A Body on the Bed
February 27, 1906
Detective Sergeant Jonathan Lloyd Abercrombie III stared down at the body of Thaddeus Forthwright IV and bit his lip. As soon as the murder had been reported, Police Commissioner Harry Burke had sent for Jon and refused to allow anything to be moved. Another society crime. I might have known. Now the commissioner paced back and forth across the room, fidgeting with his bowler hat, but not touching anything.
"Pictures?" Jon asked.
"The photographer's on his way." Burke fished a cheroot from his coat pocket and stuck it in his mouth, but when Jon gave him an impatient look he didn't light it. The commissioner, a large, bluff Irishman who still spoke with something of a brogue, had been asked before not to add things like dead matches and cigar ashes to murder scenes.
Jon busied himself with his notebook, writing quick descriptions of all that he saw and making notes of what things he'd like to take into evidence. At twenty-seven, Jon was the youngest detective sergeant on the force and though he frequently heard remarks about his rapid advancement in the department being due to his family's influence, he had learned to ignore them. "Rich kid" they called him, when in actuality Jon had no other income than his salary. True, his attorney father was quite rich and his sister, Jillian, was very rich indeed, but Jon himself had almost nothing. Having no cost-of-living expenses was one of the reasons he lived in his sister's house on Hunter Street, but the least important one. Jon was genuinely fond of his sister and he felt protective of her as well, so living in her home was both a pleasure and a duty. Besides Genevieve Desmond, the woman he loved, had refused to marry him at least a hundred times and she was his only good reason for moving out.
Jon sighed and told himself silently to get his mind back on business. He noted a vast quantity of home remedies, including purges, bromides and a generous-sized bottle of Heroin cough syrup, and another of Fowler's solution littered among the gleaming silver-backed combs and brushes on the dresser and thought the victim had perhaps been something of a hypochondriac.
The body lying on the bed was naked, but for a pair of silk drawers, though a fresh shirt and trousers lay across the foot. The bullet had pierced his neck and traveled upward exiting at the temple, just above the left eye, but the damaged side of his face lay against the pillow. Forthwright had been thin, tall, and sported a trimmed-back mustache that hardly looked worth the trouble to shave around it. Except for the mess on the headboard he might almost have been asleep. He smelt of gunpowder, some kind of fancy cologne, and death.
"Did you find the gun?
"Outside the front door in the bushes under that window." Burke pointed across the room, then indicated a short-barreled, .22 revolver small enough to fit in a lady's reticule. The pearl handles gleamed in the lamplight. "Four cartridges left, only one fired. The cartridges are old rounds and the barrel doesn't seat well. Wonder it even went off."
"Powder burns behind his ear, but nothing on his hands. Who found him?"
"The wife ... she went out to the theater. Came home late. Said it must have been an accident."
"Oh, sure." Jon gave the commissioner a disgusted look. "Same as Mayor MacLane year before last. Cleaning his gun. Shot himself in the head by accident." Jon looked at the window across the room by the desk. "Except in this case Forthwright threw the gun out the window afterward, shut it, and went back to bed? Tidy of him."
"MacLane's death wasn't your case and I don't want to hear you mention it ever again, boyo. But this one's yours--all yours. And I want results."
"I'll do what I can, but I don't know him, nor anything about him. Living up here on Bolton Hill--he's not in my precinct. Why, me?"
"Well, now he works in your precinct, boyo. He runs Buckland Shipping now that the old man's in residence over to Forrest Street."
"He's some relation Mrs. Penelope sent down from Philadelphia to run things here while Buckland's in prison. Not that your old man has made it easy for him. I hear that Buckland Shipping is in sad shape and may go belly-up."
Jon's face looked pale as he stepped back to make room for the photographer. "I thought we'd heard the last of the Bucklands. This will upset my sister. It's bound to."
"Do your best to keep Miss Jillian right out of it. As for hearing the last of Buckland, I wouldn't rightly count on that. Seems the old man's been angling for a pardon from the Governor's office. He might get out yet--if his pockets are still deep enough when your old da gets through with him."
"Surely you don't think the governor--?"
"Well, perhaps not. But his staff makes recommendations now, don't you know? The poor fellow might sign something recommended without checking too close into it then, might he not?"
Jon's sister Jillian, once engaged to the Buckland heir-apparent, had certainly suffered enough at the hands of his family. But keeping her "right out of it" would be downright impossible. Jon had learned at an early age that there was no keeping secrets from his sister. With another sigh he said, "Let's go talk to the wife."