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Authors: Gail Z. Martin

Tags: #Urban Fantasy

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BOOK: Iron and Blood
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“Those deaths you mentioned, you think they were murdered?”

Drostan grimaced. “Yes. The killings were… unusually violent. It’s going to be hard to know who the victims were, unless someone’s gone missing and there are family or friends to identify… what’s left.”

“That’s going to be difficult in a place like this. People come and go with the work and the ships. Some folks keep to themselves, so no one might notice if they went missing. And some people don’t trust the police. They might not say anything.”

Drostan sighed. “I know. It’s an uphill battle. I just don’t like unfinished business.”

Mrs. Mueller patted his hand. “Give it time. You never know what could turn up.”

Drostan forced a smile. “You’re right. I will.” He looked for a change in subject. “How’s your son?”

“Eric’s doing very well,” Mrs. Mueller said with a flush of motherly pride. “He’s got a good job, on one of those transatlantic airships. He has a good boss, makes good money.” She smiled. “He sends some home each month, to help out.”

“I’m surprised he doesn’t come home for dinner whenever he’s in town,” Drostan said with a chuckle. “He’s crazy to pass up such good cooking.”

Mrs. Mueller laughed, pleased at the compliment. “Ah well, young people. Perhaps he’ll visit while you’re staying with us.”

Drostan smiled, feeling suddenly exhausted. “That would be nice.”

Mrs. Mueller gave him a pitying look and shook her head. “You’re tired. You should get some sleep. I’ll have breakfast ready for you in the morning.”

Drostan trudged up the steps, feeling bone weary. The old house’s stairs squeaked with every step. While electricity powered the trolleys and the street lights, few homes other than those of the very wealthy had electric lighting. The warm glow of gas light illuminated Drostan’s climb, its hiss a familiar constant.

Drostan opened the door to his room and turned the key in the gaslight, dispelling the shadows. He shouldered out of his coat and hung it on a chair. Across the room, a pretty blonde woman sat on the deep window seat, silently watching.

“Not a good day, I’m afraid,” he said quietly. “I wish I could do more.”

“You’re doing all you can,” she replied.

“It’s never enough.” He sat down on a chair by the small table he used as a desk, and combed through the newspaper clippings piled there. Tomorrow, the paper would report that a murdered man was found by the river, but further revelations were unlikely. Finian was diligent, but he was just one man in a big city, and the interest in clearing up a vagrant’s death was minimal.

“Another murder?”

Drostan replied. “A bad one, as if they’re not all bad.”

“A man?”

He nodded. “Couldn’t make out much more, I’m afraid.”

“Did you get a look at his clothing? Ask the women. They’ll notice what someone is wearing, even if they don’t pay attention to much else.”

Drostan chuckled. “Smart. I’ll do that.”

“Maybe he’ll show up, and you can ask him.” The woman shifted, and moonlight streamed through her. She wore a dress in the fashion popular a generation earlier, complete with a hoop skirt. She was the daughter of the home’s previous owner, staying on after scarlet fever took her from among the living.

“I don’t know, Olivia. I think there’s something different with these deaths. Something that might have taken his soul along with his breath.”

The woman’s gaze grew sad. “That’s a bad business. Be careful, Drostan. Stay alive.”

“I’ll do my best,” he said, flipping absently through the clippings. “No promises.”

Her laughter faded with her image, leaving him alone.

 

“N
O MATTER HOW
many times I fly over the city, the sight always takes my breath away,” Jake said, watching from the lounge windows as the skyline of New Pittsburgh came into view.

“It’s not the city that takes your breath, it’s Cullan’s flying,” Rick replied.

Cullan brought the ship in an arc over the heart of the city as he headed for the Brand and Desmet landing field at Rodgers’ Farm. Seeing the city from this perspective always gave Jake a sense of awe. He wondered what the view would look like without the haze of smoke from the steel mills that worked day and night, sending plumes of fire high into the sky.

New Pittsburgh expanded from the triangle of land where the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers converged to form the Ohio River, which locals called the ‘Point’. A fourth underground river lay hidden deep beneath the three rivers, the product of ancient glaciers.

