It was the Jazz Age, the Roaring Twenties, Prohibition—whatever you call it, I consider it the best years of my life. My companion was Dr. James Watson, son of my father’s best friend. He worked for the New York City Medical Examiner’s office; together, we solved countless cases for the police.
Our apartment overlooked the Seventh Regiment Memorial. Central Park was in neglectful decline, even before Herbert Hoover. But on a spring day, the greenery and sunshine brightened everything.
When James mentioned company, I put on a skirt and sweater set with a pearl necklace and black earrings.
“A new client?” I asked.
Nodding, he said, “Bessie Cox seeks advice on a legal matter.”
I raised an eyebrow. “You’re a lawyer, not a criminalistics doctor?”
With a dismissive wave, he said, “She has a claim of strangers in blood.”
“Strangers in blood?”
“The legal term for a child born out of wedlock and unrecognized by the father, or a filius nullius.”
“A ‘child of no one?’ ” I guessed with my Swiss boarding school education in French and Italian.
He nodded. “Except in this case, the child was born while the mother was married to another man.”
“I might be able to relate.” I knew something about illegitimate children as the daughter of Sherlock Holmes. In all of John Watson’s chronicled adventures, Holmes never admitted to siring a child. I tried to escape my past by moving to America after the Great War.
Minutes later, James remarked, “I hear steps in the stairwell.” He walked to the door and opened it. A woman stood in a grey suit. Her hair was cut into a bob too youthful for her face’s timeworn, chubby features. I guessed her age between forty and fifty. When the door swung open, she stepped back, startled. Her green eyes gleamed.
“Bessie Cox, allow me to present Dorothy Volare, my confidante and long-time companion.”
Crow’s feet crinkled at the edges of her hazel eyes. As I clasped her gloved hand, she smiled and said, “Once I read about the Scarlet Letter Murders, I realized you were the only people who could help me.”
She perched on a chaise lounge, and we offered tea. (You can take the Briton out of Britain, but …) We settled into our favored chairs, then James lit a cigarette. Gesturing to her, he said, “Tell us about your situation.”
“I married very young to Samuel Cox, a banker friend of my parents. Sam was their age and extremely cruel.” She pushed up her sleeve, and she turned her arm to show a large white scar bleaching peach-colored skin. “This is where he burned me with the clothes-iron. Mother and Father refused to hear my talk of his mistreatment. Because I had nowhere else for refuge, I said nothing, and I begged our staff to do likewise.”
I stood, outrage burning through my blood. “What are we waiting for? We’ll bring the police, and you can explain the details on the way.”
“Easy, Dorothy,” James said. “Samuel Cox is dead.”
Sitting back down, I motioned to Bessie. “Please go on.”
“Eventually, I found comfort in time spent with my cousin Fred Parker. He listened to me, and I felt that he truly cared for me. Our deep friendship quickly kindled romance.” She drew a sip from her teacup then savored it slowly. “In a year’s time, I became pregnant with Paul.”
When she looked into my eyes, waiting, I nodded. “Paul is Fred’s son?”
She returned my nod while blushing. “He is my only child. Never knowing the truth, Sam raised Paul as his own. My affair with Fred ended abruptly, and he married Mabel Parker. She had been a long-time friend to each of us. He and I both thought it for the best. Nobody found out what happened … at least, not until now.”
James spoke. “Fred is dead, and his estate is in probate. Although Bessie forwarded her son’s claim as heir, Mabel Parker refuses to honor it.”
“How did he pass away?” I asked.
Her voice faltered. “Fred aged poorly—like our grandfather, he was nearly deaf in one ear, suffered cataracts, and painful tumors. He died of pneumonia without a last will and testament.”
I said, “And you want us to prove that Paul Cox is Fred Parker’s son?”
She sat more stiffly and frowned slightly. “That’s correct.”
I shrugged. “I don’t see how this can be; you’re too late.”