Home > Something Strange and Deadly(13)

Something Strange and Deadly(13)
Author: Susan Dennard

“So... could this necromancer be Marcus?”

Her head fluttered side to side. “No. Marcus died. See, Joseph found out about it all. He didn’t know much about necromancy, but he could tell things weren’t right with his best friend. So he followed Marcus one night and confronted him in the middle of a ritual.”

“What kind of ritual?”

“Marcus was trying to bring a lotta corpses back to life. He wanted to attack the Voodoo Queen and take her strength, yeah? But when Joseph showed up, Marcus got distracted. He lost control of the bodies, and the corpses attacked. Joseph tried to save Marcus, but the Dead were too fast and too hungry.”

Fast. Hungry. Like the ones in Laurel Hill.

“But how did Joseph survive?” I asked in a hushed voice.

“The Voodoo Queen. She came just in time, and they laid the bodies back to rest.” She shook her head. “It was bad. Very bad. Joseph survived, and the guilt ate at him—like maybe he should have noticed and stopped Marcus sooner. Like his friend’s death was somehow his fault.” She frowned and stared at her hands. “Joseph never talks about it.”

“Yet he told you?”

She turned away. “Once. He spoke of it only once. So I’d understand why he does what he does, why we fight against the Dead. And so I’d understand how the spirit power can corrupt and consume.” She exhaled heavily and a silence settled on the room.

Grimoires, spirit power, and voodoo. It was more horrifying and fantastic than I’d ever imagined. And what was Elijah’s connection to it all? Why the devil would he study such dark theology?

Jie twisted her gaze back to me, a thoughtful expression on her face. “You said your brother was in New York, yeah?”

I nodded.

“When did he leave?”

“I’m not sure. He was supposed to arrive on May twenty-sixth, but he sent a telegraph saying he was delayed.” I took a ragged breath, and the rest of the telegram tale poured out of me, ending with Elijah’s arrival on or before the twenty-fifth of May and his telegram sent from Philadelphia.

Jie slouched forward and planted her hands on her knees. “Listen. The Dead were rising in Philadelphia before we got here on May twenty-fifth. That’s why we came, yeah?”

“Right,” I began slowly, “and before that you were in New York because the necromancer had been there.”

“Yep.” Her eyebrows tilted up. “So maybe this necromancer was bothering your brother in New York, yeah? Maybe your brother came here, and the necromancer followed him. And then we”—she patted her chest—“followed the necromancer.”

The door banged open. Jie and I jumped and twirled around.

Joseph sailed in. “Where is my list of volunteers?” Sweat was heavy on his face. “I need to show the Exhibition board that some of the guards are willing to train with us.”

“Aren’t you in the middle of the meeting?” Jie asked, grabbing a paper off the worktable.

“We haven’t begun yet. They wish to take tea first.” He took the list, and his eyes slid to me. “Miss Fitt, are you all right?”

I clamped my mouth shut—apparently I’d been gawking. “I was hoping to speak with you. I have questions.”

He shot a glance toward Jie, his eyebrows jumping high.

She shrugged. “I couldn’t answer them or I woulda.”

“Ah.” The lines around his mouth and eyes softened. He ran his hand along the rim of his top hat. “I can, I believe, spare a few moments. If you would be willing to walk with me.” He glanced out the window and then back to me.

I nodded, excitement building in my chest. Curiosity is a strong fire, and once ignited, it is not easily put out.

“Please understand,” he added. “I may not be able to answer all your questions, but I will do my best.” He bowed his head and then marched through the door.

The bright afternoon sun hit the Bartholdi Fountain and shot beams of light off its bronze form. Rather than walk to Joseph’s meeting in the crowded Main Hall, we had opted to stand in the fountain’s refreshing mist.

All around us, couples promenaded arm in arm, ragged children scampered past, and many out-of-town visitors were rooted to the ground, scanning their guidebooks

I squinted and popped open my parasol. Then I set my jaw and asked my first—and most important—question. “Mr. Boyer, will you help me?”

