Frank Malloy’s latest client is the well-dressed Will Bert. He’s searching for his brother, a newsboy named Freddie, so he can share his new financial good fortune. Frank makes quick work of the case and locates Freddie, but a happy reunion between brothers is not in the cards.
When Will’s name is mentioned, Freddie runs off—only to be found dead a short time later. Suspicious, Frank tracks down Will who spins a tale of lust and deceit involving a young society woman, Estelle Longacre, also recently deceased. Frank can’t be sure if Estelle’s risky behavior and the company she kept was to blame, or if her own ruthless family had a hand in her death.
Frank will need Sarah’s help to unearth the dark secrets of the wealthy Longacres and to discover if there is a connection between Estelle and Freddie’s death. Together they must navigate a perilous underground web of treachery to find the truth.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***
“I need to find my kid brother, Mr. Malloy.”
Frank Malloy leaned back in his office chair and studied his newest client across the expanse of his desk. The young man had introduced himself as Will Bert. He was a handsome fellow, sporting a fairly new suit of brown, checked fabric and a pristine shirt with a fresh collar. He had settled his smart-looking derby on his knee instead of leaving it on his head, as too many young men did today. He wasn’t the usual sort of client who came to Frank’s detective agency, but then his agency was also fairly new, so he really couldn’t claim to have a “usual” sort of client.
“How did you come to lose your brother, Mr. Bert?” Frank asked.
Bert shrugged almost apologetically. “Well, I didn’t exactly lose him. It’s kind of a long story.”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
“All right then. Well, you see, Freddie and me are orphans. After our folks died, we had to look after ourselves, so I started selling newspapers to support us. Freddie did, too, even though he was still really small.”
A common enough story, Frank knew. “You were street arabs?” he asked, referring to the hundreds of orphaned and abandoned children who lived on the New York City streets.
“Yes, sir. We stayed at one of the Newsboys’ Lodging Houses whenever the weather was bad, of course, and I always looked out for Freddie, but it was a hard life. That’s why we finally decided to go out West on one of those Orphan Trains.”
The Orphan Trains had been taking children from the city out West to find homes since before Frank was born. “I guess you were hoping to be adopted by some farmer out in Iowa or something.”
Bert smiled a little at this. “I know it sounds strange, especially for a city boy like me, but those people from the Children’s Aid Society make it sound like a fairy tale or something.”
“But it wasn’t a fairy tale for you and your brother, I guess.”
Bert’s smile disappeared. “Not exactly. We went to Minnesota, not Iowa, although I don’t guess it makes much difference. We wanted to go with the same family, but none of the families wanted me. I was too old, already sixteen, but Freddie was eight by then and still real cute, so he got picked right off. I ended up in another town with a storekeeper, Mr. Varney.”
“That was probably easier than farm work.”
“I guess so. Mr. Varney, he never had any children, and he wanted somebody to take over his store when he was gone, so he trained me to do that. He wasn’t going to adopt me or anything. He just put it in his will that I got the store when he died.”
“And did he die?”
Bert seemed surprised that Frank had guessed. “Yeah, he did, as a matter of fact. He just keeled over one day after we’d unloaded some heavy boxes. The doc said there was nothing could’ve been done. His heart gave out on him. So now I’m a businessman, Mr. Malloy. I’ve got a bright future ahead of me back in Minnesota, so naturally, I wanted to find Freddie and bring him to live with me.”
“I thought he’d been adopted.”
“Well, they don’t always go through with the legal adoption. The families, I mean. That’s what I was counting on, anyway, but when I went looking for Freddie, I found out the family who got him decided not to keep him after all. He’d been sent back to New York.”
That seemed harsh to Frank, but he shouldn’t be surprised at how cruel people could be. “And nobody told you?”
Bert shrugged again. “Of course not. They probably didn’t even know where I was. At least the family wouldn’t, and the Children’s Aid Society, what did they care?”
“And Freddie didn’t write to you or anything?”
Now he had the grace to look embarrassed. “We was never much for writing letters, and I figured he was in a good place, being looked after, so what was the need? But when I found out he’d been sent back here, I came to find him.”
Finding one small boy in a city like New York would be a daunting task indeed. “Have you looked?”
“Of course I looked. I figured he’d be selling papers in the old neighborhood, but now . . .” He gestured helplessly.
“Oh yes, the strike.” The newsboys had gone on strike a few days ago. They’d done it last year when they thought the newspapers weren’t treating them fairly, and this time they were trying to force both William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer to pay them better. The struggle between a gaggle of children and the two most powerful newspaper moguls in the country promised to be very interesting.
“Right, the strike,” Bert said. “The newsboys are giving lots of speeches, but they aren’t selling many newspapers, and none of them are on the corners where they usually are. They aren’t even staying in the lodging houses.”
“I guess they aren’t making as much money as usual with the strike,” Frank said. The lodging houses charged the boys six cents a night and the same amount for dinner and breakfast if they chose to eat.
