Midwife Sarah Malloy and her private investigator husband, Frank, must stop a killer lurking among a young family in the newest installment of the USA Today bestselling Gaslight Mysteries.
Hugh Breedlove is far from the most agreeable client private investigator Frank Malloy has ever had, but his case is impossible to refuse: his young niece, Julia, has been wrongfully committed to an insane asylum by her cruel and unfaithful
husband, Chet Longly. Though Breedlove and his wife seem more interested in protecting the family reputation than their niece’s safety, Frank and Sarah agree to help for the sake of Julia and the young son she left behind.
Frank and Sarah’s investigation reveals a dark secret—a maid at the Longly home died suspiciously under Chet’s watch, and now it seems Julia’s son might also be in danger. The Malloys fear they are dealing with a man more dangerous than
they had anticipated, one who will do anything to defame his wife. But all is not as it seems in the Longly family, and perhaps another monster is hiding in plain sight…
Release date: April 25, 2023
Print pages: 336
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Murder on Bedford Street
Nobody could accuse Frank Malloy of being a snob. As an Irish Catholic and a former policeman, he was, in fact, the kind of person snobs usually looked down on. He might be a millionaire now, but lots of people still looked down on him because he'd always be Irish no matter how much money he had. This was why he felt a little guilty about feeling snobbish about the prospective client who had just been escorted into his office.
Hugh Breedlove, according to his calling card, was not Irish or poor and would have been shocked to learn Frank had already developed a bad opinion of him. His tailor-made suit spoke of wealth, as did his bright gold watch chain and the large ruby ring on his hand. He was an imposing man with silver hair pomaded into place and a neatly trimmed beard. His expression ruined the effect, though. His frown spoke of contempt as he glanced around and saw nothing that apparently pleased him, including Frank himself.
Breedlove stopped his critical perusal of Frank's modest office only when Frank's secretary, Maeve, announced him. From the twinkle in her eye, she knew Frank's opinion of Mr. Breedlove, who might well be the biggest snob Frank had met in his life so far, and he had met a few.
"Nice to meet you, Mr. Breedlove," Frank said with a professional smile. He'd risen from his desk chair and reached across his desk to shake Breedlove's hand.
Breedlove seemed to hesitate before accepting the handshake, but luckily for him-if he really needed the services of Frank's private detective agency-he finally did. Then he gave Maeve one of his disapproving looks, as if to ask why she was still in the room.
He obviously didn't know he couldn't possibly intimidate Maeve Smith. "Do you want me to take notes, Mr. Malloy?" she asked, her eyes still twinkling.
"I have a matter of the utmost delicacy to discuss," Breedlove informed them both haughtily.
Frank could have told him that all of his clients did, but he said, "I'll call you if I need you, Maeve."
She gave him a mischievous grin before closing the door behind her, and Frank somehow managed not to roll his eyes. "Please sit down, Mr. Breedlove, and tell me how I can help you." Frank motioned to the wooden client chairs that sat in front of his desk.
Breedlove didn't actually take out his handkerchief and wipe off the seat before he sat on it, but he looked as if he would have liked to. Frank's opinion of him did not improve.
"You come highly recommended, Mr. Malloy," Breedlove said doubtfully, glancing around the utilitarian office again.
"May I ask who recommended me?" Frank thought he might want to take some revenge.
Breedlove mentioned the names of two wealthy gentlemen whom Frank had assisted in the past. "They said you could be very discreet."
"They were right, and anything you tell me will be confidential, even if you don't hire me, Mr. Breedlove."
Breedlove seemed to relax a little at that, but only a little. "If I have your word, then . . ."
"Of course. Now why don't you tell me why you need my help?"
Breedlove sighed and folded his well-tended hands in his lap. "My family and I have spent the past five years in London, and we just returned to New York a few weeks ago."
"What took you to London?"
"My work. I'm a partner in an investment bank, and I went over to manage our office there."
"I see. And what brought you back to New York?"
He seemed to brighten at this. "My daughter. You see, she's eighteen now, and we wanted to bring her out in society here in America. I know it's all the fashion to marry a British aristocrat, but we didn't want that for our girl."
Or maybe they didn't have a big enough fortune to attract a British aristocrat, but Frank didn't mention this. He just nodded his understanding.
