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Authors: Jordan L. Hawk

Dangerous Spirits

BOOK: Dangerous Spirits
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Dangerous Spirits

 

(Spirits #2)

 

Jordan L. Hawk

 

Dangerous Spirits
© 2015 Jordan L. Hawk

ISBN: 978-1-941230-14-5

 

All rights reserved.

 

Cover art © 2015 Jordan L. Hawk

 

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places,
and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used
fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or
dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

Edited by Annetta Ribken

Chapter 1

 

“And that is my report,” Henry Strauss concluded. “We
successfully put an end to the haunting, and the usefulness of my inventions
was proven once and for all.”

He stepped away from the podium where he’d placed his notes
and gazed out over the gathering. Almost every member of the Baltimore
Psychical Society had come to hear his lecture, and he scanned the faces of the
men—and a few women—awaiting the spread of approving smiles. The
beginnings of applause. Perhaps a standing ovation?

The small lecture hall remained utterly silent, save for the
occasional cough or rattle of papers. Stony faces stared back at him, and two
of the women leaned together, whispering behind their fans.

“Er…” Henry resisted the impulse to tug at his collar.
Although the windows were open to let in a breeze, the inescapable heat of
early July remained oppressive even after sunset. “Are there, ah, any
questions?”

Dr. Kelly, the Psychical Society’s president, slowly folded
his arms over his chest. His beard jutted out in front of him, like an angry
badger attached to his chin. “Mr. Strauss,” he said, and Henry tried not to
flinch at his cold tone, “for years you have insisted on expounding your wild
theories to us. You have claimed our beloved dead are nothing more than
electromagnetic aberrations—”

“Because they are,” Henry objected. “Otherworldly spirits do
manifest as electromagnetic fields, at least on this side of the veil. But our
brains themselves are powered by just such impulses. There is nothing wrong
with accepting the findings of science.”

“These are the souls of the departed! Not mere—mere
electrical impulses!” Dr. Kelly glared at him. “I granted you one more
opportunity to speak to us, in the hope you might have something useful to say.
And you bring us this?”

“Er…yes?” Henry’s knees turned to water. He wanted to sink
through the floor. Or hide behind the podium, perhaps, until everyone left. “I…I
thought my inventions made a very good showing.”

Kelly dropped his arms to his sides, his face thunderous. “A
good showing? Mr. Gladfield, the very man who invited you to try your
inventions,
died,
Mr. Strauss! I’m sure I have no need to remind you he was
a close friend of this society’s former president.”

“Well, yes.” Henry’s thoughts scrambled wildly, like rabbits
in a trap. “But—”

“Not only did this haunting end in utter disaster, the owner
of the house dead and yourself almost killed by a maniac, but you still had to
rely on the actions of mediums to remove the spirits.”

“But we did remove them!” Henry seized on the fact. “By
combining the best of our abilities, Mr. Night and I put an end to the haunting
and freed Reyhome Castle’s trapped spirits.”

“It seems to me,” said Mr. Tilling, the secretary, “your
presence rather made things worse. If Mr. Gladfield hadn’t made the thing into
a contest and involved you, a group of competent mediums would have cleared the
house without such…mayhem.”

Henry swallowed. “I-I don’t wish to speak ill of the dead,
but if Mr. Gladfield told us beforehand what to expect, things might not
have—”

“Don’t blame Mr. Gladfield for your failure,” Kelly cut him
off. “I suggest you retire to your store and ask yourself if you might be
better suited to another line of work. And I will thank you not to darken the
doorstep of this society with your presence again.”

He rose to his feet and departed with swift strides. The
rest of the society took its cue from him, shuffling toward the exit,
collecting capes and hats along the way. A few shot Henry amused looks, others sly
sneers as they exchanged remarks with their friends. Thankfully the scuff of
shoes and rustle of clothing kept him from making out their words.

Henry’s face burned with humiliation, and his fingers shook.
He wanted to flee, but there was nowhere to go. So he only stood on the stage,
until everyone had left except for one other man.

“I’m sorry, old boy,” Arthur Burwell said as he made his way
to the stage. His steps echoed in the otherwise empty room, magnified by the
acoustics. “Dr. Kelly is an ass, to have said such things in front of everyone
else.”

 Henry looked at Arthur, the only person who’d stuck by
him after the Strauss family fell from respectable wealth to impoverishment.
He’d stood at Henry’s side since boyhood, through all the years of striving and
setbacks.

