Murder on Charles Street – Leighann Dobbs

LADY KATHERİNE IRVİNE wouldn’t entrust the health of her beloved pug to simply any man. Fortunately, in the scant month since she had moved into Number Two Charles Street, Dr. Stuart Gammon had earned her trust. A retired physician, he now spent his days treating the ailments of neighborhood pets and devoutly refusing any suggestion that he return to medicine. The moment Katherine knocked on his garden door, the door by which she habitually entered, he took one look at her haggard face and reached out for the dog in her arms. Emma was listless. Since moving into their new home, she’d taken to barking at every passerby. But today, despite Katherine’s best efforts, the pug hadn’t even been interested in barking at the passing hacks. She barely wagged her tail when she saw other dogs trotting past on their leashes. “I’m afraid something is very wrong with her.” Dr. Gammon somberly looked into each of Emma’s eyes in turn before he stepped back and ushered Katherine into the candlelit room. The old man, with perhaps sixty years in his dish, didn’t keep any permanent servants on staff. The only sign of life in the eerily silent townhouse was the flickering candle perched next to the stove, alongside the washed cup and plate he kept at hand. He saw no sense in keeping more than that on hand, given that he was only one person—or so he’d confided to Katherine the first time she’d noticed the habit.

As an earl’s daughter, Katherine had always lived in a chaotic household that no doubt churned out more dirty dishes than a small army. In her father’s house, the kitchen had been the heart of the home, thriving with life. Since leaving that lofty Mayfair residence, Katherine hadn’t quite grown accustomed to walking into a kitchen as dark, drafty, and cold as the one Dr. Gammon kept. Since he didn’t cook for himself, he rarely occupied the room. Katherine stamped her boots clear of the snow as she entered the lifeless kitchen. The door shut out the howl of the wind, but the winter chill seemed to seep in from every nook and cranny. It chased shadows in its wake, making Katherine feel as if she’d walked into the pages of a gothic novel. Despite the many murders she had investigated with and without her father’s help, Katherine shoved those macabre thoughts aside and focused her attention on the only important detail in the room—the far-too-meek animal cradled in Dr. Gammon’s arms.

Please, let this be no more than a silly fright. “How long has she acted like this?” Dr. Gammon asked as he probed the sensitive skin nestled in the fold of Emma’s ear. “Since this morning. I’m not certain… I didn’t find her doing it, but some of the pages ripped from my notebook are missing. I’m afraid she might have eaten them.” Normally, Katherine would be distraught over losing so much information. But she had a good memory, and her dog was far more important than a few scribbled notes for a colleague. She hadn’t taken the lead on an investigation since the new year. She’d been far too busy moving into her new home and beginning this next step in her journey of independence.

All this would not have been possible had she not solved that first murder to start her career, bringing the Pink Ribbon Murderer to justice. And although she intended to continue her investigations, she had other things to occupy her mind. Decorating the house. Preparing for her stepmother to deliver Katherine a new sibling in a few scant months. Bracing herself for her closest friend’s upcoming nuptials. And now Emma. Nothing bad will happen to her. She trusted Dr. Gammon, after all. Swallowing against the swell of tears, Katherine met the old man’s shrewd gaze.

“Is there anything you can do?” Her voice trembled. She clasped her gloved hands in front of herself so tightly, they ached. Dr. Gammon, a few inches shorter than her, shifted the small dog into one arm and beckoned Katherine forth with the other. He reclaimed the candlestick, his hand steady despite his age. “Come with me into the parlor. Let’s see.” Breathing out a slow breath of relief, Katherine shook her head to rid herself of the insistent worries that plagued her. She knew Emma wouldn’t live forever, but she was a young dog yet. She had lived for the better part of a decade, if not more.

Katherine braced herself, holding hope in her heart and the breath in her lungs as she followed her neighbor into the main sitting room. She’d never seen much of the house aside from these two rooms. They were cozy rooms, well lived-in, and gave off the subtle indications of frequent visitors. The sofa was mottled with faded stains from the paws of the patients he treated. Katherine perched on the edge and waited for him to conduct his examination of her pet. He set Emma down in the middle of an armchair and bent over a sheaf of papers spilling out over the low table between them. He was usually jovial, meeting Katherine with a smile and asking after Harriet, her maid and the sole other person living at Number Two Charles Street at the moment. Today, Dr. Gammon pressed his lips together and kept mum. The way he gathered the papers, haphazardly pulling them into a pile and then depositing them out of sight in the corner, made her frown.

