Early reviews of Against A Brightening Sky
Publishers Weekly: Murder, ghosts, magical mayhem, and Bolshevik-era Russia combine in the impressive and entertaining conclusion of Moyer’s supernatural mystery series…Moyer brilliantly brings the setting to life, with fascinating details that bolster the historical verisimilitude. Strong characterizations are the icing on this entertaining blend of genres.
Historical Novel Society: This is a marvelous supernatural tale of ghosts and apparitions and ancient Guardians. A dark murder mystery with intriguingly complex characters confronting malevolent, spine-chilling forces, this excellent stand-alone draws upon a real-life unsolved mystery.
Coming October 6th, 2015
A ghost princess and a woman with nothing but a name to her fortune might change the course of history.
By 1919 the Great War has ended, peace talks are under way in Paris, and the world has been forever changed. Delia Martin, apprentice practitioner of magical arts, and her husband, Police Captain Gabriel Ryan, face the greatest challenge of their lives when fragments from the war descend on San Francisco.
As Delia prepares to meet friends at a St. Patrick’s Day parade, the strange ghost of a European princess appears in her mirror. Her pleasant outing becomes a nightmare as the ghost reappears moments after a riot starts, warning her as a rooftop gunman begins shooting into the crowd. Delia rushes to get her friends to safety, and Gabe struggles to stop the killing—and to save himself.
Delia and Gabe realize all the chaos and bloodshed had one purpose—to flush Alina from hiding, a young woman with no memory of anything but her name.
As Delia works to discover how the princess ghost’s secrets connect to this mysterious young woman, and Gabe tracks a ruthless killer around his city, they find all the answers hinge on two questions: Who is Alina…and why can’t she remember?
Against a Brightening Sky is the thrilling conclusion to Moyer’s glittering historical fantasy series.
Read Chapter One now.
In an age of empires, princes were raised to rule, and often, to fight and die. That time of soldier kings was over by Armistice Day. Far too many kingdoms had shattered in the Great War, the power of their rulers broken forever.
Some kings and princes had gone into exile, saving themselves and their families. Others had simply vanished. The papers were full of their pictures and speculation about whether they were alive or dead. Fortunes hung in the balance in some cases, the peace of knowing what had happened to a loved one in others.
Far too often I saw faded and smudged images standing behind the somber-faced royalty posing for the camera. I knew those hazy figures for what they really were—ghosts. The men and women and children in those pictures would never be found.
Knowing their fate, being certain while the rest of the world wondered and waited, gave me nightmares. Each dream held the feeling of truth, not imagination, a glimpse into secrets and things I couldn’t possibly know. That the details of what I’d dreamed didn’t carry over into my waking hours was both a blessing and a curse. Not remembering let me hope the dreams would stop.
The ghost gazing at me from my dressing table mirror was real enough. She looked to have been no more than twenty or twenty-two, chestnut haired with dark-blue eyes and delicate features. Her skin was fair, making the roses in her cheeks all the brighter. I thought her pretty, but not a great beauty. She clutched a folded fan in one gloved hand and stared at me intently, as aware of me as I was of her. Judging solely by her beaded white silk dress, the tiara in her hair, and the strand of pearls at her throat, I guessed she’d been a member of royalty in life. I didn’t remember her photograph from the papers, but that didn’t mean she hadn’t been amongst the missing.
I slipped a last hairpin into the twisted knot of hair at the nape of my neck, never taking my eyes from the ghost. She still appeared solid and lifelike, no doubt recently dead, mourned and missed by someone who’d loved her. This ghost had died on the other side of the world, yet she’d sought me out and managed to cross my boundaries.
That said a great deal about her determination. I feared it might say even more about the circumstances of her death. Those who’d died a horrible death made the most stubborn ghosts.
She’d haunt me if given half an opportunity, but I didn’t intend to give her one. I pulled my wards tighter, doing all I could to shut her out of my house. My life. “You can’t linger here, spirit, and I can’t help you. Whatever you’re looking for is far away. Leave this place and seek your rest.”
The ghost stood fast, her gaze never wavering from my reflection in the mirror. I’d expected the anger common in strong spirits to fill her eyes, or a demand for me to bow to her will. What I saw instead was patience and a willingness to wait. I’d no idea what she waited for.
“Delia?” Gabe’s image appeared in the mirror near the ghost, startling me. My husband couldn’t see her, that was plain, but I’d no doubt from the way the ghost moved to one side that she was aware of him. “Are you ready to leave? We’re supposed to pick up Jack and Sadie and the children in half an hour.”
“I’m ready.” The ghost was gone between one instant and the next, leaving me with a racing heart and a catch in my throat. I tucked a stray strand of hair behind my ear, staring at the emptiness where she’d stood. She’d gone because she chose to leave, not because I’d sent her away. “I just need to get my hat.”
Gabe put his hands on my shoulders, worry in his eyes. “You’re very pale, Dee. Are you all right?”
“I’m fine. A ghost took me by surprise, but she’s gone now.”
His frown deepened. He’d watched me deal with ghosts of all kinds for more than four years, becoming more sure of my abilities as I gained experience and knowledge. Isadora Bobet, a master practitioner of spiritual arts, was my teacher, mentor, and a good friend to both me and Gabe. Before she took me on as a student, I was awash in a world I didn’t understand. Without Dora’s guidance, I might have gone mad.
Spirits and haunts seldom surprised me now, a fact Gabe was quite aware of. I covered his hand with mine and smiled. “Truly, I’m fine. We should get going. Sadie’s more excited about going to the parade than Stella. She’ll be very cross if we keep her waiting.”
“As long as you’re sure everything’s all right.” Gabe kissed me on the cheek. “I’ll pull the car out. Meet you at the end of the drive.”
I hadn’t lied; everything was fine. Still, I avoided looking at the mirror. If she’d come back, I didn’t want to know.
There’d be time enough to deal with stubborn ghosts later.
San Francisco was always full of travelers come to see the sights or passing through to other parts of the country. Spring of 1919 brought an influx of well-to-do refugees from Europe into the city: skilled craftsmen and prosperous merchants, minor nobility and retainers who’d served royalty for generations. All sought a safe haven or to flee memories of the horrors they’d witnessed before the final battles on the Continent stopped. Diplomats came as well, new faces to man the embassies abandoned at the beginning of the Great War or to carry news about the current state of the Paris peace treaty.
Diplomat or refugee, they’d all brought their ghosts with them. The haunts attached to most of the refugees were family or friends, people who they’d recently lost, missed, and mourned. Watching a dead soldier trail behind a weary woman clutching a child’s hand struck me as very sad, but nothing about these ghosts appeared out of the ordinary. But not all the newly arrived spirits I saw were quite so mundane. Rulers haunted their subjects as well.
Phantom European kings and queens, princes, duchesses, and nobility of lesser stations roamed the busy downtown streets in large numbers. Some were dressed in ermine-trimmed capes, coronation robes heavy with gold braid and golden crowns, while other dead royals wore simple linen shirts and trousers, or plain summer cotton dresses. The richness of their clothes and their confident, often haughty bearing left no doubt about their station in life.
Many of these noble ghosts looked lost, bewildered at how they’d come to be in this strange city and unsure of where to go. Others followed closely on the heels of the person they haunted, holding tight to someone familiar or who’d known them in life. Perhaps the ghost in my mirror had come to San Francisco the same way, riding on the memories of someone who’d loved her.
Strolling down Market Street with Gabe, Jack and Sadie, and their two children, I found myself face-to-face with the spirits of European nobility at every turn. I might have said no to Sadie’s invitation to watch the Saint Patrick’s Day parade if I’d known how many new ghosts inhabited the city. The only saving grace was that few showed evidence of how they’d died, sparing me a small amount of distress. All I could do was make the best of things.
The majority of the ghosts I saw ignored the world of the living, too busy reenacting some part of their past to take notice. A few appeared keenly aware they’d traveled far from home, going so far as to stare in bewilderment at storefronts or reach out to touch people passing on the street. Those spirits turned to watch Sadie’s children intently or moved closer.
That made me uneasy. I whispered charms, telling them to move on and forbidding them to haunt me or mine. All but two of the ghosts did as I’d ordered. A middle-aged man dressed in a formal coat and a slim young woman in a crimson gown resisted, but I won in the end.
I relaxed once they’d gone, determined to enjoy our outing. We hadn’t had a free day to spend with Sadie and Jack Fitzgerald in far too long. Sadie and I had been best friends since childhood, and ours was a friendship that had endured through both the best and worst of times. Jack and Gabe had been partners since they joined the police force nearly fifteen years before. They’d grown close as brothers. Time with Sadie and Jack was always well spent.
March weather was often unpredictable, but we’d gotten lucky. A cool breeze blew off the ocean, carrying the scent of salt and seaweed, but the sun was warm and bright in a cerulean sky. Thick gray fog sealed the mouth of the Bay but showed no sign of moving inland. Flocks of ducks formed giant vees and raced toward the wetlands lining the Bay shore, while gulls and terns wheeled in thick, dark spirals, their keening cries echoing so that I heard them from blocks away.
