The Gilded Hour Page 140

“We should talk about Vittorio,” she said. “And about Tonino, too, and your parents. We have to tell stories about the people we love who go away. It’s the best way to hold on to them. Don’t you think, Mrs. Cabot?”

“A-yuh,” Mrs. Cabot said with a quiet smile. “No better way.”

“You don’t talk about your people,” Rosa said. “Auntie Margaret says you never do.”

“I didn’t, that’s true. But I think it was a mistake not to. We should tell the stories and then write them down.”

“I don’t know where to start,” Lia said.

“We can take turns,” Anna said. “I’ll tell you first about the summer I was three years old, when my parents died.”

“Three is too little to remember,” Rosa said, with a certain disdain.

“It is too little,” Anna agreed. “And I can’t say what I really remember and what I only remember because Aunt Quinlan told me the story. But I remember how I felt, and that’s the important part.”

Her voice was calm and without tremor, but Lia got up from playing with Skidder to crawl into her lap. With the little girl’s solid weight in her arms, Anna sent herself back to the summer when everything changed.

•   •   •

DR. LAMBERT WAS in the middle of a postmortem when they got to Bellevue, so they went outside to wait in air that smelled of recent rain and the sea.

Jack had almost gotten used to the smells that clung to Anna’s clothes when she came home from the New Amsterdam—strong soap and carbolic, denatured alcohol, all with an undercurrent of blood and bile. Bellevue had all that times ten because they took anyone who came to them, men and women and children, the sickest and poorest and least likely to survive. The outdoor poor.

Outside, leaning against a wall warmed by the sun, Jack watched as people came and went out a side entrance favored by staff. A crowd of younger men, students or interns, appeared, looking like a company of soldiers fresh from the battlefield. Jack caught sight of a familiar face just as Oscar saw him too.

“Dr. Graham!”

Neill Graham’s head jerked around toward them, his expression less than friendly.

“He doesn’t recognize us,” Jack said.

“Sure he does. Look at him trying to make a pretty face. He may just manage it by the time he gets over here.”

Jack studied the younger man, seeing exhaustion and irritation. Medical students worked impossible hours for little pay; in the same situation Jack knew that he would be less than sociable. He could tolerate a bad mood, but there was something sour in Graham’s expression.

“Detective Sergeants.” Graham stood in front of them but left his hands in the pockets of his very grimy tunic, and rocked back on his heels. “I don’t think you want to be shaking my hand today. Not until I’ve soaked it in carbolic for a couple hours.”

“Hard shift?” Oscar asked

He blew out a breath. “Long. Forty-eight hours, and maybe two hours’ sleep. Only two surgeries I was allowed in on because in case you didn’t know, this place”—he jerked his chin toward the hospital—“is staffed to the roof with students who can buy preference. Today there was a Caesarean—only three done last year in the whole city, but instead of that I was stuck dealing with the usual garbage that comes through this place. People who don’t have the sense God gave an ant, real deviants.”

Oscar said, “That bad. Did you lose a patient?”

“No. The work stinks, but I could handle it with my eyes closed. Some of the patients would be better off dead, to my way of thinking. You two know what it’s like dealing with whores.”

You couldn’t be a cop and take offense at plain speech, not if you wanted to get anything done. Conversation in the station house was often far worse, but there was something in the way Graham used the word whore with a lip-curling disgust.

He was saying, “I’ll be glad to see the last of this place.” He turned his head to scan the hospital windows.

“You headed someplace else?” Oscar’s tone was light, friendly, encouraging.

“There’s a surgery position opening up at Women’s. That place is like a palace compared to this cesspool.”

Oscar said, “Competition must be stiff.”

Graham’s whole face contorted. “That doesn’t worry me. You know I’ve got twice as many hours in the operating room as anybody else who’s applying. They know what I’m worth at Women’s. Somebody from the staff—I won’t name names—told me. He said I had a brilliant career ahead of me. Women’s is my next stop, and then who knows? London, Paris, Rome.” His smile broadened, full of satisfaction.

“And no poor people at Women’s,” Jack observed.

“They’ve got a charity ward,” Graham said, a little insulted. “But there are only so many beds and that means you can pick and choose among the ones who come begging and only take the interesting cases. This place—” He glanced up at the hospital. “The scum of the earth.”

“And still you managed to get good training,” Oscar said.

Graham shot him a suspicious look but relaxed when he saw nothing but mild curiosity in Oscar’s expression.

“There’s work enough, but I hate having my time wasted on the cases that come in here. Truth be told, I don’t much like examining any woman—any honest surgeon will tell you that. But with whores, it’s like rooting around in a bucket of filth, up to the wrist in sludge. The last one I saw today, she looked forty but I doubt she was more than twenty, the worst case of the clap I’ve ever seen, and she was still working, still spreading her legs for coin. Imagine the degenerate who would pay for the privilege.”

“Huh,” Jack said. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’ll be examining females at Women’s Hospital too.”

He jerked a shoulder. “They won’t be crawling with lice and crabs. It’s the best place in the country—maybe in the world—for the kind of surgery that interests me. The only thing that interests me. And mostly I’ll be operating, anyway. And doing research. Some of the most important advances in the field come out of Women’s. I’ve got a few ideas. You never know, I may end up revolutionizing surgery.”

Jack said, “Sounds like you’ve got your career planned.”

Graham gave a soft laugh, his mouth working like a twist of gristle. “There’s always room at the top, as my mother used to say. I put in forty-eight hours here without sleep, easy as falling off a log.”

His head swung toward Jack and the expression he normally wore—alert, sharply observant, constrained by respect and convention—was back in place.

“So what brings the best of the New York Police Department detective squad to Bellevue on a damp Sunday morning?”

Oscar produced his widest, least sincere smile. “Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies.”

“Not another case like the Campbell woman.”

“Why would you think that?” Jack said.

He shrugged. “Can’t think of much other than murder that would bring you up here. It’s not like you have room in the jails for all the rutting drunkards we see here. Inbred idiots.” Graham hesitated, waited for some kind of response, and then cleared his throat.

“Nice to see you again, I’ve got some sleeping to catch up on.”

“Give Mrs. Jennings our regards,” Oscar said.

Neill Graham studied Oscar for a moment, nodded, and walked away.

•   •   •

ON THE WAY to Nicholas Lambert’s office Oscar said, “The little shit. And there he’s been under our noses the whole time.”

Jack was thinking the same thing. “He made my skin crawl. You like him for the Campbell case, then.”

“To my mind it was as good as a confession.”

“There’s still the pesky matter of evidence.”

Oscar shrugged that fact away. “He hates women. Hates examining them but he wants to spend a career cutting them open. He’s a braggart of the first order, the kind who thinks he can do anything. To listen to him there was never a more talented doctor put on earth and everybody recognizes him for a genius, except when they’re duping him out of surgeries that should be his. He can work two days without a nap and he’s put out that he couldn’t get more than two hours last night. He can’t keep track of his lies. And don’t forget, Jack my boy, he assisted in the emergency surgery on Janine Campbell. He works an ambulance a couple days a week. That’s worth looking into, at least.”

Jack remembered Anna talking about that at the inquest, and he remembered the way Campbell had described her when he testified. In sober but complimentary terms. Now he wondered if that had all been an act.

“If it was him who did Campbell, he found an unusual way to return to the scene of the crime without raising suspicions,” Jack said.

“We should have thought of it,” Oscar said. “Mrs. Stone wasn’t in the bedroom when he went in to examine Janine Campbell. Maybe she recognized him, but we’ll never know now. And who but a surgeon can take a knife to a woman, do his worst, and get away with it?”

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