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Excerpt for The King of Hearts: Part 4 of the Red Dog Conspiracy by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

The King Of Hearts

Part 4 of the Red Dog Conspiracy



Patricia Loofbourrow





Copyright © 2018 Patricia Loofbourrow

Cover design © 2018 Anita B. Carroll

All rights reserved.

ISBN-13: 978-1-944223-19-9



This is a work of fiction.

No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without the express written consent of the publisher.



Published by Red Dog Press, LLC





Table of Contents

The Arraignment

The Situation

The Law

The Box

The Bourbon

The Horror

The Boy

The Grief

The News

The Father

The Stunt

The Choices

The Auction

The Distress

The Options

The Plan

The Play

The Selection

The Opening

The Prosecution

The Revelation

The Testimony

The Mother

The Delay

The Exposé

The Heir

The Power

The Relationship

The Closing

The Verdict

The Scheme



Foreword

This is the fourth chapter of a thirteen-part story. There will be no foolish maps or silly appendices in this book. If you need to know how Bridges is arranged, or what the Four Families are, or any other such detail, I refer you to my preceding books. There is also extensive information on JacqOfSpades.com



Buckle your seat belt, Dorothy, ‘cause Kansas is going bye-bye.





To those struggling to break free from their cages.

You’re not alone.





The Arraignment

“Wake up.”

Someone pushed my shoulder.

Or was I dreaming?

“Get up!” Urgent, demanding.

A charcoal fog. I couldn’t feel my right arm.

This is gonna hurt.

“Young lady, you get up this instant!”

My mother-in-law, Molly.

I’d never dreamed of Molly before.

Or was I awake?

My arm began to tingle in a nauseating way. My left shoulder was grabbed tightly, shaken. My head throbbed. My mouth was so dry I couldn’t speak.

What happened? Where was Tony? Why was his mother here?

Then I remembered where I was: the bottom front room of my apartments on 33 1/3rd Street, Spadros quadrant.

I remembered why I was here: I was under house arrest.

I remembered why I left Spadros Manor: to flee Bridges with Joseph Kerr, the only man I had ever loved.

And Joe was dead.

“Jacqueline Spadros,” Molly snapped, “if you don’t get up right now, I’ll call Roy.”

I rolled off my arm, which tingled furiously. I squeezed my eyes shut, fighting pain, grief, despair. “Call him, then. Maybe he’ll kill me, and this nightmare’ll be over with.”

An angry stomp of footsteps retreating.

My beloved Joe was gone.

Holding hands as we walked in a late summer’s golden light … kissing in the moonlight … that one night of love before they stole me from him … the passion in his face as he held me in my lamp-lit study … his last words: but we have no time.

He’d been right. What was I thinking? The instant Joe said we might leave, I should have done so. What could have possibly been more important?

The footsteps returned, more slowly this time.

I killed him.

I killed Joe, just as surely as whoever pulled the trigger.



A cold shock!

I sat up, dripping wet. “What the hell?”

Molly stood in front of me, pitcher in hand. “You’re due at the courthouse on Market Center in an hour for your arraignment hearing. Yet here you are in bed! What’s wrong with you?”

My lady’s maid Amelia cowered in the corner, hands to her mouth, fear in her eyes. “You wouldn’t wake up, mum.”

Molly grabbed my right arm, and I cried out as the numb tingling nausea returned full force.

The room wavered. How many bottles did I drink last night?

Molly snapped at Amelia, “You, get over here.”

They stripped off the clothes Regina Clubb gave me at her hotel two days earlier as fast as they could.

No, wait, I thought, that couldn’t be right. I left the hotel on Thursday. Wasn’t this Saturday? Why would we go to the courthouse today? “A hearing? How was I supposed to —”

Molly glared at me. “The notice.”

A sealed envelope sat on my dresser. Was it there when I arrived? I couldn’t remember.

What day was this?

Clubb Hotel had been a nightmare all its own. The way that woman laughed …

I felt sick to my stomach.

Molly pulled me naked towards the tub. “This is going to be the fastest bath ever. Gods, you stink of booze.”

The water was cold!

Hands forced me under, pulled me out, water spraying across the room. They threw towels around me, rushed me into clothes, shoved me into a chair by my mirror.

Dripping thick curls, standing every which way, makeup smeared. Combs pulled my head this way and that.

Molly got out scissors. “These tangles must go.”

I clasped my head, horrified. “No!”