“And with it being summer, they like to carry the banner anyway.”
“Carry what banner?” Frank asked, confused.
“Oh, that’s what they call sleeping out on the street, carrying the banner. It’s a matter of pride for the newsies.”
“So you want me to help you find your brother, Mr. Bert?”
“That’s right. I can pay. I told you, I own a store back in Minnesota, and I have money. Even still, I’d do it myself, but with the strike, I figure it’s going to take some time, and I can’t be away from my store very long. I’ve got someone minding it, but you know how it is.”
Frank didn’t know how it was. Luckily, he didn’t even have to worry about his own business and getting paid like other private investigators did. Because of an accident of fate, he was now rich enough to only take the cases he liked, even if he didn’t get paid at all, and Frank liked this case. He felt sorry for these two boys, being separated like that. He’d let Bert pay to save the boy’s pride, but Frank would give him a reduced rate. “All right, I’ll give it a try, Mr. Bert. I can’t make any promises, though. You must know how hard it will be to find him. Do you know how long ago your brother came back to the city?”
“It’s been a couple years now.”
“Then you know anything might have happened to him.” Life in New York was uncertain at best, and for the boys who made their own way on the streets, it was downright dangerous.
“Freddie’s a smart kid. I know he’s out there somewhere. I want to give him a good home, Mr. Malloy, the home we never had. Will you help me find him?”
“I’ll certainly try. What can you tell me about him? You said he’s eight years old?”
“Not anymore. That’s how old he was when we went west. Now he’s thirteen, I reckon. I don’t have a picture of him, of course, but anybody who’s met him will remember. See, when he was a little tyke, he almost got run over by a trolley. It cut off part of his foot, so now he only has two toes on his left foot. Makes him walk a little funny, and the other boys, they called him Two Toes. All the newsies, they like to give each other nicknames.”
Frank had noticed that, although he’d never given it much thought. “When you said ‘the old neighborhood,’ did you mean where you lived with your parents?”
“Oh no. Wouldn’t sell many newspapers there, would we? I meant the corners where we used to sell our papers. Newsies are real jealous of their corners. If you try to horn in on another boy’s spot, you’ll likely find yourself beat up pretty good.”
“Thanks for the warning,” Frank said. “So where were these corners where you used to sell?”
Frank wrote down the streets on the pad he pulled from his desk drawer. “And your brother’s name is Freddie Bert.”
“That’s right. I’ll be much obliged to you, Mr. Malloy, and so will Freddie, when you find him.”
For once, Frank might have a case with a happy ending.
The house sat in the middle of one of the worst slums of the city, mere blocks from the notorious Five Points neighborhood and surrounded by boisterous saloons and teeming tenements and places so wicked they didn’t even have signs. The house itself was dilapidated and filthy, and the roof had holes. Rain had ruined one of the bedrooms, rats had taken over the cellar, and pigeons roosted in the attic.
“I’ll take it,” Sarah Brandt Malloy said.
The owner, a rather rascally-looking fellow in checked pants and a threadbare suit coat, looked her over in disbelief, taking in her expensive gown and stylish hat. “Are you sure, miss?”
“It’s perfect, isn’t it, Gino?” she asked her companion.
Gino Donatelli, her husband’s partner in the detective agency, was functioning as her bodyguard today as she toured the latest offerings of ramshackle houses available for sale on the Lower East Side of the city. The young man looked around doubtfully. “If you think so, Mrs. Malloy.”
“Of course it isn’t worth half of what you’re asking, Mr. Bartholomew,” she told the owner. She’d been looking for months, so she was an expert now. “I saw a larger place over on Mulberry Street for only a thousand.”
Mr. Bartholomew began to sputter his outrage, but in the end he happily accepted Sarah’s offer, as she’d known he would, and made an appointment with her the following week to visit an attorney to sign the necessary papers.
“May we drop you somewhere, Mr. Bartholomew?” she asked when they’d concluded their negotiations.
He eyed her carriage longingly. “Thank you, miss, but I wouldn’t want to be seen in such a fine vehicle on this street. People would start asking me for money.”
Gino helped Sarah into the carriage, which actually belonged to her parents, and instructed the driver to take them to Sarah’s home. When they were safely away, Gino turned to her with a perplexed frown. “Are you sure you want to buy that place?”
“I know it looks horrible right now, and it didn’t escape me that someone had obviously been living in several of the rooms so we’ll have to deal with that, but it’s the perfect location. We aren’t going to live there ourselves, remember.”
“I know, and I guess you’re right. If you want poor women to find it, then it really is the perfect location. Is it going to be a hospital?”
“We’re going to call it a home for unwed mothers, so they can come to stay as soon as they need to, have their babies there, and stay until they’re well again. We’ll have a matron living in to watch over the girls and several midwives who will be available. They may even live in also and serve the rest of the community as well. I haven’t figured that out yet.”
