I stayed where I was, drawing one steadying breath after another. It's almost over, I told myself. Just a few more weeks. After that, the new agents would disperse—to Washington, Boston, San Francisco, every place deemed important by the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. Even Mr. Jackson would head back to Chicago, and then it would just be Thomas and me, the only two agents of the special branch permanently assigned to New York. How I longed for that day.
But in the meantime, there was a job to be done, so with a rueful sigh, I headed back to my room and started packing my trunk for the train ride back to New York. We had shades to catch.
OF HACKS AND HANSOM CABS—PEAS IN A
POD—A CONVENTIONAL MURDER
We arrived in the city a few minutes after sunset. A cold gray drizzle drifted down over Grand Central Depot, polishing the paving stones to a high gloss. Gentlemen hunkered under their umbrellas, ladies burrowed deeper into their fur tippets, and horses blew out plumes of steam under the glow of the gaslight. I pulled my own shawl more tightly about my shoulders, casting a despondent look at the hack stand—deserted, of course, it being nigh on impossible to get a cab in the rain in New York—but I needn't have worried. As usual, Thomas had planned ahead. "That's us, I believe," he said, steering me toward a carriage painted in the distinctive yellow of the New York Cab Company. "A coach." I shivered with relief at the sight of its snugly enclosed confines. "Thank goodness. I don't think I'd have managed a hansom cab in this weather."
"My dear Rose, when have you ever known me to take a hansom cab? I'd rather walk."
Plenty of New Yorkers felt the same, but I was surprised to hear an Englishman say so. "I thought hansoms were all the rage in London."
"There are few subjects upon which I take the American view of things, but on the matter of two-wheeled carriages, they certainly have the right of it." He opened the door and offered a hand up, and I ducked gratefully inside.
It was a short ride to 726 Fifth Avenue, and we arrived to the wonderful aroma of Clara's cooking. Somehow, in spite of all the extra duties Clara had to contend with since being appointed housekeeper and overall manager of Thomas Wiltshire's household, the quality of the dishes she turned out had only improved. With her typical modesty, she'd put it down to giving herself a more generous budget for ingredients, but I knew the truth: It was a sign that she was happy.
I went down to the kitchen and hugged her in greeting. "What's cooking? It smells incredible."
"Bouillabaisse," I echoed wonderingly, peering under the lid of a simmering stockpot. "How exotic!"
"About as exotic as fish soup. It only sounds fancy 'cause it's French."
"Well, it was obviously a lot of work." Scraps littered every surface of the kitchen, and the apron wrapped around her petite form was as spotted as a pinto pony. She even had flour in her braids.
"It'll warm your bones, anyway." Clara went back to kneading dough for her famous biscuits, her fine-boned hands a blur of practiced motion. "Been like this for days. Can't say I'm ready for winter."
"I am," I said with a bit too much feeling.
She eyed me sidelong. "That the Irish in you, or ain't you having much fun out there in champagne country?"
"You know perfectly well which it is. I've done nothing but complain about it for weeks."
"Don't I know it."
"One of the privileges of being my best friend."