Authors: Nancy Herriman
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths, #Historical, #Medical
Addie led Barbara into the house.
Celia caught sight of Owen Cassidy, his wool cap set at a jaunty angle, moving down the street, kicking a stone along the plank pavement. He shot a glance at a scrum of boys, home from school and playing a boisterous game of French and English, trying to pull the opposite line of their mates across a mark scratched in the dirt. He slowed, perhaps hoping they would invite him to join in, and walked on when they did not.
“Owen!” Celia called.
“Aye, Mrs. Davies!” He trotted the rest of the way to the house. “You’re not busy now. I came by before and you was with a patient. Didn’t want to disturb you then, but I was just wondering how Mr. Smith is doing. You know, looking for my ma and pa.”
The anticipation on his face caused her breath to catch. She never had the news Owen most wanted. She had paid Mr. Smith, the strange man she’d hired to seek out news about Patrick, to search for Owen’s lost parents as well. He’d had no more luck discovering their whereabouts than he had learning if Patrick was still alive.
“Mr. Smith has not found them yet, Owen,” she answered.
The boy’s face fell. He had the clearest green eyes, full of weariness and cynicism, emotions no child his age should possess. He claimed he was fourteen; his eyes made him look much older.
“Don’t give up hope,” she said.
“Right, ma’am,” he responded, his courage tugging at her heart.
“I need to ask you something very important,” she said. “It might help the police find the person who hurt Li Sha.”
“That’s awful, ain’t it, ma’am? She was nice to me.” Kindness was Owen’s measure of anyone’s worth. “But it’s just something that happens to people like me and her, people nobody wants, I guess.”
Exactly what he had said to Barbara. “Who was it in particular that might not have wanted Li Sha, Owen? Someone you know?”
He shrugged. “There’s all kinda anger out there, ma’am. It don’t have to have a name.”
All kinds of anger.
“Just now, several boys confronted Barbara on her way home from Chinatown. They shouted dreadful things at her.”
“Who was it?” Owen asked, tensing. “I’ll whup ’em!”
“I do not need you to whup them, Owen,” she said. “But I was wondering if you have heard anyone—those who hate the Chinese, I mean—discussing plans for something worse than shouting foul names or beating people up.”
His eyes widened. “I kin poke around, try to find out,” he offered, happy to have a purpose. “How’s that?”
“That would be very helpful, but promise me you’ll be careful. Any such men might be dangerous.”
“Shucks, ma’am, who’d bother with me?” he asked brightly, suddenly unconcerned by what had happened to Li Sha or to people like him.
He dashed off, a whistle floating on the air behind him.
• • •
hat did Harris say, sir . . . Mr. Greaves, sir?”
Taylor followed Nick to the detectives’ office and dropped into the chair in front of Nick’s desk. Briggs, who shared the office, was out again. To Nick’s mind that was like winning the lottery.
Briggs had left behind crumbs from the molasses doughnuts he liked to eat, and a line of ants crawled across the floor. Nick crushed some under his boot and went to sit in his chair, the window at his back, the afternoon breeze stirring papers on his desk. He steepled his fingers and rested them against his chin, which was scratchy with stubble. In a rush to speak with the coroner that morning and visit the Langes, he’d forgotten to shave.
“Dr. Harris concluded what we’d thought, Taylor: Li Sha was definitely dead when she was tossed into the bay; there wasn’t any water in her lungs. He also agrees she was murdered elsewhere. Her blood had pooled, indicating she’d lain someplace for a while after death.”
The coroner had been clinical as he’d recited his findings. The girl had been sliced by a sharp-edged blade across the stomach just below the ribs. There were multiple cuts on her forearms, indicating she might have attempted to fend off the blows from her attacker. She’d had significant bleeding on the brain and a fracture in the skull where it struck or was struck by an object, the probable cause of death. Also, the multiple bruises on her face had likely been received within a few days of her murder, although she had a misshapen rib from an old injury. A thin abrasion of unknown origin ran along the back of her neck, and she was in general good health, although there were indications she’d had the sorts of diseases prostitutes were prone to.
