Read No Comfort for the Lost Online

Authors: Nancy Herriman

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths, #Historical, #Medical

No Comfort for the Lost (9 page)

BOOK: No Comfort for the Lost
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• • •

C
elia, still wearing her garibaldi and holland skirt, crouched in the garden. She was pulling weeds among the rosebushes, which were just beginning to put on fresh leaves. Addie liked to shake her head over Celia whenever she came out here. It was not much of a garden and certainly very different from the magnificent flower beds her aunt had maintained in Hertfordshire. All they had in San Francisco was a patch of land with a set of wicker chairs and some rosebushes, two poles with a clothesline stretched between them, and a spot of wet ground where Addie tossed refuse.

But Celia came outside to work in the garden and listen to Mrs. Cascarino singing in her kitchen, to watch for seagulls whirling overhead, and to breathe in the smell of the warm soil. Calming, all of them. And Celia needed calming after the morning she’d had. After she had left her patient, she’d visited five different surgeons, none of whom was willing to make a trip to Chinatown to help a dying Chinese prostitute. She’d approached a sixth and begged him until he claimed he would see what he could do. His promise was the best Celia could accomplish. She’d saw the arm off herself, but she did not have the proper tools or necessary training.

Celia felt the first drops of a rain shower and stood, wiping her gloved hands down the apron she’d borrowed from Addie, and regarded the rosebushes. Her aunt would be appalled by their sickly appearance. Perhaps, though, if Celia paid them some attention this year, they would eventually thrive.

“Oy! Ma’am!”

She spun about to face the voice. “Owen! Good heavens, you startled me!” What a relief to see him, though.

He closed the gate behind him, his left arm hugging his side. “I’ve got some news.”

She peered at him. “Are you hurt?”

Owen glanced down at his side as if he’d just remembered it. “Fell into a ditch. I was listening in, you see—”

“You fell into a ditch?” She peeled off the thick gloves she wore when she worked in the garden and hurried over to him. “Does it hurt to breathe?”

“A little. But it’s not bad. The ditch weren’t so deep,” he said, winking.

She prodded his ribs. “Cough, please.” Owen did as ordered, wincing, but she could not feel any bone grating against bone. “Just a bad bruise, I think. Or a tiny fracture.”

He grinned at her, revealing a dimple. “That’s good, then.”

The rain started to fall more steadily. “Come inside and explain to me what caused you to fall into a ditch.”

They retreated to the kitchen, interrupting Addie, who was busy making shortbread. The kitchen smelled sweet as Addie pulled the biscuits from the little oven in the Good Samaritan stove.

“Sit,” Celia said, pressing Owen into a chair.

He sniffed the air and smiled blissfully. “You’re the best cook, Addie, know that?”

“Owen Cassidy, you’d eat anything set before you, so you can save the compliments,” she replied, but she looked pleased anyway as she set the biscuits atop the stove to cool.

“So, the ditch?” Celia asked him.

“A bunch of fellas got together last night, you see. To talk about them rioters and how rotten unfair it is they got sent to jail.” He watched Addie as she slid shortbread onto a plate. “But I wasn’t invited to join them. So I thought I’d just give a listen at the window of the house where they were meeting.”

“What did they say?” asked Celia.

“There were talking mean, saying there’s a man who’s planning trouble for the Chinese, and then they started laughing. Well, it weren’t like funnin’ laughing, or nothing.” Owen scrunched up his face at the recollection. “They want to burn ’em out, Mrs. Davies. Them Chinese and anybody who hires ’em.”

Burn them out.
“Did you happen to hear this fellow’s name?”

“All I heard was
Connor
. But there are dozens of Connors around.”

“Yes, I know.” It was a popular name among the Irish. But still, this was information to share with Mr. Greaves if he did not already know it.

“Och,” muttered Addie, and she set the plate of shortbread in front of Owen, who scooped a biscuit into his mouth.

“And then one of ’em came to the window,” said Owen, his mouth full, “and I got scared they’d see me outside and I ran off. But it were already dark and I didn’t remember the ditch that’d been cut along the road and I fell in. Banged up my side.” He patted his ribs.

“How serious do you think they were about attacking the Chinese?”

“Don’t know, ma’am. They do like to talk big, but sometimes they like to cause trouble, too.”

Did they also like to slink around in shadows and spy on people? “You did not hear any of these men mention us here, did you, Owen?”