“Isn’t this a glorious day, Dee? I knew the fog would stay away until dark.” Sadie set two-year-old Connor atop Jack’s shoulders, her face flushed and blue eyes bright with excitement. Blond curls bubbled out from beneath her stylish cloche hat and framed her face, accenting her already considerable charm. Her shawl-collared dress was the latest fashion, made in chocolate silk and broken at the waist with tiny pleats. Bell-shaped skirts ended at her ankles. The day was warm, but she’d tossed a honey-colored mink shawl over her shoulders.
Half the fun of going anywhere with Sadie was watching heads turn as she passed by, a game her husband enjoyed as much as the rest of us. Most of our amusement stemmed from knowing those who judged Sadie solely on her looks vastly underestimated her. Given the opportunity, she never hesitated to set them straight.
“It’s an absolutely perfect day.” I sidestepped the ghost of a prince kneeling in the middle of the sidewalk, head bowed to receive a crown. “Not a trace of fog anywhere. I’m so glad we could watch the parade together.”
“Oh, so am I, Dee.” Sadie brushed a hand over her son’s cheek, and her bright smile dimmed a little. “I just hope the crowd and the parade noise don’t frighten Connor. He cries so easily when we’re downtown.”
Sadie didn’t see the world as I did, but I suspected that her son did. Connor was wild eyed and flushed, trying to look everywhere at once. Not telling my dearest friend that her baby boy watched ghosts was a guilty secret that weighed on me; one I couldn’t keep much longer. Since early infancy, he’d had that telltale stare Gabe said I adopted when ghosts were present. I couldn’t deny that Connor watched unseen things in the corner of the room rather than the people around him. Not when I saw spirits in those same corners.
Dora and I had half hoped Connor might grow out of it, but as time went on, I became convinced that wasn’t the case. The question had become when to tell Sadie, not if we’d be forced to.
At least I’d be there to help Connor and teach him how to protect himself. Slim consolation for his mother, but that was all I had to offer.
I reached up and brushed the hair back from little Connor’s face. His hair was red and curly like his father’s, but the curls were fine and soft like Sadie’s, his eyes the same shade of blue as his mother’s. Stella was the miniature of her mother through and through, including the ability to charm the moon from the sky. I could never firmly decide who Connor resembled most, but many days I thought it was his grandmother Esther. “I’ll take him for a walk if he starts to cry. That way Stella can enjoy the parade and you needn’t worry. Where are we meeting Sam?”
“Near Lotta’s fountain and the Palace Hotel.” Gabe picked Stella up, making it easier for us to move along the increasingly crowded sidewalk. She looped an arm around his neck and rested her cheek against his. “Sam said he’d be at the corner on the Palace side of the street. We won’t be able to miss him that way. The parade turns right there, so it’s the perfect place to watch. Sam and Miss Mills are going to save a spot on the curb for us.”
Sadie’s eyes lit up at the mention of Sam Butler in connection with a woman’s name. Time and motherhood hadn’t dulled her matchmaker instincts. If anything, fewer opportunities made her more eager. “Miss Mills? I didn’t know Sam was courting anyone. Why didn’t you tell me, Jack? We could have had them come to supper.”
“Sam’s not courting her, sweetheart.” Jack and Gabe traded looks, but Gabe’s amused expression made it clear Jack was on his own. “They’re friends. Colleagues, I guess you could say. She’s new in town and Sam’s making an effort to introduce her to people.”
“Colleagues?” Sadie appeared thoroughly unconvinced. Now that she had the scent of a possible romance in her nose, she’d not let go. She’d pointed out more than once that her matchmaking had worked with me and Gabe. Sadie lived in hope of another success. “Is Miss Mills a reporter as well? I’ve read that some of the more progressive papers do have women on their staffs.”
I felt sorry for Sam. Samuel Clemens Butler was young, a successful reporter for The Call, and romantically unattached, and thus the perfect candidate for Sadie’s efforts. We’d all been friends since he came to San Francisco a little over two years ago and helped Gabe with a case, but poor Sam had no idea what was in store for him.
Attempts to sidetrack Sadie usually failed, but I felt honor bound to try. “Libby Mills is a social worker. The Examiner has run several articles about her. Miss Mills negotiates with local businesses to provide respectable employment for soldier’s widows at decent wages. It’s quite noble work from what I’ve read, and she’s gotten good results. I’m looking forward to meeting her.”
The words “social worker” must have summoned visions of an older woman with ample bosoms and frumpy clothes. Sadie’s smile dimmed ever so slightly, but she put a good face on things. “Perhaps I can persuade a few friends to host a luncheon or an afternoon reception for Miss Mills. Introducing her to San Francisco society is bound to do her cause a world of good. I could even ask Katherine to include Miss Mills in the garden party she’s hosting next week. She’s always looking for a new charity to support.”
The corners of Jack’s mouth twitched, but he kept a straight face. “That’s a marvelous idea, sweetheart. My dear stepmother loves to throw money around in public. She has an image to maintain, after all.”
Sadie laughed and slipped an arm around his waist. “What you really mean is giving money to charity eases her guilt. Katherine would never admit to that, but we both know it’s true. If Miss Mills’s people benefit, well, that’s all to the good, as far as I’m concerned. I’ll ring Katherine this evening.”
Lotta’s fountain came into view. All the people of San Francisco knew the fountain built by Lotta Crabtree, her gift to the city. Most had a story to tell. The brass fountain with its tall, ornate central column, lion’s-head spouts, and griffin-guarded basins survived both the 1906 quake and the fire that swept away all the surrounding buildings. People used the fountain as a rallying point in the aftermath, a place to leave messages and post lists of who’d survived and who had died. Esther had brought Sadie and me to the fountain to hear opera soprano Luisa Tetrazzini sing on Christmas Eve of 1910.
Survivors of the quake still gathered around Lotta’s fountain each April 18 to sing hymns and remember. Not that anyone would ever forget.
Sam was easy to spot. I’d always thought of him as tall and lanky, but today he stood inches above the people around him. His straw boater hat and the thin pinstripes in his ash-gray suit made him appear taller still, especially in comparison to the tiny woman holding his arm.
Libby Mills was much younger than I’d imagined, and her clothes far from frumpy, edging dangerously close to being fashionable. Her green dress had a square neckline, a large lace collar that covered her shoulders, and a pleated skirt that ended scandalously far above her ankles. She wore her hair loose, and soft black waves rippled over her shoulders and down her back.
My father always referred to small, pretty women as doll-like, but I’d never pin that label on Miss Mills. I could see strength and determination in her stance, even from a distance, and she watched everything with a keen eye. If she missed much, I’d be greatly surprised. She laughed easily at Sam’s remarks, revealing dimples in an open, friendly face.
I glanced at Sadie, wondering if she’d seen them too. Her utterly blissful smile told the story. I’d no hope of saving Sam from her meddling. He’d have to save himself.
Sam saw us and waved. “Gabe, Jack, over here.”
Police officers had already halted traffic for the parade. We crossed the street quickly and filled the space Sam had saved on the curb. Cheery music carried from around the corner, a sign the first band would be here before long.
Sam made the introductions. “Libby, you already know Gabe and Jack. These are their wives, Delia Ryan and Sadie Fitzgerald. It’s a mystery to me why such smart women put up with these two scoundrels. Delia and Sadie, this is Miss Libby Mills. Go easy on her, Sadie.”
Gabe winked and I hid a smile. He’d warned Sam.
“Why, Sam, I don’t know what you mean.” Sadie was positively beaming as she shook Libby’s hand. “Pay no attention to him. I’m very pleased to meet you, Miss Mills. And please, call me Sadie.”
“Only if you and Mrs. Ryan call me Libby. Sam’s told me a lot about both of you.” Libby gave Sam a sideways glance. “All good things, I promise.”
I stuck my hand out in turn. “And please, Libby, call me Delia. Sam’s a good man. I’d listen to him if I were you.”
The music grew louder as the parade came around the corner, cutting off further conversation. Gabe set Stella on the curb at his feet, giving her a clear view as well as room to dance and bounce to the music. The first band was followed by another, cars full of pretty girls tossing paper flowers to the crowd, and solemn-faced men carrying banners for aid societies and fellowship halls. Policemen marched in full dress uniforms, while men from local firehouses drove old horse-drawn fire wagons and tossed candy to children. People clapped and cheered when a group of dancers stopped at our corner. They gave a grand performance before moving on.
I kept an eye on Connor, looking for signs that the crowd and the ever-present ghosts had gotten to be too much for him. Jack bounced his son up and down in time to the music while Sadie rested a hand on Connor’s back. So far, he seemed to be faring well, watching everything with excitement and not fear. I stayed close, just in case.
A new group of men came around the corner, carrying flags and a different kind of banner. Some of the men had hand-lettered cards stuck into their hatbands that read BREAD OR REVOLUTION. The cheering stopped, the crowd growing quiet and subdued. Sam scowled and wiped a hand over his mouth. “I didn’t think he’d go through with it. Dominic Mullaney should have more sense.”
People booed loudly and a few shouted insults. I touched Gabe’s arm. “What’s wrong?”
