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Authors: Victoria Thompson

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Murder on Sisters' Row

BOOK: Murder on Sisters' Row
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Table of Contents
Berkley Prime Crime titles by Victoria Thompson
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc. 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada
(a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
This book is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Copyright © 2011 by Victoria Thompson. The Edgar
name is a registered service mark of the Mystery Writers of America, Inc.
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
PRIME CRIME and the PRIME CRIME logo are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Thompson, Victoria (Victoria E.)
eISBN : 978-1-101-51555-6
1. Brandt, Sarah (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Malloy, Frank (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 3. Midwives—Fiction. 4. Detectives—New York (State)—New York—Fiction. 5. Prostitutes—Fiction. 6. Philanthropists—Crimes against—Fiction. 7. New York (N.Y.)—Social conditions—19th century—Fiction. I. Title.
PS3570.H6442M875 2011

To Roselyn and Rosanna,
who taught me the true meaning of charity
ARAH AND THE GIRLS WERE STROLLING BACK FROM THE Gansevoort Market, thoroughly enjoying the crisp fall morning and chatting happily about the purchases piled high in the large baskets Sarah and Maeve carried over their arms.
“Oh, no,” Maeve said when they’d turned the corner onto Bank Street and saw the carriage parked in front of Sarah’s house. “Looks like you won’t be helping us bake any pies this afternoon.”
The carriage most likely meant that someone had come to fetch Sarah to deliver a baby.
“I’m sure you and Catherine will do just fine without me,” Sarah said, looking down at the small girl who clung to her free hand. Her foster daughter looked up, her eyes full of disappointment.
“I’ll miss you,” Catherine said in her whispery voice. When Sarah had first found her at the Prodigal Son Mission, Catherine had been completely mute. She’d only started speaking a few months ago, and she still spoke softly, as if afraid of startling herself with the sound of her own voice.
“I’ll miss you, too. You know I’d much rather spend my days with you and Maeve, but I have to help ladies have their babies. That’s how I earn the money we need to buy things with.”
“I know,” Catherine said, but she stuck her lip out in an unmistakable pout.
“We’ll ask Mrs. Ellsworth to help us with the pies,” Maeve said, naming their next-door neighbor. Mrs. Ellsworth was always available to help the girls do anything at all.
Mention of Mrs. Ellsworth banished Catherine’s pout. Maeve knew just how to cheer her up. Sarah thought for at least the thousandth time how fortunate she was to have Maeve as Catherine’s nursemaid. The girl had also come from the Mission, and the three of them had formed a real family in the months they’d been together.
A young man stood beside the carriage, and he straightened as they approached. He’d been smoking a cigarette, and he tossed it away. He wore a uniform of some kind, and he looked quite dignified when he put his mind to it, although Sarah noticed that he gave Maeve a very efficient once-over. He managed not to be offensive about it, though.
“Can I help you?” Sarah asked when they were close enough for conversation.
“Are you Mrs. Brandt, the midwife?”
“Yes, I am.”
“I been sent to get you. Mrs. Walker, the lady I work for, she said to come quick. If you’d be so kind,” he added awkwardly, remembering his manners.
“Is Mrs. Walker having a baby?”
Something about that question amused the young man, although he controlled his expression almost instantly. “No, ma’am. One of her guests is.”
Sarah glanced at the carriage and the horses. The horses were well fed and groomed, the carriage clean and in good repair. Not a rented outfit but one owned by someone who had the means to care for it. “I’ll be right with you. I just need to get my things. Would you like to wait inside?”
He looked at Maeve again, as if weighing her attractions against his own responsibilities. “I’d better stay with the horses,” he decided.
They went into Sarah’s house, and a few minutes later, Sarah came out carrying her black bag, the medical bag that had belonged to her husband, Dr. Tom Brandt, dead now for well over four years.
The young man hurried to carry the bag for her, but Sarah didn’t release it when he reached for it. “It’s usually faster if I walk,” she said. “Because of the traffic. Unless it’s too far.”
“Mrs. Walker said you was to come in the carriage. She’s very particular, and I wouldn’t want to make her mad.”
And Sarah wouldn’t want to get him in trouble. “All right, but if we get stuck, I’ll get out and walk the rest of the way. Where are we going?”
The question seemed to alarm him, but he recovered quickly. “We won’t get stuck. We don’t have far to go. Just a few blocks north.”
He helped her into the carriage, and she placed the medical bag on the floor at her feet. Then he closed the door and hurried to climb up to the driver’s perch. Only when the door was closed did Sarah notice the curtains had all been drawn over the windows. She pulled back the one at the window beside her to let in some light to relieve the gloom. Then she leaned back on the cushioned seat and tried to relax. This would probably be the last time she got a moment’s peace for at least twenty-four hours. She closed her eyes, hoping to catch a brief nap before she reached her destination, or at least to rest a bit.