“You’ll have plenty of time to do that while you get somebody to fix the place up.”
“Yes, and I’m thinking I’ll put Maeve in charge of that.”
Gino grinned. He was such a handsome boy, and he was so obviously enamored of their family’s nursemaid, Maeve Smith. Sarah was pretty sure Maeve felt the same way about Gino, but Maeve wasn’t one to give herself away. “She did a pretty good job of managing the workers when you were fixing up your own house.”
“Indeed she did. Without her help, Malloy and I would probably still be waiting for them to be finished.” Sarah opened the fan hanging from her wrist and began to flutter it, trying to stir up some air inside the carriage.
“You were right about bringing the carriage,” Gino said. “I’m glad we don’t have to walk in this heat.”
“Or try to find a cab. My mother insisted we take it, and she was right, although I think she was more worried about our safety in this neighborhood than our comfort.” Sarah glanced out the window at the street urchins running alongside the fine carriage, shouting for a handout. Her heart told her to throw some coins out the window, but her head told her that would only draw more children and encourage them to be bolder, endangering life and limb as they ran perilously close to the wheels and the horses. In the city, even charity could be dangerous. “Thank you for coming with me today.”
Gino grinned. “I know you would’ve been fine on your own, but Mr. Malloy worries.”
“I know he does, even though I used to travel these streets alone at all hours of the day and night when I was called out to deliver babies.”
“He didn’t have the right to worry then, but now that you’re married . . .” He shrugged.
“I have to admit, it’s very nice to have someone worrying about me. Oh dear, what’s going on here?”
They both leaned to look out the window at a crowd of children gathered on the street corner. One boy stood on a box and appeared to be giving a speech while the rest of them cheered. Adults were stopping to listen and enjoy the spectacle.
“Newsboys,” Gino said.
“Newsboys? Oh yes, I’d forgotten. They’re on strike, aren’t they?”
“That’s what they call it. They aren’t selling the World or the Journal, although I guess all the other papers are still available.”
“But it looks like that one boy is giving a speech.” Sarah stuck her head out the window to keep the newsboys in sight as their carriage pulled away from the corner.
“He probably is. They have to keep the boys stirred up or they’ll give in and start selling the papers again.”
“Why are they striking?”
“Because of the cost of the papers. The boys used to buy them in bundles of ten for five cents, then sell them for a penny apiece, but last year during the war with Spain, the Journal and the World raised the price of the papers to six cents for ten. The boys didn’t mind then because people were buying more papers during the war, so they were still doing well, but the war is long over and the two papers haven’t lowered their prices.”
“That’s not fair to the boys.”
“I guess it would be if they could charge more for the papers, but nobody is going to pay more than a penny for a newspaper, so they’re stuck.”
“You know a lot about it, Gino.”
“I used to sell newspapers when I was a kid. It’s a hard life. I was lucky because I had a home and a family to go to every night, though. A lot of the boys are orphans.”
Sarah nodded. “Or even worse, they’ve been abandoned by their families. I used to think all the children on the streets were orphans. I just couldn’t believe that people would turn out their own little ones to fend for themselves. Then I came to understand that sometimes they have no other choice.”
“It’s amazing how many of the kids seem to do all right, though. I’ve seen boys as young as six or seven managing on their own. Of course, some of them end up in gangs, but the rest of them look out for each other.”
“And the lodging houses help, too, I suppose. At least they don’t have to sleep on the streets in the dead of winter.”
Gino shook his head. “The boys actually prefer sleeping on the streets. They like being able to come and go as they please. The lodging houses make you come in by nine thirty, but the boys like to stay out late and go to the theater.”
“The theater?” Sarah exclaimed in delight.
“That’s right, and then they go to a diner and have supper and smoke cigars and talk about the show.”
“I had no idea!”
“The boys also don’t like the way they’re always preaching to them in the lodging houses, trying to make them take classes and giving them lectures and even trying to convince them to go on the Orphan Trains out West to get adopted.”
“Do a lot of them go on the Orphan Trains?”
“Not as many as you’d think. They like their freedom, I guess, and city boys are a little afraid of living in the country and doing farm work, too. The Orphan Trains have more luck with the really small kids who are too young to know what’s going on.”
“I expect the families like getting younger children, too.”
“I don’t know. Maybe they do if they really want more kids in their family, but a lot of them just want free labor for their farm, so they choose the older children and then turn them loose when they get too old to manage, or else the kids run away on their own.”
“Not exactly the happy ending the Children’s Aid Society claims, is it?”
“Not many orphans have happy endings anywhere.”
Sarah supposed he was right.
“So she finally found a house to suit her?” Malloy asked Gino when he turned up at their office. “I was starting to think it would never happen.”
“The houses in that part of the city aren’t . . . Well, there’s not a lot to choose from.”
“So I’ve heard, over and over again, every time Sarah goes looking.”
