Book: Restless Spirits

Previous: Chapter 20
Next: Chapter 22

Chapter 21

 

“You never give up, do you?” Vincent asked.

Startled, Henry turned from where he’d been bent over the equipment, reconnecting the last wires of the phantom fence. Vincent stood in the doorway, his head cocked to one side. A tuft of black hair spilled across his forehead, and his clothing was covered in wine stains, blood, and cobwebs. A bruise darkened one cheek, and his stance favored one leg. And yet somehow Henry found him even more beautiful than before.

Henry gestured vaguely at the table holding the remaining fragments of what had been the work of years. “I have to do something. Have to try.”

A tiny smile flexed the corner of Vincent’s mouth. “I don’t know whether to admire you or think you mad.”

“Mad, then. Certainly I’ve done nothing to admire.” Henry turned to the window, unable to look at Vincent as he spoke. Wind whipped the snow into a frenzy, turning the world beyond perfectly white, as if nothing really existed beyond these walls. “We’re trapped here, thanks in part to my actions. We can’t leave until the storm ends. And it’s far more likely Reyer will end us first.”

Vincent’s soft sigh was barely audible over the groan of the wind around the cornices. “Henry...”

Henry held up his hand. “Don’t. I know what I’ve done. I only...”

“What?” Vincent prompted when he lapsed into silence.

“I just wanted to help people.” Henry shook his head miserably. “I wanted to keep anyone else from being taken advantage of, the way my family had been. I wanted to make the world a better place. And now it’s all gone wrong.” He wrapped his arms around his chest, feeling as if the blizzard outside had crept within. “You say I never give up, but you’re wrong. I did give up. On people. On hope.” Henry glanced over his shoulder and found Vincent watching him. “On you.”

“You had good reason.”

“Did I? Clinging to old hurt, like a jilted bride to the gown she never wore.” He crossed the room to the window and stared out into the streaming snow. How long did they have until sundown? “When I found out you’d lied about your origins...it was like Isaac all over again.”

“I know.” The floorboards creaked beneath Vincent’s weight as he drew closer. “I should have told you. I intended to last night, after we made love.”

No one had ever called it that before, not with him, at any rate. “Oh.” Would it have changed things? Henry would still have been hurt, but if they’d had a chance to talk before dawn...

It didn’t matter. He’d never know. “Why did you do it?” he asked. “Miss Devereaux said your background wasn’t the sort to inspire confidence in men like Mr. Gladfield, but why make up some fairy tale of Indian princesses and medicine men?”

“Why do you think?” Vincent’s voice held a bitter edge. “People who look like me are still being killed every day in the West. But here in the East, with the tribes safely dead or contained, we’ve become ‘noble savages.’ Magical spirit guides. Fairy tales, as you said, instead of people. Why not take advantage of it? I don’t know if I’m Mohican or Iroquois or even Comanche. I don’t even know if I have a drop of white blood in my veins. Given my looks, I doubt it, but I suppose it’s possible. What choice do I really have but to weave the fantasy my clients want to hear? If saying my father was white, if claiming good missionary folk raised me, it harms no one and allows me to do the work I’m called to do.”

“It does hurt someone, though,” Henry said. “It hurts you.”

“Perhaps.” Vincent sighed. “The truth—the entire truth—is that I never knew my parents. At least, as far as I know. There was a young woman—a girl, really—who might have been my mother. Or my older sister, perhaps. She died when I was very young. After, I was on my own. I did whatever it took to survive, from selling newspapers on the corner, to scavenging scrap out of middens, to letting men fuck me for money. And in the end, yes, I did run a scam, just as your detective found out.”

Henry’s throat felt tight. No wonder Vincent had invented a happy childhood, safe and cared for. “Vincent, I—”

“Just let me finish.” The boards creaked again as Vincent shifted his weight. “I know the scam was wrong. But at the time, it seemed easy. A safe way to make money. A...well, I wouldn’t really call him a friend, I suppose. An acquaintance came up with the idea. He pretended to be a medium. I was his ‘Indian spirit guide.’ During the séance, I’d come out dressed in a loincloth and covered in starch. Say a few sentences in the sort of broken English the audience expected an Indian to use. Then retreat back behind the curtain. Until the day I ended up channeling an actual spirit.”