Pittsburgh had stood at the Point since the founding of a fort before the American Revolution. But
New
Pittsburgh sprang from the ashes of the Conflagration of 1868 and the Great Pittsburgh Flood of 1869. Those disasters leveled much of the city and led to riots and chaos, quelled only by the temporary imposition of martial law. The Quake of 1872, only a few years later, not only devastated the rebuilt city, but also caused a hundred-foot drop in the level of the Ohio River, creating the Weirton Falls. That lucky accident added Niagara-like hydropower to the region and opened up new natural gas and coal seams to feed the city’s relentless manufacturing. The city that climbed out of the wreckage and remade itself became New Pittsburgh, dominated by the genius—and the fortunes—of the men whose factories lined the swiftly flowing rivers.

Usually, Jake looked forward to coming home after a trip abroad. He liked the solitude of the Shadyside brownstone where he lived, conveniently down the street from his family but no longer a daily part of the household. His gaze dropped to the black armband on his left sleeve, showing that he was in mourning. Rick wore a similar band, and Nicki was dressed in her darkest traveling suit, which would be replaced by suitable black crepe as soon as they reached the city. It was a reminder that, regardless of the urn’s secrets and the danger they had faced, their homecoming would plunge them into the complex social obligations required of grieving families.

“Has Cullan heard anything else from your family?” Nicki asked, laying a hand on Jake’s arm.

Jake sighed. “There was just the telegram at Long Island from Henry, demanding we come home as fast as possible, and the one from George.”

“Father sent his regards?” Rick asked.

“More than that. He asked me to meet him at the office before I go home. He was very clear that it be the first thing I do.”

Rick tore his gaze away from the view as the airship banked and headed over farmland. “You’re certain he meant for you to see him straightaway?”

Jake nodded. “Read it for yourself. I don’t think there’s any mistaking it—and he was unusually insistent about it.” Jake withdrew the telegram from his pocket and handed it to Rick. Rick frowned as he read and re-read the paper, then handed it back.

“Don’t you think that’s unusual, especially coming from my father? I mean, we’re talking about George Brand, the man who never misses a social nicety.” Rick’s voice held affection, with a hint of impatience with his father’s British correctness.

“Actually, yes,” Jake replied. “But it also suggests that Mother is holding up well, or Henry is holding her up, and that the sky hasn’t fallen in.”

“I’m certain that even in her grief, Aunt Catherine is a pillar of strength,” Nicki said. “It’s that resolute American spirit that baffles the Continentals. Your mother has it in spades.”

Jake chuckled. “So you’ve heard Mother’s stories about how our ancestors came out to this part of the country with Daniel Boone? I never had any trouble imagining my mother’s forebears driving West in a Conestoga wagon.”

“Don’t let on to the ladies at the Carnegie Society,” Rick laughed. “They think your mother is one of New Pittsburgh’s doyennes.”

“Don’t let Mother hear you call her a ‘doyenne’,” Jake warned jokingly. “She only plays the part when she absolutely has to.”

“As opposed to my mother, who was born into the role.” Rick sighed.

“Seriously Jake, what do you think George wants to see you about that would be so important?” Nicki asked.

Jake made a face. “He’s probably going to try to break it to me gently that Father left his interest in the business to Henry.”

Nicki rolled her eyes. “Henry, the ‘frozen chosen’. Sorry, Jake, but your brother makes a cigar store Indian seem like the life of the party.” She shook her head. “On the other hand, maybe this means you’ll do more of the European acquisition trips.”

“If the alternative is having to work with Henry day-in and day-out, I’ll be wearing out my passport,” Jake replied.

“You mean ‘we’!” Rick said, alarmed. “You’re not about to abandon me and leave me to wade through Henry’s bureaucracy while you go off and have fun.”

The closer they got to Rodgers’ Farm, the heavier Jake’s heart grew. All too soon, his father’s death—still just a notion—would become the grim reality of funerals, well-wishers and endless social obligations.