He gestured toward the men marching past. “Mullaney and his crew are trying to organize labor unions on the docks. They’ve already started organizing waiters in the big hotels too. The business owners involved have done their best to turn people against the idea. Father Colm over at Saint Mary Magdalene was afraid there’d be trouble and tried to talk Mullaney out of marching in the parade. Father Colm was right. I just hope things don’t get too far out of hand.”
The shouting grew louder, people in the crowd and the men who’d been marching taunting each other. Ghosts appeared amongst the marchers: men dressed in miners’ gear with coal dust smeared across their faces, blacksmiths in leather aprons and longshoremen in sweat-soaked shirts, phantom boxes balanced on a shoulder. There were child ghosts as well, barefoot waifs holding spindles from textile mills or battered lunch buckets. The spirits’ anger rolled through the crowd, feeding the growing rage of union organizers and spectators both.
Spirits of dead royalty shimmered into view, clustered near a group of the spectators along the curb. These ghosts were nervous, afraid. I tried to discover who in the crowd they haunted, but there were far too many people.
“I don’t think it’s safe for the children to stay here.” Gabe picked up Stella and handed her back to Sadie. He took his badge out of an inside pocket and pinned it to his coat. “Take them down the block and into the Palace, Dee, and stay as far from the front windows as you can. All the way to the back of the lobby would be best. Libby, I think you should go as well.”
“There used to be seating areas at the back. We’ll go there.” I took Connor from Jack. He was shaking and crying, staring at the ghosts, and I’d no doubt their anger washed over him as it did me. I pulled Connor’s head down to rest on my shoulder, doing what I could to wrap wards and protections around him. They must have done some good. I felt Connor sigh and relax against me. “Be careful, Gabe.”
He smiled and turned away, wading into the thick of the angry mob. Jack and Sam went with him. I met Sadie’s eyes, knowing what I’d see. Fear for Jack struggled with the need to get her children far from danger. She couldn’t protect all of them at once. Neither could I.
Libby was small but adept at making her way through crowds. She went ahead of Sadie and me, forcing openings to let us through, and going so far as to shove a large man who tried to block our way deliberately. I couldn’t shake the sick feeling that something was very wrong here. Few people made an attempt to leave. Instead, men and women both pushed forward, faces eager, and scrabbled to get closer to the heart of the disturbance. I didn’t understand why.
We broke through to a clear patch of sidewalk. A large plate glass window on the front of a jeweler’s shop loomed in front of us. Black moiré taffeta lined the window display and showed off rhinestone bracelets, necklaces, and earrings to their best advantage. The crystals glinted rainbows, mimicking the pattern in the fabric.
The window glass was flawed, full of ripples that distorted the reflection of the milling crowd behind us and the buildings across Market Street, buildings that overlooked the parade route. Images wavered, appeared to move as I stared.
All but one. The princess ghost I’d seen in the dressing table mirror stood in the center of the glass, still and calm. She’d known I’d be here, in this place at this exact moment, and waited for me. I couldn’t say how I knew that was true, only that I did.
The ghost raised an arm and pointed, the fan in her hand touching the reflection of a building directly across the street. I turned and saw tiny figures moving on the roof, men who appeared no bigger than children from a distance. One carried a bundle to the iron railing that edged the roof and stood there, waiting on his partner. The other man got down on one knee, arms held at a strange angle. He shifted position, and sunlight shimmered dully on the long barrel of a rifle. “Oh, God . . . Sadie! Sadie get down!”
Libby looked up immediately, instinct or divine intervention drawing her eye to the same rooftop. Shock froze her in place for an instant, but no more. She grabbed Sadie’s arm, dragging her into the shelter of the jewelry store doorway. I crowded in as well, heart hammering, and jammed Libby, Sadie, and Stella up against the shop door, little Connor wedged between us.
The door must have been unlatched. We tumbled inside, landing in a heap of tangled skirts and frightened, crying children.
Explosions sounded from outside, followed quickly by panicked screams, frantic shouts, and breaking glass. A clerk came around the front counter, an older woman in a prim gray dress, who stood and stared at us, mouth agape. “What . . . what are you doing on the floor?”
Libby lifted her head and glared at the woman. “Trying not to get shot. Get down, you ninny.”
The front window shattered, spraying glass into the shop. Shards skittered across spotless marble floors to land at the clerk’s feet. She squeaked in fright and scurried into the back room, yelling for Mr. Perkins to call the police. I curled over Connor as he sobbed, and made shooshing noises in his ear, trying not to think of Sam and Jack out there.
Most of all, I was trying not to imagine Gabe lying in the street, cold and still.
Gabe and Jack were fighting a losing battle against madness, but they fought anyway. They didn’t have any other choice.
Five streets met at the intersection surrounding Lotta’s fountain, forming a large, open square. People continued to crowd into the square, ignoring all Gabe and Jack’s shouted orders to disperse, ignoring everything but their eagerness to enter the fray. Pushcarts selling ice cream, roasted peanuts, and sausage on a roll were abandoned by the vendors and overturned. Fistfights broke out in pockets on every side of the fountain, onlookers cheering on the men flailing at each other.
Women were just as crazed, using anything at hand to pry out cobblestones to throw at the union organizers. Children huddled against walls or cried in prams, apparently forgotten by their parents. Gabe prayed none of the children would move. They’d be trampled and he didn’t think anyone would notice.
The crowd’s fury was unprovoked. Unnatural. Gabe was rarely frightened after nearly fifteen years on the force, but this mob scared him. He saw the same fear in Jack’s eyes.
Word of the riot near Lotta’s fountain spread quickly among the cops stationed up and down the parade route. It took only a few minutes before they all converged on the area, their ranks swelled still more by the officers who’d been a part of the parade. The one bright spot Gabe found was that whatever mania had taken hold of the crowd left him and Jack, and the patrolman coming to their aid, untouched. Reinforcements helped, but the police officers were still outnumbered three to one.
Dominic Mullaney wasn’t faring any better in his attempts to restore reason. Again and again he tried to separate men shouting at each other, stop fights, or convince his supporters to walk away and go home. They argued right back, and more than a few took a swing at him. Mullaney had a darkening bruise on one side of his jaw and a split lip, but he didn’t back down. Gabe gave him credit for that. Whatever was going on, Mullaney wasn’t a part of it.
The first gunshot caught Gabe by surprise. He saw a man crumple off to the left, blood blooming in crimson petals on his chest. The ringing echo of gunfire was swallowed by the roar of voices and shouts, and he couldn’t tell which direction the shot came from. A second man standing a good twenty yards away fell and didn’t move. No more than ten feet from where Jack stood, a third man went down, clutching his leg and screaming. The victims were spread across the square, the shots fired with too little time between to have come from close range.
Someone was shooting into the crowd from above. Gabe spun in circles, desperately searching the rooftops for the gunman.
He saw the gun barrel and a second man toss something off the roof an instant before the first explosion. The ground under his feet rocked and Gabe stumbled sideways. Brick and timber were blasted off storefronts, landing hard on those unfortunate enough to be in the way. Windows on both sides of the street shattered and trees near where the dynamite landed blew apart, dropping more debris onto the crowd. The air filled with the smell of burning cloth and wood and flesh.
The tenor of the mob’s screams changed with the explosion. Anger evaporated and gave way to terror. People who’d refused to budge a minute earlier ran now, frantic to get away. Gabe fought the surge of people, struggling to keep the men on the rooftop in sight and make his way toward the building.
He caught up with Jack and pointed. “There are two of them on the roof. We need to get up there, but I’m guessing they were smart enough to barricade the door on the way in. Find two or three of our men in case we need to break the door down.”
Another small explosion went off behind them. Instinct made them both duck and cover their heads with their arms, but nothing more than a fine rain of pulverized paving stone and dirt fell.
Jack stood first. He gripped Gabe’s shoulder briefly, his grim expression at odds with his flip tone. “Stay low, Captain Ryan. If you get yourself killed, Sadie would never let me hear the end of it.”
“You do the same, Lieutenant Fitzgerald. I’m too old to break in a new partner.” Gabe rolled up his fedora, stuffing it in an inside overcoat pocket. He was fond of the familiar hat and didn’t want to chance losing it. “Let’s go.”
Both of them moved toward the building in a crouching run, brushing aside the clinging hands of panicked civilians. Jack broke away to intercept two officers in uniform, both of them rookies with semi-panicked expressions. Parade duty was supposed to be an easy assignment. Gabe shoved away guilt and kept running.
The man on the roof tossed off two more thick bundles of dynamite, lobbing one as far as he could to the left and the other to the right. A parade float flipped end over end and skidded across the intersection on its side. More windows broke and a building caught fire. The wind picked up and gusted down Market Street from the Bay, twining between buildings and howling under the eaves with a lost, mournful sound. Gabe shivered as the wail grew louder and hung in the air.
Smoke and ash swirled around him now, mixed with brick dust, and made it hard to see. Shapes moved in the murk, half-glimpsed figures riding the wind and reaching toward the fleeing crowd, fingers hooked into long, grasping claws. Gabe wiped his eyes, willing the apparition out of existence and refusing to acknowledge the queasy feeling in his middle. Delia and Isadora knew how to deal with spirits or creatures drawn to death and misery, but he didn’t. Ignoring them was the best he could do on his own.
