Read The Eterna Files Online

Authors: Leanna Renee Hieber

The Eterna Files (26 page)

“Alive?” Bishop said incredulously. A cool breeze swirled around them, blowing the layers of her skirts and the tail of his coat. “Why didn't you tell me?”

“He didn't know who to trust,” Clara insisted.

“He doesn't know you,” Bishop said warily. “Why would he trust you?”

Clara bit her lip. “He was looking for you but was desperate to go into hiding.”

“You trust me, don't you?” Bishop said, confused and obviously hurt. “I don't understand why you didn't tell me right away!”

“I'm sorry, truly. Everything is … a bit much lately.” This at least had the virtue of truth. “I'd just been to see that house of horrors. I was reeling, Rupert. Please understand.”

The senator eyed her, surely knowing that wasn't the full story, but let it go at her gentle insistence. “It is wonderful that someone survived,” he offered. “How?”

“He didn't explain,” Clara said, shaking her head. “Brinkman tracked him but Effie caught up to the boat and convinced Louis to turn back. We didn't know Brinkman's target was Louis Durpis when we sent Effie after him. She informed us that he jumped overboard when the shore was near and the water shallow, and I assume he took swift trains to return to Manhattan. He told me about the files and fled.”

“How can I protect the man if I don't know where he is?”

“Perhaps he will resurface,” Clara said, knowing that neither she nor Bishop could count on that. “We have his material; why not let the dead stay dead? I have a terrible feeling about all this. We're in so deep and I don't understand all the levels to this hell.”

A dark shadow passed over Bishop's face and he lifted his gloved hand to run a leather-covered finger fondly over her cheek. Her elder instincts, from all the lives of her past, had her aching to turn her cheek into his palm for comfort. As always, she fought those old familiarities.

Bishop shook his head and spoke quietly. “If I'd have thought your brilliant idea would ever have caused you so much pain, I'd have laughed off your bold notion as the ravings of a child drunk on the need to be important in Washington.” He chuckled. “Levels of hell. Now you're talking like Lavinia or her beau, Mr. Veil, or a member of his ‘melancholy society.'”

Clara smiled despite herself.

“I'll speak to a police contact and ensure a safe haven is prepared against Louis's return. I look forward very much to speaking with Mr. Dupris. Local magic,” he said with admiration. “It's fascinating and I'd like to commend him. A whole new direction to consider. And a brilliant safety measure.”

“In that magic tied to America would be useless in England?” Clara offered.


She gazed out at the darkening sky's beautiful colors. “Are we staying in Salem tonight?”

They traveled together often, always staying in adjoining rooms. Now that Clara was grown, when people saw them together, most assumed them married. Bishop was unruffled by this, but it made Clara blush; her pasts stirred within, like a ghost waking in a house it had neglected to haunt.

“It's been quite a day and I doubt we'll catch the last train to New York,” Bishop replied. “Best to rest in Boston.”

Silence descended again as they walked to the station, hastening their pace when they saw plumes of steam rising in the sky.

Once boarded, again taking a private compartment, Bishop set the Hawthorne volume, the old coin, and the other gathered ingredients on a wooden tray lowered from the wall. He stared at them with a mad scientist's delight.

Clara frowned. “Rupert, here? Please don't let fascination or excitement rush—”

“I want to see if there's anything to this. Even a little shudder of life,” Bishop stated. “We should do so here, where the air is still Salem air. We've not much time. Look with more than just your sight, Clara,” he urged.

Aware of what that meant from many a séance and spiritual connection, she sighed, and nodded, as he would not be dissuaded.

Taking a larger, empty flask from the doctor's bag, Bishop opened the window and briefly sung the uncapped container outside: air. Then he dropped in the coin, added a bit of soil, a drop of water, and scraps from the Hawthorne volume, tearing out the first and last line of
The Scarlet Letter
. He closed the flask and shook it briefly.

There was a small surge of smoke, a waver and glistening of light like the strike of a flint, an exhalation of essence. At the sight, Clara held her breath; Bishop drew his in sharply.

