The Gilded Hour Page 54

She straightened and patted his cheek. “I don’t mind. As long as you’ll take my ‘Yes, I will’ as an answer to your ‘No, you won’t.’”

Jack gave a low laugh that she decided to read as surrender.

They sat down on a bench that was so new the hardware shone, and Anna turned her attention back to the skyline. Dusk was dropping down, casting the kindest of lights over the worst of the city, a sugar glaze that might fool the eye for the few minutes it lasted. But it was her city, the only home she remembered. She had left once to test herself and come back again.

She said, “Sometimes I work twelve- or fourteen-hour days. I am called out I would say on average two nights a week. And I will always be a doctor. I will never give up practicing medicine.”

“Yes,” he said. “I recognize that about you. I see it.”

She hoped he was being honest with himself. “Aunt Quinlan calls me a freethinker, but in fact I’m an agnostic. I don’t care what you believe, if it gives you comfort. But I will not convert.”

Jack nodded as if this were no surprise. “Go on.”

“I’m not—I have—” She was irritated with herself now. He was being his usual calm, rational self; she could be no less. She said, “I’m not a virgin. My experience is narrow, but I’m not a virgin. I’ll answer questions if you have them.”

He shook his head, the muscle in his jaw rolling in a way she couldn’t read.

“Is there more?”

“Yes,” Anna said. “I’m working up to it.”

She thought of Sophie, who had encouraged her to say these things, to be clear. Sophie, who would be Cap’s widow though she could be his wife only in name. She would bear the loss, and so could Anna.

She said, “I break the law on a regular basis, and without remorse. And I will continue to break the law as long as I am able.”


She let out a small sigh of relief at his matter-of-fact tone.

“Yes. I make information available in certain very strict circumstances and I also provide . . . recommendations, where possible. We—I am uncompromising about my patients’ privacy and my own safety because I can’t help anyone if I’m sitting in prison.”

He was watching her. “You’ve just confessed a crime to me. You trust me.”

“I do,” Anna said, her voice catching. She waited until he nodded for her to go on. “I do trust you. Am I wrong?”

“No.” No hesitation, no doubt.

She went on. “So you must know that whatever situation I find myself in eventually—with you or anyone else—I will use contraceptives. Until.” She stopped herself.


“Until the time is right.”

He drew in a deep breath. “I see.” And after a moment he said, “It’s better than the alternatives.”

“Do you think so?” Anna wanted to touch his face but stopped herself. “Do you mean it’s better than bringing an unwanted child into the world, or it’s better than abortion?”

She had finally unsettled him.


He was still talking to her, which gave her the courage to tell him the rest.

“I agree with you that it’s better than the alternatives. But again, you should know—” Her voice was suddenly hoarse. “You should know that under certain circumstances I would perform an abortion. I haven’t yet, but I might someday. I don’t know if you realize, but I would guess that at least a hundred successful abortions are performed every month, in this city alone. Poorer women care for themselves, but hundreds of procedures are done by doctors and midwives, and done safely. You only hear about the cases that have gone wrong.”

“Is that something you see a lot?”

“All the time. Usually when a woman comes to the hospital after a badly done abortion it’s already too late. But I have never reported the few who survived. And I never will.”

“And their doctors?”

“I ask, but so far no one has ever given me a name. I’m not sure what I would do in that case. It depends on the circumstances.”

Jack looked away over the river to the west. He was breathing deeply and evenly, and his arm stayed where it was, around her shoulders. As a minute passed and then another, a deep sadness began to gather in the corners of what Sophie would call her heart. Her vulnerable heart.

He started to say something, paused. “Would you—” he began. “Would you yourself—”

Anna interrupted him. “I can’t imagine a situation where I would want an abortion for myself.” She heard Sophie saying, Leave no room for misunderstanding, and she went on, reaching for the right words. “But that is at least in part because I have reliable access to contraceptives and understand how they work.”

She held herself very still against him, aware of the pulse in his throat and wrists, the beat of his heart. In the next minutes she might have to walk away or watch him walk away, but until then she could be glad of his strength and warmth and the solid fact of him.

The breeze turned cool as the sun slid over the edge of the world. Anna recited to herself the simplest truth: there was nothing more for her to say; she would not argue or reason or persuade.

•   •   •

NOT YET. JACK had heard himself say those two words. They were nothing but the truth, and still he hadn’t meant to speak them aloud. Not yet. And now she sat beside him, waiting for him to admit that she had been right. He had aunts who lived their lives in cloistered convents, a first cousin who was a Jesuit. He was a police officer sworn to uphold the law. She was not wrong to worry; if there were no more to him than those two facts he would have no choice but to wish her well and go. Touch her face one last time, trace the line of her brow and jaw, the curve of her cheek.

She was looking at him with such solemn purpose. If he left her now he would never be able to cross this bridge without seeing her sitting on this bench, her hair undone by the wind and loose curls falling across a cheek burnished red in the cool evening air. But he wouldn’t leave her. He didn’t want to.

“Well,” she said, shifting as if to move away from him and stand up. But he held her firmly and shook his head when she glanced at him.

“Don’t run off,” he said. “There are things you should hear about me before you abandon ship.”

That got him a smile. Tentative, dimple-less, but a smile nonetheless, and she let herself be coaxed back to sit beside him, tucked into his side.

“This is a very serious conversation for such a beautiful evening,” he said after a while. She hummed her agreement but didn’t throw him the lifeline he was almost hoping for. So he took a deep breath.

“You read in the paper how corrupt the police department is,” he began. “And for the most part, the rumors are true.”

He told her about the storekeepers who pressed things into a cop’s hands to gain his attention and good graces. He took his share of free meals, cab rides, cigars, bottles of whiskey. Once in a while he studiously overlooked the sale of lottery tickets and went home with a few folded bills in his pocket. There were times he was rougher than he needed to be with criminals, and was responsible for a cracked rib or a bloody nose now and then. On occasion he had let somebody stew in the Tombs for an extra couple of days until he could make a case that would stick in front of a judge.

He had some rules that he didn’t break: he never arrested a hungry child for stealing; he’d settle things with the grocer or baker or tavernkeeper and then send the kid on his way with a warning. He wasn’t rough with women or cripples or the feebleminded, though he had had cause on more than one occasion.

Jack looked down at her and waited until she raised her head to meet his gaze.

“Unless there’s a felony or children are involved, I don’t arrest prostitutes,” he said. “Male or female. And I never take bribes from them or the people they work for.

“There are other things, most of them pretty small. Right now what you really need to know is, I paid more than one bribe to get on the police force, and then again to get promoted.”

“Ah,” she said. “Because you’re Italian?”

He shook his head. “Everybody pays. It helped that they needed another detective who speaks Italian, but sure. I still paid more than I would have if I had an Irish last name. The plain fact is, nothing happens without money changing hands. There are more than a few cops out there who would make good detectives, but they’ll walk a beat until they drop dead, because they don’t have money or the right connections. And there are crooks and worse in the city who have never spent a day in jail and never will. Every saloonkeeper pays, every week. The same is true for dance halls and gambling joints and opium dens and disorderly houses. The ones you read about in the paper, the ones who do end up in jail are almost always there because they couldn’t or wouldn’t pay the bribe.”

She was watching him calmly, waiting. “Are you a part of that?”

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