Gabe dodged around a pile of burning timber. His mind registered the small hand sticking out from underneath, but reacting—feeling—could get him killed. He heard the rifle shots now, each one a muffled crack that sounded far away underneath the ringing in his ears, but he could count them off. With people more scattered, the gunman had clearer shots and took his time, picking his targets off slowly.
That the man on the roof hadn’t shot him or Jack, or any of the uniformed officers, baffled Gabe. He picked possible reasons apart as he ran, each smoky breath burning his throat and eyes.
A hunch became conviction as the wind wailed again, feeding his imagination. Cops dressed in bright blue uniforms or with their badges reflecting the sunlight were easy to spot in the crowd, but the gunman had no interest in picking them off. Only one target mattered to the men on the roof. The explosions and shooting people at random were a diversion, a way to flush someone from hiding. Whoever the gunman was looking for, he hadn’t found them yet.
The next bundle of dynamite fell short of landing on the roof of the Examiner building and went off before hitting the ground. Chunks of brick blasted off the front, tearing through canvas sunshades on ground floor windows and falling onto the sidewalk. An older couple and a young woman who appeared not far out of her teens dashed away from the shelter of an awning, and into the open. As soon as the men on the roof were able to see the terrified family running below them, the shooting stopped.
Gabe’s gut told him the hunter had finally flushed his prey. He waved his arms over his head and yelled, trying to attract the old couple’s attention. The space between his shoulders itched, waiting for the crack of a rifle and pain. “No, stay there. Stay there!”
The wife said something to her husband and slowed down. Her husband glanced back to see brick and masonry crashing into the awning, tugged his wife back into motion, and kept going. They’d almost drawn even with Lotta’s fountain when the old man fell, clutching what was left of his knee and writhing in pain. His wife and daughter grabbed the collar of the old man’s coat and an arm, trying to drag him behind the fountain. The gunman shot the old man a second time and immediately fired again, hitting the old woman in the chest.
“Move, damn it! Move!” Gabe shouted again, but the girl didn’t react. She stood stock-still in the middle of the street, staring at the dead couple, chest heaving and face blank with shock. Safety and cover were only a few steps away, but they wouldn’t do her any good if fear froze her in place. And Gabe would never reach her before the gunman killed her too.
He knew, but he ran toward her anyway. “Get behind the fountain! Run!” A bullet hit the paving stones at her feet, sending up pointed shards of rock that nicked her cheek. Blood mingled with the tears sliding down her face. She stumbled backwards, but still didn’t try to get away.
Another bullet slammed into the paving stones, driving the girl back a few more steps. The gunman hadn’t missed any of his targets up until now. He was deliberately tormenting her, hoping she’d break and run. She set her shoulders and lifted her chin, staring at the men on the rooftop, and held her ground.
Gabe was completely focused on the young woman and hadn’t seen Sam Butler until the tall reporter moved. Sam was much closer, his long legs adding speed to his sprint that Gabe couldn’t match. Of the two of them, Butler had the best chance of reaching her first. He also had the better chance of dying.
Sam reached her seconds after the next round slammed into the ground, looping an arm around her waist and dragging the young woman into cover behind the fountain. The gunman’s angry shout echoed, harsh and distorted. Bullets pinged against the brass in rapid succession, but the base of Lotta’s fountain was wide enough to keep Sam and the girl out of the field of fire.
A quick glance to the left and right brought back the itch between Gabe’s shoulders threefold. Only a handful of cops slunk along the edge of buildings, hugging cover while trying to work around to the shooter’s building. Other officers helped the injured to safety, staying low and moving quickly. The empty square was littered with smoking debris and lifeless bodies. Gabe was the only person standing.
Shots still pinged off the fountain, but he didn’t trust the gunman not to turn his frustration on other targets. Gabe ducked behind a small mound of bricks and a partly buried ice cream vendor’s cart, imperfect cover at best. He quickly searched the street for Jack. His partner had reached the building harboring the gunman and the man throwing dynamite. Jack and the two rookie officers were swinging a cast-iron bench from a trolley stop between them and trying to break down the front door.
Two more uniformed officers approached Jack from an alley between buildings, accompanied by a third man dressed in street clothes. A large badge was pinned to his coat, marking him as a detective. Gabe didn’t recognize him from a distance, but the chief would have called in other squads by now.
The strange detective said something to Jack as he pulled a .38 Smith & Wesson with a six-inch barrel out from under his overcoat. Very few cops carried that kind of service revolver. Those who did were usually ex–army officers who’d been issued the pistol during the war. The detective stepped back to the curb and fired at the men on the roof. Jack yelled, but it was too late.
Gabe barely had time to huddle tight against the ice cream cart before bricks and broken glass, hunks of wood and shingles began to pummel him. Small impacts drew involuntary groans and grunts. A few larger, heavier pieces hit his back and pried loose cries of pain, pain that lingered and let him know he’d been hurt. The cart took the worst of the punishment, his sole bit of luck in the midst of an unlucky day.
His ears rang to the point he could hear little else when the deluge stopped. Dust caked his face, plugged his nose, and the taste of gunpowder sat on the back of his tongue. Blood matted his hair. Gabe groaned and dragged himself up to his feet, bracing an arm against the cart and keeping his eyes closed until the world stopped spinning. Waiting, as well, to dredge up the courage to view what might have happened to Jack and the officers with him, to Sam and the young woman.
He turned in time to see Sam help the girl to her feet. Both of them were filthy, covered in brick dust and powdered glass, but they were alive. She looked stunned, barely responding to what Sam said, but Gabe couldn’t blame her for that.
Dust settled rapidly, clearing some of the haze from the air. Most of the force of the explosion had gone straight up or down into the building, an unexpected blessing. If the blast had traveled a different path, Gabe, Butler, and the unknown young woman would all be dead. Even so, how far masonry and framing timbers had traveled across the square was sobering.
The top floor at the front of the building was gone, a gaping hole that allowed the heaped rubble inside to show. Patrolmen who’d lurked down side streets and alleyways to avoid the gunfire rushed back, picking their way through rubble toward the front of the building. Toward the last place he’d seen Jack.
Their squad worked together to shift piles of brick and wood, passing the pieces from hand to hand before tossing them out of the way. Gabe stayed where he was, too dizzy and nauseated to be of any use. His men dug quickly, looking for survivors, but the first two bodies they uncovered were broken and lifeless. Relief that neither man was Jack left him light-headed.
Shouts and cheers went up from the rescuers as they heard voices calling for help, and they dug faster. Gabe’s fingers curled around the broken and twisted pushcart handle. He’d lost too many people he cared about to think prayer offered any help or hope of survival. The hope he felt sprang from not being able to imagine a world without his best friend. “Come on, Jack, come on. Sadie and the kids need you. Crawl out of there.”
Most of the explosion wreckage had fallen back inside the building, not onto the sidewalk and street out front. That, and his own piece of luck, was what saved Jack and the men with him. One by one, they pulled three uniformed officers out of the bricks and rubble heaped against a wall, battered and injured, but alive.
Jack was the fourth and last man out. He clutched the front of Maxwell’s coat, peering into the patrolman’s face and asking questions. Maxwell pointed toward Gabe.
He waved and the tightness left Jack’s face and shoulders. Bruised and bleeding, Jack leaned on Maxwell and limped toward Gabe.
Gabe sat down hard, his back against what was left of the ice cream cart, and waited for his partner. He and Jack would go to meet their wives at the Palace Hotel, holding each other up if need be, but finding Delia and Sadie came before anything. The job would still be there when they got back.
He watched Sam Butler tend to the grieving young woman. Sam wet a handkerchief in Lotta’s fountain and washed blood and dirt from her face, talking the whole time. Knowing Butler, he was telling her stories about places he’d traveled, hunting for a headline, or what it was like to be a reporter in a big city. Sam Butler was good at telling stories. Some of them were even true.
Listening to Sam would keep her from thinking too hard or sinking deeper into shock. Listening would keep her from running. She would run, given half a chance—he was sure of that—and Gabe couldn’t afford to lose track of her.
An icy breeze found its way down the back of his neck, making him shiver. Gabe flipped up his collar. The odds of Dominic Mullaney’s fledgling labor union’s having anything to do with the riot starting were slim, and any connection between the union and a gunman picking people off from a rooftop even more far-fetched. He’d bring Mullaney in for questioning, but that was a dead end.
No, the real reasons, whatever they might be, had to do with the girl sitting on the curb next to Sam. Gabe would wager a month’s salary on that.
Quiet followed a small explosion on the far side of the square. We took a risk and dashed into the hallway leading to the private portions of the shop. Even if we went no farther, the windowless rooms in the rear were far safer. Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that staying here was a mistake. We needed to keep moving.
An unlatched door swung back and forth in the shop’s rear wall, giving glimpses of dustbins and a sunny alley. The prim clerk and the owner, Mr. Perkins, appeared to have fled in panic, leaving the shop to us. I smelled smoke, and the light outside the door appeared slightly murky, but it didn’t appear that the fire was close enough to be a danger.