“Nope,” he said, looking worried. “You think they might be after Miss Barbara again? I mean, more than what those kids said to her the other day?”

“I was hoping you might be able to tell me.”

“I’ll give a listen. How’s that?” he said.

Oh dear. I have put him in more danger.

“You’re a brave laddie, Owen, you are,” said Addie. “And for being so good, you may have another biscuit.”

The boy happily obliged. “By the way, Addie,” he said, dribbling crumbs down his shirt. He licked a finger to catch them up and pop them into his mouth. “I might know somebody who’d like to go walking with you along North Beach some Sunday. Like to meet him?”

Addie colored. “Whisht, lad, what sort of nonsense are you talking? A friend of yours? Whatever gave you such an idea?”


You
did. Don’t you ’member?”

“No, I dinna remember,” she said, and turned back to the stove, slamming a pot onto the hob.

Owen chuckled and jumped up. “Thanks for checking my ribs, Mrs. Davies.” He snapped up a handful of shortbread. “I’ll be going now.”

With a grin, he stuffed two into his mouth and darted out the rear door.

• • •


I
t’s about time you got up here, Greaves,” said Captain Eagan, moving aside a stack of papers he’d been reviewing.

Nick stepped into the captain’s office, a nicely furnished room with a soft carpet and polished wood paneling. A room that didn’t stink like the police station in the basement.

“A woman was visiting Tom Davies,” Nick said. “I wanted to hear what they had to say to each other.”

Eagan eyed the clock on his desk. “It’s outside of visiting hours.”

“Have to take advantage of opportunities when they arise.”

The captain inhaled, his burnished police badge winking in the glow of the gas chandelier. “It’s come to my attention that you’ve been questioning Joseph Palmer. What the hell’s that all about?”

Time to tread carefully, Nick.
“I’ve learned the murdered Chinese girl knew him and might have met with him the night she was killed. She was looking for money to leave town.”

Eagan leaned forward. “And you’re thinking that Joseph Palmer, one of the most respected men in San Francisco, met this girl and ended up killing her? That’s ridiculous.”

“It’s a lead, sir. I’d be stupid not to follow it.”

“No, where you’re stupid, Greaves, is messing with him,” said Eagan. “Take my advice and leave Palmer alone. Men like him can cause more trouble than it’s worth. Trust me.”

Nick stared back at his superior. There were days when he despised the captain, even though his uncle had thought the world of Dennis Eagan.
The best police officer you’ll ever meet, Nick. Do as he says, and you’ll go far.

Eagan might be the best police officer Nick would ever meet, but the captain was too cozy with men who liked to throw their weight around. Men like Palmer.

“I’m just doing my job, Captain.”

“You’re wasting valuable police time on this, Greaves,” Eagan shot back. “We have a suspect in jail. And I hear Taylor’s involved. Mullahey, too?”

Nick refused to say anything that would get them in trouble. “I’m not convinced Tom Davies is guilty. I want to be sure.”

“The chief is unhappy, Greaves,” said the captain. “Sure, he doesn’t like the violence against the Chinese, but he hates even more the complaints he gets from the good citizens of San Francisco. They pay taxes so we’ll keep them and their property safe. They don’t expect us to bother with crime among the Celestials, especially the murder of a girl from a bagnio.”

“The ‘Celestials’ pay taxes, too.” Hefty ones.

“You need to wrap this case up. I want you done by Tuesday, when the grand jury’ll meet. No more police time wasted on a dead Chinese girl after that. Hear me?”

By Tuesday? Who was he kidding? “I want a week at least to concentrate on this case.”

“Tuesday,” Eagan repeated.

“Nobody could be done by Tuesday, Captain. A week.”

Eagan regarded him. Overhead, the gas flames flickered and snapped.

“I only put up with you, Greaves, because your uncle used to be one of the best men on this force,” he said. “But I’ll only give you until Wednesday. And if I think you’re slacking on cases that deserve more attention, you can be damned sure I’ll yank you so fast off this one, you won’t know which way’s up.”

Nick strode out of the room. Downstairs in the detectives’ office, Taylor was waiting with Tessie Lange.

“Miss Lange,” Nick said, sweeping past her. “Thanks for taking the time to talk with me again.”

“What do you want, Detective?” she asked.

“I have some more questions for you.” Nick settled into his desk chair and gestured for her to sit. “First off, who is this Connor fellow?”

