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Authors: Susannah Bamford

Blind Trust (28 page)

BOOK: Blind Trust
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“I don't care what you believe,” Darcy said firmly, finally succeeding in shaking Solange's bony hand off her arm. “Now, we'll go downstairs. I've had enough of your hysteria. You will fetch Mrs. Amboy and the extra set of keys. We'll lock the door until tomorrow, when the police can get here.”

“No, I will give the orders now. Mrs. Amboy does not have a key, there is no spare key. Surely you knew that. I will tell Tolliver to post a guard. We will need ice from the kitchens …”

Darcy shuddered involuntarily, realizing what the ice would be for.

“Yes, guilt makes you shiver. And I will also tell Tolliver to send the strongest man to the police. Now.”

Darcy felt the first beginnings of fear. “Now? But the man won't be able to get through—”

“He will get through,” Solange said. “I suggest you remain in your room, Madame Statton, until the police arrive. If you try to leave, I will stop you. Why should you leave, anyway? The police will look everywhere for you. You won't be able to leave the city.”

Darcy saw the wild gleam of fanaticism in the Frenchwoman's eyes. Solange would do what she wanted. Darcy's denials and claims would be ignored. Solange would tell the servants that Darcy had killed Claude, and they would listen and obey her. Everyone would believe Solange's story: that Darcy had attacked Claude with a cane, that she was mad. Darcy saw it all in front of her, the whole stately progression of events. She looked so guilty! Why hadn't she screamed and run downstairs when she found the body? Why was there so much blood on her dress, on her hands? And didn't they all know how she hated him?

“Come, Madame.” Solange took her arm again.

With apparent calm, Darcy pried the long, thin fingers off her arm. She walked ahead of Solange, skirting Claude's body, and went down the stairs and directly to her room.

She heard Solange go down the main staircase. Darcy laced herself into her walking boots, still slightly damp from this morning. She picked up her coat, scarf, muff, and gloves. She wished there was time to change her dress, but she was certain Solange would post a guard on her door, as well.

Moving quickly, she slipped out of her room and went down the back stairs. Without a word, she faced the servants in the kitchen, who were too surprised to see her to say much of anything. Giving an imperious nod to one and all who gaped at her over their cups of tea, she very calmly walked out into the raging storm.

Tavish was having a hell of a day. He had been set upon outside his door late Sunday night, kicked and beaten with weighted gloves, then bound and gagged and bundled into the back of a cart with a tarpaulin that smelled of manure tight over his head, and jounced over miles of New York streets. It was a freezing, painful journey, and Tavish entertained himself by running his tongue over his front tooth, which felt as though it had been snapped in half, and imagining what his new smile would look like. He was comforted only by the thought that his captors were having a rather rough time of it, as the cart slid precariously over the ice from one side of the street to the other, bucking like one of Colonel Cody's broncos in his Wild West show. Tavish had heard some imaginative cursing in his day, but these fellows would take any prize hands down.

It must have taken hours. Tavish wasn't sure. Incredibly, he had fallen asleep for part of the journey. He'd always had a knack for catching sleep when he could. His captors woke him up with a distinct absence of tender concern. A small but very powerful man slung him over his shoulder like a cat and carried him into a ramshackle, filthy, smelly, horrible house on Eleventh Avenue. Terrific. He was in Hell's Kitchen, that most notorious area of Manhattan ruled by Irish gangs who'd sooner gouge out your eye than hear the reasons why not.

While the storm rattled the windows and the snow seeped in through the cracks of a small, bare kitchen, the men argued in thick Irish brogues and drank whiskey. The problem seemed to be that after they killed him, nobody wanted to venture out in the storm and dump him in the usual place, wherever that was. There were some for dumping him right outside the door, but apparently the policemen from the nearby 20th Precinct, who only ventured forth in groups of three, had been unusually zealous lately in breaking up the infamous gangs. Another murder victim dumped on the avenue just might invite a severe crackdown. And nobody wanted that, with spring coming on and summer around the corner, when they'd all want to be outside.

Tavish listened and dozed. He considered the fact that the beating and the clubbing might be a moot point, since he would probably freeze to death on the floor. He thought about Darcy a vast amount. Would she still love him without a front tooth?

