She hadn’t intended for the man to die.
Granted, he had done his best to kill her. Unfortunately, now he was leaking blood and brain matter onto her grandmother’s rug, and she would never hear the end of it once her mother found out.
But there was no time to worry about that now.
“Beverly!” she called. She lifted her skirts and stepped over the man’s body, pistol tucked back in the holster slung around her waist. “Edgar!”
Silence. The house was lit from ground floor to attic, nearly every lamp ablaze, but no one answered her calls. The door to Beverly’s lab stood ajar, and the cavernous room beyond was silent. A roaring fire had been built in the grate in the library, but it had been left untended.
The house was empty.
Unease curdling her gut, Kate picked up the telephone receiver and had the switchboard connect her to the station.
“Sergeant Hawkins,” a voice answered crisply.
“David,” she said tightly, “they’re gone.”
“Who?” he demanded, but she heard the thread of alarm in his voice.
“I need you here,” she said. “Immediately.”
He arrived alone less than an hour later, still in his uniform, truncheon on one hip and pistol on the other. Kate met him at the door.
“When did you notice them gone?” he asked. Water beaded on his shoulders and dripped from his dark hair. Sometime in the past hour, it had started to rain.
“I called you right away.” Kate hesitated. “Well…I killed a man, first.”
David gave her a weary look, but gestured for her to lead the way.
Upstairs, in the study, he knelt a careful six inches away from the body. He peered at the dead man’s face and said, “I don’t know him.”
“Do you know everyone in Chicago?”
Fear made her snappish; the words came out sharp. David pushed himself to his feet and gave her a look.
“I know the faces of the men who want you dead, yes,” he said. “He isn’t one of them.”
“That you know of,” Kate countered. “That list seems to grow by the day.”
David rubbed his forehead. The perpetual smudges under his eyes seemed darker than usual today, and his face was drawn.
“Hell,” he muttered. “What a day.”
Despite herself, Kate felt a prickling curiosity down her spine. She hadn’t worked a case for David—and, by extension, the police—in almost a month. In this city, that was downright unusual. “Something I should know about?”
“Nothing you can help with. Murder victim went missing this morning. Shot dead in the middle of the night, no witnesses, and now the body’s gone. The chief will have someone’s head for it, probably mine.” David sighed. “Are you certain they were home?”
Kate nodded. “Beverly had lectures all morning at the university and would have been home by noon. Edgar was here, recharging. It takes him nearly a full day to recharge, and we were working all night.”’
David lifted an eyebrow at her. “Something I should know about?”
“Flu took an entire family in twenty-four hours.” She shook her head. “We had to prepare the bodies, that’s all.”
“I assume you sent word to the morgue about him.” David nudged the dead man with his boot.
“No, there’s no time.” She drew a breath. “We’re doing this here.”
David went pale under his beard, but nodded tightly.
“What do you need me to do?”
“Hold him still.”
After a moment’s hesitation, David knelt over the body. He pinned the man’s legs together with his knees and then leaned his full weight on the man’s arms, holding the body down. It wasn’t perfect, but it would have to do.
“Be prepared,” Kate said.
“He might thrash a bit.”
David stared at her. She lifted one shoulder in a shrug. He had never seen her work in the morgue, only benefited from the results of it. She watched the muscles in his jaw tense as he steeled himself.
“I can handle it,” he said. “Do what you need to do.”
Whether he could or not was immaterial; he was going to have to deal with whatever happened, because she had no other options and someone had taken her only assistant.
“You’re going to feel strange,” she said. She knelt by the man’s head and placed one hand on what was left of his forehead. “Electrified. Try to ignore it.”
And then she closed her eyes, shutting out David and any response he might have given. She focused all of her senses inward, reached into the darkness—
The skin under her hand quickly grew warm, and then hot. She pulled harder, reaching through the void, until she saw the tiniest speck of light. She reached for it, reached for it, reached for it—
Starbursts exploded around her, illuminating the void, spider webs of flame filling her vision. Voices came to her, fragments of conversations she had never witnessed, all of them male and unfamiliar.
—shut down the mech-
Tie her up!
A burst of images came out of the fire, flickering and half-formed, shadows dancing across a canvas. She caught impressions of—buildings electric lamps a park full of green grass fire a castle pistols—but soon as she grasped for one to hold on to, to examine, it slipped away from her. Her hand burned. The fire chased her. The closer she got to an image, the hotter it burned. She smelled cooking meat—
—and found herself gasping on the floor of the study, David’s worried face filling her vision. He was as white as her petticoat, and his grip on her upper arms bordered on painful. She would have bruises there in the morning.
“I didn’t know what was happening,” he said in a rush. “The body—it was moving. Thrashing, like you said, but then your hand—it looked like it was burning. I had to shove you away to break the connection, I’m sorry, I didn’t know what else to do.”