“This one is pretty bad, too, but it’s the best we’ve seen, and it’s big enough. And Mrs. Malloy said she’s going to put Maeve in charge of supervising the repairs,” Gino added with a grin.
“If you think I’m embarrassed because Maeve did a better job of that than I did at our own house, then you’re crazy. She can have that job and welcome to it. Now, we’ve got a new case, and it sounds like it might be fun for a change.”
Gino perked up immediately. “Fun? Did somebody get killed?”
“Gino, I’m ashamed of you. What would Maeve think if she heard you say a thing like that?”
“She’d wonder why you were ashamed of me for telling the truth.”
Frank sighed. “I guess you’re right. But no, nobody got killed. We’re just looking for a missing boy.” He gave Gino a summary of the story of the two brothers.
“I always suspected those Orphan Trains weren’t a good idea. I was just telling Mrs. Malloy about them this morning. But you say this Will Bert wants to take his brother back to Mississippi?”
“Minnesota. That’s what he said, so it can’t be too bad out there.”
“Mrs. Malloy and I saw a bunch of newsboys on the way home. They were all gathered on a street corner, and it looked like one of them was giving a speech. The strike is going to make it harder to find this Freddie.”
“I know, and even without the strike, we might not find him. A boy alone like that, there’s no telling what might have happened to him in two years, but the missing toes should make it easier to identify him. The boys remember things like that.”
“Where do you want to start?”
“I thought you could ask around at the Newsboys’ Lodging Houses, and I’ll check with the Children’s Aid Society just in case they sent him back out on another train or something.”
Gino pulled out the pocket watch he’d just started carrying. “I should have time to visit at least a few of them this afternoon. They don’t serve supper until six, and not many boys will come in on a hot night like this anyway, even if they weren’t on strike. They’ll get supper from a street vendor and find a nice, cool rooftop to bed down. But like you said, if this Freddie ever stayed there, they’ll remember him, so at least we’ll find out if he’s been seen around lately.”
“They also might know where he usually works, which would give us an idea of where to start looking.”
“Maybe I’ll get lucky and find the boy tonight,” Gino said.
“If you do, hang on to him. He seems like he might be a slippery one.”
Frank found the Children’s Aid Society offices in the United Charities Building on 22nd Street. Many of the major charities had taken office space in the building in order to more efficiently coordinate the distribution of charity in the city. What that meant in practical terms was that the charities were able to keep a master list of everyone who had received aid, so the poor couldn’t “abuse” the system by applying to more than one charity. Frank didn’t think that sounded very charitable, but nobody had asked his opinion, nor were they likely to.
The Society’s office was a busy place with several clerks typing or filing. One of them took his name and escorted him in to see a Mr. E. E. Trott. The clerk described Mr. Trott as an agent for the Society. Trott was a tall, slender man with a shock of white hair and a matching goatee. His eyes were kind but a little suspicious.
When the two men had shaken hands, Frank said, “That young man said you were an agent. What exactly does an agent do?”
“I have the best job in the world, Mr. Malloy,” Trott said, motioning for Frank to take a seat in one of the chairs placed in front of his desk. “I help gather up the children here and escort them safely to their new homes out West.”
“Is it difficult to find homes for the children?”
“I wouldn’t say it was difficult, although it isn’t easy either. You see, another part of my job is to identify the leading citizens in each of the cities where we stop. I do this a few months before we bring the children out. Those individuals know their communities, and their task is to recruit the right kind of families who would be willing to take a child. Often, the families themselves will state their preference for a girl or a boy and the age of the child they want. Sometimes they even specify hair and eye color so the child will look like the rest of the family. When that is the case, we can sometimes match a child with a family even before we leave the city.”
Frank thought that sounded a bit too much like ordering a child out of a catalog, but he kept his opinion to himself since he couldn’t afford to offend Mr. Trott. He still needed more information. “I see, and do you keep records of the children you place?”
“Of course we do. We have a file on every child who has received our services. Is there a specific reason you’re asking, Mr. Malloy?”
“Yes, a very specific reason. You see, I’m a private investigator, and I’ve been hired to locate one of the boys you placed out in Minnesota about five years ago.”
Mr. Trott frowned. “Mr. Malloy, may I ask who hired you?”
“Ordinarily, I don’t reveal my clients’ names, but in this case, I understand the matter is sensitive because it involves a child, so I’m going to make an exception. My client is this boy’s older brother. Your agency placed both of them in Minnesota, but in different towns.”
“That does happen from time to time. Siblings don’t want to be separated, of course, and we do try to place them together, but that isn’t always possible.”
“I can understand that. The older boy was about sixteen, too, and he said not many people wanted a child that old.”
“This is true, unfortunately. With a boy that old, you never know what his background might be, and people are afraid to take them into their homes.”
“The older boy was placed with a storekeeper who recently died and left the boy his property. He was anxious to find his brother and share his good fortune. The younger boy is about thirteen now. But when he went to find the child, he discovered that he’d been sent back.”
