Authors: Holly Messinger
Tags: #Fantasy, #Western, #Historical
“And you have seen the spirits ever since?” Kieler asked. “But not before?”
“There on the battlefield was the first time.” Trace hesitated. “I was lyin in that road, facin up at the sky … and I knew I was dyin. I could feel the blood leakin out of me, and it was gettin cold. My lungs were achin, like they do when you breathe cold air too deep. I couldn’t feel my hands and feet anymore. And I was layin there with Jack Mallory’s dead arm across my neck, cause he’d fallen on me, and all of a sudden he sits back on his heels and kind of shakes himself, like he’d fallen asleep. And he looks at me and says, ‘Well, are you comin?’ and I say, ‘I don’t think I can get up.’ And he says, ‘I’ll give you a hand.’ So I raise my hand up, but it doesn’t feel like my arm, it’s lighter and stronger and it doesn’t feel like it’s connected properly. But I watch it pull up, and the rest of me pulls up, and Jack’s got hold of my hand but I don’t feel it, either, but I feel somethin pullin at my feet, like they’re stuck in mud. And I look back and I see…” Trace shuddered at the memory he’d let lie for so long, like grabbing for a stick of kindling and getting a handful of rot. “I see my body lyin there on the ground, with Jack’s arm across my neck. And I look up at the sky and it’s as though … all the color’d gone out of the world. The battle was still goin on all over, but I couldn’t hardly hear it. I couldn’t feel the ground shakin, or the men screamin—it was all faded out to gray. There was this light comin from the clouds, and it was shinin right through Jack and the rest of them. All around the battlefield there were men marchin up into the sky, and I turned to go with them, but my feet were stuck.” He gave a bark of humorless laughter. “Feet of clay, I suppose.”
“Then what?” Kieler asked.
“Then nothin. I was damn near bled out. Don’t remember nothin more until the hospital, the surgeons.” Except parts of him
remember, in nightmares. The dead dragging him down. The earth opening and sucking him down to hell. The sensation of worms and beetles tunneling through his flesh.
“So you were ready to go but something stopped you, eh?” Kieler said. “Some purpose you have remaining here?”
“Maybe,” Trace said. “But that was eighteen years ago, and I haven’t found it yet.” His mind touched on Miss Fairweather—that big-eyed way she had stared at him after his power leapt into her—and he pushed her down ruthlessly.
“Perhaps you use the power to help others?” Kieler suggested. “To … free those souls who are caught?”
“I’d surely be glad to do it, if I knew how,” Trace said.
Kieler laid his fork and knife on the table and folded his hands over them. He looked at Trace for a long moment, his expression unreadable.
“I’d be glad to pay you for your time,” Trace said. “Or if you need some work in trade, I guess we could figure out somethin.”
Kieler shook his head, appeared to come to some decision. “I will tell you a story.” He lifted a finger in a staying gesture. “One moment, please.”
He went away, back through the séance parlor, and they heard his footsteps climbing the stairs to the second floor, to the back of the building, and then doors opening and closing. The footsteps came back, and Kieler came into the kitchen with a framed tintype in his hand.
It was of himself, looking a good deal younger, wearing an evening suit and with a top hat on his arm. His other hand rested on a show placard that read
THE TEUTONIC PSYCHIC
Standing behind the placard, with a possessive hand on Kieler’s shoulder, was a striking dark-haired gentleman, with sharp handsome features and a neat vandyke beard. His eyes were deep and black, magnetic, even in the monochromatic image.
“My mother had the gift,” Kieler said, smiling fondly at the photo. “As did her mother. It tends to run in families, as you no doubt know … Your father or mother were not gifted with the Sight?”
“If they were, nobody told me.”
“Someday, perhaps, you have a child of your own, and you then will know. There is a bond between families who have it, even after death. My mother’s spirit was always there to guide me, after I became a young man. It was she who led me to that great gentleman you see in the image. Yosef Mereck, he was called. The Russian Mesmerist. From the great circus of the Czar, he came to this country … and he called to me.”
Boz looked over sharply, but Trace shook his head, warning him to silence.
“Seldom have I encountered such a soul.” Kieler’s eyes had gone misty, faraway. “Such strength, such passion for life. He drew the gifted to him, and he loved us like children. We toured for heads of state, for the wealthy, the powerful. We made him wealthy, and he made us famous.”
