November, 2017

 
After speaking to the rest of the household staff, I left the Clapper house in the care of Inspector Monaghan, and took a closed cab to the Catholic Mission House. After dismissing the hack, I climbed the stone stairs to the oaken door, pulled at the bell, and was quickly admitted by the housekeeper, Mrs. Banfrey.

In the tiled foyer, I noted a policeman in his gray uniform sitting in an upholstered chair, a small plate on one knee containing what looked like a slice of iced cake, and a cup of tea or coffee in his hand. He attempted to rise when he saw me, but it took a moment for him to place the cup and plate on a small side table, retrieve his helmet, and stand to greet me.

“Officer Gannon, Sir,” he said.

“Officer,” I replied. “Standing watch over Miss O’Rourke, I assume.”

“Yes, Sir. I’m to see the lady doesn’t attempt to leave the premises, for any reason.”

“A duty not entirely disagreeable, I take it,” I said.

“Not entirely, indeed, Sir.”

At that moment, the sound of crinoline and silk accompanied Miss Emily O’Rourke down the staircase. Her gown was now pale yellow, and a ribbon to match encircled her dark hair, letting her curls swing when she moved. She approached with a glance at the officer standing at attention, and gave me a quick smile.

“You have news, Mr. Goodfoote? Have they ended this travesty?”

“No, Miss. But I have hope. If you would be so kind as to meet with me in private, there is much to discuss.”

“We can sit in the parlour, and Miss Banfrey will remain at the open door.”

I gave a little bow, and she led me to a room off the foyer filled with settees and stuffed chairs. While the housekeeper stood at the door, her keen hawk-eye on us, we moved across the room to ensure a private conversation. Miss O’Rourke sat on one end of a settee and I took a seat in a chair facing her.

“I believe I know the reason for your visit to Clapper this morning, Miss, but I’d like to hear it from you.”

Her eyes dropped for an instant, then up to meet mine. “No, Sir. I will not divulge the nature of my business. It is too painful to disclose. That is my final word.”

I reached into my inner suit pocket and pulled out the three sheets of paper I had taken from Clapper’s desk without Inspector Monaghan’s knowledge.

“Perhaps these documents are of some interest, Miss O’Rourke?”

She took them from my hand, glanced at them, then gave a gasp. She jumped to her feet, her eyes on the papers. When she turned to me, tears were at the corners of her eyes.

“Charles,” Emily exclaimed. “This is wonderful beyond words.”

I stood and gave a deep bow. “All part of the Pinkerton service, Miss.”

“There is a fire in the grate. I’ll destroy these hateful letters immediately,” she said, as she moved toward the hearth. Within seconds, the papers were aflame and quickly turned to ash.

Emily turned to me and let out a deep breath. “Now, Mr. Goodfoote,” she said. I noted Miss O’Rourke no longer used ‘Charles’, but had reverted to the more formal address. “You must have read the documents.”

“Indeed, Miss.”

“You then know they would bring shame and guilt onto the head of our Miss Wentworth, if the contents were disclosed. Have you shared these papers with anyone? A colleague, perhaps? A policeman?”

“No, Miss O’Rourke. No one else saw them. Winslow Clapper had them in his safe at the time of his demise, and I chanced to note their connection to your Mission House. But you must now tell me the reason for your visit to Clapper this morning, And what you saw while there.”

We both sat down, as Emily collected her thoughts. “That Man sent a message to Miss Wentworth last month telling her he knew of her earlier indiscretion and demanded a large sum of money. There is no kinder, more gentle lady in our service than Miss Wentworth, so this brought her to her knees. I found her late one night, sobbing uncontrollably, a shaving razor in her hand. She was about to slash her wrists. Fortunately, I was able to stop her. She told me, between sobs, about the child she bore when only fifteen, the father a gambler who ran off rather than do the honorable act of marrying her. Her family disowned her. Sent her out into the night. The child was sickly and died within days, leaving Miss Wentworth to make her way in the world, alone and penniless."

“It’s a sad tale, Miss. I understand your need for discretion.”

Emily O’Rourke looked me straight in the eye and set her jaw, a look I’ve come to know. “That is why I am so disappointed in your frequenting the bordellos, Mr. Goodfoote.”

I nodded. “Miss Wentworth only did what was necessary to survive, Emily,” I said softly. “She became a soiled dove when no other trades were open to her.”

“Yes, but, as you saw,” she said, “That Man found the birth certificate of the child, and a clipping from a story in the Ohio newspapers about the ‘wayward trollop’ who had been the town’s princess. There was even a tintype of Miss Wentworth, under her real name. She of course changed names when necessary to keep anyone from her past from finding her. Miss Agatha Wentworth is the name she assumed when I hired her to work with us here at the Mission.”

“There are questions to which I need answers, Miss O’Rourke,” I said. “That are somewhat independent of your mission to Clapper’s home this morning.”

“Of course, Charles,” she said, her hands folded on her lap. I was now ‘Charles’ again, seemingly forgiven for my dalliances with the femme horizontals of San Francisco, a ready source of underworld chatter.

