The Gilded Hour Page 35

“Do you think the detective sergeants forgot us?”

She said, “It’s just been since Sunday. And no doubt they are very busy.”

“I thought they were going to help.”

Anna swallowed the last of her coffee and said, “If we don’t hear something today, then we will write a note to them this evening.”

Rosa gave a cautious and extremely doubtful nod.

•   •   •

OVER THE COURSE of the day Anna repeated to herself the things she had said to Rosa: the detective sergeant would be very busy. Jack Mezzanotte had already done them a great service by introducing her to Father Anselm; it was foolish to wait for the man or even to think about him. So severe was she with herself that for a moment she thought she must be imagining him when she left the hospital to find him waiting for her in the lobby.

He stood there completely at ease as people came and went around him, late afternoon light falling in narrow stripes so that his face was half in sun and half in shadow. But his smile was open, and it transformed his face; he was not a police officer, in that brief moment, but a man who was pleased by something he saw. And he was looking at her.

Beyond that odd fact, he looked exhausted. Anna reminded herself that it was not her place to notice such things about the man, and even less her place to instruct him on his sleeping habits. She returned his smile with one of her own.

“This is a surprise.” She saw some of the tension leave him, as if he hadn’t been sure of his reception.

“I was on nights most of this week, and things were busy.”

“Language lessons?”

He grinned at her. “Among other things. I found the father.”

The abrupt announcement made no sense to her at first. “Father?”

“Carmine Russo. It occurred to me it would be easier to find and claim the boys if we found the father first.”

It had never crossed her mind that one Italian immigrant among many thousands could be found. If it had, she wouldn’t have known where to start looking for him. Beyond that she was unsure of how to feel about Carmine Russo, who had abandoned his children.

She said, “Where is he, exactly?”

“On the island.”

She took a moment to think it through. Blackwell’s Island could mean only a few things and none of them good: he had been sentenced to the New York City Penitentiary or the workhouse, admitted to one of the hospitals for incurables, or committed to the almshouse or the insane asylum. And there was the smallpox hospital. All of that encompassed by those two words: the island.

The detective sergeant was saying, “He’s been sentenced to six months in the workhouse. For dissipation and disorderly conduct.”

A habitual drunk, then. “You’re sure?”

“The details fit, but I can’t be sure until I go talk to the man. You aren’t obliged, but I thought you might want to see for yourself. I have a prisoner to transport being held at the dock on the police boat, and a cab waiting.”

Anna dreaded the very idea, but if she balked at this first real challenge, what part of her promise to Rosa could she keep? The detective was watching her, his expression giving away nothing at all. He wouldn’t try to convince her, and that alone was enough to resolve the question in her own mind. The fact that her pulse had picked up was simply an inconvenient and regrettable biological response to a man, one she could resist. There were more important things at stake.

She turned and called to the porter, who had been watching the conversation from the other side of the room.

“Mr. Abernathy, would you be so kind as to send a message to Waverly Place? Tell them I went out on a call and may be a few hours at least.”

Mr. Abernathy had a frown that would stop most troublemakers in their tracks, and now he turned it on Detective Sergeant Mezzanotte.

Again Anna tried to get his attention. “Mr. Abernathy?”

His voice came gruff and disapproving. “If you’re sure, Dr. Savard.”

“I am. Thank you.”

But Jack walked across the foyer and said something to the porter. To her surprise, the older man’s expression shifted immediately, and he accepted the hand Jack Mezzanotte offered. Anna had never seen Mr. Abernathy shake anyone’s hand.

As soon as the cab had started off she asked, “Whatever did you say to the porter?”

“He’s a retired patrol officer, so I introduced myself.”

“But how could you know that he’s a retired police officer?”

He shrugged. “That scowl of his is standard issue.”

“I still don’t understand,” Anna said. “Why would he disapprove of you?”

One eyebrow peaked. “You’ve never had a man come calling for you at the hospital, have you, Dr. Savard.”

This felt like more of a challenge than a question.

“You think he saw you as—” She stopped and fought hard to keep her expression neutral.


“You tell me,” she said. “Why should he be suspicious of you?”

“If you had a daughter your own age and a strange man called for her, you wouldn’t wonder about his intentions? Or hers?”

Anna heard herself sputtering. “He is not my father, obviously.”

“But you are a young woman in his care. He saw me as a potential threat.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“He can’t know that. I’m a man who is showing interest in you.”

There was a moment’s awkward silence.

“Is that what you’re doing?”

He shook his head at her, as though she had said something very silly. Then he leaned forward and lowered his voice.

“Do you really not know the answer to that question?”

“So you’re saying that you didn’t come by to talk to me about Carmine Russo.”

“I’m not saying that at all. I did need to talk to you about Carmine Russo, but this was also an opportunity to see you away from the hospital.”

“You’re embarrassing me,” Anna said. And at that very moment her stomach announced that she had not taken time for lunch.

Without hesitation he reached into the pocket of his overcoat and handed her something wrapped in brown paper, still warm. He said, “I should have thought about your dinner; I apologize. I didn’t finish mine; please go ahead.”

There were a dozen things a lady was supposed to say in a situation like this, all adding up to polite but firm refusal. It wouldn’t do to eat in public, in front of a stranger, in a cab, without the most rudimentary implements. But Anna was hungry and he had passed her his linen handkerchief to serve as a napkin.

She unwrapped what turned out to be half of a very large sandwich. The smell was so rich that she gave up all pretense and simply bit into it, hot and salty and exploding with flavor. The meat had been marinated in some combination of oil and lemon and garlic, and all of that had soaked into the bread, grilled until it was crisp at the edges. The pork itself was thinly sliced and succulent and Anna heard herself make a capitulatory sound.

After she had swallowed and used the handkerchief to blot her mouth she said, “Detective Sergeant Mezzanotte, I have never tasted anything so delicious in my life. I hope you really did eat, because I think you’d have to arrest me to get this back.”

•   •   •

JACK TRIED TO temper his smile, but it was hard work. Her willingness to admit both hunger and pleasure in her food was surprising and intriguing, both. The polite thing would have been to avert his gaze while she ate, but he seemed to be incapable of courtesy until she was almost finished. Then she folded the wrapping paper, blotted her mouth once more, and sighed.

“That was excellent,” she said. “But don’t tell Mrs. Lee; she thinks she’s the only real cook in the city.”

“I had that impression,” Jack said. “I imagine she likes having the little girls to feed.”

Anna thought of Mrs. Lee, who served plates piled high three times a day. “So far they’ve kept up.” She went on to tell him about the changes in the household, the way their sedentary habits had been turned upside down, and how positive that seemed to be.

“Lia is interested in everything. Rosa is interested primarily in the Directory of Social and Health Services. Margaret is teaching her to read from it.”

“Your cousin Margaret seems to have taken on their cause without hesitation.”

“We all have,” Anna said. “Margaret just has more time to spend with them. And since her sons went off to travel, all her maternal instincts have been frustrated. She’s delighted to have the girls to look after.”

Jack saw the corner of her mouth twitch.


She looked at him. “Do you read minds?”

“I read faces,” he said. “Is there a problem?”

“Not with the girls,” Anna said. “Everyone in the house dotes on them. Mr. and Mrs. Lee compete for their time.”

And then she fell silent. In the evening light he saw new color in her cheeks. Something she was embarrassed or just reluctant to talk about, then.

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