Lastly, she was around four months pregnant and carrying a female child.
We were gonna name her Katie . . .
“Did you learn anything from the folks living near the wharf?” Nick asked Taylor. “Any unusual wagons in the area that night, or people out of the ordinary hanging around? The murder either occurred very near the wharf or her body was carted there. The perpetrator couldn’t have gone completely unnoticed.”
“Hard to get much information out of that bunch,” Taylor replied. He dragged his notebook from his coat pocket and flipped through the pages. “One of them claimed he saw a gent in a fancy carriage, though, but his friend said he was too liquored up to know his right hand from his left. Another fella commented that it was raining hard around ten or eleven that night and nobody smart was out of doors. That’s about it.”
It was much as Nick had expected; it was almost impossible to get people to talk in this town, especially the boatmen and longshoremen who lived in the rough shacks near the wharves. “Did you ask at the Chinese Mission if Li Sha had been there lately?”
“The reverend who runs the place said he hadn’t seen her for weeks.”
“She had to go someplace. I doubt she was sleeping on the street. Too dangerous.”
“I’ll keep asking around, sir.” Taylor scribbled more notes. “When I came into the station this morning, sir, one of the men told me he’d heard some Chinese servant over on Jones Street had been pelted with rocks. Maybe somebody who sympathizes with those anti-Chinese groups forming all over the city got an idea to pick on a girl.”
“You might be right,” said Nick. “I came across some kids yesterday who were harassing a Chinese laundry boy in a Chinatown alley. Seems things are getting worse out there.”
Nick knew somebody who could tell him; it was a long shot that she’d provide answers, though.
“I can’t figure out why her, though, sir,” said Taylor.
“Neither can I. Maybe Li Sha was killed for a reason we haven’t considered. Or maybe simply because she made an easy target. She walked alone at night from Lange’s store to wherever she was staying.” Tom Davies’ lodgings were about half a mile distant, the Chinese Mission as well.
“What did the Langes have to say?” Taylor asked.
“They’re blaming the anti-Chinese groups, too.” Nick scratched the stubble on his chin. “Strange duo. About as skittish as a pair of unbroken horses.”
“Could one of them have killed her?”
Nick rubbed the ache in his left arm. The pain and numbness had been worse these past couple of days. Maybe it was because of the damp. Or maybe it was because he’d been dreaming about the war.
Dreaming? Having nightmares was more like it.
“They’re both tall enough to overpower a tiny Chinese woman,” he said. “Even Miss Lange. And they probably have a sharp knife or two in their kitchen.”
“But why do it?”
“We’ll have to discover a reason, Taylor.”
There was a knock on the door, and Mullahey stuck his head through the opening. “Got a moment, Mr. Greaves?”
Mullahey nodded at Taylor and took the other empty chair in the room. “I just got done talkin’ to that dockworker. The one who stumbled over Wagner and the body of that Chinese girl. Told me he saw somethin’ funny.”
“He’s only mentioning it now?” asked Nick.
Mullahey shrugged. “Anyway, he says when he first came along the pier, he noticed this fella, Wagner. On his hands and knees on the edge of the pier, which is what got his attention to begin with. Thought it was odd. He claims it looked like Wagner was tryin’ to push somethin’ down into the water. Didn’t realize at first it was a body.”
“Whoa,” exclaimed Taylor. “But I checked Wagner’s story, sir. Wife says he was with her Monday night, all night, and went to work at his usual time. And his boss says he was sent to the pier Tuesday morning to inspect a ship come in from Manila. So he had a good reason to be there.”
“Yeah, okay, Taylor,” said Mullahey, looking annoyed.
“Maybe Wagner’s wife is lying and he did kill her, sir,” Taylor said. “Came in extra early for some sort of liaison with the girl that went sour. We know he beat up a Mexican sailor. He might just like to hurt people.”
“Wagner told me he doesn’t visit Chinese prostitutes,” said Nick. Plus, according to Mrs. Davies, Li Sha had left prostitution behind. “How would they have known each other?”