“Back here, you mean?” Mr. Trott asked with a puzzled frown.
“That’s what he was told.”
“And this happened recently?”
“No, I believe the boy was sent back shortly after he was placed, so it would have been several years ago.”
“Ah, I didn’t remember anything like that happening recently, although it does happen from time to time. We always try to find another family locally to take the child, of course, so the child doesn’t actually have to return here. I’m surprised that didn’t happen in this case. And the older brother didn’t know the boy had been sent back?”
“The boys didn’t keep in touch.”
Mr. Trott nodded. “The families would discourage that, of course. They’d want the children to forget their past. Even still . . . Well, I must tell you, Mr. Malloy, that children are hardly ever returned to the city.”
“But you’d have a record of it if they were?”
“We should have a record of both boys, and I’ll want to update the older boy’s record to record his good fortune. We like to tell stories like that to the children we’re trying to recruit. In fact, if this young man is in the city, perhaps he’d be willing to tell his story at the Newsboys’ Lodging Houses. The Society operates them as well, and they have proved a fruitful source of children for whom we have found homes. We like to have special visitors from time to time to convince the boys they can have a bright future if they leave the evil influences of the city.”
“He might be willing, since he and his brother were both newsboys. I’ll certainly ask him, but meanwhile, I’d just like to find out if the younger brother stayed in the city or if he went someplace else.”
“That is another possibility, of course, and there is also yet another possibility, although I hesitate to suggest it.”
“The younger boy, well, the family said he’d been sent back, but it’s possible he simply ran away. We’ve had that happen a few times, I’m sorry to say. Perhaps he thought to join his brother or even come back to New York on his own. If that’s the case, we would have no way of knowing what became of him.”
“I understand that. There’s also the possibility that the boy is dead, but I’m not going to even think about that right now.”
“Of course not. Let me check our files. What are the boys’ names?”
Frank told him, and Mr. Trott frowned again as he wrote them down.
“Is something wrong?” Frank asked.
“No, but I suspect the name Bert is not their real name.”
“Why wouldn’t it be?”
Mr. Trott shrugged. “Sometimes the children change their names to disguise their ethnicity. People might be reluctant to adopt an Italian child, for example, or one they suspected of being Jewish or foreign in any way. I’m not saying this is true of these boys, but it’s possible.”
“But if that’s the name my client gave me, it’s probably also the name the boys gave you folks.”
“That’s true.” Mr. Trott was smiling again. “Let me take a look. Our files are very well organized, so this should only take a moment.”
It took longer than a moment, though, and when he returned, Mr. Trott was empty-handed. He also looked very unhappy. “I’m so sorry, Mr. Malloy, but it appears that we have no record of either of these boys.”
“Then maybe you were right, and they used a different name.”
“I thought of that, of course, and my clerks and I searched the records for all the boys whose names started with B, but we did not find any that could possibly be these two brothers. I don’t have any indication at all that either of these boys rode the Orphan Trains.”
Gino started his search at the Duane Street Lodging House, since it was closest to Newspaper Row, where the boys picked up their papers. Located on the east side of Williams Street between Duane and Chambers, it stood seven stories tall and filled the entire block. Uhlig & Company Cloth House occupied the basement and first floor of the building. Gino figured their rent went toward support of the lodging house, which probably cost a lot more to run than the pennies the newsboys paid would provide.
He found the newsboys’ entrance and climbed the stairs to the third floor. The place was eerily quiet, with no boys in sight, but even under ordinary conditions, they wouldn’t have started to arrive yet. Afternoon and early evening, when the afternoon editions came out and people were heading home from work, were the busiest times of day for newspaper sales. Besides, the boys had to leave the lodging house by seven o’clock in the morning and weren’t allowed back in before six o’clock in the evening.
Gino stepped into the empty classroom with its neat rows of desks where the boys would take lessons after supper if they were so inclined and where all of them would register for the night with whoever was sitting at the table on the riser beside the door. No one sat there now, however, so Gino called out a greeting. After a few tries, he heard footsteps, and a middle-aged man appeared, pulling on his suit coat.
Tall and a bit gangly, he greeted Gino with a warm smile. “You wouldn’t be one of my boys come back to say hello, would you?”
“No, sir, I’m afraid not.”
“You’re about the right age to be one, and you wouldn’t be the first. They come by all the time to tell me how much they miss the place and how well they’re doing.”
“That must be nice to hear.”
“It is, it is, but you didn’t come here to listen to me babble. What can I do for you, young man?” He eyed Gino’s tailored suit shrewdly. “I’m pretty sure you aren’t looking for a bed for the night.”
“No, I’m not. My name is Gino Donatelli, and I’m a private investigator.” He handed the man his business card.
“Private, you say? I would’ve taken you for police, except they don’t wear suits that nice.”
“I used to be with the police.”
