The Gilded Hour Page 157

Anna managed a smile. “My feelings exactly. So if I can be blunt—”

Kate leaned forward, nodding.

•   •   •

OSCAR BOUGHT A paper cone of peanuts and they walked over to the corner to look at the office building Kate Sparrow had pointed out. Like most of the buildings in the neighborhood it had seen better days; rain and weather had scoured most of the paint from the boards and the roof sagged. But on the ground floor a cobbler, a leather goods shop, and a confectioner were doing brisk business. Every window in the top two floors advertised a business in bold black paint on glass: dentist, bookkeeper, sign painter, textile importer, employment agent, dressmaker. It wasn’t until they rounded the corner onto Christopher Street that they found what they were looking for: another entry, and above it a window identifying the offices of Dr. J. M. Cameron on the second floor.

They were debating whether to go up and have a look when the door opened and a woman came out, slender and fairly tall, carefully groomed and dressed, a fringe of almost white-blond hair just visible under the brim of her bonnet.

Oscar tilted his head toward her and took off in pursuit, leaving Jack to finagle his way into the doctor’s office on his own. He went up the stairs at a trot and walked along a dim hall until he stood in front of Cameron’s office at the far end. He knocked, waited two beats, tried the knob, and found it unlocked, and no wonder: inside the small waiting room was empty, without a single piece of furniture.

From an inner room he heard a scuffle of feet and a head poked out from around a corner. A younger man with a salesman’s smile. “Hello! Hello, come in. Are you here about the ad?”

“I was looking for Dr. Cameron.”

The smile froze and then melted away. “Dr. Cameron’s retired,” he said. “Last week. He was the first tenant when the building was new, almost fifty years ago and now he’s retired.”

He came forward and held out his hand. A dry, firm grip and the smile was back in place. “I’m the landlord, Jeremy Bigelow. Don’t suppose you might be in the market for office space? Great setup for almost any business. Waiting room, office, two rooms for storage or client meetings or whatever—”

“I suppose I could have a look while I’m here,” Jack said, and followed along.

The rooms had been scrubbed and painted, with only the vaguest smells left to indicate that this had been a medical practice. While Bigelow talked about square footage and foot traffic and the neighborhood, Jack looked out the window onto Christopher Street, wondering if Cameron had really retired, or if he had gone into hiding.

Bigelow wanted to know if he could show Jack anything else of interest.

“Would you happen to have an address for Dr. Cameron?”

Bigelow did not. “But his granddaughter is at the apothecary just across from the el station—” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder in the right direction. “Nora Smithson. She could help you, I’m sure.”

On the street Jack found Anna and Oscar waiting, Anna looking very grim and Oscar irritated.

Anna said, “I have to get back to the New Amsterdam. If you come with me we can talk in the cab.”

•   •   •

TRAFFIC WAS JUST as congested as Jack expected it to be, but for once it would work to their advantage. It took ten minutes to get to the corner of West Ninth, just enough time to share the bad news.

Oscar said, “Two steps forward, ten back.”

Cameron had left the city only days before, on his way to Philadelphia, where he would be living with a nephew and his family. His offices had been vacated before Mamie Winthrop’s operation and death.

“No surgical instruments in Cameron’s office?” Anna asked Jack.

“Cleaned out, every bit of it. I looked into the closets and the water closet, no luck. What did Mrs. Sparrow have to tell you?”

“Cameron was the one who forced Amelie out of the city. He went to Comstock with stories of a mad abortionist who was killing women, and he named Amelie. There wasn’t any evidence because”—she looked at both of them intently—“there wasn’t any crime, but Comstock made her life impossible and Nora Smithson started spreading rumors. Kate thinks that Cameron was mean to the bone, but not murderous. And not capable of operating. His hands are palsied.”

“That’s what his granddaughter said, that he hadn’t had a patient in years. Kept the office out of stubbornness and pride.” Oscar didn’t seem to be frustrated, but then he had been pursuing cases like this for years, and had learned patience.

“Does she have any medical training, the granddaughter?” Jack asked.

Anna said, “No schooling, but she was his nurse for years until she got married and moved over to the apothecary.”

They looked at each other for a few moments while the cab jerked to a stop and drivers let their displeasure be heard.

“Now what?” Anna said, finally.

“We go back to sorting through records and interviewing people,” Jack said.

“And if there’s another victim this week?” she asked.

“Then we’ll know for sure that Cameron wasn’t involved,” Oscar said. “Or that he’s still here, set up someplace else in the city and in hiding.”

“Or that the responsible party has been tipped off,” Jack added.

Anna asked, “He might just stop?”

“No,” Oscar and Jack said in one voice.

“He’s got an urge,” Oscar said. “Whoever he is. He may go quiet for weeks or months, but he won’t give up. Maybe he’ll go away and start over, in Boston or Chicago. There’s no way to know, but we do have another lead.”

“You’re still thinking of Neill Graham as a suspect,” Anna said.

“Hard not to,” Oscar said. “You’d think so too, if you heard him talking about operating on women.”

“Things never tie up as neat as you’d like,” Jack said, touching her arm. “Or as fast. Nothing like surgery.”

She gave him a lopsided grin. “So I’m learning. Why don’t you just take Graham in for questioning?”

“Because we haven’t got any proof at all, and if we tip him off he’ll disappear.”

“That wouldn’t do at all,” Anna said. “Not at all.”

“No reason to give up now,” Oscar told her. “Not when it’s just getting interesting.”

•   •   •

IN THE LATE evening Jack forced himself to put aside thinking about the case so he could give in to the inevitable. He turned his mind to packing for the short trip to Greenwood. Anna’s valise was already packed and she had stretched out on the bed with one of her endless medical journals.

Rumbling through the closet, he muttered to himself about the number of coats and vests and pairs of trousers he had accumulated. His sisters meant well but had gotten into the habit of treating him like a mannequin, something that would hopefully stop now. Right at this moment the problem was that he was not just going home tomorrow, but he was taking Anna home with him for the first time. That seemed to require something more than the casual clothes he normally put on to go to Greenwood.

Anna had hung out a summer gown of many thin layers, overlapping in some places and pinned up in others. It was cut loose, like all her clothes, with a square neck that would show a great deal of bosom and her long neck. He was pulling a suit out of the wardrobe when there was a knock at the door.

“Sorry to bother you so late,” Ned called. “But there’s something you will want to hear.”

Jack might have sent him away, but Anna pulled on her robe and tied it while she opened the door.

“Is there something wrong?”

“No. But I talked to somebody who recognized Tonino from my description.”

•   •   •

THE STORY WAS quickly told: Ned had run into an old friend with the improbable name of Moby Dick.

“He apprenticed to a cobbler in Harlem five years ago or more. Hadn’t seen him since he moved. He was down here to show his bride his old haunts.”

Anna tried very hard to harness her impatience, but Jack did not. He made a twirling motion with his hand and Ned wagged his head from side to side in acknowledgment.

“We were just talking, you know, and I mentioned I was looking for this Italian kid. Moby didn’t know anything about him, but his girl did. She’s a teacher at the deaf school.

“Hope, that’s her name, says they’ve got a little boy about six or seven years old, black hair, blue eyes, but he’s deaf. So it’s probably not the kid you’re looking for, but I thought I’d mention it. If you want me to go up there and have a look, I can.”

They were silent for a moment, and then she said, “I can’t remember Tonino ever saying a word to me. Did you hear him talk, Jack?”

Jack had not. “But if he were deaf Rosa would have said something.”

“Children who have suffered a shock sometimes stop talking. They might believe he’s deaf, when he’s just ignoring everything and everyone. Out of self-preservation.”

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