Victoria Thompson

Murder On GramercyPark

The third book in the Gaslight Mysteries series, 2001


With thanks to Julie and Georgia and all the members of the Vicious Circle, past and future, for helping me keep my head on straight, my feet on the ground, and my sanity intact (not to mention all the plotting, character analysis, and general advice you’ve provided through the years). Couldn’t have made it without you!


SHE THOUGHT OF THE PAIN AS A MONSTER THAT dwelled inside of her. For long periods of time it slept, and then slowly it would begin to stir. It started with a dull ache as the beast came awake. Then it grew and grew as the monster dug his talons into her neck, squeezing and squeezing, the pain a living, breathing thing that consumed her, obliterating thought and light and even the air she breathed.

She welcomed the monster, greeted him like a beloved friend, because he gave her the only proof that she was still alive. For a few blissful moments, from the time the monster stirred until the pain became so great she had to cry out, she was awake and aware and alive, almost the way she’d been before.

She gritted her teeth, holding back the moan of agony that came rumbling up from the depths of her soul, stretching out those moments as long as she possibly could. Opening her eyes to see sunlight or lamplight or a human face. Drinking in every vision with the clarity only those who were denied even the most basic pleasures of life could experience.

But sooner or later the moan or the scream or the sigh would escape, and they would know. Those who loved her. Those who could not bear to see her in pain. They would press the glass to her lips and force her to drink the bitter draft, the magic potion that would put the monster to sleep again. For a few more seconds she would revel in the beast’s assault, counting each precious one of them until she felt the talons loosening their grip, slowly, slowly, ever so slowly, one by one by one, until the pain was gone and the monster slept again beneath the golden haze of the drug.

For long months she lay like this, watching each of the seasons pass by the window beside her bed. She had given up hope of ever tasting the outside air again, of ever walking down a gravel path or sitting a saddle or dancing a waltz or feeling the embrace of a lover. She had thought she would lie here forever, until at last the beast devoured her.

And then he came.

He was the only one who would put his hands on her. The only one who dared. He knew the name of the beast, and he put his hands on her and strangled it, choking it and killing it, and setting her free. Only one man could do that, one man in all the world.

Edmund Blackwell.


FRANK MALLOY FIGURED SOMEONE AT POLICE Headquarters must be mad at him. Why else would they send him out to investigate a suicide? Any drunken moron in the Detective Bureau could have handled this, and God knew, there were plenty of them to spare.

Of course, as soon as he’d heard the address, he knew why he’d been chosen. Gramercy Park. Some rich swell had blown his brains out, and the family would want the matter settled quietly. Frank knew how to handle the boys from Newspaper Row. He’d done it often enough. Give them just enough to keep them happy but not enough to cause the family any hardship. No hint of scandal could escape, and Frank could be trusted to be discreet.

As he approached the house, he glanced at the park surrounded by the high, gated fence that only residents of the streets around it could enter. The small patch of carefully tended grass and shrubbery would look like heaven to the urchins living on the Lower East Side who never saw anything green except rot. Here the swells had a fence to keep even their own kind from trampling on it.

When he checked the address, Frank realized with a start that he knew the house. He’d been there several months before, when the previous occupant had been found murdered. Found by Sarah Brandt, a lady of Frank’s acquaintance. That’s how his mother might have explained her, if his mother could have been forced to speak of her at all. Well, at least he didn’t have to worry about Sarah Brandt getting involved in this case the way she had on previous ones. This wasn’t really a case anyway. He was just here to tie up a few loose ends and see the body taken quietly away.

The beat cop stood guard at the front steps. He nodded at Frank and touched his round hat in a gesture of respect.

“What’s going on here, Patrick?” Frank asked.

“The man what lives here shot hisself in the head. His poor wife found him, and she’s in a state.” He leaned closer, so that Frank could smell the whiskey on his breath, and added in a whisper, “She’s breeding, too.”

Frank managed not to flinch. “Breeding?”

“About to drop it right on the floor any minute, too, if you ask me,” Officer Patrick offered, his round head nodding knowingly.

“Nobody asked you,” Frank reminded him. “What’s the dead fellow’s name?”

“Edmund Blackwell. He’s some kind of doctor.”

Perfect. A pregnant woman about to give birth and a dead doctor.

Frank forced himself to mount the front steps, ruthlessly suppressing the visions of his own wife in her dying moments, her blood soaking the mattress beneath her as it ran unchecked from her body. This woman wasn’t Kathleen. He had to remind himself of that twice before he could open the front door.

Inside, another beat cop was doing his best to keep several servants from entering the room to the left of the entrance hall. Frank figured this was probably the room the dead man had chosen for his own execution. The officer was visibly relieved to see Frank, who drew the servants’ attention at once.

The tallest one, a man of middle years who held himself with an unmistakable air of authority, marched over to him. “Are you in charge here?” he demanded.

“Until Commissioner Roosevelt shows up,” Frank replied sarcastically, referring to the infamous head of the New York City Police Department. Since the commissioner came from the monied upper class of the city and had managed to alienate practically everyone in that city with his puritanical reforms and his insistence on honesty in the police department, Roosevelt’s was the one name certain to annoy if not frighten this snobby butler.

The butler stiffened but did not back down. “I must insist that you allow me to summon Mr. Potter. He is Dr. Blackwell’s assistant. He will know what to do.”

Frank gave him the grin that made hardened criminals sweat. “What makes you think I don’t know what to do?”

A flush crawled up the man’s neck, but to his credit, he held his ground. “I was referring to Mrs. Blackwell, sir. She came home earlier than expected today, and she was the one who found Dr. Blackwell. I should have been the one to-” His voice broke and his face lost a bit of its stiffness for a moment before he recalled his dignity again. “She

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