The Gilded Hour Page 82


ON THE WAY to the coroner’s office, alone in a cab with Anna, it seemed to Jack that she had regained her calm, or at least to have gotten the upper hand over her anger.

Sophie had changed her clothes before they left for the coroner’s office, but there hadn’t been time for Anna to go home, and so she still wore the pretty gown she had put on this morning for the wedding. It was pale yellow with a raised pattern woven in; there was a name for it that he couldn’t recall just now, and really, he asked himself, why was he worried about fashions at this moment? He wasn’t, of course. His worries were elsewhere.

He covered her hand with his own and could feel how cold it was, even through her glove.

“Are you worried?”

The question surprised him. He said, “I wish we were married already.”

She smiled at him. “You want some kind of legal grounding to stand beside me?”

“Married or not, nothing less than a bullet would move me from where I am right now.”

She drew in a short, startled breath and pressed her forehead to his shoulder. He had robbed her of words and made her forget her question, which was exactly what he hoped to do. The simple truth was, he wasn’t sure he could lie convincingly, and he was glad not to have to admit to her that he was very worried indeed.

•   •   •

FOR SOPHIE THE first surprise came before she had even gotten out of the carriage in front of the coroner’s office. Newspaper reporters—too many of them to count—were jostling for position like boys at a baseball game. They shouted questions before the horses came to a full stop, their voices clashing, tossing up random words impossible to overhear: Dr. Savard and Cap Verhoeven and coroner and malpractice and marriage. She wondered if the day’s scandals might even warrant an extra edition.

“Don’t,” Cap said. “Don’t engage them in any way.”

“Try to keep your face neutral,” Conrad said. He sat across from her, his hat resting on his lap. “Don’t respond to even the simplest question. Don’t scowl, but don’t smile, either.”

Sophie swallowed hard to make sure her voice wouldn’t wobble. “I will do my best.”

Cap was sitting tucked back into the corner of the leather cushions, his lower face still masked. Sophie saw now that it was flecked with a fine spray of blood.

“You should be at home,” she said. “Right now, turn the carriage around and go home.”

“Nonsense.” The gauze mask puckered when he smiled. “I am perfectly comfortable right here. We’ll drive off a ways and come back to wait around the corner. Then I’ll nap while we wait. Anna and Jack are here. Best to get inside as soon as possible.”

The second surprise was the coroner’s clerk, who was polite and even deferential. Mr. Horner greeted them in a deep, damaged voice and bowed to Sophie and Anna solemnly, without a trace of condescension or mockery. He was a tall, cadaverously thin man, dressed in an ancient black suit carefully pressed and brushed. The knotted wide linen tie at his neck didn’t quite cover a winding scar, as thick and pale as a slug, reaching almost from one ear to the other. A veteran of the war, as were most men of his age.

Anna was studying Mr. Horner too, and Sophie knew her cousin was trying to work out for herself what injury the clerk had suffered, what the surgeon had done, and whether she could have done a better job and left less of a scar. This small evidence that Anna was, as always, more interested in practicing medicine than talking about it gave Sophie a way to focus her thoughts.

The issue before them was medical in nature, and medicine was her field.

They were shown into a meeting room that smelled of stale tobacco and sweat: damp walls, peeling paint, windows grimy with soot, the floorboards warped. City Hall always seemed to be rotting from the inside out.

Conrad’s clerk was already in place, arranging papers and notepads, ink bottles and pens.

Mr. Horner withdrew, closing the door behind himself, and their small party took seats around the industrious Mr. York, Conrad’s law clerk, who had managed to gather a great deal of information in very little time.

“The autopsy report,” he said, pushing a closely written sheet of paper into the middle of the table. “It might be best if one of the physicians read it out loud, sir.”

Anna took it up, to Sophie’s great relief. She thought her own voice would waver, and she didn’t want to give away her fear, not even to her own people.

As soon as Anna began to read, Mr. York turned to the business of making notes, his head lowered over the paper before him.

