quiet house toward the kitchen and heard the distinct rhythm of Mrs. Cabot’s Down East accent: clipped in some places, r-sounds swallowed whole, while in others words were stretched to the breaking point and tacked back together. There was some debate going on about Skidder’s breakfast.

“Lia, my dear, no honey for Skidder.”

“Why?” Lia, sincerely curious, as ever.

“Because he’s already sweet enough.”

Anna smiled, imagining the look on Lia’s face as she puzzled this through. Then she got right to the crux of the matter.

“Am I sweet enough?”

“You are mighty sweet but maybe you could do with a little more honey. Wipe your nose, dear—but on your hankie.”

The girls sneezed, one after the other. Anna supposed it was inevitable.

Mrs. Cabot was saying, “Now, what were you telling me about that priest fella on the island?”

Rosa said, “I don’t want to talk about him.”

“I do,” said Lia, sniffing. “He has a red face, and white hair, and he smiles a lot but he’s mean. He didn’t like us. He wouldn’t tell us where he hid our little brother.”

Anna opened the door and all three of them turned toward her. Lia’s thoughtful expression gave away to something else, comfort or relief or some combination of the two. Anna’s throat constricted, but she forced herself to breathe and then to smile.

Rosa’s expression was far more solemn, but yesterday’s open hostility was gone.

“Welcome to my infirmary,” Mrs. Cabot said. “Dr. Savard, your nose is as red as a lobster.”

“Lob-stah!” Lia echoed, and sneezed.

“Sit down, I’ve got dry toast and my special fever tea with honey and lemon.”

It took some time to negotiate breakfast—Anna gave up on the idea of coffee in the face of Mrs. Cabot’s stern disapproval—but in the end she sat across from the girls with a cup of tea in her hands and a plate of dry toast between them. She had wanted Jack here for this conversation, but now it seemed that this was the better way. It was something she needed to do on her own, without worry about what he was hearing or what he thought about it.

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