“Ah, that explains it then. I’m Rudolph Heig, the superintendent here. I hope this doesn’t mean one of my boys is in trouble.”
“Not at all. Just the opposite, Mr. Heig.”
“Call me Pop. That’s what the boys call me, Pop Rudolph. And what exactly is the opposite of ‘in trouble’?”
“Getting a family, I guess,” Gino said with a grin. “You see, a young man has hired our firm to find his kid brother so he can give him a home.”
“Now that is good news. Why don’t you come downstairs so I can get you a cup of coffee and you can tell me all about it.”
Heig took Gino to his private apartment on the second floor, where he introduced his wife, known to the boys as Mother Heig. A plump, pleasant lady with a toddler perched on her hip, she welcomed Gino and made the two men comfortable at the immaculate kitchen table, serving them coffee and some cookies.
“Now tell me about this boy you’re looking for,” Heig said.
Gino told him the story. “So do you by any chance know this boy, Freddie Bert? His brother said he lost part of his foot in a streetcar accident, and the other boys call him Two Toes.”
“Oh yes, streetcar accidents are far too common, I’m afraid. Too many boys are maimed and even killed from trying to hang on to the side of the cars for a free ride. And I do know the boy you’re looking for, I think. A lot of the boys who come here don’t even know their real names because they lost their homes so young, so all they know are the nicknames they’ve picked up in the streets. Others lie about their real names for various reasons, so I guess you could say that you’re lucky the boy you’re looking for is so distinctive. I remember him well, because of his foot, of course. We ask the boys to give a name when they register, and Freddie always says his name is Bert, although I’ve suspected it wasn’t his true name. Perhaps I’ve been wrong, though.”
“And he went out West on the Orphan Train?”
“That part I don’t know about. It’s possible Freddie didn’t start coming here until he returned from out West, in which case I might not have heard about it, although the boys do talk about the trains a lot, especially those who’ve gone and returned for whatever reason.”
“Are there many of those?”
“No, not at all. The Children’s Aid Society doesn’t like to send children back. They make every effort to place them somewhere else, so it’s possible Freddie returned on his own and didn’t talk about it because he didn’t want to be sent out again. But even without that, there’s a good chance the boy I’m thinking of is the one you’re looking for.”
“When was the last time you saw him?”
“I couldn’t say exactly. We have hundreds of boys come through here every year, and it’s impossible to keep track of all of them, so I don’t even try. I’ll check my log book before you leave to give you an exact date for the last time he stayed here, but it wasn’t long, I’m sure. Not more than a month or two at the most.”
A lot could happen in a month or two, but at least Freddie had been alive and in the city then. Gino wanted to whoop with glee, but he didn’t want to frighten Mr. Heig. “I don’t suppose you’d know where I could find him.”
Heig shook his head. “Even under ordinary circumstances, I don’t know where his usual corner is or where he sleeps when he doesn’t sleep here, but now . . . Well, I guess you know the boys are on strike, so they aren’t coming here to sleep because they aren’t earning any money. Most of them wouldn’t anyway, not this time of year. When the weather’s nice, we only get a fraction of the boys who show up when it’s snowing.”
“I know. I figured it wasn’t likely I’d find him here. I’m just glad to know he’s in the city. Will you send us word if he does come in?”
“Certainly. I’d be only too happy for you to find wealthy brothers for all my boys, Mr. Donatelli.”
“What’s an Orphan Train?” Maeve asked, interrupting Malloy’s story.
Sarah was always careful about discussing cases in front of the children, so Malloy had waited until Malloy’s son, Brian, and Sarah’s foster daughter, Catherine, were in bed, and their nursemaid Maeve had rejoined them in the parlor before telling them about his latest case. Malloy’s mother had already retired to her own rooms.
Sarah smiled at Maeve’s question and turned to Malloy. “May I?”
“Go right ahead,” he said, happy to let her explain.
“Years ago, long before I was born, I think, the Children’s Aid Society decided that orphaned children in New York would be much happier if they were living on farms out West.”
Maeve frowned her disapproval. “What made them think that?”
“Everybody knows that country air is better for children,” Malloy said with a twinkle. He loved teasing Maeve.
“I don’t know it. You couldn’t get me to live in the country for anything,” she said.
“Then it’s lucky you’re a little too old to be adopted,” he said.
“Adopted?” Maeve cried, horrified.
“You’re getting ahead of the story,” Sarah chided them. “Yes, adopted. The Society decided to place the children with families in the country who could then adopt them, and through the years, they’ve taken thousands of children out of the city.”
“Don’t people in the country have their own children?”
“Of course they do, but not everyone who wants a child can have one, and sometimes a child dies or maybe the family is just willing to open their hearts to an orphan with no family.”
“You make it sound like a fairy tale.” Maeve didn’t believe in fairy tales.
“Don’t forget Catherine is adopted,” Sarah said.