He awoke to the sound of singing. He recognized it as an Irish air his mother used to sing. “Mairi's Wedding.” Tavish had a fine tenor voice, and he loved the song. The men were murdering it. He'd been trying to work the gag loose between naps, and now he wiggled his chin and used his teeth, trying not to think of his truncated one, and the gag came loose enough to slip down his chin. Tavish began to sing. His voice came out croaked at first. Then it improved a bit. He sang louder.

Chairs scraped. “What the hell—”

He braced himself for the blow but kept on singing. There was no blow, but the tarp was ripped off and a circle of dirty faces stared at him. Clouds of foul whiskey-breath drifted toward him. Tavish stopped singing and blinked up at them.

“Holy Jesus, it's an Irishman,” one of them said.

Another one spit. “Can't see it makin' a difference.”

“Aye,” the small one with the impressive muscles said. One of his eyes was gone, but he wore no patch. Perhaps he was proud of it. “But he can sing. Where're you from, paddy?”

“Galway,” Tavish said, thickening his accent slightly.

“Terry here is from Galway.”

Tavish nodded. “I sure could use a sip o' that whiskey,” he said.

“Might as well,” the man called Terry said.

“We aren't getting to be friendly, now. I don't want to be knowing what you done to get yourself here,” the one-eyed man warned him as he put the bottle to Tavish's lips.

After taking a quick gulp, Tavish answered, “Sure, I tried to help a lady in distress is all.” The whiskey burned all the way down to his belly, feeling fine.

“I said—”

“He seemed like a rotter, that one who hired us,” one man broke in, taking the whiskey bottle and slugging from it. “All his bags of money won't make him a gentleman.”

“No worse than you, Seamus,” Terry said, taking a long sip and passing it to the one-eyed man again.

Tavish took another sip as the one-eyed man held the bottle to his lips again. He noted that the man had given him a sip before taking his own. It was a good sign, despite the man's tough words, not to mention the disconcerting absence of eye. “Well,” Tavish said, “I won't be telling you what I've done, then, since you're asking me not to. But let me tell you what the bastard tried to do to his wife. It makes a good story, anyway.”

“What the hell,” Terry said. “We've got all night. But do you know ‘Nell Flaherty's Drake,' now?”

Within three blocks Darcy knew that if she didn't get shelter she would die. She was exhausted, every step an effort, and she kept staggering and falling to her knees. She got up as quickly as she could, but she was growing slower and slower at pushing herself up again. The last time she fell, she'd been tempted to lie down and rest for a minute. She knew if she did she might never be able to get up again.

She wasn't sure of the time; the day had been so dark that the coming of night was imperceptible. The wind seemed more ferocious than it had been that morning. She kept to Fifth Avenue to avoid the tangled wires on the side streets. In places the snow was up to her thighs. Darcy began to sob. She would never be able to make it to Lemuel's house. She would never make it out of this unending landscape of ghostly shapes covered with frozen snow.

She had almost passed her only salvation before she recognized it: Hinkle's brownstone mansion. Darcy stopped. Pushing her way through the snow, she grasped the wrought-iron gate and looked up at the house. He would help her. But would she put him in danger by coming here for shelter? Surely he was in enough trouble with the blackmail threat. Claude was dead, yes, but his death had proved that there was another man for Hinkle to fear. Perhaps more than he knew.

As she hesitated, she saw the front door open. Julia Hinkle stood clutching a shawl, her hand shielding her eyes. “Is that you, Father?” she shouted. “I can't see—who's there?”

Darcy stepped forward. “It's Mrs. Statton, Miss Hinkle.” But the wind took her words away. Julia peered out into the storm. Darcy was in the light from the hall now, but Julia didn't seem to recognize her. Floundering in the snow, Darcy struggled to move up the steps. Julia pulled her out of the last drift with a soft but strong hand.

“Mrs. Statton! Why, you look a sight! I didn't recognize you. Come in, come in.”

She did indeed look a sight, Darcy discovered when she took off her wraps in the hall and saw her face in the mirror. Her hair was encrusted with ice and snow—even her eyebrows were frosted. Her face was bright red from the wind, and her eyes were streaming tears. She could not feel her ears at all.

“Not a word, not a sound,” Julia said. “Come upstairs and I'll have my maid attend to you. You need a warm bath and dry clothes, a hot drink … Follow me, please, Mrs. Statton.”