For the first time, Henry wished his friend absent. Thank
heavens neither Vincent nor Lizzie possessed any interest in joining the
Society, and thus missed the debacle.

Henry swallowed again; his collar seemed intent on
strangling him. “I…I thought they’d finally see. Now that I have proof…” He
trailed away as Kelly’s accusations came back. “You don’t think he was right,
do you? Was I responsible for Gladfield’s death?”

“No, of course not,” Arthur said staunchly.

Arthur didn’t know the details, though. If Henry hadn’t
exposed Lizzie’s secret—that the anatomy beneath her petticoats wasn’t
what one might expect—Gladfield wouldn’t have attacked her. The swirl of
pain and fury wouldn’t have given the ghost the energy to hurl Gladfield over
the balcony and to his doom.

“Clearly Mr. Night and Miss Devereaux believe in your work,”
Arthur went on. “They wouldn’t have gone into business with you otherwise,
would they?”

“I suppose not.” Still, Kelly’s words seemed to ring in his
ears.

With a sigh, Henry gathered his papers from the podium. How
proud he’d been of the presentation. He’d worked on it for weeks, performing it
in front of a little audience of Jo, Arthur, Vincent, and Lizzie. Jo clapped
when he finished, her face bright, so proud of her cousin. And
Vincent—they’d joked about Henry having to go on tour, or being invited
to take over the presidency of the Psychical Society.

Oh God. “Vincent. I’m supposed to meet him at the saloon.”

Arthur nodded solemnly. “A good thing. I imagine you could
use a drink.”

~ * ~

Henry stood outside the saloon and tried to dredge up a
smile. He wished for Arthur’s strong shoulder to lean on, but his friend had a
wife and young child, to whom he returned immediately after the lecture.

Vincent had suggested they meet here to celebrate Henry’s
triumph. Tonight, after all these years, the Psychical Society was to have
finally given Henry his due. They were meant to toast Henry’s victory with
whiskey, laugh and sing until the barkeep threw them out, then stumble home to
bed and a more private celebration.

Instead, he’d have to go in and confess the humiliating
truth.

He took a deep breath, fighting against the hollow ache in
his chest. Vincent would be outraged on Henry’s behalf when he found out,
surely. As Arthur said, he’d seen the usefulness of Henry’s inventions,
believed in them so much he agreed to go into business together. Moreover, to
talk Lizzie into doing the same, uprooting them both from New York to Baltimore
in the process.

In other words, Vincent had bet his entire livelihood on
Henry’s ability to make his inventions acceptable—marketable, even. And
Henry couldn’t even convince the Psychical Society they were anything but a
hazard. What hope did he have of convincing other mediums, or the general
public?

Perhaps Dr. Kelly was right. Perhaps he should give up on
the spirit world and turn his attention to more practical pursuits. But it
would mean admitting Vincent had wasted both his time and his money on Henry’s
schemes. What could he say?
“Sorry you and Lizzie poured every cent you own
into our shop. Better luck next time?”

The situation hadn’t come to that yet. Perhaps it wouldn’t.
Henry would simply worry about getting through the next few minutes and gauge
Vincent’s reaction afterward. Taking a deep breath, he squared his shoulders
and pushed open the door.

Laughter and the clink of glasses greeted him. The saloon was
a comfortable place, full of polished wood and brass, and he’d drank here many
a time with Arthur. Sometimes when he needed encouragement or a friendly ear,
sometimes to celebrate—his scraping together enough funds to buy his
repair shop; Arthur’s engagement; the opening of the new occult store with
Vincent and Lizzie. Tonight was supposed to have been another one of those
bright memories to cherish long after the final pint was drained.

Henry squinted through the haze of cigar smoke in hopes of
spotting Vincent. He wasn’t at the bar, or any of the tables near the front
door. Where…?

There. Vincent sat in a far corner, and even after half a
year, the sight of him stole Henry’s breath. Some would dismiss him for his
copper skin, but Henry had always found Vincent achingly beautiful. He’d grown
out his thick black hair, adopting the style flaunted by Mr. Wilde during his
recent American tour. It seemed to emphasize Vincent’s eyes, so dark it was
almost impossible to distinguish between pupil and iris. High cheekbones, a
wide nose, and full lips completed the picture, but it was the heart within that
had truly captured Henry.

And right now, Vincent sat with another man.