She began snipping. “It’s just the ends, dear.” She set the scissors down, dipped a soft cloth in cold cream, wiped my face. “We’ll do your hair in the carriage.”

Amelia winced as she knelt before me, tying my right boot.

Empty bottles littered the floor. A crow cawed in the middle of the empty street. Panicked dread hit me. “My bird!”

Pushing past Amelia, I rushed to its cage. My poor clawed bird lay bound in its bandages, eyes closed, panting.

A flood of relieved gratitude: it was alive! “Bring water, Amelia.” I dribbled some into its mouth, and it drank greedily.

Remorse struck. How had it survived?

Amelia took something from her pocket and put it into mine. “Your tenants’ money. I collected it whilst you were gone.”

I’d never considered it. “That was kind of you, Amelia.” Especially after the way I’d treated her.

Molly let out a snort of derision, grabbed my arm, dragged me out to the navy blue carriage, and thrust me inside.

Just like Ma did when she sent me away …. I blinked away tears as I pictured Ma pulling me from my bed. Shoving me into that carriage. The disgust on her face as she turned away.

Amelia had followed. Molly snapped, “Get the room in order.”

Amelia curtsied low. “Yes, mum, right away.”

“And give my bird more water, please,” I called out as we drove away.

This wasn’t my carriage. Where was my carriage? The thin black curtains were pulled, which left us sitting in dim light as the carriage barreled along.

Molly snapped, “Why did you tell him?”

“Tell who what?”

My head yanked backwards. Molly hissed in my ear. “How dare you tell my son his marriage was a sham! And in a letter from the hand of a servant! What has he ever done for you to hurt him so?”

She let go, and I faced her. “I told him the truth. No one else was going to.” All those years of pain and terror had been for nothing. Joe was dead! “I couldn’t live like that anymore.”

Molly pulled at my hair again, but only to braid it. “You do things without thinking, then you leave others to clean the mess.”

No, I’d considered the matter ever since Ma shoved me into that carriage six years earlier. I had Tony buy my bird when we married so I’d never forget I lived in a cage. I knew there would be no way out unless I made one.

Tony deserved the truth. I even told him the plan in my letter!

But Joe had the tickets, and he never arrived at the station.

Molly opened a hatbox which sat across from us. Inside lay my forest green velvet hat Madame Biltcliffe made for the Grand Ball.

Madame. Another person hurt because of me.

“Come on,” Molly said as she took out the hat, but her tone was kind. “We’re almost there.”

The carriage slowed. A man shouted, “Make way!”

The crowd roared. How many people were out there?

Molly’s face was grim. “I can’t be seen with you.”

After an instant of confusion, I realized why. In leaving Tony, I betrayed the Spadros crime syndicate. If his parents were seen helping me, they could lose the quadrant. “I understand.”

Molly patted my shoulder. “Good girl.” She pulled a thick veil over her face, shrinking back as the door opened.

A man dressed in the navy blue livery of the Court extended his hand. His polished silver buttons bore the patina of long use.

Real silver on livery, I thought. These must be trusted men!

Beyond him, people filled the area as far as I could see. As I emerged, the roar increased; cameras flashed by the dozens. A sea of banners denouncing me danced atop the close-packed throng. My hair dripped down the back of my neck; the air felt chill.

The way to the courthouse was clear, six feet wide. Police lined my path on both sides, their shoulders touching as the crowd surged against them. Here and there one stumbled, an enraged group pushing against the weight of his body.

A guard on each side took my arm as if they did this every day. Ten armed members of the Court surrounded us, pistols drawn, scanning the crowds, the rooftops.

None of the men near me spoke, not that any of them could have been heard through the screaming.

“Pot rag whore!”

“Murderess!”

“Betrayer!”

A rock flew past to shatter on the ground in front of me.

I focused upon the Courthouse: sandstone walls, white marble steps. Four pillars of white stone supporting a wide overhang.

A crowd of police kept people back from the doors. Once the doors closed behind me, the vast hall fell eerily silent.

The hall had sandstone walls and ceiling with walnut banisters, the floor tiled in a grayish tan. I’d just been inside it the week prior to give the testimony which seemed to have doomed me.

But instead of going to the Family box upstairs, I was taken across the hall and along a long passage to my right, to a door marked “Room A.”

This room, mostly empty, had many pew seats facing towards a small railing which came to my hip. The wood in this room was of a golden stain, darker than the oak the Clubb Family used.