Henry finally found the courage to turn and face Vincent. “That must have been frightening.”

Vincent laughed tiredly. “To say the least. But it brought me to Dunne’s attention, and despite everything, I can’t regret it. He was the first person who really saw me for who I was deep inside.”

The ache of raw grief in Vincent’s voice drew tears to Henry’s own eyes. “You loved him a great deal.”

“He was the closest thing I ever had to a father.” Vincent’s gaze went past him, focusing on the curtain of white beyond the windowpanes. “The first night in his house, I assumed he wanted...what any man who showed interest in a scrawny boy from the streets wanted. But he didn’t. He told me I was there to learn, to become the person I was meant to be, not to repeat the past. He said I could be anyone I wanted to.” Vincent bowed his head. “I kept my first name, but I chose Night because he always said mediums like us lived on the night side of nature.”

God. Henry had made so many mistakes over the last few days, but somehow this cut most deeply of all. He’d hurt Vincent without just cause, as if spreading pain to another would somehow lessen his own. “It’s a good name,” he said quietly.

“Thank you.”

Henry took a step forward, even though his knees trembled. Vincent’s gaze slipped from the window and met his, and Henry found he couldn’t have looked away even if he’d wished to. “There’s nothing I can say to express how terrible I feel about everything,” he said. “Please, Vincent. Let me make it up to you. I’ll do anything it takes to earn your forgiveness.”

Vincent’s black eyes seemed to bore into his, to peel back all the protective layers and peer at what lay beneath. For a long moment, he didn’t respond, and Henry’s heart sank.

Then Vincent stepped forward until they were only inches apart. Lifting his hand, he traced the line of Henry’s jaw slowly with his thumb. “Anything?”

Henry’s heart beat so hard his hands shook. He licked dry lips, saw Vincent’s gaze shift to track his tongue. “Anything.”

A slow smile bloomed over Vincent’s mouth. “Well. Perhaps I’ll take you up on your offer, Mr. Strauss.”

The kiss was tender, slow. A gentle caress of lips, followed by tongues and heat. Henry’s hands threaded through Vincent’s hair, and Vincent slid his arms around Henry in return.

When they finally parted, Vincent drew back only far enough to rest his forehead against Henry’s. “That felt like a promise,” he whispered.

Henry drew in a deep, trembling breath. “It was.” With a sigh, he stepped back reluctantly. “You’ve given me a second chance. I’m not going to die here and miss out on it, Reyer be damned.” He gestured to his equipment. “There must be something we can do—some vulnerability we can exploit.”

Vincent tossed back his head and laughed. “You really don’t give up, do you? Very well—you’ve convinced me. What do we have available to us?”

Henry contemplated the equipment. “The Wimshurst machine is destroyed, but it isn’t as if we wanted to give Reyer more energy anyway. The dispeller is also beyond all hope of repair. Leaving us with the phantom fence, Franklin bells, and the ghost grounder.” He glanced at Vincent. “And of course you and Miss Devereaux.”

“So you admit a medium may have his or her use after all?” Vincent asked archly.

The memory of the distorted hallway, the blank wall, the unfindable stairs, came forcefully back. “Yes,” Henry said, though the word stuck in his throat. “Whatever my theories may have been before coming here, I think I can safely say that mediums are indeed needed.”

Vincent offered him a small bow. “And I shall admit your science has things to offer as well.” His expression sobered. “If something like the ghost grounder had been available to Dunne when the spirit possessed me last summer...”

“There’s no knowing, either way,” Henry said softly. “But if it helps, this time we do have options.”

“Yes.” Vincent’s expression firmed. “Reyer died in the tower, I’m almost certain of it. It’s his point of greatest connection to this side of the veil. He’ll be at his strongest there...but possibly his most vulnerable as well.”

“Perhaps we can drain him there?” Henry suggested. “Take the grounder to the top of the tower, secure it to the lightning rod on the roof?”

“How do we get him to manifest at the top of the tower?”

“Remove all his other choices?” Henry suggested. He gestured at the room. “He couldn’t reach us in here, thanks to Martha. If we put Jo, Miss Prandle, and Bamforth here, surely Reyer will come to us at the top of the tower as the easier target.”