“What happened?” Boz asked. “Why ain’t you workin for him now?”
Kieler’s face darkened as if a candle had been blown out. “My gift left me,” he muttered, and his gaze slid toward Trace with such sudden and naked avarice that a prickle went down Trace’s spine.
Then abruptly the predatory look was gone and Kieler was all smiles and cordiality again. “But my life is unimportant. I am a
Your friend here is the
Tell me, Mr. Tracy, have you any experience with spirit-walking?”
“Like the Indians do?” Boz asked.
“Perhaps,” Kieler said. “Many faiths, many peoples have similar practices. It is a letting-go of the body, a freeing of the soul to venture into the spirit realm. The more gifted of our kind may see visions there, and thus uncover the mysteries of the universe.”
That phrase again. Trace and Boz exchanged glances. “Can’t say I’ve tried it,” Trace said cautiously.
“It should be a simple thing for one such as yourself,” Kieler said. “I should be glad to instruct you. The first few times can be strange and frightening, but—”
“Why do it, then?” Boz asked.
Kieler looked at him as if not comprehending the question.
“I don’t know what the spirit realm is,” Trace said. “I mean, the Spiritualists talk about the Summerland as if it were some kind of heaven—”
“No, no, no,” Kieler said. “I am speaking of the reality that lies over and around and between ours. The space between all material objects, where the spirits move. The world where time and distance are without meaning.”
“Then how do I get there?” Trace asked.
Kieler smiled and reached out to tap him on the forehead. “You already have the means, my friend. Shall I show you?”
Boz gave a slight shake of his head, but Trace hardly needed the warning.
“I might take you up on that,” he said, checking his watch, “but the fact is we’ve got an early day tomorrow—”
“Missus Laufer’s likely to lock us out if we get in late again,” Boz added, scraping back his chair.
“Nonsense, it is still early.” Kieler’s eyes widened in dismay. “I would welcome you to stay here, in fact. There is plenty of room—”
“Thanks, but we’ve got stock to take care of.” Trace stood and swung up his hat. “S’pose it’d be all right if I came back by, say, tomorrow night? Boz here’s steppin out with his girl tomorrow, so he won’t be around, but I could come.”
As he’d guessed, Kieler pounced on that. He sized up the two of them, each standing a head taller than he in the dingy little kitchen, and agreed it would be far better if the first lesson included only himself and Mr. Tracy.
“Sweet Mother Mary,” Trace muttered once they were clear of the building. “Was he a coyote wearin wool or what?”
“You shoulda seen his face when you first went up to those women,” Boz said. “I thought he was gonna take a bite outta you.”
“Greedy.” Boz sidestepped a puddle on the sidewalk. “And that business about Mereck. That ain’t the first time we’ve heard that name.”
It wasn’t the second time Trace had heard it, either. Miss Fairweather had suggested the Russian was responsible for creating the keung-si, but then she had sidetracked him with that business about coming to study with her. Though her urgency about the latter had seemed prompted by her concerns about the former.
“You ever ask
who Mereck was?”
“Asked if she knew him. She said, yes, he was a real bad egg and I should stay away from him. That was it.”
“You don’t ask enough questions,” Boz grunted.
Trace gave a bark of laughter. “You know, she told me just the same thing today, actin all offended cuz I hadn’t got down on my knees and begged to know all her terrible dark secrets. But I’ll tell you somethin, Boz, I could ask that woman questions til doomsday and she wouldn’t tell me half the truth. She
to tell me, she wants my help, but she’s scared I’ll say no. So she’s tryin to get me in deep enough I can’t refuse.”
“Then why the hell do you keep goin back there?”
“Yeah, you told me all your good reasons why, but I know
Trace, and this woman’s got her hooks in you like nothin I ever saw.” Boz drew a short, hard breath. “You gone soft on her?”
“No!” Trace recoiled at the thought. “Lord, no.”
Boz looked as if he doubted it. “Well, if she sent you to Kieler, it’s a sure bet she knows
used to work for Mereck.”
“True enough,” Trace said, “but you maybe noticed how
managed not to tell us anything about it?”
Boz fell into surly silence, and they walked that way for half a block. The sky was streaked with indigo, and the narrow streets were heavily shadowed. “So I guess you’re goin back up there to wait on her in the mornin.”