That the clerk and the shop owner were gone was for the best and a blessing. I was reasonably certain that Libby wouldn’t panic, and Sadie could be counted on to keep a cool head. The sense that something wasn’t right still itched along my skin, something that went far beyond dynamite explosions and rifle fire, or people rioting on San Francisco streets. We weren’t out of the thick of things yet.
I gestured toward the door. “We can follow the alley to reach the hotel. It should be safe enough with the buildings between us and the street. The thought of staying here makes me nervous.”
Libby brushed at the dust on her jacket, a futile gesture considering, and nodded. “I agreed, Delia. More people around and being inside a larger building would make me feel miles safer.”
“Oh yes, let’s do go, Dee. The sooner, the better. Jack and Gabe expect to find us at the Palace.” Sadie stood with her back against the wall and arms wrapped around Stella, rocking her little girl back and forth. She trembled visibly and her face was flushed, but no one could fault her for that. “If we’re not there, they’ll imagine the worst. Do you think the explosions took down the telephone lines? I’d like to let Annie know all of us are safe. She’s bound to have had a call from the station summoning Jack for duty by now. She’ll be worried sick.”
“We won’t know about the telephones until we reach the hotel. If Gabe and Jack weren’t set on meeting us there, I wouldn’t go to the Palace at all. I’m not sure there’s safety in greater numbers, or any safety at all, for that matter. People were far too eager to fight with total strangers. It all makes my skin crawl, but we can’t stay here either.” I pushed sweat-soaked hair off Connor’s face and kissed his forehead. He’d stopped screaming in fright, but he was still lying wide eyed and stiff on my shoulder, staring at ghosts. New haunts appeared as soon as I sent others away, fresh victims who’d died at the hands of the gunman or in the explosions. “If the telephones are working, we should ring Dora too. Randy will have gotten the same call to come in before his shift. I don’t want her to worry needlessly.”
Randy and Isadora were devoted to one another, best friends as well as lovers. They’d lived together more than a year and a half now, and Randy asked her to marry him at least once a week. I suspected that Dora would say yes one day soon. She’d admitted to me that the only thing holding her back was fear. The last two men she’d been involved with had both been murdered. Their deaths weren’t remotely connected to her relationship with either Daniel or John Lawrence, but Dora still saw herself as somewhat cursed.
“Let me check that the alley is clear before we start. I’d hate to get stuck partway there and have to come back.” Libby cautiously stepped out the open door and moved away. She returned quickly. “I’ve been down lanes in other parts of the city that weren’t so wide or so clean. The alley continues through to the end of the block, and the buildings on the street side are packed pretty tightly. We should be safe making a run for the back of the hotel.”
Another large explosion shook the walls, and the ceiling groaned, spawning clouds of paint dust and plaster. Ghosts filled the hallway in large numbers, men and women and a scattering of children, all crowding in as near as possible. Connor buried his head in my shoulder, whimpering. I hugged him tighter, whispering banishment charms to scatter gathering spirits and building layers of protection around him as quickly as I could.
Ghosts often sought out people sensitive enough to detect their presence, drawn to their life force the way moths swarm a streetlamp. That was especially true of the newly dead who often didn’t remember dying. I prayed that I was the beacon that drew spirits in such numbers, not the tiny child in my arms. He was too young to understand what ghosts might want from him, overwhelmed and defenseless in the face of their emotions.
I’d suspected Connor watched ghosts, but I hadn’t realized how sensitive he truly was. At his age, possession was a very real danger. I added one more worry to the immediate list. Now I was the one whose heart beat too hard and too fast, exhausted from keeping the ghosts at bay and eaten by guilt that I hadn’t done more for Connor before now.
Libby peered at me quizzically as I stepped into the alley. “Delia?”
I held tight to calm and managed a smile. “Connor’s heavier than you’d expect. I’m fine. Lead the way.”
The alley was a smoky canyon overlooked by the unadorned back walls of millinery shops, gentlemen’s haberdasheries, and boot makers. Small placards marked doors for tradesmen to make deliveries, some nearly as faded as the weathered brick they hung on. Very few ghosts moved through the alley, and the ones I saw were long dead, old and thin to the point of nearly vanishing. Connor lay limp against my shoulder, exhausted from crying and fear, but he still watched each ghost’s passage. I’d worry less once we got him home. The protections I’d put in place around Sadie’s house more than four years before were worn with time, but they’d still help protect him. Dora and I would work on new barriers tomorrow morning at the latest, tonight if possible.
And I’d find a way to break the news to Sadie just as soon as we were home and safe. I’d already waited too long.
Gunshots still echoed from the other side of the buildings, faint and sounding far away. Time flowed slowly, an odd feeling, almost as if we were fated to run down this alley for eternity. While I knew that wasn’t really true, reaching the door of the hotel took longer than I’d thought it should.
A young, freckle-faced patrolman I didn’t know guarded the back entrance to the Palace, ushering in stragglers seeking refuge just as we were. That sense of dread and disquiet—and a compulsion to keep looking over my shoulder—stayed with me even once we were inside. I couldn’t find the source or see any danger, but I couldn’t shake the need to be wary either. We were safe from gunshots and explosions, at least for the moment. I tried to take consolation in that.
Enormous crystal chandeliers chased away shadows in the passageway leading from the alley entrance to the lobby. The lobby itself was crowded with overly polite people determined not to tread on toes or jostle the person walking past. Nearly everyone I saw was covered in dust, their clothing torn and faces sometimes bloodied. No one looked at us; no one smiled or made an effort to be social, or asked if the children were all right.
These quiet, subdued people had been eager participants in the riot on the square; I was sure of that. I’d pushed past them or people just like them as we fought our way free. Now they milled around the lobby not speaking to anyone, sleepwalkers with blank expressions. The source of my disquiet was all around me. I’d just not known where to look.
On another day, I might have believed shock over watching people gunned down in the street and bombs going off were to blame, or that guilt over rushing to join a riot had left them ashamed. But the need to be cautious and shy away from these people grew stronger each moment, causing me to pay more attention. Some other influence was at work, a force that set respectable people at each other’s throats and left them drained afterwards.
I’d spent the last four years working with Isadora, learning about the spirit realm and a myriad of dank, unpleasant creatures and forces that moved through the world. Most people never encountered those creatures or felt the touch of influences that could only be described as evil. Knowing these things existed and what to look for was decidedly a mixed blessing.
Above all, she taught me to trust my instincts, to believe the revulsion settling in the pit of my stomach was a warning I should heed. If I was the least bit unsure or didn’t understand what I was dealing with, I should back away.
Whatever was going on here had the feel of something best left undisturbed. Under other circumstances, I’d have taken Sadie by the hand and fled.
“Sadie . . .” I touched her shoulder. “Wait.”
Sadie stopped right where she was, shifting Stella to the other arm and looking only a little frightened. She’d known I could see ghosts since we were children, and took it on faith that strange requests from me had to do with spirits. Most things she took in stride, but given the day we’d had, I’d have forgiven her a little panic. “What’s wrong, Dee?”
“I wish I knew.” I patted Connor’s back and rocked side to side, trying to keep him calm and sort out how best to explain. “A crowd of ordinary men and women came to watch a parade and ended up willingly joining in a riot. I’d wager that behavior would horrify them in normal circumstances, but nothing about today has been normal. Now I look around, and those same people are still acting strangely. I can’t pin down exactly what I’m sensing, but it’s real and makes me extremely uncomfortable.”
“We can’t go back out there. It’s not safe.” Sadie’s eyes widened as she watched people wandering the lobby, really seeing them for the first time. She turned back to me, weary and scared, but not coming apart. Hidden under her sometimes frivolous exterior, Sadie Fitzgerald had a core of iron. “I assume you’d know if this was a ghost.”
I shook my head. “No, it’s not a ghost,. So far, whatever this is has taken no notice of us. That’s puzzling in and of itself, but I’d like to keep matters that way without wandering too far. I know you had your heart set on phoning Annie, but I think it best to wait. Gabe and Jack will still look for us here when they can. Sam too.”
“I hope that’s soon. I can’t help but worry and imagine the worst.” Sadie’s eyes were bright with unshed tears. “I keep praying I’ll turn around and Jack will be standing there.”
“Jack and Gabe are all right, I promise.” Libby looked between me and Sadie, clearly bewildered but silent. I was grateful she didn’t ask a hundred questions. “Give me a moment to find the best place to wait.”
I turned in a slow circle, arms beginning to ache from carrying Connor. Searching the cavernous lobby didn’t take long and I found what I’d wanted, a place to hide in plain sight. Comfortable-looking sofas, with large plush throw pillows, filled an otherwise unadorned alcove set apart from the main room by tall rattan screens and potted palms. Not a single painting or ornament to attract attention hung on the walls, a strange thing in the lavishly decorated lobby, but that made the alcove ideal for my purposes.
The space was sheltered and less exposed, but Gabe and Jack could still find us easily. I pointed. “Over there, between the pillar and the bellboy station. It’s the perfect place. We can rest until Sam and Jack and Gabe arrive.”