“Perhaps.” Vincent touched the front of his shirt, over where the amulet lay. “I want you and Lizzie to stay here with them.”

“What?” Henry’s brows snapped together. “Why would you suggest such a thing? Don’t you trust me?”

“I do.” Vincent looked away. “But I had to watch Dunne die already. If I had to watch you die as well...I can’t. I won’t.”

“I’m not going to die,” Henry said firmly. “I know you’re afraid, but I’m coming with you, and that’s the end of it.”

“Henry—”

“So you propose to use your talents against Reyer and wield the ghost grounder at the same time?” Henry arched a brow. “That will be an interesting trick. I’d like to see it for myself.”

Vincent glared at him. “Stop being logical. It’s distracting.”

“Admit it. We’re going to have to work together if we’re to have any chance of success.” Moving closer, Henry laid a hand on Vincent’s chest. He felt the other man’s heartbeat, steady beneath layers of cloth and skin, muscle and bone. “I know you want to protect me. But do you really think I’m going to cower here while you go off to almost certain death in an attempt to fix the problem I helped create? We have met, haven’t we?”

Vincent snorted, but the smile was back. “Point taken. But I want you to set up the phantom fence. If I tell you to retreat inside its protection, do it. No arguments.”

Henry nodded reluctantly. “Agreed. We still haven’t come up with a way to keep the ghost from draining the batteries, though.”

“Dump salt over their container.” Vincent shrugged. “Reyer won’t be able to reach them, and we’ll still have a protective circle which can’t be blown away or dissolved by the blizzard.”

A slow smile spread over Henry’s face. “Brilliant.”

“I have my moments.”

Henry tipped back his head for a kiss. “Indeed you do.”

~ * ~

Only a short time later, Henry stood at the base of the tower stairs, the pieces of the phantom fence held loosely in his arms.

They’d moved as quickly as possible given the sun was slipping rapidly toward the horizon, somewhere on the other side of the heavy snow clouds. Once it set, Reyer’s full wrath would be unleashed at last.

Miss Devereaux had made a single alteration to their plan when they explained it to her. “We can’t leave everyone else unprotected,” she’d said. “If you fail to remove Reyer, or if Martha can’t hold him back from the schoolroom, they’ll be in desperate straits.”

Henry put one arm around Jo’s shoulders and hugged her. “What do you suggest?”

“Either Vincent or I have to stay here.”

“You,” Vincent said. When she started to protest, he added, “If Reyer starts playing tricks with the house again, you’re better able to lead everyone else outside.”

Where they would most likely perish in the blizzard anyway. But no one pointed that out.

Miss Devereaux sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. “You’re right,” she said grudgingly. “But you’d better not get yourself killed, Vincent.”

He smiled wryly. “Trust me, I have no desire to end up trapped here with the rest of the dead. We’d best get started.”

“Henry...” Jo clung to him, her eyes wide.

God. What would happen to her if he died here? “The shop is yours if I don’t return,” he said rapidly. “Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Hire a lawyer if need be, because my will is absolutely clear.”

“No, don’t.” Her fingers gripped his arm hard enough to leave bruises. “Please—maybe we can—can stay in the schoolroom, all of us, together.”

“I don’t think Martha Reyer’s spirit is strong enough to hold against the ghost until midnight,” Vincent said, but his voice was gentle.

“I’ll be all right, Jo.” Henry hoped it wasn’t a lie. He pulled her to him and kissed her forehead. “I love you. I’m sorry I said what I did, about sending you to Emma. I’d never do that, no matter what.”

She smiled wanly. “That’s what Mr. Night said.”

“Mr. Night is a smart man.” He let go of her. “Do what Miss Devereaux tells you, without question.”

She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand as she drew back. “I-I will. I promise.”

“Good girl.”

Still, it was hard turning his back and leaving her there. Not knowing if it was the last time he’d ever set eyes on her. Trusting her safety to a ghost, of all things.

A ghost he’d weakened by draining the cold spot outside the schoolroom. There might have been some mistake Henry hadn’t made over the last few days, but the list of those he had was depressingly thorough.