“Well I sure I ain’t comin back here without her say-so,” Trace said, feeling nettled.
“You trust her more than him?”
“Yes,” Trace said baldly, and then drew a breath, considering his answer. He didn’t
her, exactly, he just knew she wasn’t telling him the whole truth. And he guessed her reticence had as much to do with her own pride as with the darkness of her secrets. Perhaps because he’d carried his own secrets around so long, and at such cost, he could understand her need to keep quiet. “If nothin else, she wants to keep me breathin a while longer.”
“She tell you that?”
“Didn’t have to.” Trace described how ill she had appeared that morning, and how his power had leapt into her when he touched her hand. How she had been shocked to find herself improved by it.
“So what … you healed her? Layin on hands and all that?”
“Don’t think so. Wasn’t anything I did deliberately. But whatever’s in me seems to be a remedy to whatever’s eatin her.” He hesitated. “And she
warn me not to trust anything Kieler said.”
Boz was silent for a long moment. “I wanna meet her.”
“What if I don’t want you to?”
“Then you’d best find yourself a strap to chew,” Boz said bluntly. “You’re all
got in this world, too, and I won’t see you carved up like a Christmas goose between a pair of scavengers. I got Kieler’s measure, now I wanna take hers.”
Miss Fairweather hardly kept them waiting at all. In fact Min Chan had scarcely left the room when Trace heard her little shoes on the stairs, and the rustle of silk following after.
She came into the library looking much as she had on that first day, but healthier. There was a bright social smile on her face as she came toward him, hands extended in welcome—until her eye caught Boz, who had subtly cached himself to one side of the doorway. Trace saw her startle, and drop her hands, and button up her lips in irritation.
“Miss Fairweather,” Trace said. “My partner, John Bosley. Hope you don’t mind his comin along.”
“Not at all,” she said, in her schoolmarm voice. “At last we meet, Mr. Bosley. Mr. Tracy speaks of nothing else.”
“Likewise, ma’am.” Boz clasped her hand and they looked daggers at one another. From the corner of his eye, Trace saw Min Chan reappear and take up guard just inside the door.
“Well, Mr. Tracy?” Miss Fairweather turned to him with an icy smile. “What news have you?”
So they all sat down, and Min Chan brought the coffee tray, while Trace rehashed his visit with Kieler. Miss Fairweather was as cool and clinical as ever, but Trace couldn’t help noticing she was rather slicked-up this morning—her dress and earrings were more suited to receiving callers than working in the laboratory. Her hair was piled in curls instead of scraped back into its usual plain knot. And as he recounted his tale, her sharp, clever face became animated, her eyes bright with interest. And Trace knew that Boz, who sat still and said nothing, marked all of these things and drew the worst possible conclusions.
“And what was your impression of Herr Kieler, Mr. Bosley?” Miss Fairweather said.
“I think he’s a coyote,” Boz said. “He ain’t big enough to be a wolf, but he ain’t above stealin somebody else’s kill.”
“A scavenger. A trickster.”
“Yes, ma’am. And I ain’t too keen on his talk about that Mereck fella, neither.”
“He mentioned Mereck to you?” Miss Fairweather arched her brows at Trace.
“Yes, ma’am, he did.”
“He was right proud of it,” Boz said. “Did you know Kieler was in Mereck’s circus?”
“It was always a possibility, given Herr Kieler’s abilities as a medium, and his history in show business,” Miss Fairweather said. “But I am in agreement with you, Mr. Bosley, on the issue of Herr Kieler being an opportunist. His powers are minor compared to yours, Mr. Tracy. He may well be seeking to use you for his own benefit.”
“And she’s the only one drinks from that well,” Boz said to Trace.
Miss Fairweather’s lips quirked. Trace glared at Boz. Boz tilted his head back, gazing innocently at the ceiling.
“What do you suggest I do, then?” Trace asked her.
“I agree that your venturing into the spirit world is the next logical step.” She tapped a finger against her cheek. “But such an exercise is usually performed with a more knowledgeable party standing watch.”
“Meanin you?” Trace said.
“You have someone else in mind?” Miss Fairweather queried.
“When the Indians go on vision quests, they do it alone,” Boz put in. “So nobody interferes and the warrior’s vision is his alone.”