Read Doktor Glass Online

Authors: Thomas Brennan

Tags: #Fantasy, #Fiction, #Historical, #General

Doktor Glass

Doktor Glass

Doktor Glass

Thomas Brennan

THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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This is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

Copyright © 2012 by Thomas Brennan.

Cover art by Christopher Gibbs.

Cover design by Jason Gill.

Text design by Tiffany Estreicher.

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

ACE and the “A” design are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

PUBLISHING HISTORY

Ace trade paperback edition / January 2013

eBook ISBN: 978-1-101-61892-9

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Brennan, Thomas, 1965–
Doktor Glass / Thomas Brennan.—Ace trade pbk. ed.
p.  cm.
ISBN 978-0-425-25817-0 (pbk.)
1. Police—England—Liverpool—Fiction. 2. Men—Crimes against—Fiction. 3. Liverpool (England)—Fiction. 4. Steampunk fiction. I. Title.
PR6102.R465D65  2012
823’.92—dc23
2012030179

ALWAYS LEARNING
PEARSON

For Mary and Albert

Table of Contents

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

Nine

Ten

Eleven

Twelve

Thirteen

Fourteen

Fifteen

Sixteen

Seventeen

Eighteen

Nineteen

Twenty

Twenty-one

One

M
ATTHEW
L
ANGTON KNELT
beside his wife’s grave and watched the rising sun burnish the Transatlantic Span. Far below Everton’s hilltop cemetery, beneath stepped terraces of snowbound tenement roofs, the great bridge’s foundations stood anchored in the River Mersey’s mist and shadows, but its soaring towers and suspended steel cables turned first red, then gold. Light slid down the pristine steel and illuminated the road deck; rail lines like silver threads dwindled to a distant vanishing point lost somewhere in the haze over Ireland.

Langton tried to imagine those new rails stretching westward across the Atlantic, all the way from Liverpool to New York. He could not; the distance was too great, America too remote. Like the hopeful thousands waiting below for the Span’s inauguration, he would have to see for himself.

Now, as November cold gripped him, he stood up from the gravel path and read the headstone’s angular gold letters for the hundredth
time. Like Egyptian hieroglyphs from one of the recently opened tombs, they meant so much more than the simple form of the words:

SARAH JANE LANGTON

BORN FEBRUARY 2ND 1872

DIED AUGUST 17TH 1899

NEVER FORGOTTEN

Langton shed a glove and laid his hand on the smooth black marble. The icy wind racing up from the Mersey froze the droplets at the corners of his eyes, then closed them. Three months. Only three months. Langton could almost
will
his hand to register soft, warm skin, or feel the coiled hair gathered at the nape of Sarah’s neck on a summer’s day.

For a moment, Langton became as still as the sculpted monuments surrounding him. Frozen cherubs and angels reached up to the sky, their faces contorted with rapture, their bodies veined marble, granite, obsidian. How closely their rapture resembled agony. How unlike Sarah’s final, peaceful features that Langton had discovered when he raced to the Infirmary, already too late.

He turned away, the gravel path crunching beneath his feet. Other than the sound of Langton’s steps, only creaking tree branches and the ringing of small bells disturbed the silence. The bells stood above many of the graves, with cords or fine chains disappearing into the ground and into the coffins below. So many people feared being buried alive, being presumed dead rather than the doctors diagnosing narcolepsy or seizure. Langton could understand their fears: In his worst nightmares—the most recent—solid walls contained him, pressed in on him, robbed him of air; when he tried to scream, no sound came out; when he tried to move, he had no body.

Yes, he could understand those fears. In three months of daily visits, Langton had seen servants sitting beside the graves of the wealthy, waiting for signs of life from below, signs that never materialized.

Hope, Langton knew, came in many forms.

“Inspector Langton?” The cemetery gatekeeper stood in the lodge’s doorway, his gaunt body silhouetted by flickering yellow light. “Have you a few minutes, sir?”

Langton hesitated, then said, “I have, Mr. Howard.”