"As you can imagine, things have changed a lot in the five years we've been gone. Old friends have . . . Well, we were depending on my sister-in-law to help ease us back into society. My brother died while we were away, you see, but I assumed she would still be available. And her daughter had married well, or so we were led to believe. Between the two of them, we expected . . ."
To Frank's surprise, Breedlove's gaze dropped to his folded hands, and he looked almost embarrassed.
"You expected they would sponsor your daughter?" Frank guessed.
Breedlove looked up in obvious surprise. "You know how a young lady is introduced to society?"
Frank tried not to feel offended. That would be petty. "My wife was a debutante."
Plainly, Breedlove was shocked, but he managed to say, "Oh well, I suppose you'd know then."
"Yes. Now you were saying about your niece and your sister-in-law . . . ?"
"Uh, yes, I was. Ellie, my brother's widow, has left the city, it seems. She moved to the country somewhere and no one seems to know where."
That did seem strange, but perhaps Ellie had her reasons. "And your niece?"
"Julia. As I said, we heard she'd married well. Chet Longly, you know."
Frank didn't know, but he nodded to encourage Breedlove to keep talking.
"When we went to call on her, Longly told us . . ." Once again, he dropped his gaze to his folded hands, and for the first time Frank understood that he really did have something painful to tell Frank.
Frank instantly regretted his hasty judgment of Breedlove and leaned forward to indicate his concern. "Has something happened to Julia?"
"Yes, she . . . Longly has put her in an insane asylum."
This was, of course, terrible news. Few people admitted to insane asylums ever returned since there was really no treatment for such maladies. "I'm sorry to hear that." And he really was.
"As you might well be," Breedlove said, warming to his topic. "My wife and I felt obligated to visit Julia. It was the only decent thing to do since her mother was no longer in the city and might not even know what had happened to her."
"That was kind," Frank said sincerely. "It couldn't have been pleasant for you."
"But much more unpleasant for poor Julia." Breedlove was angry now, his cheeks flushed and his eyes blazing with outrage. "You see, there's nothing wrong with her at all. She's just as sane as you and I."
Frank needed a moment to absorb this information. He didn't know much about these things, but he felt sure poor Julia would have seen her aunt and uncle as possible saviors and would certainly have tried to convince them she had been wrongly committed. "How did you determine that she's sane?"
"By talking with her, of course. She told us the whole story. Her parents had married her off to Longly against her wishes. She was barely seventeen at the time and couldn't defy them. I do remember the marriage was rather sudden. We had only been in London a few months when we received the announcement, and we joked that there must be a baby on the way, although that didn't turn out to be the case. Julia's son wasn't born for more than a year. But she soon discovered she had made a terrible mistake in marrying Longly."
When Breedlove looked down at his hands yet again, Frank prodded him. "What did Longly do?"
"He is a . . . a libertine, Mr. Malloy. He gambles and drinks and indulges in vices too sordid for Julia to name. He even keeps a mistress whom he takes no pains to hide."
"That's unfortunate," Frank said, keeping his tone completely neutral, "but many wealthy men behave exactly this way."
"Yes, and their wives choose to ignore such behavior, but Julia could not. She apparently demanded that Longly reform his ways and put his mistress aside. She was so adamant that he eventually tired of her nagging and found a doctor to declare her insane."
Such things did happen. Everyone in New York knew the stories of how Commodore Vanderbilt had put both his wife and his namesake son in the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum for no reason other than he was annoyed with them. Mercifully, they had been released after a few months, both being perfectly sane. But all that happened over fifty years ago. Surely, they didn't still lock up sane people on the word of a vindictive spouse. "That seems very cruel," Frank finally said.
"Cruel and inhuman. That poor girl is terrified, and who wouldn't be, locked away with people who really are insane? She begged us to help her, and what could we do but agree?"
At last, this was what he wanted from Frank. "Do I understand that you would like my help getting your niece released?"
"Yes, that's it exactly."
Frank sat back in his chair, considering.
When he didn't respond immediately, Breedlove turned haughty again. "I'll pay you whatever you ask, within reason, of course."
Frank excused the man this time. He was obviously under a lot of stress. "I'll just charge you my regular rates, Mr. Breedlove, if I do decide to accept you as a client. The problem is, I'm not sure how I can help you."
Breedlove frowned. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, it's my understanding that the decision on whether a person remains in an asylum or not is made either by the doctor treating them or by a judge after a sanity hearing. I don't see how I can help with either one."