Joseph’s gaze locked on my face, and for several heartbeats he did nothing but appraise me. Then at last he said, “I can stop the walking Dead, Miss Fitt. I can stop wicked spirits, and I can save those who need saving from the darker parts of the spirit world.” He drew his shoulders back. “I use my abilities for good by helping those who need it, and so, yes. I will help you find your brother.”

Gratitude swept over me like a cleansing rain, and my body swayed from the relief. Yet I didn’t know how to express my feelings. A firm handshake seemed absurd, and a hug was utterly inappropriate. So I resorted to a blubbery “Thank you,” tugged forcefully at my earrings, and moved on to the next question.

“Have you learned anything about the spirit my mother let in?”

“No.” He frowned. “It is strange. Such a wicked ghost, yet no sign of it since Saturday. I cannot say if that is a good thing or a bad thing, for I have no idea what it seeks or how it became so strong.”

“Can you stop a spirit like that?”

“Yes, in the same way I stop the walking Dead. I magnify an electric spark and break apart the soul.”

I nodded and turned to the fountain. I stared with unseeing eyes into its splashing waters. I still had one desperate question I had to ask—though, heavens, I was scared of what his answer might be. I inhaled deeply and forced the words to come.

“Mr. Boyer... if my brother was studying grimoires, then that was probably bad, wasn’t it?” I angled my head to watch him from the edge of my eye.

He clasped his hands behind his back. “Miss Fitt, grimoires typically teach black spells, but not... not always. A person can certainly study a grimoire without trying to master the rituals within.”

That made sense. Elijah was a scholar through and through—action was not his style. I couldn’t imagine his fascination with this type of theology being anything but academic.

I swiveled around to face him again. “So whatever my brother learned, it must have been something dangerous to attract the necromancer’s attention.”

“I have had little experience with grimoires,” Joseph said, his chin lifting, “but I can think of no other reason for kidnapping your brother. This necromancer will not let your brother leave—that was plainly written in the letter—so whatever your brother may have learned, it makes him valuable. As long as he is valuable, he will stay alive. You must remember that.”

I winced. I knew Joseph meant his words kindly, but I could take no comfort in them. What if Elijah stopped being valuable? Then what?

Joseph pulled a pocket watch from his waistcoat, and then his eyes flicked up to meet mine. “I must be going, Mamzèi.”

I wet my lips. I didn’t want him to leave. His presence made me feel safe, certain that at least one person knew what to do. I understood why Daniel and Jie trusted him so completely. He was solid.

Joseph slipped off his hat to bow, yet before he could say parting words, I rushed to speak.

“One last question, Mr. Boyer. Then I promise to leave you to your meeting and to trust your judgment without question.”

He hesitated, but only for a heartbeat. Then he waved his top hat in the air. “Ask.”

“If...” I gulped and steeled myself. “If this necromancer is sacrificing people to build his power, will you and the Spirit-Hunters be strong enough to stop him?”

Joseph’s lips compressed into a tight line. Finally, he said, “I do not know, Miss Fitt. Let us hope that we are strong enough, wi? Let us hope.” And with that he gave me a curt bow and spun on his heel toward the Main Building.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

The next day, the Wilcoxes came to tea.

I had refused to don a petticoat with this gown—the flounce and ruffles gave it sufficient girth, not to mention my own liberal padding in those lower regions. Besides, the dress’s violet faille and black camel hair were simply not suited to a Philadelphia summer.

We were in the parlor, and the heat was especially stifling. The fringe of my collar scratched against my moist skin, and I knew a rash would await me later.

Mama and Mrs. Wilcox sat in high-backed armchairs, the tea tray between them. They chattered about the séance and future parties. I sat at the grand piano, plunking aimlessly at the keys, and Allison chattered amiably beside me.

Clarence sat on the sofa. He looked dreadful. His skin was greenish white and his eyes were ringed with puffy, black circles. Sweat shone at the edges of his face, and he dabbed at his brow with a handkerchief. He seemed sick or as if he hadn’t slept in days.

He was probably just overworked. After all, he had taken on the family’s business recently. Funny, I didn’t actually know what that business was. Perhaps it was political? Clarence was running for some government position, after all.