“What time did you arrive at the Clapper residence this morning? Please be as specific as you can.”

“It was exactly six o’clock. The maid was serving coffee, and left the room just as I arrived. I could see her through the glass.”

“What happened then?”

“Well, I knocked on the window pane of the French doors, as I was instructed to do. I had contacted That Man and offered to retrieve the documents. I told him I was acting as Miss Wentworth’s agent. His message said to come to the back French doors and knock at six o’clock. So I did.”

“Did you offer him money?”

“I’m afraid I implied I had resources sufficient to meet his demands, but of course I didn’t. When I told him I hadn’t come with money, he practically threw me out. I was upset, I’m afraid, and ran without dignity to my waiting carriage.”

“Was the door to the hallway open or closed during your discussion?” I asked.

“Oh, closed. The maid closed it on her way out.”

I sat for a long moment, lost in thought. “Did Clapper lock that door while you were there? Did you see him throw the deadbolts, locking you in the den?”

Again, she collected her memories. “No, the maid merely closed it on her way out, and we began speaking, near the desk, immediately. I then left through the French doors.”

My mind pondered this, putting the pieces together. “When did Miss Wentworth receive the first letter from Clapper, telling her he had information that would be damaging to her and to the Mission House?”

“As I said, a month past, five weeks at most. She was upset, but of course didn’t have near the amount of money he was asking, and she told him so. Unfortunately, she didn’t confide in me, or anyone, until just days ago, when I found her in her pitiable state.”

“Exactly as I suspected,” I said quietly to myself. Then, “Miss O’Rourke, you’ll be wanting a lawyer to appear in court with you, for the Chief of Police has issued a charge that must be addressed.”

“Oh, dear. I had hoped it wouldn’t go that far. Who do you recommend, Charles? I have little knowledge of such matters.”

“The best attorney in San Francisco owes me a favor or two. His name is P. Fitzhugh Templeton. I’ll contact him and send him over to speak with you, if you’re willing to trust my judgment.”

“Of course, Charles. I’ll leave this entire confusion in your hands.”

 I stood to go. “Thank you, Miss O’Rourke, for your illumination. You’ll find Templeton an upstanding Christian man, and a Holy terror in the courtroom.”

Dusk was obscuring the rough edges of the city when I disembarked from my hired carriage outside the building on Montgomery Street that housed the law offices of Templeton and Rothstein, Esq. His secretary, Robert, admitted me immediately into the presence of the founder of the firm. P. Fitzhugh came around his desk with his hand outstretched. Fitz was a Patrician in every sense of the word. Tall, erect, from a wealthy family of Eastern Brahmins who booked no slackers, the city’s leading attorney was known for his vast scope of legal erudition in cases ranging from building permits to horse stealing. Dressed in the latest fashion, as usual, his suit a well-tailored, herringbone- gray with a matching pearl gray cravat, and silver watch chain. Fitz had a barber’s shave and haircut trim each morning before he came to his office, and his well-attended mustache sat above a ready smile that showed his perfect white teeth.

It was said in legal circles he never lost a case. Or a pugilistic contest, for his hobby was bare-knuckle fisticuffs against anyone willing to bet ten dollars for the honor of taking a swing at a lawyer. His quick fists, nimble footwork, and a left-jab that he could put through an oak door ensured P. Fitzhugh Templeton many a short bout and swift victory.

A year back, Fitz had hired Pinkertons to work a case involving one of his clients who fancied himself an Italian Opera singer. A complicated chain of events led a Russian Duke of lethal reputation to stage a murderous attempt to silence Templeton in a fog-filled alley on the Barbary Coast. A doxy by the name of Gina had given me the tipoff to not only prevent the assassination of the city’s leading attorney, but to bring the whole matter to a satisfactory close, with only a smidgen of gunplay. Since then, the doors to Templeton and Rothstein have been open wide to me.

“Charles,” Fitz said as he grasped my hand. “What a pleasure to see you.”

I returned his smile, refused the offer of coffee, and sat in his client’s chair while he returned behind his desk.

“I’m afraid it’s a business matter I must put to you, Fitz,” I started, “involving one of the ladies of the Catholic Mission House.”

“Yes. Andre my barber was full of information about one of the women spearing a man. I couldn’t believe it, but this is San Francisco, and anything is possible.”

I sat forward in my chair. “This matter will require your greatest discretion, for I can prove the lady, Miss Emily O’Rourke, didn’t commit the murder, but she is silent in her own defense.”

“Sounds interesting, Charles. Of course, as you know, I’m the soul of discretion”

For the next three-quarters of an hour, I revealed all I knew and all I suspected regarding the murder of Winslow Grayson Clapper, without revealing the content of the documents I had purloined. Fitz took no notes, but asked several questions during the discussion. When I finished, the lawyer nodded.

“I’ll take this case Pro Bono, Charles. It’ll be a change from the boring legal hassles I’ve been dealing with lately. And I’ve come across Clapper before. He was as low and smarmy as a man can get. The world is well-rid of that skunk.”

