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Authors: Gail Z. Martin

Tags: #Urban Fantasy

Iron and Blood (9 page)

BOOK: Iron and Blood
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Jake gave Andreas a hard stare. “The real question is—if it isn’t the urn someone wanted, what were they after? Have there been any unusual purchases or shipments—even if they weren’t magical?”

George and Andreas traded a look. “Likely, since whoever ransacked the office and shipping room was obviously looking for something,” George said. “But other than a few shipping ledgers, nothing’s missing, so odds are it wasn’t here.” He held up a sheet of paper. “I made a list of the most recent shipments and the people who commissioned them. We keep duplicates of all our ledgers, so we know which ones were taken. Andreas recognized a couple of people who may have been dealing in magical items. He will look into those. The others, I’d like you and Rick to check into, see what you can find out. Maybe something will lead us to Thomas’s killer.”

“Glad to do it,” Jake said, reaching across the desk for the paper and tucking it into his jacket pocket.

“After the funeral,” George continued, “I’m going to drop out of sight for a while. Mark Kovach thinks that’s wise. We’ve had a couple more incidents, attempted break-ins, here at the office and it seems prudent to be careful. I’ve already sent the rest of the family over to the Continent to visit relatives. And as a precaution, I’ve moved our files about the ‘special acquisitions’ to the house where I’ll be staying. That way, they’re less vulnerable—and so am I.” He sighed. “And as if we didn’t have enough to deal with, those Department agents have been around again, trying to recruit us. Doesn’t seem to matter how many times we tell them to go away, they still come back again.”

Jake folded his arms. “Could the Oligarchy be involved?”

In the chaos after the Great Quake and the Conflagration, civil government had fallen into anarchy and the city’s industrialists had used their private armies and the Pinkertons to take control and maintain order. Although the government was eventually restored, the industrialists had no intention of relinquishing their newfound power. It was well known, though not spoken of aloud, that the city had a shadow government, the Oligarchy, which influenced the city’s leaders from behind the scenes.

“I don’t know—yet.” Andreas seemed to choose his next words carefully. “That’s one of the reasons George engaged the services of that private investigator, Fletcher.” His eyes narrowed. “Are you aware of the murders across the river, in Allegheny?”

Jake shook his head, but George nodded soberly. “Bad business, that,” George replied. “But how would they be connected to Thomas?”

Andreas gazed out the window, looking out across the Allegheny River. “Perhaps they are not,” he said quietly. “If we are lucky. But I find the coincidence disconcerting.”

“I’ve been out of the country getting shot at,” Jake interrupted. “I really don’t know what’s going on.”

“There have been several rather gruesome murders over in Allegheny, and all along the rivers,” George said. “The press is calling them ‘Ripper-style’ killings.”

“Jack the Ripper was never caught,” Andreas murmured.

“Speculation is running wild,” George continued. “There are crazy stories about monsters, or evil spirits.”

“Some superstitions arise from terrible truths,” Andreas said. “For example, vampires.” He smiled, showing the tips of his elongated eye-teeth. “Stories about my kind are told in every culture throughout time. Many consider us to be nothing more than superstition. And yet, here I am.”

“You’re saying that something supernatural killed these people?” Jake countered.

Andreas gave an eloquent shrug. “I don’t yet know for certain. Something monstrous, certainly, to do that to a living person. Few humans are disturbed enough to commit this type of carnage.”

“What does this have to do with Father? I don’t see a connection.”

“It’s possible that an item was brought into New Pittsburgh that opened a doorway, so to speak, for such a monster to enter,” Andreas said, steepling his fingers together. “Or that gave a weakened monster the power to strike.” He paused. “Earlier on the day he died, your father met with Richard Thwaites. Thwaites is a business partner with Drogo Veles. Do either of those names sound familiar?”

Jake nodded. “Yes. But only by reputation. Thwaites is what Rick would call a toff. He’s got more money than brains, likes to throw it around, has a bad reputation with women and a mean streak a mile wide. Veles, if I recall, is a wealthy man from Eastern Europe with a mysterious past, and has enough of a dramatic flair he doesn’t mind rumors of magic.”

