Hedda Burgemeister, November 1914
“Emmy, please, please forgive me. I’m frightened out of my wits. I have absolutely no one else in this world in whom to confide.”
“But Hedda, you tricked me here. You forged Mister Cordt’s name on a telegram.”
“I knew if I simply sent word I needed help, Heinrich wouldn’t let you return here. With Mister Cordt’s name on the telegram, he’d believe me extremely ill.”
“It’s not only Heinrich who would have said no. I would’ve said no as well. I’ve no intention of being drawn back into this imbroglio. I warned you not to become entangled with Otto.”
“But I love him. And I thought he loved me. Lately, though, I’m unsure. Look. Look, Emmy. Look at that chair.” Hedda points at the red velvet wing chair.
“What in the world are you talking about, Hedda?”
Hedda takes a few steps and lays her quivering right hand on the top of chairback.
“The antimacassar,” realizes Emmy. “The doily is clean.”
“Even though his hair’s thinning, Otto continues to slather on that heavily scented pomade. I haven’t changed the doily out since he returned from Germany. There’s no trace of his hair oil here because Otto has been here but once. Once. And he didn’t even lean back in the chair.
“Five days. He waited five whole days after his return to telephone me. He said he would come here that night, but he arrived a half an hour later instead. He plopped down. He grabbed me, jerked me to my knees and shook me back and forth. Hard.
“Coldly glaring at me, he sneered while asking if I loved him. Why would he ask? He knows I love him more than life itself. I said yes, but there was no love reflected back in his eyes.”
“Hedda, you of all people should know how easily Otto Koehler can transfer his affections. He must’ve met someone new.”
“I started sobbing,” says Hedda choking back tears even in the retelling. “I asked him if he wanted me to leave. To leave him. To leave San Antonio.”
“And what did he answer?”
“He looked disgusted. Then a sort of deranged desperation overcame him. He yelled that I could never leave him. A threat more than any declaration of love. He released me and stood up abruptly. He snatched his hat off the rack and slammed the door behind him.”
“Was he upset that you telephoned his office or about the trip to the bank?”
“He didn’t mention either of those things. Perhaps he doesn’t know. But why else would he be so bellicose?”
“Hedda, you need to wake up. There must be another woman.”
“I cannot believe it. I love him so. I’ve done everything he’s ever asked of me. But Emmy, I must confess I fear him now. He seems a changed man.”
“He’s never been as nice a man as your imagination has led you to believe. He’s no gentlemen, Hedda. Otto Koehler’s ruthless in business and politics. Why would you think he would treat you differently? A lover is a disposable commodity for him. Bought and traded like his real estate holdings.”
“Emmy, that’s why I signed the telegram falsely.”
“I understand now, but what is my presence going to accomplish?”
“He dare not harm me in front of a witness. Emmy, have you read anything about the Nelms sisters?”
“From Atlanta? They disappeared, right?”
“Yes, but right here in San Antonio. Right here. This summer. Not two blocks away from where we’re standing. They say their murderers swindled money from them and then ground their bodies up like meat for sausages. Then, to dissolve the remaining scraps of the sisters, the monstrous couple dumped their remains in a cauldron of lye.”
Emmy grimaces. “Hedda, that’s atrocious. But, wait, there were two sisters? A witness evidently is disposable as well. What have you dragged me into?”
“Otto, the man I love, wouldn’t actually harm me. Would he?”
This conversation between Hedda and Emmy is based on testimony during the trial. Would they have talked about the disappearance of the Nelms sisters? That headline-grabbing incident took place in Hedda’s immediate neighborhood. Given the timing, how could it not frighten her?