Henry recognized the pale hair and skin, coupled with a
cream linen coat, even without seeing the man’s face. Christopher Maillard,
self-styled poet and artist, and handsome as the very devil. A man of
independent means with a keen interest in spiritualism and a disdain for the
Psychical Society as being too skeptical.

Henry crossed the room quickly. “What do you think of my
verse?” Christopher asked Vincent. “Your performance at the séance last month
inspired me.”

What on earth did he mean? Of course Vincent did private séances,
as did Lizzie. But what sort of
performance
would inspire Maillard to
capture it in rhyme?

Vincent offered Maillard a lazy smile. “Exquisite work,
Christopher. As always.”

Henry clenched his fists. Was this to be the cap on his
night? To stand here in defeat and shame, while his lover was seduced away by
some—some
poet?

Vincent’s black eyes shifted from Christopher, perhaps
alerted by some movement of Henry’s. A spark seemed to light their depths, and
his smile slid from lazy to welcoming. “Henry! You’re here at last! I expect
all your admirers kept you late with their questions?”

Henry opened his mouth to confess his own heavy feet caused
his delay. Combined with the desire not to spend his funds on a cab, as they
might have to soon tighten their belts.

“Yes, do tell us all about your lecture,” Maillard put in.
“I’ve heard nothing else from Vincent all night. He’s positively bursting with
pride.”

Maillard gave him a look of droll amusement, as if he
couldn’t imagine Henry having anything interesting or important to say. Vincent
gazed at him hopefully. Waiting to hear how all his faith in Henry was repaid.

Without conscious decision, Henry said, “It was a resounding
success. The president himself wished to offer his congratulations. I’m sorry
to have made you wait.”

Vincent threw back his head and let out a laugh of sheer
delight. “I knew it! Barkeep! Another round for the table—your best
whiskey!”

The smirk slipped from Maillard’s face. “Well done,” he
muttered.

“I…yes,” Henry said faintly. And downed his whiskey in a
single gulp.

~ * ~

Vincent linked arms with Henry, and they walked—or
perhaps stumbled—through the streets back to the shop. Although Vincent rented
an apartment of his own, he frequently spent the night in Henry’s bed above
Strauss,
Night & Devereaux: Occult Services
. Given the lateness of the hour, Jo
ought to be asleep by now. Henry certainly hoped so, not because she didn’t
understand the nature of his relationship with Vincent, but because he didn’t
want to spin another false tale of the evening.

Why on earth did he make such a statement? And why hadn’t he
corrected himself immediately?

Vincent had been so proud of him, though. And to confess
he’d failed in front of Maillard, to admit Vincent made a mistake when it came
to joining his fate with Henry’s…seemed unendurable.

“I wore the cufflinks you gave me for my birthday, to bring
you luck tonight,” Vincent said, holding up his free arm. The small gold stud
gleamed faintly in the gaslight. “See? It worked.”

“I see,” Henry said weakly. He needed to confess the lie.
Now, before it was too late.

“Look there!” Vincent exclaimed, swinging Henry around.
Startled by the sudden move, Henry nearly lost his footing. Vincent caught him,
laughing. “How much whiskey did you have?”

 “Not enough,” Henry muttered.

“Good.” Vincent’s eyes took on a new heat. “Because I have
another celebration in mind.”

Desire tightened Henry’s throat—and his trousers. He
ached to pull Vincent close and kiss him. But ending the night in jail, on
charges of unnatural acts, would take the evening from humiliating to disastrous.

“Don’t say such things on the street,” he cautioned.

Vincent gestured. “It’s after midnight. We’re the only fools
about. Now look.”

Vincent’s object of fascination seemed to be an
advertisement, pasted to the side of the nearest building.

 

One Week Only!

Dr. Calgori

Oracle of the
Spirits

Will Astound and
Amaze You!

Learn the Insights
of the Otherworld!

 

And in smaller print:

 

This lyceum sponsored by the Baltimore Psychical Society.

 

Vincent leaned his head against Henry’s shoulder. “That’s
going to be us, someday,” he said dreamily. “Up on a stage together. Performing
for crowds in New York. San Francisco. London.”

Bile clawed at Henry’s throat, as if the whiskeys wished to
return the way they’d come. He swallowed hard. “Is that what you want?”

Vincent seemed to consider. “I never thought about it
before. It would have seemed an impossible dream.” He turned his warm smile on
Henry. “But with you…everything seems possible.”

BOOK: Dangerous Spirits
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