Julia's maid was French, of course, but totally unlike Solange. She clucked and cooed and treated Darcy like a naughty child. It was just what she needed. Darcy slowly began to warm as she drank an entire pot of hot tea and Annamarie sponged her off with warm water. When Darcy's ears began to hurt terribly, Annamarie moaned along with her in sympathy. She wrapped her up in shawls and blankets. Then, when the pain had subsided, Darcy was slipped into a hot, scented tub. She was dried lovingly with heated towels. Annamarie bundled her into a nightdress and a ruby cashmere robe with white satin trim. She added a cashmere shawl in soft rose for her shoulders.

Finally, Darcy sat gratefully in a gold armchair by the guest room fire. In a few moments there was a knock on the door and Julia came in. She had changed into a lilac robe like Darcy's ruby-colored one, and Darcy was touched by her effort to make her feel at ease.

Julia smiled and went to sit in the matching armchair across from Darcy. “Well, I finally recognize you now. You look so much better.”

“Thanks to you. I don't know what possessed me to think I could walk home from my uncle's. It was terribly foolish, I know.”

“It sounds very much like something I would do. I get an idea in my head, and nothing can shake me. But I daresay fifty-mile-an-hour winds would shake me a bit,” Julia said, laughing. “I had the good sense to stay inside, even though I was to have tea with Willie today. Oh, your husband will be worried. Should I send someone—”

Darcy broke in quickly, perhaps too quickly, for Julia's hazel eyes widened a bit in surprise. “No! No, I would not want to be responsible for sending someone out in this storm. It is too fierce, Miss Hinkle. Tomorrow will do. I would be surprised if Mr. Statton was there, anyway. He most likely stayed downtown in a hotel.”

“I hope that is what Father has done. I'm dreadfully worried. He left this morning very early for Wall Street.”

“I'm sure he is enjoying his dinner in comfort at the Astor House at this moment,” Darcy said reassuringly.

Julia smiled. “I'm sure you are right. Now, I ordered trays for both of us. We can eat here in front of the fire. I thought it would be nicer than going downstairs. Is that all right?”

“It sounds marvelous. Exactly what I would like. You've been so kind, Miss Hinkle. I don't know how to thank you.”

“You've saved me a solitary night of desperate anxiety,” Julia said, “so not another word on that score. Here we are, tête-à-tête for the whole evening. Thrown together by this terrible storm. I'm sure we'll tell our grandchildren about this night.”

“I'm sure we will,” Darcy said faintly, looking away, anywhere but Julia Hinkle's frank intelligent gaze.

Julia eyed her for a moment. “Perhaps you should tell me the true reason you were out in the storm, Mrs. Statton. We have a long night ahead of us, and I assure you I am quite a good listener.”

For some reason, Darcy thought of Columbine. The two women looked nothing alike, but Julia somehow reminded Darcy of her friend. She felt the same attraction, and the same trust, with Julia Hinkle. Darcy would need help tomorrow. Julia could give her that help. She had spent so many years being too proud to ask, to confide. Where had it gotten her?

She took a sip of tea. “I'm afraid I might have brought more trouble onto your house,” she confessed.

When they rose at dawn, Julia and Darcy were cheered to see the weak appearance of the sun. “The storm is over, thank the Lord,” Julia said, turning away from Darcy's window.

“And I should be leaving,” Darcy said dubiously, still staring outside. The sun might have been out, but the snow looked as impossibly deep as ever. And she had the feeling the storm was not over, not yet.

“Wait until afternoon,” Julia urged. “The walks will be cleared by then, perhaps. And the horsecars might be running, and the Els.”

“But Fifth will be cleared late this morning, I'd wager,” Darcy said. “I might be able to find a hack.” She pressed Julia's hand. “I can't stay any longer, you know that.” She had told Julia about finding Claude's body, though she hadn't told her the rest. Julia had no idea how her father had been involved, let alone her stepmother. And Darcy had asked several questions about Anne Hinkle. At last, she had a place to head for—Denver, Colorado. Julia hadn't told anyone—not even her father—but she'd had a message from her stepmother from there. Just a telegram telling her not to worry, that she would be in Denver for a time.

BOOK: Blind Trust
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