An Ostrich Plume Hat
The following represents the promised preview of the draft of the first chapter of Gayle Brennan Spencer's first novel about Hedda Burgemeister and Otto Koehler.
Hedda Burgemeister, November 1914
Leon Johnson stands on the platform above the menacing crowd. Waiting.
Unblinking, his stare is hypnotic. Liquid pools in his dark eyes, but no tears spill out of the deep wells.
Hedda Burgemeister cannot turn away from the macabre scene unfolding before her.
“I’ll meet you all in heaven,” he whispers.
She flinches as Sheriff Tobin reaches for the lever to drop the trap door.
She jerks awake, spared from witnessing the nightmare’s conclusion.
She feels as though firecrackers are exploding in her head. The sharp crackling sounds unleash a flood of feverish recollections. Gunfire.
Hedda forces herself to shake off the fog clouding her head.
Was it two days ago? She is unsure.
Beads of perspiration pop out on her forehead; yet chills run down her spine.
Reaching over to grasp her left wrist, she finds it tightly bandaged.
Of course, she knows how to slit a wrist. But the silver knife on the sideboard was far too dull a tool for the job.
Hedda fights the urge to call out to a fellow nurse, to plead for something to put her out of this misery. Instead, she lies frozen with eyes squeezed closed, aware of every sound reverberating down the hallway.
Surrounded by a bevy of nurses, the guard outside her room summarizes details from the newspaper. Could not he at least whisper?
She cannot refrain from speculating about the glaring headlines. What does it read? “Millionaire Whose Charities Were Many Meets Sudden Death?”
What a sordid story unfolds beneath the headlines. Reporters revel in scandal. An involuntary moan slips out with the realization of the magnitude of this scandal.
For years and years, she experienced romance and drama safely. Between the covers of books. Yet now, she is the fodder fueling the gossip-driven imagination of an entire city.
Hedda needs no newspaper to tell her where Otto Koehler lies.
Elegantly attired and splendidly displayed, he is where he insisted all family weddings, christenings and funerals take place – the parlor of his estate on West San Pedro Place.
Long lines of people spill into the street, waiting to pay their solemn respects to Otto’s newly-made widow holding court in the solarium – her wheelchair framed on three sides by delicate orchids and billowy fronds of verdant ferns.
Drifting back into the drug-induced sleep, Hedda finds herself lying in the coffin. One stony, unsympathetic face after another peers down at her.
~ ~ ~
The nurses roll Hedda from side to side as they change the sheets under her, carrying on their annoying banter as though she were deaf.
“They say 2,000 mourners attended his funeral.”
Surely they know she has sustained no injuries that would prevent her from hearing, or, for that matter, looking them squarely in the eye, screaming at them to stop and fleeing the room.
“My cousin Karl works at Hauser Floral Company, and he said they just could not find enough flowers to fill all the orders. Why, the only flowers left in the whole city must be the ones growing right there in his own garden!”
Hedda stifles her anger, keeps her body rigid and stares straight ahead as they continue to change the bedclothes.
Their inconsiderate bedside manner substantiates her longstanding peeve. No matter how pleased the founding doctors of the Physicians and Surgeons Hospital are with their nursing school, the results do not impress her. These San Antonio-trained nurses absolutely are not as professional as those from Germany.
“Karl told me that it took six automobiles just to transport all the flowers to the cemetery.”
Copyright Gayle Brennan Spencer, 2007