“It’s dated seven this morning,” Anna said, and read on quickly, stopping to summarize. “He notes normal signs of multiple pregnancies and a recent birth. This is a very blunt, technical document, I should warn you.”

“Read on,” Conrad said. “You needn’t worry about offending anyone here.”

Anna cleared her throat and did as she was asked.

The abdomen shows a standard laparoscopic incision neatly closed which I reopen. I find a puncture wound that passed through the cervix to tear the uterine wall from horn to horn made by an instrument similar in shape to a curette or probe. After sectioning and removal of the reproductive organs, intestinal and mesenteric injuries corresponding to the uterine perforation are visible. A four-inch-long piece of the ileum is torn from the mesentery. Visceral and parietal peritoneum is filled with yellow exudate, fecal matter, serum, albumin, and approximately two quarts of pus. A displaced intestinal loop was covered by fibrino-purulent deposits.

The other abdominal organs showed no irregularities, and beyond these, none other were examined, sufficient injuries being found in the reproductive organs to reach a conclusion.

Cause of death: Shock, septic peritonitis, and blood loss due to an illegal, negligent, and incompetent operation carried out by person or persons unknown between twenty-four and forty-eight hours previous to death.

•   •   •

“IT’S SIGNED DR. Donald Manderston,” she finished. “I don’t know the man. Sophie?”

She shook her head. “The name sounds familiar, but no.”

“At least now we know why we’re here,” Conrad said. “The sticking point is person or persons unknown. Mrs. Campbell’s injuries were not of her own making, in other words. They’re looking for her abortionist.”

“Only if you accept Manderston’s premise,” Sophie said, irritation blooming in her voice in a way she couldn’t temper. “Will this Dr. Manderston be here to answer questions?”

“Oh, yes,” Conrad said. “Here they come now. But Sophie, my dear. Leave the asking of questions to me.”

•   •   •

OSCAR WAS THE last man through the door, winded and windblown, a welcome face for all its ill humor. Somehow or another he had managed to insert himself into this matter, which was a stroke of luck. Another detective might not be quite so forthcoming as Oscar would be when Jack hit him with some difficult questions.

First and foremost, he wanted to know why it was that an assistant district attorney had taken a seat right next to the coroner. A district attorney meant that this wasn’t a simple meeting to clear up a few questions. A district attorney meant blood in the water. In the company of police and prosecutors, the words person or persons unknown were as much as a red flag to a bull. The coroner’s mind-set would be pivotal, and the coroner was an unknown.

Jack studied the man. He had very little to distinguish him beyond a mane of gray hair and an unruly beard. Together they hid almost every inch of skin, while pince-nez spectacles wedged between two lowering brows caught the sun and made it difficult to see the man’s eyes. Jack imagined, very briefly, a barber advancing on that wealth of hair with weapons at the ready.

Hawthorn introduced everyone in the room, starting with two stout, expensively dressed men, the physician Manderston, who had done the postmortem, and someone called Frank Heath, apparently Mrs. Campbell’s physician prior to Sophie. Manderston seemed half-asleep, while Heath was agitated and jumpy. He had nodded at Anna and Sophie with obvious reluctance and something far short of the courtesy professionals owed each other.

Then Hawthorn turned to his left. “And District Attorney Mayo has joined us.”

Conrad Belmont sat up straighter. “This is a simple inquiry, as I understood it. Why is the district attorney here, if I may inquire?”

“I asked him to join us,” the coroner said shortly. “And now I’d like to get started. This is a sad business before us, one that requires some examination before it can be settled. We’ll work backward, I think. Dr. Anna Savard, you were the last physician to treat the deceased. Can you provide some information on your background and training?”

Some of the nervous energy that Anna had been unable to completely govern seemed to disappear, now that the questioning had begun. She simply provided information: what and where and with whom she had studied, her exams and qualifications, hospitals and clinics where she had seen patients, her experiences as a surgeon, organizations that she belonged to, and finally she mentioned her time studying in Vienna, Berlin, and Birmingham, England.

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