The Lily Cafe is thrilled to present author Bill LeFurgy and his historical thriller Into the Suffering City: A Novel of Baltimore!
Title: Into the Suffering City: A Novel of Baltimore
Author: Bill LeFurgy
Publisher: High Kicker Books
Publication date: April 15, 2020
Genre: Historical, Historical Thriller
Baltimore, 1909. The city is jumping with danger and excitement. New thrills are everywhere: cars, cocaine, ragtime music, moving pictures. Old troubles also thrive, including murder, corruption, and the painful divisions of gender, class, and race.
Dr. Sarah Kennecott is on the autism spectrum—a trait that is unidentified and unappreciated at the time. Her passion is justice for murder victims, and after getting fired for looking too closely into the killing of a showgirl, she refuses to back down from the investigation. Sarah forms an unlikely bond with Jack Harden, a tormented, down-on-his-luck private detective. Jack pushes the case into Baltimore’s seedy underworld, a vitally corrupt realm of saloons, brothels, and burlesque theaters.
When Sarah and Jack pull the pieces together, they discover a stunning pair of secrets, each of which is worth killing to keep.
“Into the Suffering City” is a fast-paced, emotionally immersive story that combines originality and historical detail to explore the lives of people living in Baltimore during the early 1900s.
Dr. Sarah Kennecott scanned the dead girl’s naked body. The corpse had a small bullet wound near the heart. The right side of the forehead had a one-inch gash over a swollen, purplish bruise, and dark material clustered under fingernails of the right hand. A shallow quarter-inch cut marked the top knuckle of the left index finger. The upper lip had a slight bulge.
Sarah knew exactly how to proceed with the postmortem examination—if she were in charge. Which she most definitely was not.
With difficulty, she broadened her awareness to include the three men also standing around the autopsy table. Do make eye contact, she told herself as her pulse sprinted. Do control the tics. Do not offend the men. Stay out of trouble.
Bare electric bulbs lit the body chamber of the Baltimore city morgue with brutal efficiency. The dead girl’s blue-black lips contrasted with the bright white autopsy table, which had rust spots from where tools had chipped the enameled surface down to the iron base. Saws, drills, chisels, and knives lay ready on a scratched steel counter below shelves of organs floating in murky glass jars. A harsh chemical stink mixed with the odor the dead hung in the dank air. None of the sights or smells disturbed Sarah’s focus.
“Old Horace Shaw went and killed himself this pretty little high-kicker,” rasped the coroner with a blast of whiskey breath. He was an older man with broken capillaries exploding across ruddy cheeks. A fine thread of what looked like maple syrup ran down one side of his chin whiskers and over his cravat.
“Just another day in Baltimore,” said the medical examiner, whose gray handlebar mustache dominated his gaunt face. “Shaw and the rest of those damn politicians have let our city become a playground for fallen women. Every slattern south of New York has flocked here to make a dirty dollar.” He shot a sharp look at the scribbling male attendant. “Don’t put that in the notes!”
The attendant jumped. “I-I-I was only j-j-jotting the time and date, sir.”
“Why can’t we get a clerk who can speak right?” The medical examiner turned his cold gaze on Sarah. “And to top it off, we’re forced to have this twitchy little girl standing in our way. Things are going to hell in a handcart around here.”
Unlike with the dead, Sarah was uncomfortable with the living. Experience had taught her the best way to cope with people was to concentrate on the work at hand. She picked up a nearby clipboard holding the police report along with four photographic prints. One print was of the dead girl lying naked on her back in a bed against a wall. Someone had placed a towel over her chest and groin. The gain in modesty came at the expense of concealing how much blood was on or under the body.
Another photograph showed the whole room, which was in an extreme state of disorder. The final two photographs showed both sides of a small pistol; one side had “H. Shaw” engraved in bold lettering. The weapon was also covered with dark, swirly markings—the police had processed the gun for finger marks.