"But that's it, don't you see? If the doctors won't release her, and Julia assures us that they simply ignore her when she tells them she is sane, then we will need to present evidence proving that what she says about her husband is true and that he had her locked away to get rid of her."
"So, you want me to investigate this Chet Longly."
"And Julia, too, to prove she isn't what he's claiming she is."
"I see. I could probably help with that."
"And you must be discreet, Mr. Malloy. Above all, we must avoid a scandal."
Rich people were always worried about a scandal. "If there's a trial, it will be impossible to keep things quiet."
"I know that, but Longly must be the villain and Julia the innocent victim and not insane. It is imperative. We can't have our daughter's coming out tainted, Mr. Malloy. It's impossible to keep people from knowing Julia was sent to that place, but they must also know it was through no fault of hers."
It seemed Frank's initial impression of Breedlove had been correct after all. He didn't really care about rescuing Julia. He just wanted to protect his good name. And his daughter's, too. If insanity ran in their family, no one would want the Breedlove girl no matter how large her dowry.
But if Breedlove didn't really care about Julia, Frank did. He couldn't bear the thought of someone being unjustly locked away in an insane asylum. What a horrible fate, one he wouldn't wish on anyone. But he'd need to do one thing first.
"Before I decide to take this case, I'll have to determine for myself whether your niece is sane."
Breedlove did not look pleased. "How will you do that?"
"I'll talk with her. In fact, I'll take my wife along with me. Julia might be reluctant to speak to a strange man under the circumstances."
"But you're not a doctor. How will you know for sure?"
"The same way you did, I suppose. You and your wife were convinced, weren't you?"
To Frank's surprise, Breedlove hesitated. "Yes," he finally said with no enthusiasm. "Yes, we were."
"Then we probably will be, too."
How horrible,” Sarah Malloy said when her husband told her about Julia Longly’s plight. As a woman, Sarah felt the injustice even more strongly than he did. In truth, she could hardly imagine a worse fate than being locked away in a place like that for the rest of her life. “I know these things happen, but I’ve never personally known anyone involved.”
They were in the private parlor they had created adjacent to their bedroom when they had remodeled this house. They could speak freely here without worrying about their children overhearing something untoward.
"This Mr. Breedlove must be a very kind man to go to all this trouble. Few people would even care about someone who has been judged insane," Sarah added.
"He's not as kind as you might think," Malloy said.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, he made it clear to me that he wants us to get Julia out of the asylum and declared sane so that they can bring their daughter out without people wondering if she's somehow tainted, too."
"Bring her out? You mean as a debutante?" Sarah asked in surprise.
"I gather that's the main reason they returned to New York after five years in London."
"Oh dear, I hope they understand that the process isn't as formal as it is in England."
"How is it different?"
Sarah sighed. "In England, the young ladies are presented to the queen in some elaborate ceremony, and they spend the whole season attending a round of parties and dances where they are introduced to eligible young men. It's all very prescribed. It used to be like that in America, too, at least in the large cities, but now in New York it's just a dance. The girls do meet some young men, but they're really on their own after that."
"Poor things, having to find a husband all by themselves," Malloy said with a grin.
"Don't make fun. It really is harder than it used to be, and if your first cousin is in an insane asylum, I imagine it would truly be impossible."
Malloy looked chastened. "But how could it happen in the first place? If Julia Longly is perfectly sane, how could some doctor say she isn't?"
She gave him a pitying look. "All right, let me illustrate. Imagine for a moment that some strange men came to the door. When I asked what they wanted, they took me prisoner and threw me into the back of some sort of ambulance and drove away without explaining anything. How do you think I'd react?"
"You'd be terrified, in fear for your life or at least your virtue."
"Exactly. I'd be calling for help and banging on the doors and trying to escape. And when they finally let me out, I'd be at some strange place that was obviously an institution of some kind. By then I'd be nearly hysterical with fear. Someone claiming to be a doctor might examine me, and I'd tell him what happened, but he wouldn't care because he already knew what had happened. He'd ask me a few questions and I'd be so upset I probably couldn't answer coherently. I'd beg him to help me, and he'd assure me that he would, and then they'd turn me over to the matrons who'd strip me and bathe me and give me some sort of uniform to wear. And I'd tell them how I'd been kidnapped and beg them to help me, but they'd just ignore me because they've heard it all before and everyone in the asylum claims they are sane. Then they'd lock me alone in a room which would make me even more terrified and hysterical. That's how it happens."
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