Except for kissing Vincent. That at least hadn’t been an error.

Now he joined Vincent at the base of the tower stair. Icy air poured down from above, along with stray flakes of snow fluttering down from the open room at the top of the tower. The blizzard’s bite was keen enough to penetrate even Henry’s thick coat and scarf, let alone his gloves and hat. “Reyer can just stay back and let us freeze to death,” he muttered.

“You have a point,” Vincent agreed. His breath smoked like a dragon’s. “Come on—and let’s try not to slip on an icy stair and break our necks.”

“Do you really think Gladfield’s spirit is trapped here now?” Henry asked as they started up.

“I know it.” Vincent said over his shoulder. “He tastes like a damp cigar.”

“Wonderful. If we die...”

“Yes.” Vincent paused and glanced down. “We’ll be trapped here, on this side of the veil, until someone else comes along to deal with Reyer. Or the house is torn down or disintegrates. Possibly not even then—there are plenty of accounts of spirits associated with structures which no longer exist.”

A shudder ran through Henry. What would it be like? What had it been like, for Martha Reyer and the poor maid and possibly Reyer’s children as well? Year after year, trapped with the madman who had killed them...

It couldn’t happen to Jo. He wouldn’t allow it.

The structure of the tower meant the steps remained clear of snow until they were almost at the top. Henry moved cautiously as possible, making certain of his footing until the stairs finally yielded to the uppermost floor of the tower.

A waist-high balustrade encircled the room. Above, heavy beams groaned in the wind, and Henry fancied the sound echoed the creak of the rope Reyer had used to hang himself. The sky beyond the eaves was dark with clouds and the fading sunlight, and snow still poured thickly down.

They attached the wires of the ghost grounder to the lightning rod affixed to outermost point of the tower. Once it was in place, Vincent hurriedly began to scoop the drifts of snow from the tower floor, flinging them over the side. Henry put down his equipment and did the same, and soon they had a space cleared. Thanks to the broken posts, the phantom fence wouldn’t be level—but with any luck it wouldn’t matter.

While Henry began to set up the fence, Vincent took a step toward the lone solid wall, where the tower abutted the steeply pitched roof.

“Do you think the secret passage lets out here?” he asked. “Because if so, I’d like to find it. I don’t want to give anything the chance to pop out at our backs.”

“You’d best look for it while I finish setting up,” Henry said with a shiver.

Vincent pulled his gloves off and trailed his brown hands over the wall, probing the cracks between stones. Henry turned his attention back to the phantom fence. The wires were low enough now in places that it could be stepped over easily, and he hoped it would still work. Perhaps some of the sigils Miss Devereaux had drawn yesterday would have made it more effective...but it was too late to worry about that now.

When he was done, he put the battery in place. It was carefully positioned inside the fence, where the ghost wouldn’t be. Still, he put a bag of salt down beside it. If the damage to the fence allowed the ghost inside, a quick application of salt would at least prevent Reyer from siphoning energy from the battery again. The wires which would connect the battery to the fence he left unhooked for now.

There came a soft click and the grinding sound of stone on stone. Vincent stepped back from the wall, a grin on his face. “Found it.”

The doorway was narrow and irregularly shaped, relying on the crevices between the stones to disguise it. When nothing emerged from the other side, Vincent took a cautious step in. “Huh. There’s some sort of chest in here. Several of them.”

“What’s inside?” Perhaps some clue as to whoever had been using the passageways?

“It looks as though they used to be locked, but someone broke into them. The scratches on the metal are fresh.” There came the creak of unoiled hinges. A moment later, Vincent let out a low whistle. “Henry. Light the lantern and come look at this.”

Henry joined him in the narrow space. The pale illumination of the lantern gleamed off a mass of gold coins filling the small chest to the brim. Vincent ran his hand through them, letting them fall slowly back into place. “Double eagles.”

Henry’s heart beat faster at the sight of such wealth, even though he had no claim to it. “I suppose we know what became of the fortune Reyer hid,” he said.

From behind him, there came the unmistakable sound of a pistol’s hammer clicking back. “Indeed,” Bamforth said. “And that’s why I have to make certain you die here.”

Previous: Chapter 20
Next: Chapter 22