“Did I interrupt you?” For several awful minutes, she’d been afraid he wasn’t home and that nothing could be done for Emma. She hadn’t stopped to think that he might have more important matters to which to attend. “No, of course not. I’m an old man alone with my thoughts, nothing more.” Katherine frowned, her investigative instincts resurfacing. “Do those thoughts have anything to do with the papers you put in the corner?” He met her gaze with his usual smile as he lowered himself into the armchair, displacing Emma onto his lap in the process. “You’re too astute for your own good. But I promise you, it is of no matter. I had the vain thought that I made a mistake with one of my past patients. I was trying to look through my notes to confirm it or set my mind at ease.

” Dr. Gammon took meticulous notes, even for his non-human patients. In the month since she had moved to the neighborhood, he must have written ten pages about Emma. The pug was constantly getting into places where she ought not to be. She had an uncanny knack for taking what wasn’t hers, and half the time, the stolen goods went down her gullet. But even so, she rarely seemed so out of sorts as this. “Would you like another set of eyes to go over the issue?” It might give her something to think about while he finished his examination of her dog. He shook his head, his jowls wobbling. “Don’t worry about it. It isn’t any concern of yours.

Now, what have you eaten this time?” That last part he directed toward the dog, not Katherine. She picked at the wool of her skirt, twisting it between her thumb and forefinger. Wisps of her brown hair, hastily tied back, dropped into her eyes. She dug her fingernails into her cuticles, trying to look anywhere in the room but at Dr. Gammon. The wallpaper was a fashionable green, matching the deep-emerald rug and dark paneling of the mantel. A small fire chuckled in the hearth, chasing away the edges of her chills. Scattered books lay about, evidence of his love of knowledge. It was that love— and perhaps the peculiarity of finding him attending to his garden in the middle of winter —that had drawn Katherine to him to begin with. A few weeks ago, she’d taken Emma for a walk along the path running parallel to Charles Street along her garden gate.

As she’d reached Number Four, Dr. Gammon’s address, the old man had been scraping the ice off the patch of dirt and wilted plants that were his herb garden in the summer. Despite the cold the past couple years, he’d managed to nurse his plants through last year’s brisk winter and keep them alive, but he feared the weight of so much snow would do them ill. The winter had already gone on far too long for Katherine’s tastes, so she couldn’t begrudge him the worry. He felt around Emma’s stomach, presumably searching for sore spots. Her dog didn’t react to any of them. Katherine’s teeth chattered just as much from worry as from the receding cold. When she couldn’t take his good-natured mutterings toward her dog any longer, she burst. “Are you certain you shouldn’t take on more patients?” His aged fingers stilled on Emma’s belly. He didn’t look at Katherine, but took a deep breath before continuing his quest.

“No, I’m long past my practicing days. I do a bit here and there, helping friends.” Katherine gnawed on her lower lip. This wasn’t the first time she’d worried that perhaps retirement didn’t suit him. Why else would someone be out in the bitter cold, fussing over hibernating plants? “If you had more patients, you’d have less time to mull over old problems. I’m certain you’re second-guessing yourself. I do it myself from time to time.” Katherine was an earl’s daughter and thus, had kept it a secret from her neighbors that she had a knack for investigation. To openly admit to a profession would reflect poorly on her family, especially the far-less-esteemed profession of detective work as compared to the matchmaking most of society believed to be her strength. Truthfully, Katherine abhorred matchmaking.

It wasn’t that she disliked love—her sisters, her dearest friend, even her parents were shining beacons proving that love matches did exist. But how could Katherine arrange for other people what she didn’t want for herself? Investigative work challenged her mind far better. After all, she had been trained in the art ever since she was a child, trotting along at her father’s heels during his investigations. If high society learned that her father was a detective, she half expected he would be labeled an eccentric, but not shunned. Like many things, Katherine was held to a completely different standard. “You must be lonely.” Dr. Gammon grunted, dismissing the notion out of hand. Katherine pressed her lips together so no other wayward thoughts escaped from between them. She hadn’t meant to project her own fears onto him.

Her life was very different living in a house with only Harriet than when she had lived in a bustling townhouse in Mayfair. But despite the change, she enjoyed it. She was finally seizing her independence, something she had wanted for half of her life. “I’m not lonely.” He turned Emma onto all fours on his lap and stroked her gently around the ears. His eyes, solemn in his craggy face, met Katherine’s. “My housekeeper, Mrs. Campbell, comes in every other day. In fact, she was here earlier.” A woman who came into work every other day might make Harriet’s life easier.