What if something like that was the last thing Louis's team had seen?

“We're on to something,” Bishop breathed.

was on to something,” she corrected.

“Genius. So simple. But this is a spark, not the whole. To keep life in a dying body, there has to be fire. But this could be the match to set the whole thing alight.” Bishop looked at the flask, now quiescent, with shining eyes.

Clara slid gloved fingers up and down the windowsill, watching Salem roll away, worrying her lip with her teeth. “So Eterna will resume, then?”

“It must,” Bishop replied. “This is
Clara, not just theory anymore. And as much as I don't want us at the center of it, I don't want Washington to take it away from us.”

“I don't want more death on my hands!” she said. “On my head. My heart—”

She stopped before she let any more emotion slip. Her cheeks went red. Bishop raised an eyebrow. She turned so that the brim of her prim little riding hat and the curl of hair down her cheek barred him from seeing her face.

“I'm going to Washington next week,” he said slowly. “I'll make sure that I am appointed direct superior on all Eterna proceedings. Not Justice Allen, me. And I will mitigate the risks, no worrying your head or your heart—”

“But you must not keep me in the dark,” Clara exclaimed, surprised by her own vehemence.

Bishop seized her gloved hand in his larger one. “I will keep you close.”

She reeled from more than the feel of his hand wrapped around her own. Politics made her instantly distrustful. She was reminded of the unease that had plagued her when her idea was first taken over, after that night with Mrs. Lincoln. Poor Mary. The former first lady was so fragile, her grief so difficult to bear, that Clara had not visited nearly enough.

“Dear Mary is ill.…” Clara murmured, certain Bishop would know who she was talking about. “We must pay her a visit before it's too late.

“I need to do so many things, help so many people! But I'm so tired. After so many lives, Rupert, isn't it understandable if I'm simply

“My burning heart,” Bishop said with a gentle smile, and she realized he meant not his heart, but hers. “Yes, it's understandable you're tired.” Moving to the seat beside her, he opened his arm in an invitation for her to fall against him.

She stiffened instead. “Don't.”

“Why not?” he said with an exaggerated pout. “Don't you love your old man anymore?”

Clara scowled and felt a sharp point drive deep. “You're not old. I'm not letting you die.”

“Ah now, none of that,” Bishop chided with a chuckle. “The Eterna Compound is for leaders, not us. You and I need to be keenly aware of that if the commission continues.”

She knew that it had to, despite her feeling that Eterna should be abandoned without a backward glance. Now that England was involved, that was impossible.

Clara forced her shoulders to relax and decided not to fight the urge to lay her head upon the senator's shoulder. They didn't say another word until Boston.

In Clara's opinion, Boston was a poorly laid out town whose residents had a tendency to be obnoxious. Perhaps this was New York bias, as the rivalry between the cities ran deep. The hotel near the train station was fine enough—Bishop knew at least one concierge in every major city due to his governmental travel. So their amenities were first rate, their late dinner was well prepared, and their discussion of Republican Party politics was intriguing, but Clara's agitated nerves longed for rest and familiar settings.

Bidding Bishop good night, she eagerly shed all her layers and wrapped herself in the soft robe the hotel provided. In cooler comfort she lay alone in her small room, forcing herself simply to breathe as she stared at the white ceiling with ornate plaster detail.

The sinking suspicion that their situation was about to worsen would not quit. She focused on her breath until sleep overtook her, refusing to indulge even one of her spinning thoughts.



It was nine in the morning and Lord Black was seated in Spire's office, holding a snifter of liquor he'd served himself from one of the bottles Spire had found in a small cabinet during his first inspection of the place. Spire hadn't had occasion yet to touch the stuff and had assumed that since it was in his office, it was his to proffer, but Lord Black seemed to treat the Millbank offices as an extension of his residence, or perhaps his club.

Spire had just arrived for his day's work and found Black installed in the chair facing the desk. He hoped he was not in trouble.

