His lips turned up in a smug expression. "I told you our operative in Kansas City's a good one, didn't I?"
"He found her? Goodness, how? Never mind. I'm sure you would tell me 'confidential sources,' which is most unsatisfying when I want to know every detail. But in this case I shall leave it for the sake of expediency and state how impressive this operative is. I should like to shake his hand."
The waiter approached, bearing steaming mugs of aromatic coffee. The moment he vanished into the kitchen, she poured two dollops of cream into her cup. "So you have the tintype."
Mr. Welch took the cream pitcher from her. "Ah, no. Miss Hoover spooks like a feral cat. But the operative spoke to the bank she used in New York and learned she'd transferred her money to another bank, which in turn transferred it to another bank to be used by a woman with a different name—her new pseudonym, of course. He visited a few months ago and found out she was still using it, but to make a long story short, when she learned someone was asking questions about her, she ran away again. A wise woman, that, because how was she to know the fellow poking around was an operative and not Pitch or one of his cronies?"
"Months?" Abby repeated, hopes deflating.
"Of course, months. Takes time to do this sort of work, as I told you four years ago. But you think I'd invite you to lunch to tell you all hope is lost? I've got more heart than that, Miss Bracey. The bank received a request to transfer funds to another bank in Nebraska. Big enough town for her to find employment. Small enough to know your neighbors, at least until the railroad line through there is finished. Farming community in Buffalo County called Wells."
The amused spark in Mr. Welch's eye told her he was enjoying stretching the tale for all it was worth, even if Abby didn't think her pounding heart could take any more. "So the operative will introduce himself this time rather than ask nosy questions that scare her away?"
"The problem is we don't know what she looks like. We only know that wherever she goes she pretends to be a widow with a son. And wouldn't you know it, she's settled in a town that boasts three widows with eight-year-old boys who've moved there within the past six months. One of them is Katherine Hoover, but which? Rather than visit and ask pesky questions that'll get her dander up, our operative planned to take up his former trade and move into the community so he could observe these families, but an opportunity has arisen, and I think you might be the perfect person to help us, if you're willing."
She dropped her fork. Her? How? Who cared? She could participate in bringing down Father's killer. "Yes. I'll do anything."
Mr. Welch grinned. "I thought so."
"What do you want me to do?"
"Finish your lunch." Mr. Welch pointed his knife at her plate.
"This is intolerable." But she shoved a bite of steak into her mouth anyway.
"The local schoolmaster's got a lung inflammation and is leaving for dryer climes right before Christmas. That leaves an open position, and what better way to find a child than to send a teacher to look for him? And you, Miss Bracey, are not only qualified to teach, but you have the desire to see Pitch brought to justice. There is no one better to take the task. Why, it seems providential."
Providence hadn't answered Abby once during the past four years. Not the way she expected or needed, at least. Could this turn of events be the answer to that long-ago uttered prayer?
Maybe, maybe not. But she would be on the train to Nebraska, regardless. "I must terminate my post, but they will not balk." Last week, a pupil's father learned who her scandalous father was and lodged an official protest about her family's moral turpitude. The school board would be relieved if she slipped away.
"You can't start until the second of January, anyway. We'll pay you on top of your teaching pay, of course. Can't say it's much. The Treasury Department doesn't compensate as well as some of us think it should, not that it's a polite topic of conversation to have with a lady, but it cannot be helped in this situation. Forgive me."
Murder was a far less polite topic than finances, but she'd broached it already today. Oh well. "How many children are in the school?"
"I'm not sure." Mr. Welch consulted his brass pocket watch. "The operative in charge will be here shortly. You'll get to shake his hand after all."