Sarah was surprised to be awakened when the carriage rattled to a stop. She really had dozed off for a little while. Disoriented, she looked out the window she had uncovered and saw she was in an alley behind some large houses. The carriage shifted on its springs as the driver climbed down. A moment later, he opened the door and helped her out, taking her bag from her.
“This way,” he said and directed her to precede him down the walkway that bisected the small patch of weedy ground that formed a backyard of sorts for one of the houses. It led to a porch and a kitchen door. A large Negro woman stood in the open doorway. She wore a bright red bandanna tied around her head, and her enormous apron was stained. Her hands were planted firmly on her broad hips, and her expression said she was furious.
“Took you long enough,” she said to the young man.
“She was out. I had to wait for her to get back, didn’t I?” he said.
The woman made a rude sound and stood back so Sarah could enter the kitchen. It was a large, untidy room. The wooden table in the middle of the floor was covered with flour and mounds of dough, where she had been working on some pastries.
The cook looked Sarah up and down, withholding her approval. “You the midwife?”
“Yes, I am,” Sarah said. “Can you show me where to go?”
“Take her upstairs, Jake, and show her Amy’s room. Mrs. Walker’s up there with her.”
“I gotta take care of the horses. Take her up yourself,” Jake said. He thrust Sarah’s bag at the cook and stomped out again.
Sarah smiled apologetically at the woman. “If you’ll just direct me . . .” she began, but the woman was already marching through the kitchen, muttering to herself.
“Miz Walker’d have my hide if I let you be wandering around by yourself. I don’t know what’s got into that boy. He knows my rheumatism been bad lately. I can’t hardly walk, and now he expects me to go upstairs.” The cook pulled open a door on the other side of the kitchen and revealed the narrow back stairs that the servants would use. “Watch yourself on these stairs,” she warned. “Miz Walker’ll have my hide if you falls down and hurts yourself. Come on now. Miss Amy’ll be getting anxious, I expect. Don’t know what got into that girl to go and have a baby for anyways. Foolishness, it is, but you can’t tell young people anything nowadays.”
For all her complaining, the cook made short work of the stairs. Sarah had to hurry to keep up with her. The door at the top opened into a hallway lined with about half a dozen doors, all of them closed.
“Be quiet now,” the cook warned. “All the other ladies is still sleeping, though I don’t expect they’ll be sleeping long once Miss Amy gets started good. I reckon she’ll shout the house down, don’t you?”
Sarah didn’t offer an opinion, although she felt reasonably certain the woman was correct. She had a moment of confusion at the thought of the “other ladies” still being asleep until she recalled that when she’d still lived in her parents’ house as a member of one of the wealthiest families in New York City, she’d always slept late, too. It was a natural consequence of late-night social gatherings.
They moved quickly down the hallway to the third door. The cook knocked once and then opened it without waiting for a response. “This here’s the midwife,” she announced, plunked down Sarah’s bag, and stood back for Sarah to enter before making her escape back down the hall.
The curtains were drawn, so Sarah needed a moment to get her bearings in the dimness. She found herself in a lavishly furnished bedroom. An enormous four-poster bed draped with netting, piled high with bedclothes, and skirted with royal blue satin flounces dominated the room. She saw an elaborate dressing table covered with all sorts of bottles and jars, and a wardrobe with one door ajar and a riot of petticoats hanging out of it. At the far end of the room stood a chaise and a pair of upholstered chairs in a grouping, as if for conversation. A woman had been sitting in one of the chairs, and now she was up and walking to greet Sarah.
“Mrs. Brandt?” she said. “I’m Rowena Walker. I’m so grateful you could come.” She looked to be about forty, but Sarah couldn’t judge accurately in the dim light. Her voice was well modulated and cultured, and she wore a housedress of rose pique, something Sarah’s mother might have worn to breakfast except for the excess of lace trimmings at the throat and cuffs.
“I’m glad I was available.” Sarah heard a moan and turned toward the bed, where she could now see a woman lay amid the confusion of satin coverlet, pillows, and sheets. “Is this my patient?”
“Yes, young Amy. This is her first.”
Sarah went over to the bed and greeted the young woman with a smile. Amy looked as if she might be about twenty and quite attractive under other circumstances. At the moment, she was moaning, her face twisted in pain, and her golden blond hair ratty and tangled. Her nightdress was silk, Sarah saw with surprise, and cut unusually low in the front. It was stretched taut over her rounded belly.
BOOK: Murder on Sisters' Row
6.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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