I flicked my gaze out the window and into our grassy yard. A bulky figure loafed against our cherry tree—the same tree from which I’d fallen and broken my wrist as a child. It was Willis, Clarence’s footman. His black coat and trousers blended in with the shadows. The bench only feet away was also protected by the tree’s shade, but the footman did not sit. As I watched, he detached himself from the trunk and strolled into the sunlight.

He reminded me of a patrolman who prowls the Philadelphia streets at night, but for what Willis prowled, I couldn’t guess.

I returned my attention to the piano and found that Allison had stopped speaking. She eyed me through half-lowered lids.

I lifted my brows. “What is it?”

“Are you wearing makeup?” Her voice was accusatory.

“Of course not.” I hit the highest white key, and it plinked sweetly. “Why would you think that?”

“You look... different. Almost pretty even.”

I smirked. “Are you jealous?”

“Pshaw. Don’t be stupid.” She flipped a dark curl over her shoulder. “I would never be jealous of you. Though”—she dropped her voice to a whisper—”you will have to tell me how you colored your cheeks.”

I gritted my teeth. “It’s quite simple, Allison. It’s called sunshine.”

At that moment, Clarence stood and cleared his throat.

“Miss Fitt, I don’t suppose you’d like to go outside for some air. I fear the indoors do not suit me today.”

“Yes please.” I smiled gratefully and rose.

He turned to Mama. “Mrs. Fitt, would it be acceptable if I took your daughter for a stroll in your garden?”

“Of course.” Mama’s lips puckered. I knew that pucker—poorly masked smugness. She fluttered her lashes and turned to me. “Be sure to take your parasol, dear.”

“Can I come?” Allison asked eagerly. She slid to the edge of the piano seat.

“No,” chimed three voices. Clarence, Mrs. Wilcox, and my mother formed a stout chorus of refusal.

Allison’s face fell. “Fine.” She glowered at the ivory keys and pounded a low, plaintive note.

I took Clarence’s offered arm, and we sauntered to the parlor door. Someone moved in the corner of my eye, and when I glanced back, I found Mama mouthing something, her eyebrows high.

“Greee-shenn beeend.” Her lips moved with exaggerated care.

I whipped my head straight, and Clarence guided me through the parlor door. Mama wanted me to remember my Grecian bend. It was the most popular stance for ladies these days: bottom thrust back and high, chest pushed forward and low. Supposedly, it was an enticing pose to the modern man. I couldn’t imagine why since it made us look like camels who expected at any moment to be ridden by our masters.

Ah, but of course. That was no doubt precisely where the enticement lay. Heat rose in my face as the scandalous ideas connected in my mind, and I decided that ignoring Mama was my best course of action.

Clarence and I stepped onto the front porch, but Clarence wobbled unsteadily down the steps to the yard.

“Are you ill?” I asked him. “Or losing sleep?”

“No,” he murmured. “I’m fine.” He squinted and lifted a gloved hand to block out the sunlight.

“Really?” I stopped walking, and since we were linked, he was pulled to a halt as well. “You don’t look well, Mr. Wilcox. I’m truly concerned for how...” I gestured vaguely toward him. “For how you are.”

He clenched his jaw. “And I’m truly concerned for how red your skin is. You ought to use your parasol or the spots on your nose will spread all over your face.”

I huffed in disgust. A tired and grumpy walking companion—fabulous. Although... my skin did feel overwarm. I popped open my parasol, a beige, Indian lace affair. Though it didn’t match my dress in the least, it would protect me from the dreaded freckles.

After we resumed our stroll, Clarence pointed to the cherry tree. “Let’s sit in the shade, shall we?”

“I’d rather walk.”

“And I would rather sit.” He clasped my arm and tugged me toward the shaded bench.

“Why are you so ornery?”

“And why are you so stubborn? I’m tired, and I want to—” He broke off, for at that moment Willis stepped around the edge of my house. The footman’s eyes ran over Clarence and me. Then he planted his feet shoulder width apart and locked his gaze on mine, as if I were somehow a threat to his master.

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