“The rumors are true,” Andreas replied. “Drogo Veles is a Romanian dark witch. I find it very disconcerting that someone connected to him was anywhere near your father on his last day.”

“I didn’t see Thwaites when he came in for his appointment, but it was several hours before Thomas died,” George said.

Andreas shrugged. “If Veles intended to kill someone, he could arrange for it to happen once Thwaites was conveniently far away. Whatever they used to do it, like a cursed object, could have been retrieved during the break-in the night of your father’s death.”

They were silent for a moment as the ramifications of Andreas’s statement sank in. Jake remembered the piece of paper he had taken from Thomas’s cabin aboard the airship, and dug it out of his pocket. “I found this in Father’s desk on the
Allegheny Princess
. It’s his handwriting.” He handed it to Andreas. “Does it mean anything to you?”

Andreas frowned as he read down the list. “A monster—and several powerful witches.” He handed the paper back to Jake. “Interesting.”

The clatter of carriage wheels on cobblestone and the shouts of Kovach’s guards brought the conversation to an end. A flash illuminated the night sky. Jake sprang from his chair and was about to head across the hallway to an office with a view of the street when an explosion rocked the building, shattering glass and knocking them to the floor. Jake’s ears rang and he lay still for a moment, fearing a hail of gunfire might follow through the empty windows.

“Are you hurt?” Andreas asked.

“Where’s George?” Jake managed to sit up. Shards of glass littered the hallway outside of the office.

“I’m fine,” George answered as he stood up from behind his desk.

Outside, Jake could hear Kovach shouting, a mixture of English and Hungarian. In the distance, sirens began to wail. A red glow from outside lit the hallway.

“It’s best I leave before the police arrive,” Andreas said, after he had helped Jake to his feet. “It’s fortunate that you are both uninjured, but as you see, our enemy will not hesitate to play rough to get whatever it is he wants. He’ll strike again, and harder. We must figure out his objective—and solve your father’s murder—before whoever is behind this has a chance to better his luck.”

Jake moved to respond, but in the time it took to turn his head, Andreas had disappeared.

“Get out of here, Jake.” George nodded toward the door. “The fewer questions asked, the better. They’ll wonder why you’re here at such a late hour when you might be home consoling your family. I’ll stay. With my partner newly dead, no one will wonder why I’m working late.” He raised a hand to forestall Jake’s protests. “Mark will make sure I have guards, and they’ll see me home safely. Now go. Give my best to your mother, and tell her I’ll come by when I can to call on the family.”

Jake ran toward the lobby, only to run into Kovach coming his way. “We’ve got to get you out of here, now!” Miska said, grabbing Jake by the arm and nearly dragging him off his feet down to the street.

“Take care of George!” Jake protested as Miska shoved him into a waiting carriage and swung up to sit in the jump seat behind the main compartment. Miska shouted something in Hungarian to the two guards closest to the building, and the men nodded, then turned to go inside.

The carriage jolted into motion, clattering down Smallman Street. From the light of the fire, Jake glimpsed a crater and debris in the street near Brand and Desmet’s building. The driver urged the horses on, and the carriage jarred every bone in Jake’s body as it took a sharp left and then a right onto Liberty Avenue. Police wagons rumbled past them headed the other direction, their bells clanging loudly, as the carriage slowed to a decorous pace, as if nothing at all had happened.

 

“W
HAT THE HELL
were you thinking?” Drogo Veles paced the well-appointed parlor like a caged panther. “Your men were supposed to steal any record of Jasinski and make sure they didn’t have that damned Polish witch’s crates. That was all. Killing Thomas Desmet was not part of the plan.”

Richard Thwaites leaned back in his flocked velvet armchair. His satin smoking jacket contrasted nicely with the upholstery. Like the furnishings, the jacket cost a small fortune. “There’s no telling what Jasinski told Thomas Desmet, or what Desmet figured out on his own. ‘No loose ends’—isn’t that what you always tell me?” he asked with cultivated ennui, and puffed on his Cuban cigar.

“You used one of the medallions I gave you for emergencies,” Veles growled. “You used my magic to kill him.”

“And I made sure the medallion was retrieved,” Thwaites replied with a shrug. “No fingerprints.”