She turned over her left hand, gazing blankly at the blistering palm. She hadn’t had a mishap like this in years; Edgar made sure of it. She got to her feet and went over to her desk, pulling out salve and bandages that she kept in the top drawer. She smeared the burn cream on her hand and wrapped it hastily. It would have to do for now.
“Did you get what you needed?” David asked.
“There was so much damage to his brain.” She grimaced at the body. Why couldn’t she have shot him somewhere else, like the gut or the heart? She would have been able to gather a clearer vision of the final minutes of his life then. She pushed the thought aside—lingering over regrets wasted crucial minutes. “I was only able to get impressions. He seemed to feel strongest about a park, and—a castle?”
David blinked at her, and then she saw recognition light his eyes. “The museum.”
The Palace of Fine Arts, from the Exposition—now the Field Columbian Museum. Of course. She’d passed the grand building dozens of times in her life. When set against the backdrop of the grimy city and the miserable, gray lake, it seemed woefully out of place.
“That must be where they are,” she said. It was as good a place to start as any; she had no idea where else to begin.
David’s gaze drifted away from her, fixing on a spot over her left shoulder. She turned, eyes sweeping the bookcases from ceiling to floor, but she didn’t see what had caught his attention until he was halfway across the room.
A handful of gears and wires lay on the floor, scattered as though someone had tossed them carelessly aside. David crouched, reaching out a hand—but he stopped short of touching the gears, fingers hovering less than an inch above them.
“He fought,” David said quietly after a moment.
Of course he would have. Edgar would have fought to the last to protect Beverly.
David got to his feet again, his eyes hard when he looked at Kate.
“We’re going to get them back.”
David hailed a carriage on the street outside while Kate reloaded her pistol and grabbed a couple of knives for insurance. She strapped them to her wrists, and pulled down her sleeves to cover them. She had no idea what kind of resistance to expect or even who was behind this, but one thing was certain—they had taken her wife, and she intended to have Beverly back by dawn.
“What do you think we’re walking into?” David asked, once the carriage door was shut and the driver had spurred the horses on.
“I wish I knew,” Kate said. “These might not even be my enemies. Beverly’s a renowned engineer—”
“And you’re the one who can speak to the dead.”
“I don’t speak to the dead,” Kate corrected swiftly. “I can only see their final few minutes of life, if the body is fresh, if the brain is intact. My abilities are incredibly limited. They’re not useful to anyone outside of your line of work.”
“Your abilities are incredibly misunderstood,” David countered. “To some, they might sound like a shot at immortality, and some people would kill for that.”
He hardly needed to remind her of that. She understood that better than anyone, which he well knew. Stung, she turned to the window, watching the black night speed by.
“You should have told him.”
Beside her, David stiffened. With forced nonchalance, he said blandly, “I don’t know what you’re talking—”
“Edgar.” She turned back to him, pinning him in place with her glare. “You should have told him how you feel. Now, it might be too late.”
“Don’t talk about what you don’t understand,” David said fiercely.
“Then neither should you.”
They passed the rest of the journey in silence.
Palace was an apt name for the building that dominated the park. It was a looming, intimidating structure, and seemed like the perfect way to call unwanted attention to oneself.
But then, perhaps that had been the intent.
David broke into the building with practiced ease, which Kate would have teased him about on any other night. But not here, not tonight. Not when Beverly’s life depended on everything going perfectly, on them not making a single misstep.
Kate hadn’t been inside this building since the Exposition, and she’d been a child then. In the intervening years, it had been transformed from a gallery to a museum, and that coupled with the darkness meant she was as unfamiliar with it as if she had never before stepped foot inside of it.
David, however, crossed the floor with ease. She hurried to stay in his wake, following the sound of his muffled footfalls, so as not to bump into any unexpected exhibits. A moment later, light flared, and she reeled back from it. But it was only a lantern, held aloft by David.
“You’ve been here before,” she said quietly, almost an accusation.
David nodded, his face made eerie by yellow lamplight. “If I hadn’t joined the police, I might have—”
He broke off, shaking his head. “Where do you think they could be?”
“You know this place better than I do.” Kate turned in a circle. They stood in a cavernous hall, and a shudder crawled down her spine as she took in the faint outlines of a massive skeleton, and a beast she never would have been able to dream up, not even in her wildest dreams. “What is that?”
“A mastodon,” David answered, and then he shook his head. “This is too exposed, they wouldn’t be here. They’d want a room that offered them a tactical advantage. Somewhere we couldn’t take them by surprise. Come on, upstairs.”
