Death on Tremont Row
Chapter 1 Excerpt
Boston's chief medical examiner, Dr. Haley Higgins, was often accused of working too much. She had a suitable apartment overlooking Grove Street, a nice upper-middle-class neighborhood, which she shared with her friend journalist Samantha Hawke, Sam's young daughter, and a three-legged cat. Mrs. Berrymaple, the widowed neighbor, practically lived there too, hired by Samantha to babysit and by Haley to cook. And though Haley found comfort there, she greatly enjoyed her work at the hospital morgue. Maybe even more so, as it was predictably quiet and she could lose herself for hours studying the latest in forensic medicine. The thirties looked to be a promising decade for scientific advancement.
However, Haley understood that balance in life was beneficial, so she was on her way to see the play Whispers of Deceit at the Shubert Theater on Tremont Street. First, she was picking up her close friend Ginger Reed, who had flown into the Boston Airport from London, England.
Reaching the row of brownstones on Beacon Hill, Haley parked her 1929 DeSoto along the northern edge of the Common. The vehicle, with its flat roof, glossy curved lines, round, bug-eyed headlights, and white-rimmed spoked tires, looked handsome next to the greenery of the vast park.
The brownstone in question had been Ginger's childhood home. Ginger had gone by Georgia Hartigan then and Lady Gold after her first marriage. A lady of fashion and sophisticated flair, Ginger was indeed gold to Haley's silver. Or, more accurately, Haley's bronze. Haley had little interest in fashion or sophistication, but their differences hadn't kept them from forging a strong and long-lasting friendship.
Heading to the front door, Haley paused to pat at her long faux bob, though she wondered why she bothered with anything other than tying her hair back, especially in this heat. Even though it was only May, the city of Boston was experiencing an unusual spike in temperatures, with the mercury hitting the nineties. Her curls were a constant menace, always coming loose, needing repeated pinning. At least tonight, along with her blue satin evening gown—the new styles were more form-fitting than in the twenties, with longer hemlines, and in Haley's opinion, more suitable for her tall figure—and low-heeled leather shoes with the fancy front ties, she felt reasonably put together.
After a breath, she knocked on the door. It was opened by a maid who looked a bit frazzled. Haley thought anyone who spent more than two minutes with Louisa Hartigan, Ginger's much younger half sister, tended to share the look.
"Dr. Higgins, for Mrs. Reed," Haley announced.
"Do come in, Dr. Higgins," the maid said.
Haley followed the maid to the living room, grand-looking with dark wood paneling on one wall, bright wallpaper on the others, tall ceilings, and plenty of electric lights. It had been many years since Haley had been to this residence, and much of the decor had changed, presumably at Sally Hartigan's hand. Ginger's stepmother was an energetic force of nature, and with Louisa, the apple hadn't fallen far from the tree.
Haley stood as Ginger entered the room, looking almost otherworldly. Glamour and sophistication came easily to some women, and Ginger reigned supreme among them. Her gown fell in sleek waves over a slender hourglass form; her shoulder-length red hair, which always drew the eyes, was pinned expertly on a perfectly shaped head (as a pathologist, Haley noticed cranial structure). Long diamond earrings (and Haley was certain the diamonds were real) hung from delicate lobes. Haley would've shrunk into the shadows if she had suffered from a lack of self-esteem. But Ginger had a way of sharing the spotlight with those beside her, and her smile quickly pushed away such thoughts.
"Haley!" Ginger took Haley's arm. "You look fabulous."
"It's you that looks fabulous," Haley said as she embraced her friend.
"We will agree that together, we are fabulous," Ginger said. "Oh, Haley, it's been such a long time."
"Four years since my last stay in London."
"I did mean to come back to Boston before now, but leaving the family for so long is difficult. I'm just happy that Louisa is finally going through with an engagement."
Louisa Hartigan had broken many hearts. Samantha often reported on society events, and Haley was kept up on the latest trail of suitors over toast and coffee at breakfast times.
"This gentleman must have something special," Haley said.
"Mr. Harold Forrester, a successful businessman, made his fortune in railroads and other ventures. Louisa must be truly in love, as she's a real bear now, preparing for her wedding, which is going to take place at Tremont Temple Baptist Church. Sally isn't any better." Ginger lowered her voice. "What a splendid opportunity to go out tonight. Sally and Louisa have kept me busy these last two days since I arrived. Coming so quickly by aeroplane has made me more fatigued than I remember being after a longer journey by ship. That time shift is much harder to adjust to this way."
"I'm just glad you're in town and happy to accommodate your schedule," Haley said. "Are you ready?"
Ginger held out her embroidered clutch purse. "As I'll ever be."
They hadn't quite reached the door when a female voice cried, "Ginger!" Rapid footsteps followed down the stairs. "Ginger, what are you doing? There's still so much to do!" Belatedly, Louisa's eyes registered Haley's presence. "Do I know you?"
Haley smiled widely, the only way she could as God himself had given her a wide jaw. She reached out her hand. "Haley Higgins. I was your father's nurse in his last days. We met again when you and your mother visited London. I was a student at the medical school, taking advantage of Ginger's hospitality."
"Oh yes," Louisa said slowly. "I remember now." Her eyes darted from Haley to Ginger, then narrowed accusingly on Ginger. "Are you leaving me?"
