Read The Eterna Files Online

Authors: Leanna Renee Hieber

The Eterna Files (9 page)

“They … were. Tourney was never a member. He's a dilettante and an ass—pardon me, Your Majesty. Privations such as this do not make for subtle or couth conversation. You're not telling me he actually did something?”

“I'm not going to tell you what he did because it does not befit a lady's lips to speak of. You should have been more careful and given me the names of any and all persons who might have had even a passing interest in your little secret society.”

“If I am allowed a writing implement and paper, Your Majesty, I will be happy to set down any and all names that come to mind.”

“I'm not interested in vendettas and personal grudges; you seem to have too many of those. Only those who might be capable of the true, unmitigated horror you were so known for in New York and other cities, such as this newly disrupted resurrectionist ring that despoiled the bodies of dead children. Along with other sundry brutal murders.”

“Tourney?” Moriel said in disbelief.

“Others were involved, surely. But financed, and
by Tourney. I want to know the entire chain or else this most gracious stay of execution comes to an end and you will be hung in this dreadful little chamber until you are as dead as everyone in my government already assumes you to be.”

“But then where lies your vital, noble search for immortality, Your Highness?” he asked softly.

“We've many resources, Moriel. You're hardly our only asset in our search for the answers to life and death; you're merely the most sickening, a disgrace to the noble line you descend from,” the queen said, finality in her voice. She turned without another word and walked away, the sweep of her black crepe gown against the stone covering the sound of her footfalls. Her instructions to the guard echoed in the narrow stone hall. “The prisoner is to have no food for six days.”

“Yes, Your Highness,” the guard replied.

The queen, exiting, didn't see the guard's wink to Moriel, who smiled sweetly as he was left alone again.

“My upheaval shall unfold in due time,” Moriel murmured to the stone walls as if they were listening. “For now, I've pawns to pit against one another.”

He shifted the small cot he'd been afforded, revealing a checkerboard square beneath that he'd etched into the corner of the dank floor with a rock. The greasy bones of a rat he'd caught in his cell, peeled open and disarticulated, all with his bare hands, sat in a relative chess formation. He slid a claw toward a femur and knocked it aside with a contented sigh.

*   *   *

A small, withered-looking clerk sat inside the door Miss Everhart had instructed Spire to enter. The man narrowed his eyes at Spire while waving him on, as if he didn't like the fact that anyone without a title had clearance to pass him. Though surely the clerk himself lacked a title, the man's disapproving expression had Spire instinctively straightening his striped cravat and smoothing his gray vest and deeper gray frock coat.

Spire strode deeper into the wing of the House of Lords where everything was gilded and red fabrics were seen everywhere in the furnishings and hangings—as opposed to the carved but unvarnished stone of the House of Commons, where all was trimmed in green. He passed the enormous statue of Queen Victoria, a loving tribute from Prince Albert that Spire found a bit ostentatious and perhaps indicative of a bit of magisterial insecurity. As he trod the fine red carpeting and traversed narrow passages of dark, polished wood carved in regal Gothic form, Spire wondered what Guy Fawkes would have thought of the splendor of Westminster today.

At the end of the passage, Spire stopped to look at the note that Everhart had slid into his palm as they'd left the museum the day prior:

House of Lords. Before the “not content” lobby reaches the peers' lobby, there is a small door set within a Gothic arch. Press down on the brass plate that looks like it was meant for a keyhole. Try to do so when no one is looking. The narrow passage beyond will lead you to my tiny fiefdom.

Spire did as instructed. The narrow, nondescript door, which was paneled like the rest of the corridor and almost unnoticeable if one was not looking for it, granted him entry into a stone-floored, undecorated passage that led into a tiny fiefdom indeed. One special room that was no one else's.

