Authors: Leanna Renee Hieber
But first, a bite of lunch at one of his old, cozy pub haunts. Then, onward to a club where he could never afford the food.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
Spire had argued heartily for a good several minutes with the dour Foleyâthrough the shuttered club doorâbefore the ancient man admitted him. Spire entered, noting the doorkeeper's fine coat and tails and his vicious scowl, which Spire coveted for its sheer ferocity. Foley pointed with one crooked finger toward the heart of the building.
“He likes the mezzanine level, Mr. Spire,” Foley said.
“Thank you, Foley.”
“I didn't give you permission to call me Foley,” the man said sharply.
“What would you have me call you?” Spire responded wearily.
comes with time and privilege.”
” Spire said through clenched teeth, striving to project respect for the little Napoleon of his club kingdom.
The rich red carpets beneath Spire's feet stood in stark contrast to the building's entirely white walls. Spire headed up a grand staircase that led into a small, private mezzanine-level chamber filled with aromatic smoke from the sort of fine cigars Spire had only read of. As he walked, Spire tried to shed his irritation in regards to his commission, capped by Foley's initial denial of admittance. It seemed “unclassified business” didn't open doors. Couldn't he have a badge or something that deemed him important?
“Spire! Hello, good sir.” Lord Black looked up but did not rise from a large leather armchair in what was clearly his section of the exclusive setting; the area around him was strewn with paper, tea leaves, and tobacco droppings.
To his Lordship's right, a deep green frock coat and matching top hat hung from gilded hooks. He sported a black waistcoat with green buttons, billowing cream silk shirt cuffs matched a generous cravat of the same lush fabric pinned with a House of Lords insignia, gemstones glittering faintly in the soft gaslight issuing from cut-crystal wall sconces. The green pinstripe of Lord Black's perfectly tailored trousers indicated a large wardrobe rich in color and pattern.
The average man, Spire thought, had to consider practicality in clothing. Lord Black did not. Spire was well aware of his own modest, dark wardrobe in far heartier fabrics than nobility's silks or satins.
Spire tried to mitigate his biases, as Lord Black seemed to be genuinely interested in his line of work, which was unusual for a member of the aristocracy. He wanted to like the man. After all, to have a friend in the House of Lords was hardly a bad thing, whether Lord Spiritual or Temporal.
Given Spire's new appointment, he wondered if those labels would take on whole new meanings. The spiritual and the temporal: for Spire, these had always been at odds. A desperate desire to believe in the spiritual had led to temporal disappointment too many times for him not to declare empirical evidence weighted against the spiritual. But somehow, Lord Black seemed to manage the two with a certain amount of baffling joy.
The lord's fair hair looked even more blond in the yellowish light, almost angelic, and his bright eyes pinned Spire upon his approach. “To what do I owe this pleasure, Mr. Spire?”
“After a valiant fight with the vulture at the doorâ”
“Ah, good Foley.” Black smiled, revealing one angled tooth. “We'd be lost without our gatekeeper.”
“I am here, Lord Black, to ascertain what you believe to be my foremost objective within the scope of my operations, and to deliver a message.”
“The queen wants England to have immortality before the Americans do,” Lord Black stated. “I thought that was very obvious. America's Eterna Compound is incomplete. Whatever they missed, we must find it first. They were barking up every odd tree. Where they've sniffed, so must we. I am currently vetting new researchers. But our investigators and security services had best be well versed in the realms of the inexplicable. It's why we have our vault. There are many types of science, Spire.”
“Only mystics say that. You're a lord. Sir.”
“A mystical lordâ¦” Black said dreamily, gazing toward the mezzanine's arched beveled window bedecked with stained-glass royal crests.
Spire ignored this. “I need more information about your American operative. Will he return? How embedded is he?” Black shrugged. “Does the man even receive orders,” Spire pressed, “much less obey them?” Black shrugged again. Spire cleared his throat, managing to keep his tone level. “You do realize, Lord Black, this vagary makes me uneasy.”