"Just for a couple of hours, love," Ginger said. "It's opening night for Whispers of Deceit, and Haley was able to secure tickets."
"They sold out very quickly," Haley added.
Louisa's eyes were piercing at that moment, like a wild goose, and someone who didn't know Ginger like Haley would worry that Louisa could coerce her to stay behind. As it was, she gave it a shot.
"I've seen it," Louisa said, raising her chin. "A preview matinee for dignitaries. It's not all it's cracked up to be. I wouldn't waste your time. The villain—"
Ginger raised a palm. "Don't tell us." She gave Louisa a quick hug before nudging Haley toward the door. "I'll be back before you know it."
As the crow flew, the Shubert Theatre was almost directly south of the brownstone on Beacon Street, just south of the Common. But by motorcar, Haley had to drive around the park and through it on Charles Street to reach the south end of Tremont Street. It was a pleasant drive through the greenery of the parks, the Common to the left and the public gardens with their large pond, a sanctuary for many birds, to the right.
"I can't believe you've been in Boston for three days already," Haley said with a side glance at her passenger, "and this is the first time I've seen you."
Ginger pouted prettily. "Please don't be cross. Louisa's wedding planning has been all-consuming. You've seen her. She inhales all the oxygen from the room, and everyone else is walking around like one of those Haitian zombies in The Magic Island." She cocked her head in Haley's direction. "Have you read it?"
Haley shook her head. "No, but I've heard a play, based on the book, opened, or is opening, in New York."
Turning the subject back to Louisa, Ginger continued, "I'm just grateful I'm old and married and don't qualify for the job of bridesmaid."
Haley commiserated, feeling sympathy for the girls who'd agreed to the roles. "Poor dears."
Ginger placed a gloved hand on Haley's arm. "We have so much to catch up on. I am thankful for your letters, but they are not the same as a tête-à-tête. Perhaps we can go somewhere for drinks after the show."
Haley chuckled. "If by drinks you mean coffee or tea, then yes. Don't forget you're now in the land of prohibition."
"Oh bother," Ginger said with a flick of her hand. "What a nuisance."
"I do have a little something stashed away at my apartment, though," Haley said. "We can go there."
"That would be lovely. I'd like to see where you live."
"You can meet Samantha."
"The intrepid lady reporter," Ginger said cheerily. "I can't wait."
Haley had been to the Shubert Theatre before. In fact, she'd been to every theater in Boston at least once, and usually on the arm of Dr. Gerald Mitchell. They'd had a comfortable friendship during the years that his wife had lain in a vegetative state. Gerald remained faithful to his wife while she was alive, but like Haley, he didn't want to attend social events as a single. At least not every time. But once his wife had passed away, he'd expressed a more serious interest in Haley, one Haley found she couldn't reciprocate.
This was why, on seeing him at the Shubert Theatre in the company of another woman, she was confused by her feelings. Her chest tightened along with her jaw. Was she actually experiencing jealousy?
Haley snapped out of her emotional tunnel at Ginger's happy sigh.
"I came here with Daniel once," Ginger said. "When we were courting. It feels like a lifetime ago. So much has happened since."
Haley chuckled. "That's a bit of an understatement. Let's see, you studied at Boston University, married an English lord, moved back to your childhood home in London, volunteered in France during the war, lost your first husband, came back to Boston, went back to London, met and married your second husband, adopted a son and gave birth to a daughter."
"You're no slacker either, love," Ginger said. "Boston's Chief Medical Examiner."
Haley glanced at Gerald and added, "And married to my work."
Ginger followed her gaze. "Do you know that couple?"
"He's a doctor who works at the same hospital as me, but I don't know the woman."
"I don't recognize anyone anymore," Ginger said. "At one time, I could name every socially prominent figure."
Haley had never been amongst the prominent crowd, but she did recognize a few faces.
"Is Miss Hawke here?" Ginger asked. "I can't wait to meet her."
Haley craned her neck, searching for a glimpse of her roommate. She didn't find Samantha, but her work colleague Johnny Milwaukee was in attendance. Haley frowned at the sight of his pretty, young date. Though Samantha tried to hide it, Haley sensed her fondness for Mr. Milwaukee was more than just friendliness. Clearly, since the man was on a date with someone other than Samantha, he had different feelings.
"I don't see her," Haley said. "She's probably backstage. I know she hoped to get an interview from Bertram Calderwood before the show."
Ginger pointed at the brochure highlighting all the actors and actresses featured in the performance. "I've never heard of him," Ginger said. "Is he well-known in America?"
"A rising star," Haley said. "At least from what Samantha has to say about him. He's making a name for himself in the talkies. He's doing double duty as a director. Ambitious fellow."
"Veronica St. James I have heard of," Ginger said. "Hollywood silent films are readily available in England. The new talkies are all the rage, but I've not seen them all. What about these other actors and this young actress?"
Haley examined the brochure. Bertram Calderwood and Veronica St. James played a married couple, Adrian and Evelyn Trafford; Miss Flora Priestley played Clare Wilson, and Mr. Brian House was also part of the cast.
"I haven't heard of any of the others," Haley said. "But I assume they must all be talented to have gotten these roles." She found she was very much looking forward to a relaxing evening getting lost in the play and being proven right.