He was soon seated in one of the two chairs in his associate's small, cramped, but immaculately organized Westminster office. The members of the House of Lords did not have offices, or clerks for that matter, yet this small room was secretly reserved for Miss Everhart. If it could be called a room. It was really more a closet. Supposedly the prime minister had access to this room by some other hidden passage, but Miss Everhart had not illuminated Spire on that point.

This alcove was the origin of the misunderstanding that had gained Spire the attention of the queen. A great deal of fuss over a space barely large enough to hold two people. Spire knew that Lord Black spent a deal of time in Everhart's office. He wondered how the space managed to contain his Lordship's expansive presence.

The lower five feet of the walls were paneled in dark mahogany; the upper portions were papered in the red of the House of Lords. In addition to the visitor's chair, the room was appointed with a tall wooden file cabinet, a fine writing desk, a leather chair, and an ornate gas lamp. A line of trays marched up the wall at one point, all filled with papers. A richly colored Persian rug was laid over the tile floor; fine writing implements lay upon the desk. Was Rose a member of the aristocracy herself? Spire wasn't sure he wanted to know.

Spire's first examination of the room provided him with more questions than answers, chief among them, where was she?

Then he noticed the note upon the blotter upon her desk, written on the back of a used envelope.

H. S.—Am out for a delivery—await me. We have several things to discuss. R. E.

In her absence, Spire continued to peruse Rose's office with the eye of a detective. What little space she had was meticulously organized, but he saw no tea service, which rankled as he wanted a cup of tea. He'd expected no luxuries in the House of Commons but he thought surely the House of Lords might have some amenities.…

One shelf sported dictionaries and countless books about codes. There was a telegraph close to hand—and something upon the tape. Spire rose, intent on examining it. A noise behind had him turning to behold a cloaked figure he assumed was Miss Everhart, arms full of books and files.

Spire kept his expression unreadable while he prayed all those papers were not for him. She set everything on her desk and steadied the stack before she turned to him, gloved hands pulling back her thin cloak. Her hair was done up tightly, her black dress was simple and utilitarian but still elegant, matching the black of the cloak.

“A little light reading, Mr. Spire,” the woman said with a smile. She hung her cloak on an interior hook and gestured to him to be seated. As he lowered himself once again into his chair, he nearly struck his temple on the protruding handle of a card catalogue that took up nearly half the space.

“On what topic?” he asked.

“Immortality. I can give you the highlights, if you like, as they relate to the facts going forward.”

“I would appreciate that, Miss Everhart, because if my studies include
Varney the Vampire
I might throw the lot through the window, where it would undoubtedly hit some poor pedestrian on the head and the poor sot could pray for immortality himself.” If there was a window, Spire thought.

Rose chuckled as she placed files into drawers of the wooden cabinet that was as tall as she was. “I understand your skepticism, Mr. Spire, truly, but everything in the vault may have its uses for reference.” She took a seat, perching upon the lip of the desk with marvelous skill, somehow managing to shift the trapping of bustle that was increasingly prominent in today's ladies' fashion to the side, as if a mere act of sitting were an equestrian event.

“Vault?” Spire furrowed his brow. “What vault?”

“The vault contains our information on all the possible scientific theories on the extension of life,” Rose explained. “The Americans didn't invent the search for immortality, of course, but it seems they may have come the closest.”

“Did they, though? It sounds like their team may have disappeared like ours did. And who's to blame?”

“The Americans were on to something. Obviously not the right thing, but further than us. For a long time we thought the Americans were solely interested in research, not development. But our embedded contact alluded to several wild, inventive experiments in New York that have far surpassed attempts by our former team. It appears we British were stymied by the more spiritual aspects. Hence these texts, meant to expand the mind.” She gestured to the cabinets. “I'll transfer this newly complied material within the week. The vault was moved to the cellar of Kensington Palace after one of our early researchers defected to America.”

“America.” Spire frowned. “You know, it sounds like we are at war.”

“In a way, we never stopped being at war,” Everhart countered with a shrug. “But we'll never act like it. America and England will always posture against each other. We share more common interests now than ever before, but those interests shall remain peaceable
if our developments in science and industry progress at the same rate.”