Libby brushed long strands of dark hair off her face and started for the alcove, trusting Sadie and I would follow. “You sound so sure they’ll survive, Delia. What with guns and explosions . . . I wish I had your faith.”
“I’d know if anything happened to them. I promise you, the three of them are all right.” “Skeptical” was the kindest word I could think of for the expression on Libby’s face, but I let it pass unremarked. This wasn’t the time to explain the strangeness in my life to Libby Mills.
I laid Connor on one of the sofas, his head cushioned by a green velvet throw pillow, and settled next to him. He’d finally fallen asleep and I chose to think of that as a good sign. Sadie settled into one corner of the second sofa with a drowsy Stella, while Libby sat in a wicker chair angled to face the lobby.
The interior of the hotel was brightly lit, a combination of the numerous crystal chandeliers reflecting and magnifying each other’s light, and the mirrored sconces set into every wall. I was able to see people in the lobby by peering through palm fronds and the loosely woven rattan screens. Anyone looking our way would see nothing more than shadows or indistinct shapes, something that should have made me feel safer and didn’t. Huddling in the darker alcove didn’t stop the wariness grating over my skin, nor silence the voice telling me to stay still and quiet. I imagined this was what a rabbit felt while eyeing the circling hawk overhead.
Two men came into view, visibly angry and arguing at the top of their voices. The man shouting loudest didn’t appear to care who heard or notice that none of the people wandering aimlessly through the lobby so much as looked in his direction. His disagreement might as well have been conducted in pantomime, for all the attention people paid.
The second man was keenly aware of the total lack of reaction by the strangers around him. He took furtive glances over his shoulder, watching the women and men milling about with a nervous expression I found all too familiar.
“Dom, stop and listen to me!” The first man, still shouting, grabbed Dom’s arm, forcing him to halt on the other side of the rattan screens. I saw then he was yelling at Dominic Mullaney, head of the fledging labor union. Mr. Mullaney had been on the receiving end of the fighting in the square. His face was scratched, bruised, and dried blood caked one corner of his mouth. Broad through the shoulder, with a square chin and broad nose, he was easy to picture as a boxer. I imagined he’d given as good as he got.
Sadie and Libby gave me owl-eyed looks, but didn’t make a sound. I put a hand on Connor’s back, hoping he wouldn’t cry and draw attention to us.
“Going to the police is a stupid thing to do. You’ll make yourself look guilty and destroy the work you’ve done. Don’t do the policeman’s job for him, Dominic. Make him come to you.”
“The police already think I’m guilty, Aleksei! Running will only make things worse.” Mr. Mullaney yanked his arm free and wiped a hand over his mouth. “Father Colm tried to talk me out of this, but I wouldn’t listen. I promised him we’d march and go home, that there wouldn’t be any fighting or trouble. Some of the men brought their wives and children to watch the parade. None of this was supposed to happen. Mary and Joseph . . . all those people hurt or dead.”
Gray frosted Aleksei’s temples and his neat, light brown beard. Deep lines around his pale blue eyes and mouth made him appear older, but I guessed him to be no more than forty. His slight Russian accent was difficult to detect, a harshness rolled around his words and into the rhythm of his speech. I’d known a friend at school who spoke the same way, but she’d grown up speaking both Russian and English at home.
“I’ve known idealists like you before. You want a bloodless revolution.” Aleksei slipped his hands into his coat pockets and shrugged. “Not everyone involved with the unions agrees. They want change now at any cost.”
Dominic clenched his fists and took a step back. “Those aren’t my men on the roof. I swear on my mother’s grave, Aleksei, the unions had nothing to do with this.”
Aleksei studied him, face expressionless. “Someone set you up, my friend. If your enemies bring you down, the union will fail. Whether you were involved or not makes no difference. You’re the leader of a loyal band of revolutionaries, and that makes you guilty.”
“Stop calling us revolutionaries. This isn’t Saint Petersburg or Moscow.” Dominic glanced over his shoulder, nervous. “You spent too much time running from the Bolsheviks.”
“The point remains. People will accuse you.” Aleksei brushed at the front of his coat and scowled. “Your own people may be the first to lay blame. Prepare yourself for that, Dominic.”
A huge explosion outside echoed against the ceiling, causing the floor to rock and the chandeliers to sway violently. We were at the back of the hotel, far from the street or the danger posed by breaking plate glass windows, but I still curled over Connor protectively. Sadie did the same with Stella.
One of the rattan screens shielding us tipped to one side, taking the other screen down as well. Huge porcelain vases full of early spring flowers rocked off the edge of tables, shattering. Paintings slid off walls, landing facedown and cracking the frames. Individual crystals fell from swinging chandeliers, the ping they made hitting the floor drowned by the screams of frightened people. The sleepwalkers were fully awake now, no doubt reminded of earthquakes and the destruction left behind.
But the explosion’s aftershock passed quickly, leaving shaken nerves behind but very little real damage. I sat up and pulled Connor into my lap. He was shaking and staring at the ceiling with frightened, solemn eyes, but he didn’t cry. I smoothed his hair, rocking him and trying not to be obvious about watching Dominic and Aleksei. The two men couldn’t help but see us now or know we’d heard every word. That concerned me a great deal.
Mr. Mullaney glanced our way, but something else, a noise or a movement I’d missed, caught his attention. He stared at the ceiling for an instant, eyes growing wider. “Mother of God . . . look out!”
Dominic Mullaney shoved Aleksei hard, sending him flying to one side. He dodged in the opposite direction, hitting the floor and rolling. A chandelier crashed to the ground between them, missing Aleksei by inches.
Connor stared at the fallen chandelier, quiet and unnaturally calm. A thousand shards of shattered crystal littered the floor, and a thousand more unbroken crystal prisms still clung to the chandelier’s frame, or had rolled into the alcove. I looked out across the lobby at the mirrored sconces set into walls, the remaining chandeliers, broken vases and crystal prisms scattered on marble floors.
The princess ghost looked back from each one.
Picking their way through the debris in the square took longer than Gabe had planned, but both he and Jack were unsteady on their feet and ready to collapse. By the time they limped into the damaged lobby of the Palace, Gabe knew neither of them was in any condition to run an investigation. Only sheer stubbornness and the need to see their wives, to make sure Libby and the children were safe, had gotten them this far.
One small window on the front of the hotel building had shattered, but the rest were crazed with spiderweb cracks and would need to be replaced. Distance from the blast was the only reason Gabe could come up with for why they hadn’t all broken. Hotel staff rushed around the lobby, doing their best to clean up the wreckage caused when the dynamite cache exploded. Fragments of broken porcelain vases crunched underfoot and flowers lay dying in puddles of water, but the damage was only an annoying mess, not anything life threatening or that would bring the building down.
Sending Dee and Sadie to the Palace had been the right thing to do. Still, he wouldn’t relax until he saw them.
“Delia said they’d wait near the back of the lobby.” Jack was flushed and winded, his limp much worse. “Don’t let me fall over before we find them.”
“Not a chance. Sadie would never forgive me if I left you behind.” Gabe got a shoulder under Jack’s arm and took more of his weight. He ignored the stabbing ache in his side. “Sam’s got his hands full and I’m too tired to drag you the rest of the way. Let’s go.”
More cops were already arriving on the scene, including the rest of their squad. Both Sergeant Rockwell and Marshall Henderson were more than capable of taking over, questioning any witnesses that hadn’t fled and making sure nothing was overlooked. Unless he missed his guess, Henderson had already started the squad searching the rubble for the injured and laying out bodies of those who’d died.
Gabe wouldn’t need to argue his partner away from duty and into going to the hospital; Sadie would see to that. She’d take one look at Jack, and the battle would be over before it started.
A glance over his shoulder let Gabe know Sam Butler and the girl were still right behind them. She was leaning heavily on Sam, his arm around her shoulder all that kept her moving. Shock and reaction to everything she’d seen left her with a disbelieving expression and a glazed look in her eyes.
He’d seen that same numbness on the face of survivors trapped in their own heads, reliving the horrors they’d witnessed again and again. Guilt over being spared while others died made the pain worse. Some never found the strength to put guilt aside and go on with their lives. He didn’t know this young woman. He couldn’t say which way the pendulum would swing.
Sam had figured out on his own that leaving the girl unprotected was a bad idea. He’d insisted she come with them, and she hadn’t had the strength to put up more than a token protest. Butler was doing a good job of trying to distract her, keeping up the same steady stream of banter and stories he’d started at Lotta’s fountain. She responded to Sam’s occasional question with a nod or a shake of the head, but didn’t speak. That she responded at all gave Gabe hope she’d be all right in the end; if he and Jack could keep her alive.
Every instinct he’d honed during his years on the force told Gabe the men shooting and tossing dynamite off the roof weren’t the ones giving the orders. Someone else wanted her dead. That the men trying to kill her had failed once didn’t mean they’d stop trying. One way or another, he needed to find a way to protect her.
“Jack!” Sadie saw them first and called out; otherwise, Gabe wasn’t confident he would have found them easily. Dee, Sadie, and the children were waiting with Libby in a dim, semi-hidden alcove set back from the main lobby. There were dozens of simple reasons Delia might have chosen this spot, but very few things in their lives were simple. He didn’t miss the way Delia watched the lobby with anxious eyes, ready to run. That she didn’t come to meet him halfway said even more.