“Idiot!” Veles slammed his fist onto a Chippendale side table, so hard he splintered the wood. Thwaites winced. “A witch of any power—especially one like Andreas Thalberg—will know magic was used. Why didn’t you just leave a calling card and be done with it?”

Thwaites gave Veles an annoyed glare but carefully avoided meeting the dark witch’s gaze. “Has Andreas Thalberg come knocking on your door?” He asked. “No? Then it wasn’t that obvious.” He flicked the ash from his cigar. A stray ember dropped onto the Aubusson rug beside his chair and he extinguished it with the sole of his bespoke Italian shoe.

“It was reckless, and unnecessary. Thomas Desmet wasn’t likely to be a threat. Giving his son a cause for vengeance could be dangerous.” Veles’s gaze was piercing, and although Thwaites did not meet his eyes, it made the social scion cringe.

“Our men in London are getting soft,” Thwaites complained, taking a sip of his imported scotch. “They had two chances to eliminate the problem entirely and failed.”

“Is that your idea of subtlety?” Veles asked. “A gun battle through London and an aerial shootout? Airships are not inexpensive!”

“We needed to keep Jake Desmet and Rick Brand from going to Poland. If they had picked up Jasinski’s crate, our opportunity would have been ruined before we could contain the damage.”

“But it didn’t work, did it?”

“It may not have worked the way we planned it, but we don’t think that the shipment ever got to Karl Jasinski—
or
to Brand and Desmet.”

“Don’t
think
? Don’t think…You still don’t know where it is.” Veles tutted. “All that effort and blood, and we’re no closer to laying our hand on those stones than we were when they were in Prague.”

“I’m working on it. We’ll find them.”

Drogo Veles eyed his business partner. Richard Thwaites came from money, though the idea that any fortune in North America could be considered ‘old’ money was laughable. Thwaites was an asset, he reminded himself. Keeping that in mind lengthened Thwaites’s life when he became insufferable.
Nouveau riche,
Veles thought.
He defines the term.

Still, Thwaites was a born-and-bred American blue-blood, something Veles was not and never could be. With his blond hair, blue eyes and stage actor good looks, Thwaites looked the part of a successful American businessman, and his bona fides made him an inside member of New Pittsburgh’s real ruling class, the Oligarchy. No matter how wealthy Veles was, or how powerful his magic, his Eastern European roots were not going to be overlooked by that esteemed crowd of WASP power-brokers. Not in any lifetime.

So he was stuck with Thwaites, at least until the Vesta Nine mine was tapped out. Perhaps longer, if Thwaites could be as useful as he was annoying.
He’s got connections, and charisma. He can be helpful.

“Relax,” Thwaites said, stretching out his legs and crossing his ankles. “We’ll find them. And Jasinski, too. Besides, the tourmaquartz vein is almost exposed. Pity this stuff is so hard to extract. A few more months, and we can forget the whole thing.”

“Maybe.” Veles stalked the length of the room, his hands clasped behind his back. He preferred a more somber look than Thwaites’s dandyish tastes. Veles wore a slim-tailored black frock coat over dark slacks. The ensemble had a distinctly European cut that suggested a well-heeled Continental undertaker. It tended to make people unsettled, which suited Veles fine.
Machiavelli was right. ’Tis better to be feared than loved
.

“We’ve sold one small shipment of tourmaquartz to Spain, just enough to draw them in,” Veles said. “They barely have a piece as big as my thumb, but it’s enough to power an airship. The Chinese and the South Africans see the potential. They’ve made discreet inquiries.”

“Of course they have,” Thwaites said with a self-congratulatory note in his voice. “Tourmaquartz is a game-changer. Every arms dealer and inventor will be beating down our doors once word gets out.”

“Don’t fool yourself—the Department of Supernatural Investigations will get wind of it,” Veles replied. “They’ll move in big and even your connections won’t be able to keep them from shutting us down. Remember how they covered up that downed airship in the Monongahela?” He shook his head. “We need to mine as much as we can as quickly as we can and get it to the highest bidders, then wash our hands of it before the whole thing goes bad.”

BOOK: Iron and Blood
9.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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