“You were listening.”

“Answer the question.”

“He’s a friend. A good friend of Tom’s. They used to work together when Tom first came to San Francisco.” She looked at Taylor, who was engaged in his usual note taking. “They took a liking to each other. I met him through Tom.”

“A last name?” asked Taylor. “And don’t bother to make one up.”

She swallowed. “Ahearn. Connor Ahearn.”

Irish.
What a coincidence,
thought Nick. “Why did you go to see him about Li Sha?”

Tessie shrugged. “I was being stupid about that. I thought he might know something.”

Hmm.
“But he didn’t?”

“Not that he’d admit.”

“And he hated Li Sha for some reason. Why was that?” Nick asked.

“He sympathizes with the Anti-Coolie Association.” She narrowed her eyes. “Are you asking me about him because you think he killed her?”

“Do you think it’s possible?” asked Nick, kneading the old wound on his left arm.

“It wouldn’t be safe for me to say, Detective Greaves.”

But if he was the man she’d met in the Barbary, she wasn’t all that afraid of him.

“Why did Tom Davies claim you hated Li Sha, too, Miss Lange?” Nick asked. “Were you jealous of her, his new woman?”

She blanched, the recognition that she’d become a suspect dawning. “I wouldn’t hurt her.”

“You knew she was pregnant. Yet when I came to talk to you at the store, you didn’t mention it.”

She dropped her gaze. Taylor was writing as fast as he could.

“Where’d you go after you left Davies’ room Monday night?” Nick asked.

“Home. Ask my father.”

“About what time did you get there?”

“Around eight thirty or nine, I think. I’m not exactly sure. I don’t own a pocket watch.”

“Rather late for a young lady to be out on the streets by herself,” observed Nick, steepling his fingertips and staring over the top of them. “Especially coming from Tar Flat.”

“Tom accompanied me part of the way.” Tessie raised her head and looked at him. “I was hoping to get Tom back by being with him that night, but it didn’t work out. We were together for a short time and then I went home.”

“And you didn’t meet with Li Sha, pretending you would give her money so she could leave town, but killing her instead?” asked Nick.

“Money? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Nick looked at her long and hard. He believed her about the money; the rest . . . he wasn’t so sure.

“We’re done here, Miss Lange. For now.”

In her haste to stand, she knocked over the chair. She ran out of the room like the hounds of hell were after her.

“Maybe?” asked Taylor, lifting an eyebrow.

“Maybe.”

• • •


W
hat did Owen have to say when he came by this afternoon?” asked Barbara, standing in the doorway of Celia’s examination room. Her hair, in braids, hung down over her mauve cotton wrapper.

At her desk, Celia cleaned the nib of her pen, replaced the lid to the glass inkwell, and closed her notebook. She welcomed the interruption. The lines of her entries, painstakingly recorded symptoms observed and medications dispensed, as well as follow-up questions she needed to ask, had been swimming before her eyes.

“Apparently there is grumbling among those who are sympathetic with the Anti-Coolie Association,” said Celia. “They are planning more violence, it seems, and they might also target the employers of Chinese labor.” Which was what Mrs. Douglass had also mentioned to Celia. “Owen is not positive they’re serious, however.”

“Do you think they’ll come here and hurt us?”

“No, sweetheart. Not at all. We are safe in our home,” Celia said. “Have you finished your schoolwork for the day?”

“I left it on the dining room table for you to check.”

“Thank you. Go ahead up to bed. And try not to worry.”

Barbara nodded and left, passing Addie, who was on her way into the examination room.

“Your supper’s gone cold, ma’am,” she said.

“I forgot all about eating.” Just then, Celia’s stomach rumbled. “I wish I could be certain I am right to tell Barbara not to worry about what’s happening.”

“Dinna fash, ma’am. As my father would say, care will kill a cat and she has nine lives. Worry only causes ill.”

“But didn’t he also say you should not put your hand out farther than your sleeve will reach? We must be cautious. All of us.”

“Aye,” Addie agreed. “Oh, by the by, there was a note left at the door.”

Addie reached into the pocket of her rust calico print skirt, withdrew a folded and sealed piece of paper, and set it on Celia’s desk. “If we’re all to be cautious, we ought to ask Madame Philippe if Owen’s in danger for telling us about that Connor fellow.”

BOOK: No Comfort for the Lost
10.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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