“Oh God, Jack . . . Jack.” Sadie thrust Stella into Libby’s arms and rushed toward them, dodging around the fallen chandelier in the middle of the floor. She gently cupped Jack’s face in her hands and kissed him. Tears streamed down her face as she babbled. “I can’t believe you’re here. Dee said you were all right, but I was so afraid I’d never see you again. You’re bleeding! There’s . . . there’s blood all over your shirt. How badly are you hurt? We need to get you to the hospital right now.”
“I don’t need a hospital.” Jack coughed hard, his face screwed up with pain. “I’ll be fine once we get home.”
“Most of that mess isn’t his blood, Sadie, but don’t let him try to talk you out of the hospital.” Gabe gritted his teeth and shifted his grip. “Help me get him onto the settee. I can’t hold him up much longer.”
“Alina needs to sit down too.” Sam spoke from just behind Gabe’s shoulder, raspy and hoarse. Butler had managed to learn the young woman’s name, a surprise Gabe welcomed. That she already trusted him that much was a good first step. “Do what Gabe asked, Sadie. I promise we’ll get things sorted and everyone will be taken care of.”
For the first time since she’d spotted them limping across the lobby, Sadie saw something other than Jack’s face. Belatedly, she took in the state of Gabe’s clothing and how Sam was struggling to keep the young woman—Alina—from sliding to the floor.
“Oh Gabe, I’m so sorry!” She rushed to get Jack’s other arm around her shoulder. “I should have known better. What was I thinking? You’re hurt too.”
“I’m a little beat up, but you were right to worry about Jack first. He’s a lot worse off.” They eased Jack down onto the sofa, slow and careful. He didn’t think he’d be able to manage getting Jack on his feet again, but most of their squad was outside the hotel. Finding men willing to move Jack when the time came wouldn’t be a problem.
He had other things to worry about. Not the least of those was that he became more aware of his own injuries with each second. Gabe pressed a hand to his side and prayed the pain each time he moved too quickly was a sign his ribs were bruised, not broken. “Taylor and Maxwell will be here soon with a car. Some of the men were hurt more than either of us. I wanted them taken to the hospital first.”
Libby patted Stella’s back and set her down. “Sit with your papa, sweetheart. Be very careful not to bump him. I need to help Sam.”
Gabe managed to sit next to Delia without jarring his ribs too much. Connor sat on her lap, fully awake and watching everything. There was something fiercely protective about the way Dee held Connor, something that went beyond offering comfort to a scared little boy. Given how badly the day had gone, he couldn’t blame her for holding on extra tight.
But Gabe knew his wife too well to let it pass as a simple case of nerves. Delia had reason to worry about Connor, a reason that went beyond events in the square. She wanted to hide how deep that worry ran from Sadie. What he didn’t know was why.
Delia’s lip trembled and tears filled her eyes, but she managed a smile before leaning her head against his shoulder. “I knew you were all right, but I’m still awfully glad to see you. The same goes for Jack and Sam. It’s been a difficult afternoon.”
He laughed, regretting it instantly. No matter how much he wanted to pretend otherwise, his ribs were almost definitely cracked or broken, and that meant getting a doctor to tape them before he went back to work. “‘Difficult’ is the perfect word, Mrs. Ryan. I can’t think of a better way to describe it. Unfortunately, the day’s not over yet. I have to go back to work once Jack’s on his way to the hospital.”
Libby looked up from fussing over Alina and frowned. “I’ll never understand why men can’t be sensible about these things. You need a doctor as much as Jack does, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Sam doesn’t need to be seen as well. The only place any of you should go is home to bed. I’m positive Delia agrees with me.”
Gabe agreed with her too. All he wanted was to go home, to lie propped up in the corner of the sofa with an arm around Delia and the smell of her hair surrounding him. But he couldn’t dismiss the cold itch on the back of his neck nor silence the half-heard whispers in his ear about how the men on the roof had died. He needed to discover who the strange cop with the army revolver had been.
Above all, Gabe had to find a safe place for Alina to stay before he went home and collapsed. A place no one would think to look for her.
Delia twisted in her seat to peer at him, her arms still wrapped tight around Connor. “Libby’s right, you should go home. But I know you, Gabe Ryan, and you’ll do nothing of the sort. What haven’t you told me?”
He briefly outlined the story of the strange cop setting off the dynamite on the roof, killing the two men sowing death amongst the crowd of parade spectators. A glance at Sadie made him leave out details of the building’s partial collapse, a collapse that had almost buried Jack alive. He was mindful of Stella listening as well.
“Five officers died when the dynamite on that roof exploded.” Gabe shut his eyes briefly, but that was a mistake. All he saw were his men’s broken bodies and their startled expressions. He eased himself up straighter in the seat. “Two of them were rookies from my station. I’ll likely have nightmares about that. And the way the explosion happened—something’s not right. I can’t walk away, Dee. I need to at least try to find some answers before the trail goes cold.”
Delia rested her chin on the top of Connor’s head, chewing her bottom lip. “Nothing about this afternoon feels right, and I don’t understand it any more than you do. That bothers me a great deal. But the thought of you going back out there without Jack gives me the willies. You’ve already been hurt.”
“Pardon me.” Sam cleared his throat and traded looks with Gabe. “I understand why Gabe doesn’t feel he can leave this mess for someone else to clean up. Since I might be the only one who doesn’t need a doctor, I’ll stay here to watch his back. Gabe can supervise and I’ll do the hard parts.”
Gabe saw more questions and doubts in Delia’s eyes, but she kept them to herself. Instead, she sat back and nodded. “I’m holding you responsible for him, Sam Butler. Don’t let him stay longer than absolutely necessary. And don’t let him do more than he should.”
Sam put a hand over his heart and bowed his head. “You have my solemn word. I’ll get him home as soon as possible.”
“You’ve got my promise too.” Gabe took her hand. “I’ll be careful.”
Alina cried quietly, arms wrapped across her chest and rocking. Gabe would never forget the days just after his father was killed and how for a time, grief was his whole world. He imagined the initial shock of watching people die and being shot at herself was beginning to wear off. He pitied her that. Pain would rush to fill the emptiness, razor edged and unrelenting.
Libby gathered Alina into her arms, letting the brokenhearted young woman sob against her shoulder. “There, there, it will be all right. Cry it all out if you need to, but the worst is over. You’re safe. I promise, no one’s going to hurt you.”
“She just watched her parents die, Libby. Then they tried to shoot her too.” Sam wiped a hand over his face, suddenly looking much older than twenty-five. “I don’t think things will be all right for a very long time.”
Tears filled Libby’s eyes and she hugged Alina tighter. “Then it’s best she cry it out. Keeping the hurt inside will only make it last longer.”
“Excuse me, Captain Ryan. Can I have a word with you?”
He looked up to see Dominic Mullaney standing at the entrance to the alcove. Mullaney was nervous, sweating and fidgeting, and toying with the brim of the hat in his hands. Dominic’s face showed just how much punishment he’d taken in the fight outside. Gabe was oddly relieved to see he hadn’t been hurt worse. Business owners might not like Mullaney, but he didn’t see much wrong with Dominic’s goal of making sure his men were paid a decent wage. As long as the union stayed on the right side of the law and off private property, Gabe saw no reason to stop them from recruiting new members.
That Mullaney came looking for him confirmed his opinion of the union leader’s character. And he’d wager Jack coffee and cookies for a week that his growing hunch was right; Dominic Mullaney had nothing to do with the violence and destruction surrounding Lotta’s fountain.
Not that Gabe could say that to anyone but his partner, not without proof. He couldn’t cross Dominic Mullaney off his list of suspects just yet.
Movement in the lobby caught his eye. An older man, nattily dressed in an expensive serge suit and with a neatly trimmed beard, stood a few yards back. The scowl on the stranger’s face made it clear what he thought of Dominic speaking to the police. As soon as the stranger noticed Gabe watching, he spun on his heel and quickly walked to the other end of the lobby. He loitered there, apparently waiting for Mullaney.
Not everyone was fond of police officers, and even honest people went out of their way to avoid cops. All his years of experience said that wasn’t the case here—the stranger had something to hide. Gabe put finding out exactly who this man was and his connection to Mullaney on the list of things he needed to know.
Gabe glanced at Jack, but his partner’s eyes were closed tight. Sadie leaned over him, whispering in his ear and brushing the curls back from Jack’s face. Stella sat still and quiet at her father’s side, holding his hand. His stomach lurched, the specter of losing his best friend looming large again.
He prayed Taylor and Maxwell would bring the car soon. Gabe cleared his throat and turned his attention back to the young labor leader. “What can I do for you, Mullaney?”
“I needed you to know that my men and I, we didn’t have anything to do with what happened.” Dominic waved his hat toward the square. “The fighting, the guns and the explosions—the union didn’t have a part in starting any of that. Our families were here watching the parade. No matter what the ship owners claim, the union’s not cold blooded enough to set off bombs around our kids.”