“Wagner could be lying about that, too, Mr. Greaves, sir.”
“So when that dockworker came along, Wagner lost his chance to hide his dirty work,” said Mullahey, brightening.
“And Wagner claims to have found her body in the bay in order to throw us off!” With his thumb, Taylor crushed an ant crawling along the edge of Nick’s desk. “I mean, who’d ever suspect the fellow who found her, aside from us? He mighta thought he’d be in the clear. Plus, he’d know there wasn’t much going on all night down at the wharf, wouldn’t he? Since it’s his job to know when ships are coming in.”
“Should I bring him back in, Mr. Greaves?” asked Mullahey.
“Yes. Bring Wagner back in.”
• • •
elia turned the corner of the street housing Mr. Lange’s apothecary shop. Just a few doors down, she could see all was dark behind the tall windows. She quickened her steps and noticed the
sign hanging over the roller shade, the blinds partly drawn. Had Mr. Lange forgotten she needed to replenish her supply of gum arabic and had planned to come by? Celia leaned forward to peer through the gaps in the window blinds. Lamplight flickered in the back room, visible beyond the open curtain.
She tapped on the window. “Mr. Lange? Miss Lange?”
A shadow crossed the room’s far wall, the motion hasty, furtive, and the lamp was extinguished.
Celia considered what to do. It would be a waste of time to have come all this way only to return home without her supplies. Perhaps if she knocked on the door leading to their private residence, they would answer.
She found access to the alleyway that ran behind the row of buildings and hurried down the passage, scattering rats foraging through garbage as she passed. As she approached the Langes’ back door, she saw a figure hunkered within a heavy shawl and deep-brimmed bonnet slip away and take off briskly.
“Miss Lange!” she called to the woman, who did not stop.
Had she been mistaken? Celia counted doors. No, she was not wrong. That was the rear door leading to the Langes’ residence above the shop. And the woman had been Tessie Lange. She recognized Tessie’s checked brown dress and unusual height. Where was she headed so secretively?
Celia hastened after the woman. Up the road, she spotted Tessie rushing north along Kearney Street, zigzagging through traffic and pedestrians. Was she headed for the police station for some reason? But she hurried past that building without slowing. Celia dashed across an intersection in pursuit, drawing a shout from a produce-wagon driver who reined in his horse to keep it from trampling her.
Tessie glanced over her shoulder and turned right down Jackson. If she continued on this path, she would be heading out of the Barbary Coast and toward the warehouses, the lumberyards, and the docks beyond, where the masts of ships bristled like a forest of denuded trees tethered to the piers.
Celia’s heart pounded in her chest. Her hair was coming unwound from beneath her hat, and she was certain she’d kicked mud onto her skirt. Addie would have a fit when Celia got home.
They were approaching Montgomery Street on the Barbary’s far edge. A heavy-shouldered stevedore whistled at Celia as she rushed along. Mariners milled about in the streets, headed for the deadfalls and brothels that now lay behind Celia: Kanaka sailors put in on a Sandwich Islands whaler; Canadians off steamers loaded with timber; olive-skinned South Americans from ships loaded with coffee, tobacco, and cocoa. Not the sort of neighborhood Hubert Lange would like his daughter to frequent.
Suddenly, Tessie halted and darted another glance around her. Celia squeezed behind a pile of lumber propped against a wall and pressed a hand to her side where she had gotten a cramp. Two doors down, a tavern girl leaned in a doorway leading into a dim basement liquor den, her arms folded over a turquoise silk dress, its best days long past. She slid Celia a curious look. Beyond the woman, the proprietor shouted at a drunk sprawled on the sawdust-covered floor. With a smile for the girl, whose dark eyes widened, Celia stepped out from her hiding spot and rushed into the alleyway she was certain Tessie had gone down. There, in a shadowy doorway, she was talking with a man—
Suddenly, Celia was grabbed from behind and yanked backward, pain shooting through her shoulders.
“What in . . . Don’t make me curse, Mrs. Davies,” the man’s voice hissed in her ear. “But what in God’s green earth are you doing here?”
