Doctor James Watson sat on the bottom step of a rowhouse stoop. His head rested with his hands concealing his face. When he heard my voice, he looked up. He didn’t look fatigued or as if he had been crying. He looked lost.
“Thanks for arriving so quickly. It’s easier, now that you’re here, rather than trying to explain things later—you’d still want to see for yourself.”
He had called me to a three-level rowhouse on Eppes Avenue. Like a colonnade, trees and streetlamps lined the grand boulevard’s wide sidewalk. The angle of the afternoon sun was just enough to cast its swath of shadow over him and the stoop.
A physician for New York City’s medical examiner, Watson investigated crimes. He called on my insights and observations occasionally. From the 1920 Wall Street bombing until the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, James Watson and I assisted New York City’s police and citizens.
Gesturing toward the door, I said, “After you.”
I was the daughter of Sherlock Holmes. Unmentioned in any of his sixty published cases, I grew up unrecognized by him and unknown to the world until meeting the Watsons at his funeral. Now, I lived as an independent woman. I earned my income as an actress under the stage name Dorothy Volant. Living with James, John Watson’s son, I was intrinsically linked by heart and history to the so-called Great Detective.
He said, “Welcome to the main residence of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Benthyk. He’s a doctor at Saint Basil’s.”
The foyer was two stories tall with a spiral staircase. The floor’s dark brown tropical wood contrasted the walls’ cream paint. Like dutiful servants, a grandfather clock and a coat rack faced us. The smell of flower petals and herbs filling the space meant potpourri had been burned recently.
“At this location, it must be expensive property,” I observed. “Even for a rowhouse, even for a doctor.”
“Mrs. Benthyk’s maiden name was Olufsen.”
“As in Gustav Olufsen?” Several generations of Olufsens had developed Scandinavia’s premiere transoceanic shipping company. Crippled by the Great War, their ships hibernated in ports around the globe. The new decade brought commerce roaring back, allowing the Olufsens to sell their capital piecemeal to the highest bidder.
“And where is Mrs. Benthyk now?” I said, following him upstairs.
“At the morgue—I finished the autopsy this morning.”
The second-floor landing was a modest space, covered by an Oriental rug and wallpapered with pink rosebuds on a watercolor yellow background. A telephone stood in an alcove set into the wall.
“Doctor Benthyk called the police from this phone,” he said, pointing to the alcove, “reporting that his wife was dead. When the police arrived, they found her in here …” He jogged down a hallway to a bathroom. The space was hardly bigger than a closet. Its tiles were inexpensive hexagons but patterned in a maize and burgundy mosaic. The bathtub displayed fixtures in matching colors.
“Her skull was fractured, her brain was damaged and hemorrhaging blood,” he added. “Given the state of bruising, I believe she suffered for hours.”
“Is that how she died?”
He shook his head. “Exsanguination.”
“She bled to death?”
Nodding, he pointed to his neck. “Her inner carotid artery was severed in a single slice.”
Blood soaks and stains fabric, but it’s easily cleaned off tile if done promptly. I picked up an earring hiding in a corner—a simple silver spiral—ignored, overlooked, or pushed there during the clean-up.
“Do they have any suspects?”
My eyes looked around the room, hunting for clues, until I realized James was silent, not answering my question. “What aren’t you telling me?”
“The doctor, of course.”
I mulled it over: a brutal murder and the police have their suspect already. “Then why did you call me?”