But they will have to wait. Judge Bixby keeps his Saturday sessions short. The court adjourns promptly at two o’clock, and the participants and spectators are turned out into the cold.
Pleased with his performance, Stokes repairs to nearby Delmonico’s for a late lunch. He then visits one of his lawyers, Rufus Andrews, who has been monitoring the proceedings of a grand jury Fisk has managed to have convened to consider criminal charges against Stokes for blackmail. Andrews advises Stokes that he has nothing to fear on this front; Fisk’s evidence is flimsy, and the grand jury has declined an indictment several times already. Stokes has been contemplating a trip to Providence to defend himself in yet another court action, but he wants to hear from the grand jury before making a final decision about leaving town. Andrews tells him to go to Providence; there will be no indictment. Stokes still worries and so consults Judge Bixby, who likewise dismisses the prospect of an indictment.
Stokes hails a cab and rides downtown to the Hoffman House. He walks up to his room to collect some papers he will need in Providence. He descends to the lobby and discovers a message waiting for him. He reads the message and learns that the grand jury has in fact returned an indictment against him.
This news shatters the good feeling he has carried from the Yorkville court. The tentacles of Fisk, it seems, are everywhere; there is no escaping his malign influence. Perhaps Stokes wonders whether Josie is worth the troubles she has caused him, troubles that will multiply crushingly if the new indictment leads to conviction and prison. Perhaps he wonders if Josie will love him if he is behind bars. Quite possibly he thinks nothing so coherent; in his agitation his thoughts fly this way and that.
He hails a cab and rides to Josie’s house. But when he gets there he doesn’t go in. He directs the driver around the corner to the Opera House but doesn’t go in there either. He has the driver take him down Broadway and gets out near the Grand Central Hotel, between Amity and Bleecker streets.
The Grand Central bills itself as the finest hotel in America, and it is without question the largest, with more than six hundred rooms. In the eighteen months since opening it has become the favored accommodation of well-heeled visitors to New York, and scores of rich residents of the city make it their permanent abode.
Stokes, inwardly still agitated but outwardly calm, enters the hotel and ascends a staircase to the second-floor hallway, which runs north and south, parallel to Broadway. The hotel is moderately busy on this Saturday afternoon, and no one pays this nattily dressed, respectable-looking visitor particular mind. He seems to be waiting for one of the hotel’s guests or residents, as several others in the public areas of the hotel are doing. At five minutes past four o’clock Stokes stands at the head of what the hotel calls the ladies’ staircase, to distinguish it from the main stairway at the opposite end of the hall.
He is looking down the staircase when Jim Fisk enters it at the bottom. Their eyes meet. Fisk seems surprised, even shocked, to see Stokes. Stokes appears neither surprised nor shocked.
Fisk is more shocked when Stokes produces a pistol. But Fisk doesn’t move, perhaps not sure that he is seeing what he is seeing. Stokes fires. The bullet hits Fisk in the abdomen. Stokes fires again. This bullet hits Fisk in the upper arm.
Fisk belatedly turns to escape. He takes a step but stumbles, then falls to the floor.
Stokes leaves him bleeding in the stairwell. He retreats into the second-floor hallway and walks quickly toward the main staircase. Near the head of the stair is the door to the ladies’ parlor; he enters and tosses his pistol, a four-shot derringer, on one of the sofas. He returns to the hallway and descends the main stairway, walking even more quickly now, for he hears shouts that a man has been shot in the hotel and the assailant is on the loose. As the shouts grow louder he breaks into a run, causing the proprietor of the hotel, who sees Stokes from behind the main desk, to call to him to stop. The owner yells to the porters to catch him.
Several porters give chase. Stokes dashes down the hallway toward the back doorway to Mercer Street, dodging hotel guests and visitors. He is passing the hotel barbershop, within a few steps of the street, when he loses his footing on the marble floor. He falls awkwardly. He is up again in an instant, but the delay allows the porters to overtake him. They wrestle him to the floor and pin him down. When he ceases to resist, they drag him to the porters’ bench at the foot of the grand stairway and hold him for the arrival of the police.