Kate couldn’t see most of the exhibits they passed on their way through the great hall and up the wide stone steps, and thought that was likely for the best. When they reached the top of the steps, David extinguished the lamp, and she looked at him askance. But then her gaze was drawn by a sliver of light at the end of the corridor, which she hadn’t seen with the lantern lit.
She felt David reach for his pistol, and put a hand on his arm.
“They’re expecting us,” she said in an undertone.
“All the more reason for us to be ready for them,” David said quietly. “The dead are your realm. Living criminals are mine.”
“But they’re expecting me, and I’m no use to them dead. They won’t hurt me.” She moved slightly ahead of him in the corridor. “Follow me.”
He sighed, but acquiesced, hand falling away from his hip and pistol left in place. She still kept as quiet as possible as she moved down the corridor, but her skirts rustled and her boots clicked against the stone floors, and there was no way they could have masked their approach even if they’d wanted to.
The door at the end of the hall was open, and the steady light told Kate that the room inside had been lit by electric lamps. She stepped into the open doorway.
“Ah, Dr. Brooks. Or should I say detective? You’re early.”
In the center of the room stood a table with what was clearly a body on it—it had been covered with a white sheet, but the shape was unmistakable. Edgar was nearby, his photoreceptors dark, seemingly powered down. His carapace gaped open, revealing the wires and gears in his chest cavity. And then there was Beverly, her arms bound behind her back, standing there with shackles around her ankles.
“Sorry, Katie,” she said, her mouth twisting with regret. Kate shook her head.
“Doctor is fine,” she told the man, who stood near Edgar with his hands clasped behind his back. “What do you want?”
“Interesting piece of technology, this mech man of yours.” The man laid a hand on Edgar’s metal shoulder. The mech didn’t move. “He’s your assistant, yes?”
“You already know the answer to that.”
The man snorted, amused. “Indeed. You could do so much more with him, you know. Combined with your abilities, the two of you make quite an invaluable team.”
“We’re already a team.”
“You’re a coroner and he’s your assistant. A damn waste, if you ask me, but that’s none of my concern at the moment. You can speak to the dead, and you’re going to help me.”
“You kidnapped her wife and her assistant, and left a man behind in her house to kill her.” David took a step forward, so he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Kate. “She’s not going to do a damn thing for you.”
The man bared his teeth in a grin. “She took my bait, as I thought she would. She killed the man I left behind and spoke to him in the beyond. That’s how she knew where to find us. Or am I wrong, Doctor?”
Kate felt her hands curl into fists, and forced her fingers to relax. Her knees felt weak, and she worried for a moment that her legs might not be able to support her weight. Stupid, stupid. She’d fallen right into his trap.
“I thought not. I’m Aldous Cantrell, by the way. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.”
Cantrell. She knew that name. She glanced at Beverly, who gave her a regretful look. Of course.
“You work at the university, too,” she said. And he must be on loan to the museum in some capacity—curator of one of the collections, most likely.
“It’s how I was able to gain access to your house this evening.” Cantrell gave a thin smile. “Your wife thought I was there to discuss business. And as fascinating as this has all been, we’re wasting time.”
He drew back the sheet on the table, and David sucked in a breath.
“Your missing victim, I assume,” Kate said to him without taking her eyes off Cantrell, and he nodded.
“My son,” Cantrell said, and Kate closed her eyes. “Shot dead in the street last night, slain like an animal. You’re going to bring him back.”
“I can’t,” Kate said. “I can only—”
“Lies!” Cantrell hissed. He pulled out a pistol and pressed it to the side of Beverly’s head. “You would bring her back, if I shot her.”
“If you kill Beverly, you’re never getting her help,” David said vehemently.
“I believe she can speak for herself,” Cantrell said. He looked at Kate. “Well?”
“No.” Kate’s mouth was too dry to swallow. “No, I wouldn’t bring her back, because I can’t. No more than I can bring back your son. I can’t even access his final memories. The body has been dead for too many hours. I’m sorry.”
Cantrell’s mouth twisted.
“That’s how little she thinks of you, her wife,” he snarled at Beverly. “She won’t even come to your aid when you need her the most. Does she also have so little regard, I wonder, for the one she rescued from a scrap heap all those years ago?”
He plunged his left hand into Edgar’s chest cavity and pulled. Out came a handful of wires, gears, tiny electrical bulbs, and Edgar opened his mouth and screamed. The sound was ear-splitting, like a thousand tiny ice-pricks inside her ears, and Kate recoiled.
David lunged forward. Faster than a blink, Cantrell’s arm went up and the pistol went off. In the confined space of the room, the crack was deafening, and Kate’s eyes were dazzled by the afterimage of the flash of the shot. David grunted, staggering back several steps. He gripped his shoulder; when he pulled his hand away, it was soaked in red.
“Another step, and the next bullet goes through his head,” Cantrell said quietly. “There’s no reason to make this difficult, Doctor.”