“Or at least she soon will be,” Malloy corrected her. “And we couldn’t love her more if she had been born to us.”
“No, we couldn’t,” Sarah agreed, thinking they should really get started on the process.
“And I wouldn’t have a job if you hadn’t decided to take her in,” Maeve admitted with a grin. “All right, I suppose it’s possible for families to adopt children and for everyone to be happy. Were these boys happy, though?”
“If you let me finish my story, I’ll tell you,” Malloy said. “But the answer is probably no. The older boy was sixteen, so nobody really wanted to adopt him.” He told them about the shopkeeper who took the older boy and the legacy he left Will.
“But was he happy with the man who took him in?” Maeve asked.
“He didn’t say, but I got the impression the man treated him more like an employee than a son.”
“That’s what I thought.”
“Don’t forget the boys would have been much worse off if they’d stayed in the city,” Sarah said. “They didn’t have a family or a home, and they lived on the streets.”
“The younger boy had it worse, though,” Malloy went on doggedly. “It didn’t work out with the family who took him, and he came back to New York, or at least that’s what the family told Will when he went to look for Freddie after the storekeeper died.”
“Smart boy,” Maeve said.
“That’s sad,” Sarah said, thinking about how hard that must have been for such a young child. “He must have been terribly disappointed.”
“Maybe he was relieved to get away from all those cows and chickens,” Maeve said.
“What makes you think they had cows and chickens?” Malloy asked.
“Because they live in the country. So this Will hired you to find Freddie?”
“That’s right. He’s pretty well fixed now, I guess, and he wants the boy with him.”
“So it will be like a fairy tale,” Sarah said, “if you can find Freddie. Have you had a chance to look yet?”
“I sent Gino to ask around at the Newsboys’ Lodging Houses.”
“Is he coming by tonight to give you a report?” Maeve asked with elaborate casualness.
“I don’t think so,” Malloy said, pretending not to notice her frown of disappointment, although Sarah was sure he’d mention it to Gino. “Whatever he found out can wait until morning.”
“And what about you?” Sarah asked. “Did you do anything?”
“I went to the Children’s Aid Society’s office. They’re in the United Charities Building.”
Sarah made a face. She’d had a bad experience with a charity located in that building. “What did you think they could tell you?”
“For one thing, if Freddie really had come back and if they’d sent him someplace else.”
“Could they do that?” Maeve asked, outraged this time.
“I suppose they could, although I don’t know if they’d force him if he didn’t want to go,” Malloy said. “It doesn’t matter, though, because they didn’t have any record of either of the brothers.”
“What do you mean, no record? You mean they don’t keep records of the children’s whereabouts?” Sarah asked.
“They keep very good records. They claimed to have a file on every child. They even get annual reports from the adoptive families or they’re supposed to, although I’m told not all the families send them.”
“Of course they don’t,” Maeve muttered.
Malloy ignored her. “But they didn’t have a file for either of these boys.”
“What does that mean?” Sarah asked.
“It could mean several things, but I don’t think it means the Children’s Aid Society lost their records.”
“Do you think the boys really weren’t on the Orphan Train?” Maeve asked.
“That’s certainly a good possibility.”
“But why would this young man make up a story like that?” Sarah asked.
“I have no idea, but I’m going to ask him the minute I see him. But to give him the benefit of the doubt, the people at the Society told me the boys might’ve given them a false name.”
“Why would they do that?” Sarah asked.
“That’s easy—so they couldn’t be found,” Maeve said impatiently.
Sarah always tried to give people the benefit of the doubt. “But who would be looking for them?” Maeve gave her a pitying look, and Sarah sighed. “I know, I’m hopelessly naïve.”
“In spite of everything you’ve seen in the years since you met Mr. Malloy, too. I’m just glad you have him to look out for you now.”
“Maeve, that’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me,” Malloy said, marveling.
“Don’t let it go to your head. So these boys either didn’t go on the Orphan Train or else they did but they lied about their names.”
“And maybe Will forgot he’d given them a different name,” Sarah said, still hoping for the best.
Maeve shook her head. “Either way, this Will Bert is a liar, Mr. Malloy. Maybe you shouldn’t try to find his brother at all.”
“Oh, I’m going to find him, but don’t worry, I won’t turn him over to Will unless he wants to go.”
Sarah had a quick vision of a small boy all alone in the city. “What will you do with him if you decide not to turn him over?”
“I’m not going to adopt him, so don’t even think about it.”
Sarah laughed at that. He knew her too well.
As he always did, Frank paused a moment to admire the gilt letters on the frosted glass of the door to his office, which said, frank malloy, confidential inquiries. When he’d started the agency—or more correctly, when he accepted that Maeve and Gino had started it before he and Sarah were even back from their honeymoon—he’d hoped for enough business to keep him from being bored. So far, he’d accomplished his goal, and this case was shaping up to be far from boring.