“That hurt, Mr. Greaves.” Celia squirmed in his grasp. A pair of men entering a nearby oyster shop looked over.
“Hey!” one shouted, and started toward them. He must have decided Celia wasn’t a prostitute or a tavern girl, based on her clothing, and needed rescuing.
Mr. Greaves released his hold. “Just a little misunderstanding,” he said, raising his hands.
“Yes. A misunderstanding,” Celia grumbled. She forced a smile and thanked her rescuer. The stranger doffed his cap and joined his mate in the oyster shop.
“There was no need to manhandle me, Detective,” she protested, straightening her cloak.
“Did you spot the pickpocket following you?” he asked sternly.
Celia looked around. “What pickpocket?”
“That’s what I figured,” he said. “And what are you doing in the Barbary without a guard? I thought you had a whole passel of constables to show you around.”
He shifted his stance so his back was to the rough wooden clapboard of the adjacent building. Policemen must always seek to protect their backs, afraid that someone might sneak up behind them and catch them unawares.
“I didn’t have time to seek one out,” Celia answered in a tone as sarcastic as his, tucking loose hair into the pins holding her chignon in place. “And your attempt at protection made me lose sight of who Tessie Lange was talking with.”
His brow furrowed. He did look quite fierce when he did that. “You might want to explain yourself.”
“I went to visit the Langes. The shop was closed—earlier than usual—and I spotted Tessie hurrying away. It looked as though she didn’t wish to be recognized. Since her actions struck me as odd, I thought to follow her. I did not see the harm.”
“You did not see . . .” The detective groaned. “I thought I told you not to go snooping around in Chinatown, Mrs. Davies.”
“This is not Chinatown, Mr. Greaves.”
He was not amused. “Listen, ma’am, if you have any information or suspicions, you need to share them with me, not chase them down yourself. I am responsible for this investigation, not you. Promise me you’ll stop interfering.”
She hesitated. She dared not tell him about the request she had made of Owen; he would only grow angrier.
“Promise me,” he repeated.
“Mr. Greaves, don’t force me to make promises I shan’t keep. Li Sha came to me for help, and my brother-in-law appears to be the primary suspect in her death, though he has yet to be arrested.” It was only a matter of time until he was; she was certain of it. “I have a responsibility to them both, and I was not attempting to interfere. I followed Tessie because I didn’t have time to come to the station to inform you of her behavior. Although apparently I wouldn’t have found you there since you are also in the Barbary, skulking down back streets.”
“It’s my job to skulk,” he said, and headed toward the alley exit.
“I cannot help but wonder, though, why Tessie would come here,” said Celia.
On the far side of Montgomery loomed great buildings of commerce and shops selling fine goods to the upper crust of San Francisco. Just behind the side they stood on, though, were the stews and taverns. It was no place for a proper young woman. No place for Celia, either. She had not been thinking clearly to have followed Tessie here with evening approaching and no police escort. She was fortunate to have been accosted by Nicholas Greaves and not the pickpocket she hadn’t noticed.
“What did the man she was talking to look like?” he asked.
“He had reddish hair, a beard, I think, and the most outlandish yellow-and-red waistcoat. Do you know him?”
“Might be a shock to discover, ma’am, that I don’t know every man who lives near the Barbary.”
“I shall endeavor to recover from such a revelation, Mr. Greaves.” They stepped onto the broad pavement of Montgomery Street, leaving behind the sounds of laughter and arguments, jangling music starting up. “You do realize how very close we are to the wharf where Li Sha was found.”
“Yes, I do,” he said stiffly.
“Am I annoying you, Mr. Greaves?”
He gazed over at her, an eyebrow arching. “What do you think?”
She continued asking questions anyway. “Have you discovered where Li Sha was staying in the days before her murder?”
“I did just tell you this is my investigation, didn’t I?”
“It is a simple question.”
He muttered beneath his breath, words she could not discern. “Not at the Chinese Mission and not at the Langes’.”
“I’m seeing a patient tomorrow morning, Dora Schneider, who knew Li Sha. They met at a charity event I organized last autumn. Dora talked to Li Sha when everyone else ignored her. Perhaps she will have some information.”