Kate held up her hands. Her heart pounded like it was trying to escape her ribcage, and sweat trickled between her shoulder blades.
“All right,” she said quietly. “Yes, I’ll help you. But I’ll need Edgar—”
Cantrell ripped out another handful of Edgar’s inner parts, and the mech man’s scream skittered up the register. Kate clamped her hands over her ears. David let out a pitiful moan.
When it stopped, Cantrell said, “Do you think I’m an idiot? You do this alone, Doctor.”
“I can’t do this without an assistant.” Her ears rang uncomfortably, most of her hearing blotted out. “You’ll help me, then.”
“Katie, don’t,” David hissed.
She approached the body. Cantrell’s son had been a young man, barely into his twenties. Two bullets to the heart had killed him; if the body hadn’t been stolen by his father, he might have ended up on her table today instead.
“I need to touch him,” she said, and Cantrell gave a tight nod. He still held the pistol, this time pointed at her. “As my assistant, so will you. You’re my conduit. You’ll help facilitate the bridge between us, so that I can reach him and bring him—back into this world. Understood?”
He nodded. She gestured for him to lay a hand on his son’s forehead, and then she covered it with her own.
“Ready?” she asked, and before he could answer, she shut her eyes and dove into the abyss, dragging him down with her.
Diving into the mind of someone who had been dead this long was like plunging into an icy lake. Cold filled her veins, and the darkness was a physical presence. There was no light here, no sputtering life, no afterimages from the recently dead. She was immersed in utter nothingness. The silence was overwhelming.
Her heart thudded inside her chest; blood pumped through her veins, a steady thud thud thud. She could sense that much, even if she couldn’t hear it. Her lungs expanded, contracted. Time was meaningless here. It could be minutes, it could be hours.
And then—out of the darkness, a second heartbeat joined hers. She felt it beat in tandem with her own, steady and calm, not at all like the jack-rabbit quick of panic. The cold was bone-deep, like she’d taken a December plunge into Lake Michigan, and her lungs stuttered, losing their rhythm. Her breathing became shallow, quick. Then her heart fell out of sync with the other’s, and she knew she didn’t have long.
Too quickly, the other presence vanished. Winked out, like a light. She was abruptly alone, adrift, her senses cut off—and if David didn’t get to her soon enough—
Kate gasped, dragging in a lungful of cool night air as her eyes flew open. She staggered; David caught her with an arm around her waist, grunting as she fell against him. The room swam into view around her, went fuzzy, and then abruptly crystallized.
“Are you injured?” he asked in a thin voice.
“No,” she gasped, drawing grateful lungfuls of air. “I’m fine.”
She looked at the body. Cantrell was slumped over it, his head resting on his son’s chest, face slack. His eyes were still open, and they darted periodically, as though he was looking at something.
“He’s not—dead,” David said awkwardly.
“He’s as good as,” Kate said grimly. She pushed herself upright, and he let go. “He’s lost in the void. His body will die from starvation or dehydration, whichever comes first. Even if someone separates the two of them, there’s no bringing him back.”
“That was foolish,” Beverly said as Kate came over to her. She produced a knife from under sleeves and cut the ropes that bound her at the wrists and ankles. “You could have been trapped yourself—”
Kate kissed her. Beverly’s hands went to her hips, pulling her in. She tasted incongruously of apples.
When they broke apart, Kate turned her attention to Edgar, and found that David had beaten her to the mech man. He was still bleeding profusely from his shoulder, blood soaking his uniform almost down to his waist, but he didn’t seem to notice it. He had a hand on Edgar’s carapace.
“Can you fix him?” The question was tentative, as though David didn’t truly want to hear the answer.
“What did Cantrell do to him?” Kate stooped to pick up the discarded parts of Edgar’s innards.
“Tortured him,” Beverly said bitterly. “Thought he could find the answers to your—abilities hidden inside him. When he found nothing, he kidnapped us both and left that man behind for you to find and—kill.”
Beverly took the parts from Kate and examined them.
“It’ll take some time. Maybe a few days, maybe a few weeks.” She sighed. “But I think I can fix him, yes.”
David laid a hand on the side of Edgar’s face, stroking his thumb across the smooth metal.
“Please do,” he said quietly. “There’s something I need to tell him.”
Beverly raised her eyebrows at Kate, who shook her head in the way that said I’ll explain later.
“Come on.” Kate took David’s uninjured arm. “Life-threatening or not, we need to get you to the hospital. Beverly will take good care of Edgar. We should also probably alert your people that their missing body has been located. Oh, and that there’s a dead man at my house.”
“Never a dull day with you, Katie, is it,” David said wearily, allowing her to pull his arm around her shoulders.
“I like to keep life interesting