“The court date is Tuesday, Fitz. I told Emily to expect you.” I stood to go.

“If I understood the facts as you laid them out, we’ll be in and out of court in a couple of hours. I’ll call the butler, Victor, and the house staff. I see no reason to put Miss O’Rourke on the stand, but I’ll determine that after I speak with her.”

And so it came to pass. I sat in the back of the courtroom as the police judge, Herbert Jennings, rapped his gavel to open the case. A small room, it was simply furnished with a witness chair next to the table the judge used as his legal bench, two more tables for the prosecution and defense, and a bunch of church pews retrieved from St. Michaels’ Parish after an earthquake, for the audience. I smiled at Emily as she entered the courtroom accompanied by Inspector Monaghan, and she returned my smile with one of her own. After the district attorney, a small man with thin dark hair and a black twirled mustache, put forth his argument against the lady, we broke for fifteen minutes.

“If this is all they have,” Templeton told me sotto voco, as we stood on the courthouse steps, “we’ll be out by lunch. I won’t even need your testimony, Charles, and certainly not Miss O’Rourke's.”

When P. Fitzhugh Templeton rose to address the court, a hush came over the crowd of gawkers. He first called Victor, the butler, then Yvette. Both swore they hadn’t seen Miss O’Rourke near the residence. They recounted the same story they had told me. Careful questioning of first the groom, then the gardener, gave an earlier time for Emily’s presence, perhaps a half hour before the body was discovered. He then had Inspector Monaghan tell what he saw when he entered the room, but kept his questions only to what the policeman saw, not what he surmised.

Doc Thorp, the Coroner, was next to testify. “The post-mortem showed the deceased Clapper was struck senseless by a blow to the back of the head. He was probably unconscious, or near enough, when he was pinioned by the Arapahoe lance. I signed the death certificate as “Death by Misadventure by person or persons unknown.”

“So you see, your Honor,” Fitz summed up. “We have four independent witnesses swear, on the Holy Bible, THE HOLY BIBLE, your Honor, that both the hall door and the French doors were locked. All the windows were bolted. No hidden doors or hiding places could be found after a dutiful search by Inspector Monaghan and his officers of the law.

"The Corner, as is his duty, makes a judgment from the post-mortem. It’s his judgment, and we must respect that judgment.

"But does this court believe a spirit entered and exited a room locked up tighter than a skin drum? Or is it more probable the deceased was examining his prize possession, the Arapahoe spear, tripped on the carpet, and impaled himself, striking his head on the desk as he fell. We have Inspector Monaghan’s testimony that the desk had blood on the corner, do we not?  I put it to you, as a reasonable man, your Honor, this was nothing more than a tragic accident, and the injustice of dragging this fair flower of a lady, this city’s most respectable citizen, into a hellhole of a jail on mere speculation, is tantamount to a criminal act by the Chief of Police and the Prosecutor. They should be ashamed.”

He didn’t mention the fact Miss O’Rourke hadn’t spent a minute in jail. And the blood on the desk were spatters, certainly not from Clapper hitting his head. The idea of the man tripping on the carpet and stabbing himself with the spear was laughable, but no one was laughing.

The judge finally spoke into the silence that reigned in the courtroom. “And the contents of the deceased’s safe, Mr. Templeton. You say they have been destroyed, in toto?”

“Yes, your Honor. An unfortunate fire in police headquarters, I’m told. All the papers and documents were burned.” Templeton's voice dripped with regret.

“Well, then,” Judge Jennings said as he slammed his gavel, “death by misadventure by the deceased’s own hand. I’m ordering the lady released with an apology from both the Chief of Police and the District Attorney. A tragic accident indeed, and there’s no damn sense dragging this out. Send the lady some flowers, Chief, goddamnit.”

The courtroom burst into cheers and Miss Emily O’Rourke shook hands with Fitz, and turned to me. “I’m not sure what just happened,” she said with a smile, “but I know you had a hand in it, Charles. I’ll always be grateful for all you’ve done.”

I gave a bow, extended my arm, and escorted the lady through the crowd from the courthouse to an awaiting carriage. We arranged to lunch in a week at Chez Jacque’s, and I watched as she was driven away. Templeton and I then repaired to his office where we almost cried with laughter.

The next day I called on Doc Thorp, physician and surgeon, Coroner of San Francisco, and all around sportsman. We sat in his parlour at the rear of his home/surgery on Franklin Place. “I suppose you think it’s funny, Goodfoote,” he said. “I know Emily didn’t kill Clapper, but someone did, and that murderer is still out there.”

“That’s why I’m here, Doc,” I responded. “I know who killed the blackmailer, I think I know why, and I know how it was done. I also know how the locked room scene was played out.”


Next Month: Goodfoote explains the mystery of the locked room and discovers the secret behind the crimson cape.

An Engaging Tale of Extraordinary Villainy Set in Old San Francisco

Chapter 7

Goodfoote and the Caper of the Crimson Cape

​​by

Tom Hanratty