“I'm sure it does.” The lord smiled. “You're a man who hates uncertainty. But I, my good man, thrive on it!” he exclaimed, lifting one hand in a flourish. “I love losing myself in everything I don't know. Curiosity, Spire! That's what will keep us alive; immortal.
Spire remained unmoved by Black's enthusiasm and handed over the decrypted message. “Miss Everhart is excellent with codes,” he blurted, unable to hide how impressed he'd been.
“Our veritable wizard with ciphers. Blakely is too, in his way.” Black smiled mysteriously. “I'll soon prove the full talents of your team to you.” Unsettled, Spire opened his mouth. Black continued with a scoff; “I can read you like a book, Spire. You don't discount Miss Everhart because her intelligence is so obvious. You deem the others lunatics.” Black finally read the message and frowned. “Oh. One of America's team survived after all and is being trailed.”
The nobleman looked up at Spire. “With this news, I don't know when our man will resurface again. He's slippery, with a mind of his own. He gets us what we need, so he's worth the headache.”
“Known aliases?” Spire asked.
“He sports variants of what may be his actual name, Gabriel Brinkman, though can we really ever be sure?” Lord Black smiled again, fondly, as if taken up by the romance of a spy's life. “Ask Miss Knight if her gifts offer us a sense of where he's gone off to.”
“If my job is security services, sir, with all due respect, I truly doubt a medium is my foremost weapon. A weapon, rather, would be my foremost weapon.”
Black laughed, though Spire had not intended to be amusing. “Mr. Spire, let me make something quite clear to you. The nature of your job is multifold. Sometimes you'll have to be a policeman. Sometimes a spy. Sometimes a diplomat. Sometimes a liar and cheat in the name of England. Sometimes a soldier. And sometimes you'll have to be a believer. You're an extremely capable and talented man, but it is becoming increasingly clear that believing is the one thing you cannot do. And that's a task worth working on.”
“I will do my job, sir,” Spire said, careful to keep a level tone. “Please give me details, names, operatives, everything about Eterna on all clearance levels and precisely what you expect of me. I can do nothing with phantoms, whether I believe in them or not. Good day, milord.”
Without a further word, he turned on his heel and strode away. “Try to enjoy your appointment, Mr. Spire,” Black called after him amiably.
Spire nodded without turning around. For Spire, there was nothing enjoyable about work at cross purposes with logic, but Black's enthusiasm was something to marvel at.
As Spire stepped out from under the arches of the club, leaving Foley's scowl behind, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a man in a somewhat theatrical cloak approach quickly on the cobblestones. He had a wide-brimmed hat pulled low over his face and his suit was too tight, revealing lines of a muscular body. Spire shifted to evade him but the stranger seemed determined to collide with him.
Spire moved quickly to his right, but not before something landed over his headâa hood, something made of fabric anyway, dark and full of smoke. Spire struck out and felt a satisfying punch land somewhere in the central body mass of the caped man, but someone else dragged him back against the Parliament bricks. He gasped involuntarily and whatever acrid scent was in the hood overwhelmed him and he sank to his knees as everything faded to black.
“You sawÂ â¦ how they diedâ¦” Clara murmured, staring at the bloody key.
Oh, God. That would mean Franklin had seen Louis's death.â¦ She'd been shocked at how seeing an amorous note from him she'd hidden in her desk had pierced her like a lance. Her brilliant, seductive Louis, so full of lifeÂ â¦
“Yes,” Franklin said.
Clara was staring at Franklin in horror when the door swung open and they both jumped.
Senator Bishop strode into the room, which immediately felt smaller for his presence.
Dressed in a black frock coat with charcoal trim, silk waistcoat, and gray ascot, he was an elegant study in gray scale. The senator wore his prematurely silver hair longer than was fashionable, usually curled neatly behind his ears, the edges brushing his shoulders. It was rather mussed now, and Clara knew this meant he had been raking hands through it in worry or distress.
Stormy, steel-blue eyes reflecting the silver of his hair, he swiftly drew near to Clara, his sharp gaze locked onto her, examining her with a deep scrutiny that was both thrilling and unnerving.