Gabe studied Mullaney’s face. Even if that wasn’t true for all the union men, Dominic believed what he’d said. “All right, fair enough for now. I don’t know you very well, but Father Colm speaks highly of you, and I respect his opinion. But that doesn’t mean I won’t keep asking questions. Any idea who might have set this up?”
“I swear on my mother’s grave, Captain Ryan, I don’t have any notion of who was on that roof. I’d like to find out.” Mullaney crushed the brim of his hat in a fist and scowled. “And I want to know what trick they used to get friends fighting each other and seeing things that weren’t there.”
Delia had stayed silent and listened to everything said, but now she leaned forward, suddenly more attentive. “Seeing things, Mr. Mullaney? What did your men see?”
Dominic glanced over his shoulder and lowered his voice. “All the men I talked to said there were monsters and angels reaching for them. That’s who they thought they were fighting or trying to drive away from their families. If twenty men weren’t all telling the same story, I’d think the whole lot of them were lying.”
“I agree, Mr. Mullaney. The odds of twenty men concocting the same story are very slim.” Dee chewed her bottom lip, thinking. “Did you see these angels and monsters?”
Mullaney slapped his hat against his leg, a nervous rhythm that said he was as confused about what had happened as any of them. “No, missus. I didn’t see anything myself, but I heard the wind keening like a banshee. All my men heard the wailing and made a point of saying so. I can testify to that part being true.”
The urge to move, to walk away while he thought things out swept over him, but Gabe forced himself to be still. He’d been too young before his grandmother died to hear her stories about banshees, but his mother had repeated the tales for him once he was almost grown. Gram’s stories said banshees could appear as ugly old hags or as beautiful women, and that anyone who heard them wail knew death stalked the household. If several banshees appeared together, it foretold the death of someone important or holy, a nobleman or a priest. Another of his grandmother’s tales said a banshee was the ghost of a murdered woman.
“Monsters and angels . . . Mother of God.” Gabe wiped a hand over his mouth. Those stories belonged to the Irish countryside where his grandmother was born, not San Francisco. “I saw something in the smoke, but I thought it was my mind playing tricks.”
“Then my mind was playing tricks on me too. I’ve never heard anything like the voices riding on that wind.” Sam crossed his arms over his chest and stretched out his long legs. “But I didn’t feel the need to take a swing at anyone after hearing them, other than in self-defense. Neither did Gabe or any of the uniformed officers. From what you say, Mr. Mullaney, the same holds true for you. I wonder why that is?”
“You’re right to wonder, Sam. None of it makes sense.” Delia met Gabe’s eyes. She didn’t need to tell him that the faces in the smoke were phantoms of some sort. That much was clear. Over the years, he’d learned enough from Delia and Isadora to understand that spirits were limited in what they could do, and who they could influence. Not even the strongest ghost could incite an entire crowd to riot.
From where he sat right now, that looked to be exactly what happened. That was a terrifying thought, but so was the possibility that something else, something entirely outside his experience, had happened.
Maxwell and Taylor came into view, hurrying through the lobby, looking for Jack and Gabe. The two patrolmen were followed closely by four other men carrying canvas stretchers. Taylor saw Gabe and pointed the alcove out to the stretcher-bearers before trotting over himself.
“Captain, the hospital sent an ambulance for the lieutenant.” Taylor spoke quickly. “Dr. Jodes insisted and said for us to hurry. He’s worried the lieutenant might have a concussion.”
“I’m going with him. Sit with your aunt Delia, Stella.” Sadie kissed Stella’s cheek and moved her to the other sofa near Gabe, giving the ambulance attendants room to work. She stood out of the way, clutching her handbag tight as the four burly men eased Jack down onto the stretcher. “Dee . . . would you mind getting Stella and Connor home to Annie? I’ll call from the hospital as soon as I have news.”
“Of course I don’t mind! Don’t worry about either of them for an instant.” Delia stood, putting Connor on her hip so she could hug Sadie. “You tend to Jack and I’ll look after the children. Everyone will be fine, I promise.”
Gabe managed to get to his feet without too much trouble and stood with Delia. All Jack’s friends watched the ambulance attendants carry him away. Sadie walked right next to the stretcher, never taking her eyes off Jack’s face. Stella sat on the edge of the sofa as her parents left, swinging her legs and singing quietly. She was too young to understand.
Too young to worry.
Taylor cleared his throat. “Captain, the car’s waiting at the side of the hotel. Now that Lieutenant Fitzgerald’s seen to, I can drive Mrs. Ryan and the children to the lieutenant’s house.”
“Yes, that would help a great deal. Is that all right with you, Dee?” He tucked a strand of brown hair behind her ear, fighting back the pang of loss and longing that always surfaced when he saw her holding Connor. She’d made her peace with not having children, but there were times he still struggled. “I’ll feel better knowing you’re all with Annie.”
“That’s more than all right. I think I’ve had enough adventures for one day.” Dee leaned against him for an instant, eyes closed. She sighed and stepped back. “We weren’t able to telephone the house. Annie’s likely worrying herself into a fine state by now. If we leave her to her own devices for too long, she’s likely to come down here and take command. She’s put them to work in her kitchen often enough, I don’t think there’s a man on the squad who wouldn’t obey her orders. We should likely avoid making the men choose between her cooking and you.”
He smiled. “You’re right. It wouldn’t be a fair contest.”
“Gabe, I’ve got an idea.” Sam gestured at the sofa, his expression pleasant and carefully bland. A public face, designed to hide secrets from Mullaney and anyone who might be watching. “Send Libby and Alina with Dee. That would solve the immediate problem of making them wait until I could escort them home. We can work out the rest later.”
Alina had stopped sobbing, but she kept her head on Libby’s shoulder and her face turned toward the wall. She was likely both hiding and listening to everything that was said. The young woman didn’t know any of them, and given what had happened, she’d good reason to be cautious.
At Jack’s they’d all be safe, at least for the moment. He didn’t have many men to spare, but he’d find two or three to stand guard over the Fitzgerald house. Gabe wasn’t willing to take any chances. “That’s an excellent idea. Libby and Alina will be more comfortable and Annie will worry less if she has someone to fuss over until Jack comes home. Square things with Libby.”
Butler moved to kneel next to Libby, keeping his voice low and talking quickly. Libby glanced up, meeting Gabe’s eyes, and nodded.
Gabe took Taylor aside and gave the patrolman his orders. His estimation of Libby Mills went up a notch when she took off her shawl and draped it around Alina’s head and shoulders, swaddling the girl so that her face was almost completely hidden. Libby helped her to her feet, wrapping an arm around Alina’s waist. “That will help warm you up and keep you from taking a chill. Come along, now. We’re going someplace you can rest.”
Delia watched the whole exchange, but didn’t say anything. She kissed Gabe’s cheek and took Stella’s hand. “Let’s go home to Annie. She must be lonely without us. Wave good-bye to Uncle Gabe.”
Mullaney stood awkwardly off to one side as they left, still toying with his hat and obviously torn about whether to leave or stay. Exhaustion tugged down the corners of his mouth and made his shoulders droop. Gabe took pity on him.
“Go home, Dominic. It’s been a rough day for all of us. Just don’t get the idea that I’m finished with you. I want you in my office to answer questions tomorrow morning.” Gabe fished his fedora out of an inside pocket and combed fingers through his hair before putting the hat on. Lifting his arms that high still hurt like hell, but he wasn’t going to let Mullaney see. “If I don’t hear from you by noon, I’ll issue a warrant for your arrest.”
“I’ll be there.” Mullaney looked Gabe in the eye. “I’ve got nothing to hide, Captain. I’ll answer any question you want.”
“I’ll hold you to that. Answer one for me now, and then you can leave.” Gabe stuffed his hands into his overcoat pockets, surprised to find they weren’t filled with debris. He nodded toward the far side of the lobby. “That man’s been watching us since we started talking. Who is he?”
Mullaney glanced over his shoulder. “A friend, Aleksei Nureyev. He’s one of the union officers. Why?”
“Curiosity. I like to know who’s watching me.” He shrugged and gave Dominic a fleeting smile. “Don’t forget. Tomorrow before noon.”
“I’ll be there.” Mullaney slicked his hair back before walking away. “Get some rest, Captain. You look like you need it.”
Butler came to stand next to Gabe, arms folded over his chest. Together they watched Dominic cross the lobby and join Aleksei Nureyev. “Sam, I need to ask a favor.”
“Let me guess. You want me to dig something up on Nureyev.” Sam gave him a sideways glance. “Consider it done. Any special reason?”
“Call it a hunch. Something about him rubs me the wrong way. And I really do like to know who’s spying on me.” Gabe stared across the lobby, watching Dominic talk to Nureyev. Aleksei was angry and red faced, holding tight to Mullaney’s arm and speaking rapidly. The only thing that kept him from yelling was that Gabe and Sam were watching. At a guess, Aleksei knew he’d been seen skulking and trying to eavesdrop, and that Dominic had given the police his name. Mullaney might not have anything to hide, but Aleksei Nureyev did.
Nureyev’s secret was the top question on Gabe’s list. He doubted that Dominic knew the answer.