Fisk knows nothing of Stokes’s capture. He has staggered to his feet, unaware how seriously he has been wounded. The doorman and other hotel staff assist him up the ladies’ staircase to a vacant suite near the head of the stairs. He collapses on the bed, which immediately becomes soaked in his blood. The doorman and the others are puzzled and alarmed at the amount of the blood, for the arm wound—the only one they can see—appears minor. One of the staff rushes to summon medical help. Two physicians, both of them residents of the hotel, arrive within minutes. They order everyone else out of the room and conduct an examination.
They quickly discover the abdominal wound and realize it is by far the more serious. They call for additional help, meanwhile making Fisk as comfortable as possible. His pain isn’t great, as shock has set in. He remains conscious, with momentary lapses.
Two more physicians—surgeons—arrive. One probes the wound to locate the bullet and perhaps extract it. But after exploring several inches into Fisk’s ample torso, he finds nothing and gives up. The physicians agree that the wound is probably mortal, although they are encouraged when Fisk grows more alert and apparently stronger. They concur that the next hour or two, perhaps a bit longer, will be critical.
The police arrive at the hotel. Stokes is arrested and taken to Fisk’s room. The two men face each other: Stokes standing, silent and sullen; Fisk lying on the blood-soaked bed, breathing heavily and with great effort. Stokes looks away from Fisk, trying to avoid his glance. Fisk looks at Stokes but, in his shock, seems bewildered by the whole sequence of events.
All the police want is for Fisk to identify Stokes as his assailant. Fisk does so but says nothing to Stokes. He then falls back on his pillow. Stokes remains silent, neither denying the identification nor affirming it. He is led away.
The police hustle him out of the hotel and along the sidewalk the half block to the Fifteenth Precinct station house on Mercer Street. A growing crowd, attracted by the commotion, trails the police and the prisoner. The captain on duty at the station house tells Stokes he is going to ask him some questions. “You can answer them or not, as you please.”
“I will answer nothing,” Stokes responds.
“Will you give me your name?”
“Certainly. My name is Edward S. Stokes. I will give you that but nothing more.”
He proves as good as his word. The captain orders him placed in a cell.
The police now concentrate on Fisk. Informed by the doctors that Fisk is dying, the captain dispatches the police coroner to take Fisk’s antemortem statement, which like other deathbed testimony, is presumptively more reliable than most other statements. Six witnesses, residents of the hotel and the neighborhood, are summoned as a coroner’s jury, to corroborate the coroner’s record. As they enter Fisk’s room they file past Jay Gould and Bill Tweed, who have heard the news and hurried to the hotel. Whether the purpose of Gould and Tweed is to comfort their partner or keep delirium or approaching judgment from loosening his tongue about their shared secrets, they don’t say.
Fisk is lying on his back covered with blankets. His wounded arm is outside the covers, elevated to slow the bleeding. His head is propped on pillows.
The coroner begins by asking Fisk’s name and residence. Fisk provides them, his voice just above a whisper.
“Do you believe that you are about to die?” the coroner asks. This question must be answered in the affirmative for the testimony to qualify as specially truthful.
“I feel I am in a very critical condition,” Fisk answers.
This isn’t good enough for the coroner. “Have you any hopes of recovery?” he asks.
“I hope so.”
This fails the test, too. Perhaps the coroner appreciates the irony of asking Fisk to abandon hope for life in order to identify the man who has brought about his imminent death. Perhaps, inured to death, the coroner is inured to irony as well. In any event, he proceeds. “Are you willing to make a true statement of the manner in which you received the injuries?”
Fisk is sworn and gives his statement. With considerable effort he retraces the events since arriving at the hotel. He says he recognized Stokes at the head of the stairs and saw something in his hand. He says he saw the flash from the pistol muzzle and heard the report of the powder about the same time he felt the first bullet pierce his abdomen. He describes being hit the second time and falling. He remembers being helped to the room and identifying Stokes.
The statement requires less than two minutes. It is shortly transcribed, and Fisk signs it in a shaking hand.
The coroner’s jury delivers a succinct report: “That James Fisk, Jr., came to his injuries by pistol-shot wounds, at the hands of Edward S. Stokes, at the Grand Central Hotel, Jan. 6, 1872.”