“Something went wrong,” he said quietly. “I can feel it.”
Clara nodded, glad he got right to the point. “Yes. I left you a note.”
“Ah, thank you, my dear,” he said softly, “but I've not been home to see it. The New Jersey caucus was a frightful mess and needed a day's work. Coming in from the ferry, I went directly to check on the laboratory.” The senator swallowed hard. “Nothing is there. No one. Perhaps the team moved it? Save for a few old books and equipment, everything is gone.”
“I think, sir,” Franklin began carefully, “I may know where theyâ¦”
“Died,” Clara whispered, willing herself to keep calm and maintain smooth countenance. “They died yesterday.”
“Dear God.” Bishop closed his eyes and murmured a little prayer. This afforded Clara a moment to press tears well back behind her eyes, willing herself to drink saltwater down her throat rather than lose her composure here.
“You've a lead?” Bishop turned to Franklin. “Did your gift of past-sight play a role?”
“It did, sir. This key revealed an address,” Franklin replied, displaying the item.
“Well done, my good man,” the senator declared. Even Franklin was not immune to the senator's charm; he displayed a flash of pride at the compliment.
“I am sure it's where something happened,” Franklin added, “but I saw no bodies. We found the key mere moments ago and have no idea who left it for us. It was not here when we were last here. I should know. I cleaned.”
“How curious.” Bishop fiddled with the knot of his neckwear, a custom of his when musing. “My contact in the House of Lords has told me English eyes are spying, but what they know, why the lab and the scientists are all disappeared, the origins of this key; I haven't a clue.”
“I don't suppose today would be the day you'd care to reveal your contacts? Anything that may have led to this?” Clara asked, an edge to her tone.
“Clara, don't start, please,” Bishop said wearily.
Once the Eterna Commission had been put into place, she and Bishop had been relegated to figureheads, nothing more. Bishop was granted more clearance than Clara, though even his knowledge was limited. For Clara, being set apart from the project she had helped birth and allowed no interaction with the theorists or the laboratory, was infuriating. Her resentment of the circumstances had only grown through the years.
“I dreamed the British are coming,” Clara stated. “It was one of those dreams; the kind that can't be ignored. So you might want to start trusting me with more information,
Bishop turned to her and her breath caught at the sight of his deeply pained expression. He spoke with earnest solemnity. “I take my English contact with a grain of salt, but I always trust your dreams, Clara. And it's true. You're no longer a child. I can only do so much to protect you. Anything I've ever withheld, it's been for that reason alone.”
There was a tense silence. Clara wasn't sure whether to feel better or worse.
“We must determine what happened,” Bishop continued, breaking the tension with directives. “Keep watch for a certain âBrinkman.' He's been here a few years. He came to lightâand my attentionâwhile aiding a British lord beset by paranormal circumstances. Brinkman is fond of travel. Get your man on the books to look for variants of his name.” The senator turned to the door, coat flowing behind him. “Are we going to find this place or aren't we? Come on.”
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
The three were silent as they rode uptown on a swaying trolley car. They hopped off before the car veered towards the open plaza and tumult of conjoining streets that was Union Square, walking west toward Fifth Avenue.
In the distance they could hear the swelling chants of a labor union rally, a coalescing force that took to the open park regularly. Clara wondered briefly what had sparked this protestâperhaps the most recent garment district fire, in which six women had burned to death. Life and death shared such close quarters in New York City. They strolled now along a pleasant, residential block, just a block south of that latest conflagration. Chaos and calm, separated by a street or two.
That was what made working on Eterna somehow plausible in New York to begin with.
Though the day was warm, Clara couldn't stop the shudder coursing up her spine. To defray her fears, she focused on the firm plod and subtle scrape of Franklin's uneven stride. It was a strange comfort, that sound, something so fallibly human.â¦
The air was sweetâwell, sweet in that early summer New York wayâand laced with a tinge of horse manure. There were no clattering trolleys or rails on this bastion of residential properties. The block was quiet, peacefulÂ â¦ and oddly free of pedestrian traffic.