In 1860s San Francisco, nurse Celia Davies has just learned that the body of a Chinese woman has been found floating in the bay. The body might belong to one of her patients.
“How long will you be at the police station?” asked Celia’s cousin, seated at the dining room table. Barbara’s face was ashen against the black of her hair.
“Not long,” said Celia, tying the ribbons of her spoon bonnet beneath her chin. “Get back to your sums. The work should distract you.”
Barbara scowled at her mathematics workbook, a teenager unhappy with her older cousin—and guardian—telling her what to do. “I can’t concentrate.”
Their housekeeper looked over from where she’d been dusting the walnut sideboard. At the moment, however, Addie was frozen in place, as if moving might disturb the heavens and cause more unhappiness to rain down.
“Miss Barbara,‘tis best to carry on when awful things happen,” Addie said. “As my father would say, nothing is so difficult but may be overcome with perseverance. And that includes sorrows.”
Barbara sighed loudly over Addie’s Scottish father’s sayings, but picked up her pencil.
Celia checked her reflection in the hallway mirror one final time. “Let us hope I have good news when I return.”
The walk to Portsmouth Square, where the police station was located, was all downhill, and she arrived in moments. Celia paused to stare up at the sandstone-fronted building, gathering her nerve against what she might learn.
Please let it not be Li Sha.
Inside, the entry area was dim and quiet. Signs tacked to the farthest wall indicated the police station was located in the basement with the jail cells.
The downstairs room was jammed with chairs and desks, gas lamps flickering to chase away the gloom. Cigar smoke hung in the air, the source of the smoke hunched over a desk shoved into the farthest corner, his gray policeman’s coat with its black buttons and velvet collar and star thrown over his chair. Though every window was propped open, Celia could hardly breathe for the stench coming from the direction of the jail cells, guarded by a barred door.
At the nearest desk, another policeman glanced up. “Ma’am?”
“I need to speak to someone.” She took a quick breath; the stink made her head swim. “About the Chinese girl discovered dead yesterday.”
“Detective Greaves is busy.”
Detective. If a detective was involved, Li Sha had not met with an accident, as Celia had hoped. Suddenly light-headed, she reached for a nearby chair and collapsed onto it, a mound of crinoline and heavy skirts.
“Let me fetch you some water,” the policeman said, scurrying off through a side door.
She breathed in carefully. She had fainted only once before, even through everything she had experienced in the army hospitals. Only once, when they had brought in her brother, delirious from fever. She must not faint now. They would never take her to see Li Sha if she fainted.
The policeman returned and thrust a chipped glass at her. “Here. Here.”
“Thank you, Officer.” Celia took a sip and handed back the glass. “So, might I see the detective?”
The officer scrunched his nose, which was crooked from a long-ago break. “Detective Greaves don’t take to bein’ disturbed when he’s interviewin’ folks.”
“In that case, is there someone else I might speak to?” When he hesitated, she sat taller and looked him straight in the face. “I shall wait here as long as is required.”
“I kin tell.”
“Then you have no reason not to permit me to speak with someone immediately.”
“Hey, Taylor, you busy?” the officer called to the policeman smoking in the corner. “This here lady wants to talk to someone about that Chinese girl found on the wharf. While she waits for your boss.”
Officer Taylor glanced over, and hastily stubbed out his cigar. He pulled a chair close to his desk. “Ma’am.”
Celia crossed the room while the other policeman went in search of the uninterruptible Detective Greaves.
“So, you think you might know the girl found yesterday?” Officer Taylor asked.
“I would have to see the body, obviously, to be certain.”
He went crimson, having the sort of pale skin that reddened easily. “Well, now, ma’am, that’s a mighty unpleasant thing you’re suggesting. She was cut all over. It was awful.”
Murdered? “If she was murdered, then I insist on seeing the body. I must know.”
“Let me speak to him.” She stood and marched over to the door through which the policeman had vanished.
“Ma’am!” Officer Taylor shouted. “Come back here!”
With one motion, Celia stepped over the threshold and plowed straight into a very solid chest.
You can read more about Celia in No Comfort for the Lost, the first book in the NEW “Mystery of Old San Francisco” mystery series, published by Obsidian.
GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment by 12 a.m. eastern on August 21 for the chance to win a print copy of No Comfort for the Lost. The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only. Winner will be notified within 48 hours after giveaway closes and you will have three days to respond after being contacted or another winner will be selected.
Meet the author
Nancy Herriman retired from an engineering career to take up the pen. A twice-published novelist, No Comfort for the Lost is the first in her ‘A Mystery of Old San Francisco’ series. When not writing, she enjoys choral singing and eating dark chocolate. After two decades in Arizona, she now lives in her home state of Ohio with her family.