Mr. Greaves halted. “Do you ever intend to listen to me, Mrs. Davies?”
“I will let you know what Dora has to tell me. I promise,” she added.
“Just like you were going to tell me about Tessie Lange’s odd behavior, I suppose.”
“Do not say you do not trust me,” she responded with a faint smile. “I would be most hurt.”
Which made him laugh.
• • •
ick watched Mrs. Davies stride up the road. He worked to convince himself he was standing there because he half expected her to take a detour and continue her pursuit of Miss Lange. To be honest, he was actually standing there to catch a final glimpse of her before he continued on his business. She had the sort of carriage women got from balancing books on their heads, but she was spit and fire behind those sophisticated British vowels. And he had a soft spot for spit and fire.
Tugging his hat lower and turning on his heel, he headed for Pacific Street, the destination he’d been bound for before he’d spotted Celia Davies racing along Kearney like a coonhound on a scent.
Nick scanned the road, which was crowded with soaks and gamesters and thieves, noting the dour men who studied him through open doorways and around the edges of faded velvet curtains, prepared to chain and bolt their doors if the cop—they knew he was police even though he didn’t wear a gray uniform with an obvious badge—made a move to barge inside and start throwing the law around. Since the chief of police rarely received any complaints about Barbary crime from the folks who mattered to him, the proprietors weren’t much at risk from Nick doing any such thing.
He located the saloon he sought,
painted on a wooden sign tacked to the lintel. Unable to choose its neighbors, it was located next door to a brothel with the unoriginal name of Mrs. Brown’s House of Joy. One of the brothel residents reclined within the depths of the curtained doorway, smoking a cigarillo, her skirts hitched up to reveal red petticoats and shapely bare ankles, a sliver of early-evening sun warming her skin.
She noticed him stopped on the street and stubbed out the cigarillo on the stone step before scrambling to her feet. She was pretty, young, with thick brown hair and big brown eyes. Part Mexican, he’d guess, and not so long on the streets that she’d grown haggard before her years. She smiled; she had all of her teeth. She wouldn’t for long, if she kept smoking cigarillos.
“You looking for company, mister?”
Nick pitied her; he always pitied them. Not that a single one of these street girls wanted pity so much as they wanted cash. Enough cash to get away from the depravity and the squalor, the abusive customers, the drunks and brawlers. He would give her some, but if he pulled out a coin here, he’d be identified as a mark within seconds and pickpocketed before he could even reach for his purse. Besides, every evening she was probably searched by Mrs. Brown or one of her lackeys and stripped of any money found on her.
“You shouldn’t be asking me,” he said.
He tapped the brim of his hat. “Good day to you,” he responded and descended the steps leading into the basement saloon.
A stove warmed the space, and gas lamps lit the tin ceiling. The proprietor was cleaning tables while in the tiny kitchen beyond the main room his wife was frying wurst, preparing for the evening crowd that would turn up around seven and stay until it was kicked out at twelve. This was a nicer saloon than a lot of those in or near the Barbary, with a better clientele.
“Mina?” he asked the girl’s boss, a barrel-chested German with a handsome smile.
“She is in back, Detective Greaves,” he answered, returning to the walnut bar near the large front window. “Leave the door open.”
“You must want to hear the shouting, Bauman.”
The German laughed and started stacking clean glasses on shelves.
The saloon was not only nicer than a lot of them; it was bigger, too, with two rooms of living quarters for the Baumans and a spare room for the musicians to rest and prepare for the night’s entertainment. Nick nodded to Mrs. Bauman as he went down the hallway adjacent to the kitchen.
He paused in front of the closed door, an uneasy feeling in his chest. Removing his hat, he knocked and didn’t wait for her to tell him to come in.
“It’s not time yet, Herr Bauman.” She looked up. Her dark eyes met Nick’s in the mirror propped against the wall over the dressing table where she was seated. Her pink lips, lips he had once thought tasted as good as they looked, fell open. “Nick.”
What the hell are you doing here?