“Good morning, my Lord,” Spire said, bowing his head curtly and taking his seat. “You're—”

“Here early and already drinking?” Black sighed wearily. “It's been a day, Spire, it's already been a day and it's not even ten. Let's talk about this.” Black passed a telegraph across the table to Spire: a sequence of numbers. “Miss Everhart will be able to tell us what it means. It's in cipher from Brinkman, his call numbers are here at the top, zero-zero-one.”

“As I told you, Lord Black, Miss Everhart may not be in,” Spire said carefully.

“Unacceptable. Go bring her back,” Black said crisply. “She'll either be at Westminster or home, twenty-two Whitehall. Go tell her I said stop pouting.”

“Yes, sir, I shall. I'll bring this along for her to crack,” he said, tucking the message into his jacket pocket and practically bolting out the door.

Perfect. He and Everhart could confer in private and if anyone wondered why they were both missing, well, he was sure Lord Black would cheerfully enlighten them. Given the hour, he decided to try Everhart's home rather than her Parliament office.

He enjoyed the brisk walk east, on the way poring over every detail of his conversation with Stevens so that he could share it with Everhart. Together they would determine the types of background searches to conduct on Stevens and others on the Tourney lists, to see the full scope of the pattern.

On the street opposite the vast Whitehall complex of state was his destination; a Tudor-style beamed building with rooms above and a pub upon the ground floor—a common state of affairs, as there were pubs every hundred paces or so.

A woman in mourning opened the side door in response to his knock. She was soft-featured, with haunted, frightened eyes.

“Hello, madame. I am sorry for your loss, whatever it might be. I am here to inquire of Miss Everhart. Is she in?” Spire asked.

“One man. Average height, dark suit. Broad shoulders. Dark blond hair, receding at sides. Not handsome. Not ugly. Determined,” the woman stated, running down Spire's physical particulars before vanishing, leaving Spire baffled and alone at the open door.

Wondering if he should be insulted by her odd assessment that he was an average-looking, albeit determined, gentleman, he stepped into the small entrance foyer. A slightly worn carpet ran the length of the dark wood floor and up a narrow stair directly to his left. Spire saw the woman in black ascending the stairs. When she reached the landing, she sat down upon a low stool and looked through the window at the street. He could hear her murmuring, describing the passersby as she had Spire himself.

He closed the door behind him and shifted upon the runner, considering. Then, “Miss Everhart?” he called, his voice echoing through the narrow town house.

“Mr. Spire, is that you?” came her voice from above.

“Yes,” Spire shouted. “I'd have had the woman at the door announce me—”

“Ah, don't mind my cousin. She never recovered from her husband's death, an awful affair. However, she reports everything she sees outside our house. So at least I always know if I'm being watched,” Rose replied loudly. “The quality of her descent has its uses, however, it does make for awkward introductions.”

“Do forgive me for not sending word,” Spire called, wondering why she did not appear. “But there's another message. Lord Black said I should bring you back to the office. He said to stop pouting.”

Everhart laughed. “I am not pouting, as you well know. I'll decode the message, then you and I have further business. I've made some progress, though not as much as I'd like. Once I am dressed, of course. Give me a moment.”

Spire stopped wearing a hole in the entrance-foyer carpet once she mentioned getting dressed. He was not used to dealing with ladies in business matters. “Ah. Yes, Miss Everhart, of course. Sorry. Take your time.”

Moments later—impressively soon to Spire's mind, though he had little familiarity with how long it took ladies to dress—Rose appeared at the top of the stairs wearing a lace-necked blouse, a vest, and a utilitarian wool skirt with only a slight bustle, all in complimentary blues. The fabrics seemed as fine as they were tailored. Never ostentatious, Spire knew that even from short acquaintance; she was modern and well kept.

“I try not to dress in frills that take too much time,” Rose said, descending toward him, “and living without a staff, one must make do. I wish it were acceptable to wear practical items, like riding habits, daily.” She gestured Spire into the small first-floor parlor and followed him in.

“For what it's worth,” Spire replied, “I don't give a damn what you wear.” He lowered his voice. “Your cousin, should she overhear us—”

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