The Gilded Hour Page 141

“He was sizing us up,” Jack said. “We’ll have to be careful not to scare him off. He could disappear and start all over someplace else.”

“Oh, no,” Oscar said. “I’m not having that. I won’t be happy until he steps on that trapdoor and falls straight into Satan’s loving arms.”

•   •   •

AS THEY HEADED downstairs to Lambert’s office, it was like walking through an invisible curtain into a swamp, the air both cooler and almost dense enough to eat.

“Neill Graham,” Oscar muttered. “Putting his hands on women.” He shook his head in disgust.

Nicholas Lambert was a wiry, athletic fifty-year-old with a full head of dark hair and a short-cropped beard to match. In stark contrast his complexion was very pale and as fine as a child’s. Like Anna’s, his hands were red and swollen.

“More than one good surgeon has given up practice because of dermatitis,” Lambert said, with the slightest trace of an accent. He had been aware of Jack’s study of his hands, but he hadn’t taken offense. “An unfortunate but unavoidable side effect of the antiseptic method.”

Oscar huffed, surprised. “Why antiseptic when you’re cutting on the dead? What harm can you do?”

“That’s not the issue,” Lambert said. “Some diseases outlast death. The microorganisms that cause smallpox, for example.”

“A dead man can give you smallpox?”

“Or cholera, or hepatitis. Other diseases too. The antiseptic methods are the first line of defense, and that’s why my hands looked like boiled crabs. The odd thing is, I grew up on a dairy farm, and my father and brothers have hands that look only slightly more swollen and red than mine.”

“My wife has the same problem,” Jack said.

Lambert paused, a lifted brow indicating curiosity but an unwillingness to ask intrusive questions.

Maroney hooked a thumb in Jack’s direction. “He married Anna Savard of the New Amsterdam.”

“Ah.” Lambert smiled, started to speak, and stopped. Started again, and cleared his throat. “Congratulations. Best wishes.”

Jack nodded. “You haven’t found a way around the dermatitis?”

“Fifty years ago they were experimenting with gloves made of sheep’s cecum in Germany, but nothing came of that. Now with the vulcanization of rubber, things might move more quickly. Dr. Savard’s hands are sensitive to carbolic, I take it. Before you leave, remind me to give you something for her to try. But I don’t think you’ve come here to talk about dermatitis.”

Jack said, “You did the Liljeström postmortem. Did you read about the Campbell case in the papers?”

Lambert leaned back, half sitting on the edge of his desk, his arms folded. “I did. And I wondered about the similarities. You’ve got more cases like those two?”

“More than a few, maybe,” Oscar said. “But we need a forensic specialist to look at all the bodies. We’re hoping you would be willing to do repeat postmortems on all of them, and right away, as soon as we get them exhumed.”

Lambert bent over slightly, as if to study his shoes. When he looked up again his expression was somber.

“It’s hard to imagine a lot of women dying like that.”

“What we’re hoping,” Jack said, “is to keep it from happening again.”

Lambert nodded. “I’ll talk to the director and get permission. How much can I tell him?”

“Nothing,” said Jack. “Except we’ve requested your help on some difficult cases. Nothing about any possible connection to the Campbell or Liljeström deaths.”

“Who suggested me, if I may ask?”

Oscar shifted uncomfortably, but Jack liked the question, and the man who had thought to ask it.

“Anna. She considers you the best forensic specialist in the city.”

“Very good of her. But if these cases are connected you’ll want an alienist to go over the evidence. A physician who can speak to the mind of the man who would act on such impulses.”

Oscar said, “That would be our next step, after the postmortem reports. Can you start right away?”

“It would go faster if I had some assistance. I’ve got a couple of students who would be glad of the work.”

Oscar frowned. “Better not to involve anybody else, if it can be avoided.”

Thirty seconds passed by while Lambert continued to study his shoes. When he looked up, Jack saw that he was far too intelligent to be so easily misdirected.

“You’ve got a suspect here, at Bellevue?”

“No suspects yet,” Jack said. “That’s why we’re in a hurry. Whoever’s behind this, he won’t stop until he’s made to stop.”

“I see your point. Most likely I can manage on my own, but if things do get out of hand, could I call on Dr. Savard?”

“Sure,” Jack said. “I don’t know what she’ll say, but you can ask.”

At the door Lambert hesitated. “May I ask a personal question?”

Jack tensed a little, but nodded.

“Is the other Dr. Savard—”

“Savard Verhoeven,” Jack supplied.

“Thank you. I understand she’s gone to Switzerland with her husband. Do you have any word on how Cap is doing?”

“He’s stable,” Jack said. “His spirits are good. Sophie is content.”

“I think of him often,” Lambert said. “His father and mine were good friends—we come from the same town in Flanders, and I liked him. If you have the opportunity, please send my regards and best wishes.”

•   •   •

ON THE WAY back to Mulberry Street, Oscar watched Jack for about ten seconds too long.


“You’re lucky you got to Anna before he did. He’s a doctor, a friend of a close friend. No hair up his ass about women doctors. Polite, intelligent, and he likes her. Did you see the way he smiled when her name came up?”

Jack made a sound in his throat that was enough of an answer, even for Oscar. His partner took a cigar from his pocket, bit off the end, and spat it over the side of the rig into the street. Grinning the whole time.

•   •   •

ELISE WAS IN the garden when Jack came through the back gate, and for once there was no sign of the little girls.

“You’re the only one who escaped Staten Island without a head cold,” she told him. “The girls are confined to their beds for the day, and none too happy about it.”

“How does Rosa seem to you?” he asked.

Elise lifted a shoulder. “Some of the fight has gone out of her. It makes life easier but it’s sad too, to see such resignation in a little girl.”

“I’m wondering if she’s relieved. Not that she’d admit to it, or even recognize it,” he said. “But she did something astounding, almost unheard of. Even if the end result was not what we hoped for, she should be proud of herself.”

“She should,” Elise agreed. “But she can’t, right now. She needs time. Did you realize that Anna has been confined to bed, too? Mrs. Cabot has got her boxed in.”

“No escape attempts?”

“Not yet, but you’d better hurry.”

•   •   •

HE TOOK OFF his shoes and went upstairs in his stocking feet, meaning to be thoughtful but hoping to fail, in a small way. And Anna didn’t disappoint, calling out as soon as he reached the upstairs hall.

“Mezzanotte.” Her voice cracked and wobbled. “Stop tiptoeing around and come in here.”

At the foot of the bed he took stock.

“You’re losing your voice and that means for once I have the advantage. I might even win an argument.”

Her expression softened, and then she laughed, a soundless huffing.

“Sleep,” he said. “We can talk later.”

“I’ve been sleeping most of the day. Sit down and tell me about your meeting this morning.”

She stared at him until he gave in with a sigh and sat down on the edge of the bed.

“Not so close.” She pointed to the chairs by the hearth. “Sit over there.”

He dragged the chair closer to the bed, obeying and not obeying. Sitting down, he remembered the tin in his pocket and retrieved it.

“What’s that?”

“Nicholas Lambert gave it to me for you, for your hands. For dermatitis.”

“Why would you be talking to Nicholas Lambert about my dermatitis? And when was this?”

“Earlier today. Because he was talking about his own, and so I mentioned it.”

She curled her fingers in a hand-it-over gesture, but he shook his head. “It can wait until you’re feeling better.”

“Don’t coddle me. Tell me about this meeting with Lambert. What did you need to talk to him about? Oh, wait. It’s about the Campbell case, isn’t it. Is it?”

So he told her.

•   •   •

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