Just his name. Which said a whole lot about the months that had elapsed since the last time they’d seen each other. It said even more about all the pain he’d caused when he’d told her it was best he walk out of this room and out of her life.
With a swish of striped purple-and-yellow silk, she spun about on the stool. She’d saved for months to buy the dress, which Nick hadn’t realized when he’d made the mistake of asking who the admirer was who had bought it for her. She had a mean slap when she got angry.
She was lovely even in the harsh flare of the gas lamps turned up high to help her apply the scant amount of makeup she wore. She had lustrous black hair and skin that was as smooth as silk on every inch he’d ever touched. Her temper could be quick to flare and quicker still to burn out, but she had been able to make him laugh. He’d needed to laugh when they had first fallen in together. After Meg had killed herself.
“I’m busy, Nick.” Her face had settled into hard lines. He hadn’t exactly expected her to jump into his arms. “I need to finish getting ready so I can have a bite to eat and get some practice in before the place opens. We have a new pianist tonight. Who knows what tempo he’s going to take for some of those songs. I’d rather not find out the hard way. Herr Bauman wouldn’t like that.”
“I won’t take long.”
“You’ve already taken too much of my time.”
He let that comment go. No point in bringing up old arguments. “What do you know about the anti-coolie groups? Any of them in here complaining, talking about causing trouble?”
“This is about the murder of that Chinese prostitute. That’s why you’re here.” She let out a harsh laugh. “Business first, like ever, eh, Nick? Your blasted work. Always so damned important. More important than anybody or anything else. You never change.”
So much for not wanting to bring up old arguments.
He turned his hat in his hands. When he drew in a breath, he inhaled the tuberose perfume she used and recollected a woman who smelled of soap and lavender. A woman who didn’t have reasons to despise him.
“I told you then that getting involved with me was a bad idea, Mina.”
“And you were right.”
“Back to my question.” He’d apologized once for breaking her heart; he wasn’t going to again. “This is serious, Mina. I need to know if you’ve heard anything. Might one of them be behind the girl’s killing?”
“Hell, Nick.” She let out a breath. “I don’t remember hearing anything about folks hankering to kill a prostitute, if that’s what you’re asking. I don’t think any of the men who come in here and complain over their beers would go that far. It was probably one of her customers.”
Mina sounded indifferent, but he knew she sympathized with the girls on the streets, girls who had it a lot rougher than she did as a woman who didn’t have to sell her body in order to survive.
“Ever hear of a man named Wagner? A customs official who likes to beat up people?” He described the man.
“No, Nick. I don’t know the man. He’s never been in here.”
“So that’s it?” he asked. “That’s all you’re going to tell me?”
She licked her lips and contemplated him. He didn’t like that he could read concern in her eyes. After all they’d said to each other, she could still care. “I’ll let you know if I hear anything. But that’s all I can promise. Don’t ask me for more.”
“Thank you, Mina.” Nick placed his hat on his head, leveling the brim with a sweep of his fingertips. “And I’m sorry.”
“Don’t bother. I don’t believe you.”
He turned on his heel and strode out into the hallway.
“Be careful, Nick!” she called to his back, proving that his obsession with work wasn’t the only thing that never changed.
• • •
elia had waited until she was certain Nicholas Greaves hadn’t followed her before retracing her steps to Mr. Lange’s shop. As she’d hoped, he had returned and was outside on the street, speaking with a man who had his back to Celia.
“Mr. Lange,” she called out.
The stranger turned toward her. He caught her eye, frowned, and rushed off. He must not appreciate being interrupted.
Mr. Lange let him go without comment. “Madame Davies. It is good to see you. The news about Miss Li . . .” He shook his head sadly and escorted her inside the shop.
Apparently, the stranger had distracted Mr. Lange while he had been preparing pills. A mahogany pill roller and a bowl of reddish paste bound together by plant gum and glycerine waited on the shop’s large table.
“I cannot believe it, either,” she said.
“A detective was here to talk to us. Do you think the police believe we are responsible?”
“Of course not. They’re merely being thorough.”