Gino was already at his desk, his nose stuck in a dime novel with a fictional detective rescuing a lovely young lady pictured in lurid color on the cover.
“What are the Bradys up to this time?” Frank asked, naming the popular detective duo featured in that particular series.
Gino looked up, a bit chagrinned at being caught out. “A lot more exciting things than we are. I think I found the boy, by the way.”
“Well, not actually found him, but about five weeks ago, he spent a night at the Duane Street Lodging House. Apparently, there was a bad thunderstorm that night, and a lot of boys came inside.”
Frank dragged over one of the chairs they’d placed against the wall for waiting clients and straddled it in front of Gino’s desk. “You’re sure it was him?”
“Pop Rudolph—he’s the superintendent—knew who I was describing immediately. We were right, the missing toes are pretty distinctive. The boy has a bit of a limp, so everybody knows about his accident.”
“Did this Rudolph know where the boy works?”
“His real name is Rudolph Heig, and no, he says he doesn’t even bother to keep track of that stuff, but at least we know the boy is alive and in the city.”
“Or he was five weeks ago, anyway.”
“One strange thing, though. Pop Rudolph didn’t know Freddie had been on the Orphan Trains.”
Frank’s nerve endings started tingling. “Did Heig think it was strange that he didn’t know?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact. All the boys know about the trains because the Children’s Aid Society is always trying to recruit them to go out West and get adopted. It’s pretty rare for any of the children to come back, though, and Pop thought there would’ve been a lot of talk about Freddie if he had.”
“Did you know the Society operates the lodging houses, too?”
“No! I guess that explains why they use them to recruit orphans for the trains, though. So did you find out anything interesting at the Society?”
“Indeed I did. They keep careful records of all the children they put on the trains, but they don’t have any record at all of Will or Freddie Bert.”
Frank shrugged. “I can think of a few reasons. Maybe they used a different name when they went on the trains.”
“That’s possible. Pop Rudolph told me a lot of the boys use fake names and sometimes they don’t even know their real names. In fact, he said he always thought Bert was a fake name.”
“The people at the Society said the same thing. The kids try to hide it if they’re Jewish or Italian or something. But they searched their records for any brothers that were the same ages, and they didn’t find anything to match them.”
“Maybe the records got lost or something,” Gino said.
“That’s possible, but I saw their files. They go back to the fifties. They’re very careful, and what are the odds that the only files they’ve lost in fifty years are the two we’re looking for?”
“But what other reason could there be . . . unless they didn’t ride the train at all.”
“That’s what I’m thinking, but why would Will Bert have told us such a wild tale if it didn’t really happen?”
Gino didn’t need more than a minute to come to the same conclusion Frank had after thinking about it overnight. “He wanted to give us a good reason to find the boy, one that would keep us going even if it got hard. But didn’t he realize how easy it would be to find out he was lying?”
“He probably never thought we’d check to see if they really rode the trains. Why would we? He told us the boy is in New York, and Will probably knows he is, so we wouldn’t have any reason to look anyplace else. He’s not a detective, so he doesn’t know how we do things.”
Gino sat back in his chair and thought about it for a few more minutes. “I know you’ll say I read too many of these.” He flicked the book lying on his desk. “But I don’t think he wants the boy so he can give him a home out in Michigan.”
“Nothing. I’m afraid you’re right. And he couldn’t tell us the real reason he wants the boy because, well, it’s not a reason we’d sympathize with, I guess. So he made up this sad story about the Orphan Train.”
“Which he probably knows a lot about if he really was a newsboy himself. So what are we going to do?”
“We could tell Mr. Bert that we’ve decided not to take him as a client, of course, but—”
“—but he’d just hire another detective,” Gino said in disgust.
“Exactly. So I think we should take Mr. Bert’s money and find the boy and then see if the boy knows why Will Bert, or whatever his name is, is looking for him and if he wants to be found.”
“And what if he doesn’t know why Bert’s looking for him?”
“Then we’ll ask Mr. Bert some more questions, but we’re not going to just turn the boy over to him.”
“Good. So what do we do next?”
“I’m assuming you asked this Pop Rudolph to let you know if Freddie showed up at the lodging house again.”
“Good. Then I guess the next thing we need to do is walk around the city until we find a bunch of newsboys and ask if any of them has seen Freddie.”
Gino winced at the magnitude of such an undertaking. “Where should we start?”
“I’m figuring Newspaper Row. I hear a lot of them are hanging out there and trying to prevent other boys from picking up papers from the World and the Journal. The Duane Street Lodging House is just a few blocks away, so if Freddie stayed there, his corner was probably in that part of the city, too. A boy doesn’t travel any farther than he has to when he’s ready for supper and a warm bed.”
“And with any luck, the boys will remember him as well as Pop Rudolph did.”
“With even more luck, they’ll know where we can find him.”
Excerpted from "Murder in the Bowery"
Copyright © 2018 Victoria Thompson.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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