The Gilded Hour Page 148

No, he hadn’t known his wife was enceinte, and she certainly had said nothing to him about a doctor’s appointment; ladies did not share such personal information, not even with a husband. They had been married four years and had no children, had wanted no children while they were still young and had so much of life to experience. They had made many plans for travel over the next year, and now it would all have to be canceled.

To Jack it seemed Winthrop was more worried about gossip than upset about his wife’s death. That might be heartless and shallow, but there was nothing illegal about it.

Hardly a half hour after Jack sent for him, the coroner arrived. In another neighborhood the wait could stretch out into days, but not on Park Place. Coroner Olsen was new and intimidated by the casual display of wealth; without much effort Jack convinced him that this was a case that had to be handed over to Dr. Lambert at Bellevue.

He anticipated some trouble from the lady’s maid, who would balk at the idea of being questioned at police headquarters. Instead he found her in the kitchen with two satchels, ready and eager to leave. Her life as a servant in a fine house had just ended; no one else would hire the young woman who had played some role, however how small and innocent, in Mamie Winthrop’s death. The harm was done, she told him, and a few hours in a police station would make no more difference.

Jack observed her as the cab fought its way through traffic, jerking to a stop again and again, the cabby raising his voice to curse at a newsboy, a cart driver, another cabby who slowed him down. The woman he judged to be in her midtwenties—very young for the position she had held—stared out into the city with a blank expression.

The word that came to mind was comely: even features, fine skin, and she was perfectly groomed and dressed for her station, which was to say her clothing was of good fabric, expertly tailored, without ornament or lace. Not a speck of dust or a pulled thread to be seen.

He asked a few questions and she answered without hesitation or posturing so that by the time they walked into the detective squad room he knew the basics: Elizabeth Imhoff, called Lizzy; she was twenty-five years old, born in the servants’ quarters of the Winthrops’ Provincetown estate to a kitchen maid. A family by-blow, which meant, she told him with little emotion, that she had just been fired by her half brother. She had known him all her life, and he sent her off without a kind word or a reference.

Her future was dark. Unless she had a beau waiting, a man who was ready to marry her and keep her, or she knew someone who would hire her to clerk in a shop, her options were limited. Women of Mamie Winthrop’s standing could and usually did bring maids over from France or England, but instead she had agreed to taking on a family embarrassment. He didn’t know what to make of that, but he would have to find out.

•   •   •

OSCAR WAS WRITING down his notes on the interview with Richard Crown of Brooklyn, who had identified their Jane Doe as his wife, Catherine, and who had gone away to arrange for her burial looking himself close to the grave.

Now he sized up Lizzy Imhoff with a single glance, got up to greet her and shake her hand—she had a natural dignity, something Oscar appreciated—and showed her to a chair.

The squad room was noisy with overlapping conversations about the day’s biggest event: an especially stupid thief known to his colleagues as Half-Peck had tried to rob an opium den armed with a knife that wouldn’t cut butter. It hadn’t occurred to him that the owners might have weapons of their own, a lesson he had learned the hard way but would never need again from his slab in the city morgue.

“Let’s get a cup of coffee,” Oscar said, and set off without waiting for agreement. Jack brought up the rear, watching Elizabeth Imhoff walk, the way she held herself, the things she looked at. Her calm was unusual, almost off-putting, but he supposed she must still be in shock. Within a span of a few hours her life had been pulled out from under her.

Once they had settled into a booth at MacNeil’s, Jack saw that her hands shook a little. Not completely made of ice, then. It just remained to see how she responded to Oscar’s interrogation.

She listened to him ask the most general question possible—what had happened to Mrs. Winthrop—and returned with a question of her own.

“How far back do you want me to go?”

“Start by telling us a little about her,” Oscar said.

She gave a soft laugh. Shook her head in apology, and laughed again. “I’m sorry, the question just takes me by surprise. I thought everybody must know Mrs. Winthrop, given the way gossip moves. But I suppose that it’s a fairly small circle who would pay attention.”

“She had a reputation, then.”

“Yes,” said Miss Imhoff. “She had a reputation. The simplest description is probably all you need. She was spoiled, as most women of her class are. But she was also cruel.”

“To you?”

“To everybody. Her husband, her mother, her friends. If you can call them that. She was terrible to people on the street, to anyone who was less than beautiful, and to most beautiful people as well. And to the servants, all of us.” She paused. “I’m not sure how this is relevant to her death.”

“We’ll get to that. How did she treat you? Did you like working for her?”

“God, no.”

“Glad to be shut of her, then.”

“She’s dancing with the devil. The satisfaction I get from that idea will only last as long as my savings.”

Jack leaned back a little, twisted his head from side to side to relieve the start of a cramp, and waited.

After a full minute Oscar said, “You know, we can ask questions and drag it out of you bit by bit, or you can just tell us. Wait, have you had anything to eat today? You are looking peaked.” Without waiting for an answer he waved one of the MacNeil boys over.

“Scrambled eggs, toast, bacon. And keep the coffee coming.” Oscar tilted his head at Miss Imhoff, and she nodded.

•   •   •

WHEN SHE HAD some food in her stomach and her color had improved, she started talking. The story wasn’t all that unusual or surprising: Mrs. Winthrop had been free with her affections. Over the four years of her marriage there were five lovers that her lady’s maid knew about, simply because Mamie Winthrop took no pains to hide her indiscretions within the walls of her rooms.

“And the husband?” Oscar asked.

She gave a little half shrug. “They went for days without seeing each other at all. They didn’t argue, they just . . .” She paused. “They didn’t seem to enjoy each other’s company.”

“So no children at all,” Jack said.

“A son, from her first marriage. She was a widow when she married Mr. Winthrop. The boy lives with his grandparents in Boston.”

Her tone never wavered as she told the rest of it, which said to Jack that she was very much in control of her emotions. As would be necessary in the Winthrop household. “Over four years I believe there was one miscarriage, and I know there were three operations. All of them were performed by the same doctor. I don’t know why she didn’t go back to him,” Miss Imhoff said. “He might have been out of town or retired, I suppose. She didn’t tell me.”

“Did you go with her to those earlier appointments?” Jack asked.

“The doctor came to her. People came to her.”

“And why not this time, do you know?”

“She left it almost too late. I think she was tempted this time, to have the baby and keep it, but then she decided she wanted to go to Greece. I know that because the modiste was called in and they spent an afternoon discussing the wardrobe she’d need in Athens in the spring. The next day she sent for the doctor to put things right, that’s the way she referred to the operation. She was not happy to find out he wasn’t available.”

“She discussed this with you.”

“Oh, no. She discussed it with her mother while I was in the room. She was furious when it turned out that none of the doctors she sent for would agree to do the operation. They all said it was too dangerous, past a certain point. But she wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

Jack concentrated on taking notes. In his experience it was best to leave the witness feeling as unobserved as possible.

“In the end she did find a doctor,” she went on. “She was put out that he wouldn’t come to the house, but he had the better of her, and she knew it.”

“Do you know what he charged, what his fees were?” Oscar asked this crucial question in a casual tone, but she hesitated.

“If you don’t know, just say so.”

She said, “I saw her counting out the bills before we left. It was more than three hundred dollars, but I don’t know how much exactly.”

Oscar prompted her, gently. “So you went with Mrs. Winthrop to her appointment.”

“Only part of the way. The doctor was very specific in his instructions, and she didn’t want to chance scaring him off. She was supposed to come alone.”

Jack said, “That strikes me as odd, that she’d take such a chance. It could have been a trap of some kind.”

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