“You make a mad quest sound almost sensible,” Spire said with a slight growl. “But in all honesty, Miss Everhart, when there's more important work to be done, I find this whole commission difficult to swallow.”

His colleague flashed him an intense look as she handed him an envelope and placed a finger to her lips. Spire opened the envelope, curiosity piqued, and his heart leaped.

The interior paper read:
Further Tourney contacts for investigation.
While the Metropolitan's investigation had been extensive, this list of places, persons, and information was new to him. Privileged persons that high society wouldn't want associated with such deeds, whose reputations afforded them more safety and less scrutiny than the average man.

He stared up at her, an excitement matching the particular, engaged light in her prominent eyes. She tapped her ear and glanced behind her toward the wall, gesturing that he keep quiet.

Grabbing the paper and turning it over, he took a long and careful moment to write a question coded in the simplest of ciphers, asking if she would help the case continue in secret. She read, decoded the cipher in her mind, and nodded. The day had improved infinitely and Spire offered Rose the genuine smile that resulted in his turn of providence.

But suddenly the queen's warning to not trust anyone, and Spire's past, darkened him immediately.

He added, in the same simple cipher, a question, holding up the paper to her: How can I trust you?

She stared at him and spoke quietly. “You and I have things in common, Mr. Spire. We are passionate about our work. I love what I do here. And I am honored by my new appointment. Why on earth would I ever put that in jeopardy?”

She took the paper and swiftly scribbled an addition:
For the right cause I will.

Spire stared at her. A woman. A fairly unparalleled one at that. One he'd have to trust, despite his history and all his discomfort.

He noticed Miss Everhart's eye fall upon the telegraph machine. She plucked a volume from her shelf of code books, flipped to a page marked by a ribbon, then turned the book upside down. She drew the message tape toward herself. For several minutes the little room was silent save for the sound of a pencil scribbling upon her notepad as she looked between book, message, and paper. At last she finished, lifting her head to gaze at Spire.

“Our overseas agent, Brinkman, is on a riverboat southbound, possibly to New Orleans. Either he found one of the scientists from that Manhattan team or he's tailing our spy who was embedded directly in the project.”

Spire stood and went to the door. “I'll go share this news with Lord Black and see what else he can tell me about Brinkman.” He tucked the file Miss Everhart had given him beneath his arm. Spire paused at the door. “Do you know where I might find his Lordship?”

“At his club. Here.” She slid her hand into one of the cubbies of her desk and passed Spire a white card bearing a simple script address. “Give this to Foley at the door. Be persistent.” She handed him the decrypted message to proffer to their superior. “If our embedded contact fails us, Brinkman is our key to the entire next step.”

“I'll find a safe place for everything,” Spire said carefully, patting the Tourney file.

“Please do, Mr. Spire,” his colleague replied, weight to her words.

They stared at each other a moment, a great responsibility balancing on a perilous line between two relative strangers. He nodded and exited the same way he'd come.

It took all Spire's willpower not to immediately descend upon every contact the woman had given him. But instead he made his winding way out from Parliament's shadows, through the heart of London proper, to a post box that only he and his trusted Stuart Grange knew of.

Spire didn't mind that his newly appointed lodgings on narrow Rochester Street were bare, it was that anything he did or had on the premises could be watched or seized. So he fingered his key in his pocket as he bowed his head to the balding postal clerk who always seemed to be on duty at this spot. Despite the fact that Spire had used this location for years, he and the clerk never exchanged more than a nod. Still, Spire liked to imagine the man knew he was a part of something important.

Spire opened the box, dropped in the envelope, and returned the box to its cubby, thinking about all the evidence, secrets, and items vital to past cases that he'd kept there at times, far from meddling fingers. But nothing so precious to him now as that list, and Spire planned to be grand inquisitor to all.

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