“There’s no mystery here,” said the coroner. “Police Commissioner Lipp wants us to work fast and get Shaw arrested. That will also have the benefit of knocking the commissioner’s main competitor out of the mayor’s race.”
“Amen to that,” said the medical examiner. “Commissioner Lipp is a godly man and the only one tough enough to clean up this city—he’s got to be elected. All right, then. Let’s get started.”
“Her name is Lizzie Sullivan, a showgirl, nineteen years of age.” Sarah read aloud from the report. “Police found the body in the deceased’s boardinghouse room, along with a discharged pistol. A feather pillow with powder burns and a bullet hole was also found.” The only sounds were the coroner’s wheezy breathing and the drip of melted water from the corpse iceboxes. Sarah lowered the clipboard. “Where are the bedsheets from the crime scene?”
The medical examiner flicked a speck of dust off his white medical gown. “You’re here, missy, strictly to observe. Stop your annoying prattle.”
Sarah pressed the clipboard to her chest. “You must address me as ‘Doctor.’” She forced herself to stop rocking back and forth on her feet. “You know my qualifications. I graduated from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine this spring with a specialty in pathology. And let me remind you I am here at the request of the mayor to learn the truth behind this murder. That is my job with the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.”
The two men rolled their eyes. “Political shenanigans,” said the medical examiner. “The mayor must be in the pocket of the Pinkertons for him to send you instead of someone who knows what they’re doing. What kind of physician works for a gumshoe firm?”
Sarah hesitated. He had a point—the Pinkerton Agency was not her preferred employer.
She should be working as a pathologist.
“No sheets. All we have is the body,” said the coroner. “The report says there was blood on the bed. It’s safe to assume she bled out.”
“The report fails to specify how much spilled blood was present at the scene. We are missing a key piece of information.” Sarah looked at the girl’s body. “The victim is not, however, drained of blood.”
The coroner’s jaw tightened. “How do you know that, Doctor? We haven’t even opened her up.”
“Observe the lividity pattern.” Sarah pointed to the pronounced purple patches along the visible edges of the girl’s back, rear end, and thighs.
“Lividity is present even after severe blood loss,” said the medical examiner with a deep sigh. “Guess your fancy school didn’t teach you that.”
“If she suffered severe blood loss, the lividity would be much reduced and would present as more pink than purple,” said Sarah. “Also, let us consider the cut on the right side of the head. Surely it occurred before death.” Sarah was swaying again, and her extended finger moved closer to, then farther away from the girl’s head as she spoke. “The area is swollen and discolored, indicating the blood vessels had time to expand. There are signs of healing.”
The coroner and the medical examiner glowered in silence. Sarah’s shoulders clenched tighter and a bead of sweat rolled down her spine as she struggled to assess their reaction. It was reasonable to suspect they viewed her behavior as difficult. And, for unknown reasons, they were ignoring her valid points.
The men turned the body over on its side. “No sign of a bullet exit wound or any other trauma to the back,” said the medical examiner. He rolled the body back and sliced into the abdomen. After a quick check of the stomach and other organs, he cut open the chest, using long-handled cutters to snip the ribs. Dipping his hands into the cavity, he conducted a perfunctory examination of the heart and lungs, splattering fluid onto his apron.
“Right. Here’s the bugger.” The medical examiner plunged forceps deep into the chest and pulled out a small bullet. “I say this is a homicide with death due to a twenty-five-caliber gunshot wound to the heart. That’s consistent with the discharged pistol and the hole in the pillow. Will that make the commissioner happy, Mr. Coroner?”
“Yes,” said the coroner. “It’s the perfect finding.”
“I disagree about the cause of death.” Sarah blurted the words out.
Excerpted from Into the Suffering City: A Novel of Baltimore by Bill LeFurgy, Copyright © 2019 by Bill LeFurgy. Published by High Kicker Books.
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Thank you so much, Bill! Your novel sounds fascinating!