Thanks to his sleepless nights and early awakenings, Langton had almost two hours before he must report for duty. He left his coat in the hall and followed the gatekeeper into a sitting room filled with dark, heavy furniture; dusty ornaments; and a loud grandfather clock.

Howard crossed to the cluttered table. “It’s uncommon cold already, sir. We’ve a deep winter ahead.”

Langton warmed himself by the coal fire and glanced at the objects arranged on the mantelshelf. A severe woman stared back from a staged photograph; a ribbon of black velvet hung from the silver frame. A row of medals, some frayed and dulled with time, leaned against the photograph. “In all the times we’ve spoken outside, Mr. Howard, I never realized you were a Boer veteran.”

The gatekeeper, busy at the table, stood a little taller. “Queen’s Own Riflemen, sir. Togoland and Tanganyika, then the Transvaal, God’s own purgatory here on earth, sir.”

Langton stared into the fire and remembered the taste of South African dust, the hot-copper smell of fresh blood in the sun.

Howard continued, “That’s where I picked up the taste of coffee, sir, and it stuck with me. Expensive habit, I know, but I don’t smoke and I drink only to Her Majesty’s health. I’d bet a shilling you’re a coffee man yourself, sir.”

Langton took the proffered seat beside the fire. “You’d win your wager, Mr. Howard.”

He watched as the gatekeeper trickled coffee beans into a grinder, worked the handle, and then poured the fine grains into the hexagonal Italian percolator. When Howard screwed the steel percolator together it resembled an artillery shell; he placed it onto a pivoted rack and swung it over the coal flames.

Langton listened to the tick of the clock and the bubbling percolator. For two decades, many of Britain’s young men had fought the Boers, and many still lay out there beneath the baked red soil and the unforgiving sun. But so did the Afrikaners, women and children, too. Langton had discovered how fear and desperation sounded out the true depths of a man’s soul, and that of an empire.

Coffee spluttered and bubbled and filled the room with a rich, acrid odor. Howard produced two china mugs. Langton breathed in the fumes for a moment before tasting the coffee. He smiled.

“Truth is, sir…” Howard said, then coughed and looked away. “Truth is, I wanted to mention something.”

Langton waited.

“Well, sir, I’ve seen you every day now since…since your misfortune. Every morning at the same time. Not that I was spying on you, sir. But we got to saying hallo and to passing the time of day.”

“Go on.”

Howard gulped coffee. “Fact is, sir, I did the same when my Maude passed away: I couldn’t say good-bye to her. The good Lord knows, I seen plenty of dead and dying, enough to last ten men’s lifetimes. Maude was different. Like someone had reached inside and ripped a piece of my soul right out.”

Closing his eyes, Langton concentrated on the coffee in his hands and the waves of heat from the fire.

“Sir, I just couldn’t get over it. Stopping me from sleeping, eating, everything, it was.”

“Mr. Howard, I—”

“Hear me out, sir. Please.” Howard topped up the mugs and said, “Maude’s sister told me about this woman over in Hamlet Street, the other side of the park; she’s a spiritualist, what some might call a medium.”

Langton stared at him. “You believe such fancies?”

“I didn’t, sir, not before, but I was so desperate I paid her a visit.”

So much more than a mere fad, spiritualism had erupted in every
town and city in Britain. As science progressed and wars and pestilence flourished, people searched for answers, even the wrong ones. Through his fellow officers, Langton had heard of fake mediums and spirit guides defrauding anguished families of hundreds or even thousands of pounds. At the other end of the scale lay poor men like the gatekeeper.

Langton set his mug down. “I’m sorry, Mr. Howard.”

“She let me say good-bye to my Maude, sir,” Howard said. “She helped me and she can help you, sir, I know it. Perhaps I’m being forward, but I hate to see suffering. Especially in a comrade.”

Langton looked into the man’s face etched with deep lines, the eyes wide and still hopeful. “Mr. Howard, so many of these people are charlatans.”

“Not this one, sir. Not Mrs. Grizedale.” Howard reached into his waistcoat pocket for a small card. “If you feel able to, please call on her. You’ll not regret it if you do.”

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