“By the way,” Rick said, “Cullan stopped by my cabin—didn’t want to disturb you, he said—and let me know that Harold Cooper in the London office was going to telegraph Father to make sure security was tight when we land.”

Jake raised an eyebrow. “We’re landing in the middle of an open airfield, miles outside the city. Since when have we needed ‘security’? Please tell me they didn’t call out the Pinkertons.”

Rick shrugged. “Between the attacks in London and your father’s death, I don’t think it’s wise to take risks.”

Jake turned away. “Precautions I understand, but if Miska thinks I’m going to put up with a bodyguard everywhere I go, I’ve got news for him.”

“Don’t blame him,” Rick said. “My father probably put him up to it.”

Jake swore. “Between mourning etiquette and ‘security’, my life is beginning to look like house arrest.”

“Wait until we land,” Nicki soothed. “There’s no use fretting until we see what we’re dealing with.”

The
Allegheny Princess
rumbled through the skies, slowing over a large, open field northeast of New Pittsburgh. There were signs of construction; a new railway spur was being added so the city’s elite didn’t have to rely on carriages to get to and from their airships. Jake felt the airship reduce speed and began to descend, dropping its guy ropes to the waiting handlers below. Jake’s eyes widened as he saw a cordon of men stationed around the periphery of the landing field.

“What the hell is
that
?” he said, pointing.

“I suspect
that’s
some of the security Father arranged,” Rick replied drily.

“Or we’re about to be arrested,” Nicki quipped, but she looked a little nervous.

Jake fidgeted as the
Allegheny Princess
docked. As they headed down the gangplank, a man bounded up to meet them.

“Glad to see you made it home in one piece!” Mark Kovach said. He had a rifle slung over his shoulder, and a pistol on his belt. He sobered quickly. “Sorry about your father.”

“Hello, Miska,” Jake replied, clapping Kovach on the shoulder. “It’s been a while. Let me guess: George sent you to escort us.”

Kovach grinned. “How’d you guess? Oh, and my mother read about your loss in the paper, and she insisted I bring some of her goulash, for the family.” He shrugged. “What can I say? Old customs die hard.”

Mark Kovach—‘Miska’ to his friends—was Jake’s height, with a fighter’s build and dark brown hair. Black eyes glittered with intelligence, constantly wary. No matter how often he shaved, Kovach never lost his five o’clock shadow, although the thick black moustache came and went from time to time. He wore a battered army vest, a remnant of his days with the Western regiments, and beneath the open collar of his shirt, a saint’s medal. From what little Kovach would say about his time in the Army, Jake gathered it hadn’t ended well. Kovach’s fame as a sharpshooter was well-deserved, and he was the best rifleman Jake had ever met. Even better than Rick, which was saying something. Jake relaxed, just a little, knowing that Kovach had their backs.

“Hello, Mark.” Rick greeted him with mock formality.

“Hello, Rick. Flat-bat season over back in Merry Old England?”

Nicki barely concealed a laugh as Rick gave an aggrieved sigh. “That would be cricket,” he said. “And yes, it ended in September.”

“Shame you can’t get rounded bats over there,” Kovach continued, taking perverse glee at needling Rick. “Baseball’s getting bigger every year. I could introduce you to the sport if you’re interested.”

Rick laughed and rolled his eyes and then muttered something under his breath. Their good-natured jibes made it feel, just for a moment, as if nothing had changed. Jake stepped to the fore and maneuvered between Rick and Kovach, something he had discovered long ago worked in everyone’s best interest or their banter could go on for a while. “Have you been to the house?” Jake asked.

Kovach grew serious, and shook his head. “No. Mr. Brand told me to bring the men here and secure the airfield. Said you had some problems shoving off in London.”

“You could say that,” Rick replied.

Jake noticed that Kovach and all the guards wore black armbands, in mourning for Thomas Desmet. It was a stark reminder, and would be all too common for the next year. “We’ve got guards around the house, and the office,” Kovach said. “They’re discreet, but no one is likely to get by them without a fight.” He paused. “I’m just sorry we didn’t have them in place before…” He didn’t need to finish the sentence.

BOOK: Iron and Blood
10.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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