The Gilded Hour Page 30

Her eyebrows lifted ever so slightly. “Today? Now?”

“Unless you have other appointments.”

She seemed to bristle a little, as though she disliked the idea of being waited for. “Close enough to walk?”

“A half hour, at a reasonable pace.”

She got up, and so did he.

“I’ll take your bag,” he said, but she swung it away from him.

“Peremptory of you, wouldn’t you say?”

She was in a prickly mood. He looked forward to this walk.

•   •   •

THEY MADE THEIR way along the park to Greenwich Lane and then north, through neighborhoods of small houses and tenements. On this warm spring afternoon people had come out to sit in the sun on their stoops, grandmothers and children just walking, invalids and cripples, war veterans too numerous to count. A toddler lurched up and down the sidewalk with an older sister close behind.

A group of young girls were playing skully, stopping just long enough for Jack and Anna to pass by. As they approached a vacant lot, a whole pack of young boys came racing onto the sidewalk. In the middle of the group a grinning boy held a bloody pocketknife up, waving it like a trophy. He was limping, but his expression was pure victory.

Anna took in the details automatically: he was filthy from playing in the dirt, but he looked well nourished, and more important, he looked like a boy with no worries beyond the next challenge to his status as victor. No doubt he didn’t even feel the wound on his foot.

“Oh dear,” Anna said. “Mumblety-peg.”

Jack laughed. “You don’t approve.”

“Do you know of any woman who does? There’s something wrong with a game that you can win by pinning your foot to the ground with a dirty pocketknife.”

“That’s not the only way to win.”

She looked at him sharply. “Did you play mumblety-peg with your brothers?”

“We still do, now and then.”

She stopped, her mouth falling open.

“Boys bloody themselves,” he said. “One way or the other.”

“Yes,” Anna said grumpily. “And they lose toes on occasion, too. I’ve sewn up more than a few lacerated feet over the last few years.”

They walked in silence for a long minute. Jack had decided that discretion was the better part of valor and was declining to argue the merits of this particular game.

“The world is a dangerous place for children,” she said finally. “As we both know too well. Those boys were just Tonino Russo’s age.”

Jack said, “Let’s hope Tonino has nothing more dangerous than a game of mumblety-peg to deal with.”

Another longer silence, in which they both remembered that they might never know what became of Tonino or his brother.

“You know,” Anna said, “Rosa cries herself to sleep, but she’s very careful to present a calm face to the world. She doesn’t even ask about the letters Sophie and I have written, or the list of places we’re putting together to visit. The only thing that’s keeping her from breaking down is Lia. For Lia she puts on a brave show.”

“And you?”

“I’m not much of an actress, but then I don’t spend very much time with them. Margaret and Mrs. Lee and Aunt Quinlan deal with the day by day, and all of them have vast experience with orphaned children. Sophie and I are prime examples.”

He was studying the sidewalk, it seemed to Anna. Trying to find something to say. She hoped he would realize that she would not want or need sympathy.

“Rosa said something to you about your brother, back in Hoboken. I’ve been thinking about it ever since.”

Anna kept her silence, and he took this as permission to go on. “She said that your brother failed you, and you agreed.”

“Did I,” Anna said. Her voice caught a little, but he seemed determined to go on.

“What I was wondering was, has anyone else ever said as much to you? That your brother failed you?”

“No,” Anna said. “Of course not. My brother was a West Point graduate. He was an army officer, and he did his duty. He was proud to do his duty. For that he deserves respect.”

After a moment she glanced at Jack and saw an expression she didn’t really understand. Not pity, she was fairly certain. Uncertainty, reservation, confusion. She was struck quite suddenly with an almost overwhelming fear: he would ask questions now, questions she didn’t want to think about, much less answer.

An ambulance came rattling past them, pulling up to the portico at St. Vincent’s, just ahead. Anna picked up her pace a little.

Just that simply the conversation slipped away.

•   •   •

JACK SAID, “DOES it make you curious, the ambulance?”

She seemed surprised by the question. “You mean professional curiosity, I suppose. Is that how you feel when you see an arrest being made?” And without waiting for his answer she went on.

“I wouldn’t call it curiosity, but a kind of awareness, a tensing. After a while you can gauge the situation by the way the ambulance drivers move and by their voices. My guess is that this isn’t a very serious case, so no. I’m not interested enough to interfere.”

She had been easy with him, until they started talking about the Russo boys and then, by extension, her brother. He wished now that he had waited for another time to ask questions. She intrigued him, she surprised him. She went on surprising him while very little seemed to surprise her. But she was not without scars, ones she had no intention of showing or even, he realized now, acknowledging, even to herself.

She said, “Do you think that a woman wouldn’t be able to cope with the realities of the work you do?”

This tone he understood; she was irritated and willing to let him know that.

“Your sensibilities don’t strike me as fragile,” he said. “So let me tell you about yesterday morning. A cobbler with a business on Taylor Street killed his wife. He is more than seventy, she was less than thirty.”

She seemed to be interested. “Jealousy?”

“Italians make an art of it. So we got the call and went out, but the cobbler disappeared before we got there. We spent most of the day looking for him and were about to give up—it was just getting dark—when he walked past me. This was in the Italian colony in Brooklyn. It’s not hard to disappear for a few days at a time over there.”

Anna said, “You recognized the cobbler?”

“I had a description—short, bald, a gray mustache—”

“That must describe hundreds of men. You’re smiling. Is there a joke here somewhere?”

Jack rubbed the corner of his mouth with a knuckle. “Not a joke, but maybe a bit of a secret weapon. I’ll tell you how I caught him: I asked him a question.”

She made a gesture with her hand, impatient for him to go on.

“I was standing on the corner when he walked past me. He fit the description so I said, ‘Hey, Giacalone!’ and he stopped and turned. Then I said, ‘So why did you kill your wife?’ He told me, and I arrested him. End of story.”

She had stopped and was looking at him the same way he might look at a pickpocket with a dodgy alibi. “Why would he do that? Just because you used his name?”

“Don’t you turn when somebody calls your name?”

“Yes, probably. But I wouldn’t confess to a crime on that basis. There must be something more to it.”

She liked puzzles, clearly, and would ask questions until she got to the bottom of things.

“Yes, there was more to it. I said it in his language.”

“You spoke Italian.”


“They don’t speak Italian in Sicily?”

“The Italians in Sicily do. The Sicilians do not. I can see you don’t believe me, but it’s true.”

“Say it for me. First in Italian and then Sicilian.”

“A command performance,” Jack said, giving her an exaggerated bow from the shoulders. “‘Perchè hai ammazzato la tua donna?’ would be a colloquial, friendly Italian. ‘Picchì a ttò mugghieri l’ammazzasti?’ is Sicilian. Or one kind of Sicilian.”

They walked on, and he could almost hear her thinking, looking for flaws in his story.

“There is more than one Sicilian language?”

“Dozens of dialects of Sicilian. Hundreds of dialects of Italian.”

“How is it you speak Sicilian?”

“I don’t, really. I just have a collection of sentences at the ready.”

Her mouth contorted as if she were repressing a smile. “Do tell.”

“‘Why did you kill your wife—or friend, or neighbor?’ ‘What did you do with the money you took?’—that kind of thing.”

“Are Sicilians responsible for most of the crime?”

“Oh, no,” Jack said. “Which is why I know how to say those crucial sentences in more than one kind of Italian.”

She was quiet for a full minute. “Detective Sergeant Mezzanotte,” she said a little huffily, “I think you’re pulling my leg.”

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies