The Gilded Hour Page 149

Miss Imhoff’s expression was almost amused. “She took a pistol with her. She grew up with guns, apparently. Her father taught her to shoot when she was a child.”

Not that it did her any good, Jack thought.

“Do you know how she found this doctor?”

It was a crucial question, and the answer was disappointing. “I assume she got his name from one of her friends. Rich women trade in information.”

Jack took down the essentials as she reconstructed the day for them:

At eight in the morning they left the house, in Mrs. Winthrop’s personal carriage, with just the driver, a family retainer who was more than seventy. On the way Mrs. Winthrop had talked to her about a gown she wanted to wear to dinner the following weekend.

“She thought she’d be able to attend a dinner?” Oscar sounded surprised.

“Well, yes,” the young woman said. “She was thinking this time would be like the last, and the time before that. It never occurred to her that it might go wrong.”

“And where did the carriage take you?”

She said, “This is a little odd to admit, but I don’t know the city very well, though I’ve been here since I was very little. We’re not allowed to wander. I can describe the place the carriage stopped, if that will help. There was an elevated train station across from a day market, and a large courthouse just behind that. Kitty-corner from the market there’s a little coffee shop. She gave me a dollar and told me to wait there, and then she walked away. Two hours later when she hadn’t come back yet I was getting worried. Then I realized that the carriage had left. For a minute I thought Mrs. Winthrop had gone to a lot of trouble to be rid of me, but then the carriage came around the corner. I’m guessing she asked Cullen to meet her on a different corner at a different time, but I never got the chance to ask her.”

“We’ll talk to the driver. Cullen, you say.”

She nodded, turned her face away to clear her throat.

Jack asked, “When you got into the carriage, what was your first impression? Do you think she was under the influence of some drug or other?”

“She stank of laudanum,” Miss Imhoff said. “So I think that’s a fair guess.” Her tone was clipped, almost cold.

“Did you happen to see where she went—in what direction she went when she left you?”

“No. To be truthful I wasn’t all that concerned. Not until I saw the condition she was in afterward. As soon as we got home she took some laudanum and then went straight to bed. Gave me strict orders, she was not to be disturbed for any reason. At five o’clock I was to bring a tea tray, but I should come in and put it down silently, within reach, and then leave again.”

“And did it happen like that?”

She shook her head. “At five I brought the tray in, but she was in the lavatory. I could hear her retching. I waited a bit to see if she’d call for help, but she didn’t. I went back in about two hours later, to get the tray and bring fresh towels.”

She stopped and studied her hands for a moment.

“I’m not sure how to describe the rest.”

“In as much detail as you can manage,” Oscar said.

Another minute passed. She cleared her throat, and then she started, more slowly. “She was barely conscious when I came back. The bed was bloody, and there was a very high, keen smell. Like a wound gone bad. She had gotten sick again, but right there in bed. So I said I would call for her doctor, and she woke up then and said no, it would pass. She’d be recovered by morning.”

“Do you think she believed that?”

The aloof expression she had maintained for so long began to slip. She swallowed visibly and shook her head. “I don’t know.”

“What happened next?”

“Nothing. She let me stay. She wanted laudanum, and I gave her as much as I thought was safe. Then I lied and said the bottle was empty. She let me change the bedsheets”—another difficult swallow—“but she kept bleeding and she passed a lot of . . . I never imagined that the human body could produce such—” She shook her head.

“That’s enough, I think, Miss Imhoff. Did anybody come to see her? Her mother, her husband?”

“Not that evening. Not until the next morning when I sent for the doctor. She wouldn’t respond to me, and I felt I had no choice. Things moved very quickly after that. Her mother sent word to wake Mr. Winthrop—his rooms are on the other side of the house—and he came in just as the doctor arrived. He sent me out and told me to collect my things and be gone or he’d have me arrested.”

She looked directly at Oscar, the question plain on her face.

“You’ve committed no crime,” he said. “There’s just one more thing we need from you for the time being. We’ll take a short drive, and after that if you like I can introduce you to a Mrs. Adams. She has a boardinghouse for ladies, very reputable and well kept. No doubt you’ll sleep for twelve hours after the day you’ve had.”

Oscar presented himself to the world as gruff, no-nonsense, unsentimental, iron fisted, but he was also generous and protective with people who were in trouble they had not earned. The wonder of it was that he had not lost those traits after so many years on the job. Jack hoped he could only do half as well over time.

•   •   •

HE TOOK OSCAR home to Weeds for some supper and a quiet place to talk over the day. Coming in through the stable—empty, as they kept no horse or carriage—they stepped out into the garden and Oscar stopped.

“Well, look here,” he said, spreading out his arms and turning. A dancing bear.

“Now look at this. I could live right here, out in the open.”

Jack was pleased with the garden, though he hadn’t had much of an opportunity to sit in it.

“Mr. Lee and my father put their heads together. They sent three wagons of earth and plants, conscripted the cousins, and this is the result.”

They turned at the sound of the rear door, to see Anna standing there. She looked a little sleepy, a pillow crease in one cheek, her hair escaping its pins.

“I expect you spend most of your time indoors,” Oscar said under his breath, and Jack elbowed him, hard.

•   •   •

MRS. CABOT SERVED her ragout of pork cooked in port with apples and prunes. Anna had to smile at Oscar’s expression, as if he could not believe his good fortune.

“Mrs. Cabot kept house for a family who employed a French cook,” Anna told him. “This must be one of the recipes she took away with her.”

Over coffee and a plate of cookies Jack said, “We’ve had a busy day, but we’re still on duty until morning.”

“You just came home for your supper,” Anna said. “But I’m glad you did. I’ll be leaving for the hospital before you get in.”

Oscar cleared his throat. “We have another victim.”

Anna felt her expression freeze, but she took in a deep breath, picked up her coffee cup, and asked, “Exactly the same?”

“In the essentials,” Jack said. “Nicholas Lambert will do the postmortem, but there’s little doubt in my mind. Oscar?”

He shook his head. “But we did get some information this time, from the lady’s maid. You remember the advertisements you found in the paper, the ones that mention Smithson’s?”

Jack said, “What’s wrong? All the color just drained out of your face.”

“Smithson’s?” Her voice wavered a little. “What about it?”

“There’s a coffeehouse just opposite, do you know it?” Oscar asked, his tone wary.

“Yes,” Anna said. “I used to go there with my uncle Quinlan when I was very young. And—” She looked first Oscar and then Jack in the eye. “I was there today.”

•   •   •

BY THE TIME they had exchanged stories—Jack got out his notes both to be sure of the facts and to add Anna’s observations—it was eight o’clock. She started at the chiming of the hall clock.

“I thought you had to go back to work?”

Oscar raised both brows and tucked in his chin in what she thought was mock surprise.

“What is it you think we’re doing?”

“Oh,” she said. “I hadn’t thought of it that way.”

“Your parlor is far more comfortable than the squad room, I’ll give you that.”

Jack said, “And it smells better.”

“I should hope so,” Anna muttered. “Is it too late to go to Jefferson Square right now? Just to get a sense of how things are laid out, and where Mrs. Winthrop might have been going.”

“Possible, but not the best idea,” Jack said. “You were there this morning; we were there a couple hours ago. If someone involved in this case happened to see us there again—together—it might well send them packing before we’ve even figured out who they are.”

“You think that’s possible?”

Oscar said, “Probable, even. And after tomorrow almost certain.”

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