Not to mention, having something edible in the house would be a welcome change. Katherine opened her mouth, but the doctor continued as he stroked her dog. “And James visited me earlier today. Have you met my son?” Katherine pressed her lips together and shook her head. The furrows in Dr. Gammon’s forehead deepened. “Well, I’m sure you will before long. He comes by frequently. You must have seen Dr. Sumner…” At the blank look on Katherine’s face, Dr.

Gammon raised an eyebrow. “You don’t know Dr. Sumner, either, do you?” Katherine shook her head. Dr. Gammon sighed. “It’s of no import. He was my old partner when we practiced medicine together. And he…” Dr. Gammon’s gaze traveled toward the place where he deposited his sheaf of papers. That old patient must have been treated by Dr.

Sumner as well. “It’s of no matter. Even if they weren’t around, I assure you I have an active, fruitful life.” She wanted to believe him, but the way he seemed preoccupied with those papers disturbed her. “That old mistake you mentioned?” He passed his hand through the air as if raising it from the past. “Never you worry about that. I’m not ready to sit around crying over old times just yet. I promise you, Lady Katherine, I enjoy my life, and I look forward to what every day brings me.” “I’m gratified to hear it.” She bit her lip.

“What of Emma? Do you think she’ll recover?” Dr. Gammon patted the dog’s rump. “I don’t see any reason why not.” The relief that surged through Katherine was palpable. She sank back into the soft cushions of the sofa and took her first deep breath since arriving. “What should I do?” Dr. Gammon chuckled under his breath. “For one thing, keep your notes on a higher shelf.” He stood, groaning before he set Emma down on the seat he’d just occupied. Without so much as a tail wag, she curled up and tucked her nose under one paw.

“Let me find her a pill. She’ll need to purge one way or another, and then she’ll be good as new. I should have a small enough pill around here somewhere.” As he shuffled off, Katherine got to her feet and collected her dog. She followed in the physician’s wake as he led her through the house to his study, a room not far from the parlor. As he rummaged among the herbs and medicines he kept on hand, Katherine cradled her dog. “About Mrs. Campbell…” Dr. Gammon grunted and emerged with a pill smaller than his pinky fingernail. It was a dull metal, the kind of pill meant to pass through.

Katherine wondered how much cheese she would have to wrap it in in order to convince Emma to eat it. She’d been trying to cajole her dog into eating all day. Nevertheless, she took the pill in her palm without comment. “Yes? What about her?” “Do you happen to know if she’s looking for more work?” Even uttering the question without first consulting Harriet made her feel disloyal. After all, Harriet had worked so hard to keep them in good spirits and clean clothes since they had moved out on their own. In return, Harriet got her pick of the rooms, including the largest typically belonging to the housekeeper. Katherine didn’t want to offend her friend and longtime lady’s maid, but she also wouldn’t mind a hot meal she didn’t want to throw in the cesspool. Not that she would ever tell Harriet to her face that the maid couldn’t cook. Katherine had to be more and more creative in order to smuggle food into the house that she was willing to eat. Emma usually ate the food she disliked.

Had that been what had made her sick? Dr. Gammon harrumphed and shook his head. “I doubt she’s looking for work. Mrs. Campbell has been with me for many years and is getting on in years herself. I’m half afraid she won’t be able to come as many times per week as she does.” He shook his head, seeming preoccupied for a moment before he returned that shrewd gaze on her. “Feed that pill to Emma and bring it back to me once it’s passed through. No cost, if you do.” Katherine didn’t relish the thought of searching through her dog’s vomit or stool, but as long as it brought an improvement, she and Harriet were willing to do anything.

Emma was dear to them both. “Thank you. I’m sorry to bother you so late.” He shook his head and ushered her down the corridor back to the kitchen, where she’d arrived. “Think nothing of it. And please, do come back and tell me how she’s getting on.” “I will,” Katherine promised. In the kitchen, she turned to the door then paused. “You don’t think Mrs. Campbell would be willing to cook and bring by meals, do you?” Dr.

Gammon laughed. “Tell you what, my dear. I’ll ask her when she’s over again in two days.” Katherine felt not a hint of guilt over that. “Thank you. And you will rest tonight?” He raised an eyebrow. “With the way you fuss over Emma, I ought to be the one worrying about you. I’ll be fine, I promise you. In fact…” He reached for a clean plate resting on a rag on the counter. “I believe I’ll help myself to the snack Mrs.

Campbell left and then run along to bed. Goodnight, Lady Katherine. I’m sure Emma will be as right as ninepence come the morning.” Katherine braced herself against the gust of February wind as she opened the door. Tossing her cloak over the dog in her arms to shield them better, she left her neighbor and friend behind. However, the detective in her couldn’t help but wonder which mistake in his past was worrying him and how she could help.

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