The rows with their wide aisles reminded me a bit of the Cathedral where I grew up, although this room was much smaller. Men dressed in Court livery stood at intervals along the walls holding rifles, the butts of their weapons on the floor.

To my right, ten rows before the small railing, Master Jonathan Diamond and Mr. Charles Hart sat beside each other. Both were dressed for the street, their black top hats resting on either side. Jon’s tight-coiled black and Mr. Hart’s stiff-straight silvery-red hair still held the faint imprint of their hats.

Jonathan was a welcome sight, and not entirely unexpected. He was Keeper of the Court, after all, as well as my best friend. Charles Hart’s presence, though, was a mystery. What possible interest might the Hart Patriarch have in this?

Beyond the railing, one long table lay on either side. A black-robed man sat upon a raised area, the seal of the Merca Federal Union upon it. At floor level on one side of the judge, a man sat with a contraption resembling a typewriter perched on its stand. A middle-aged uniformed man stood on the other side holding a thick staff. Beside him, a shotgun rested on its stand.

The tables at the front of the room were full. To my left, District Attorney Chase Freezout, a tanned, white-haired man in his sixties, sat in the middle of his table, several men on both sides.

To my right, the Spadros attorney Mr. Primero Trevisane sat, leaving the end seat near me empty. My husband Tony sat at the far end, his straight black hair disheveled.

When my guard opened a small gate in the railing, Tony jerked round towards me, his dark blue eyes stunned and disbelieving. A bandage lay on the side of his face.

What happened to Tony?

Ten Hogan, Molly’s nephew, who the men called Sawbuck, loomed beside Tony, glaring at me.

Once I sat, the judge took a wooden hammer and rapped a wooden block, which made a surprisingly loud sound. “Case Number CF-1899-903, the People vs Jacqueline Spadros. Mrs. Spadros, please rise.” The judge took up a paper. “Jacqueline Kaplan Spadros, you’re charged with the destruction of Travelers’ Federation Flight A26; two hundred fifteen counts of murder; sixteen counts of forgery; four counts of perjury; and one charge of criminal fraud. How do you plead?”

“I did none of this!”

Mr. Trevisane said, “Your Honor, the defendant pleads not guilty to all charges.”

“So entered,” the judge said. “I take it then, Mr. Trevisane, that you plan to be this woman’s defender?”

Mr. Trevisane said, “The Spadros Family drops the charge of fraud, raised when the defendant’s location was in question.”

The judge said, “Very well. I —”

I blurted out, “Doyle Pike will represent me.”

Everyone in the room turned to stare.

The judge peered at me. “This is most irregular.” Then he called out, “Get Pike in here.”

A man scrambled to obey.

The judge said, “Mrs. Spadros, is Mr. Pike aware you wish him to represent you?”

“Mr. Pike is already my lawyer. I was unaware of this meeting until an hour ago. Perhaps he wasn’t notified either.”

Tony stared at me with horror. Very few knew about his son Roland, and I was sure he now regretted ever telling me. I would never tell Mr. Pike about the boy, but Tony didn’t know that.

“This court will recess for one hour.” The judge banged his small hammer, and everyone rose as he walked out.

I stood there not knowing what to do. My head hurt, and I felt weary. Looking back, I’m pretty sure I was still drunk.

At the far end of the table, Tony argued with Mr. Trevisane. Past them, Sawbuck’s hate-filled eyes bored into mine. To my left, Mr. Freezout stood, arms crossed, a smug smile on his face.

I sat.

Joseph Kerr and Nicholas Bryce had died to free me from the Spadros Family. So I couldn’t see any reason for Mr. Trevisane — a Spadros Family lawyer — to represent me.

But I already owed Doyle Pike an inordinate amount of money.

Pike can fucking bill me.

Tony stormed around the front of the table. On the bandage beside his face, blood seeped through a teardrop-shaped spot.

Alarm spiked inside when I saw the blood. What happened?

Tony said, “Get up.” He winced when he spoke. When I didn’t move, he grabbed my upper arms, dragging me to my feet. “What do you think you’re doing? Do you want to die?”

“What are you so angry about?”

He scoffed, releasing his grip a bit. “As if you don’t know. Doyle Pike’s not getting one dime from me, you hear? Not one.”

“I don’t want your money. I want nothing to do with you.”

His grip on my arms tightened. “You’re going to stop this nonsense right now. My father’s forbidden anyone to kill you —”

Oh?

“— so you needn’t fear returning. You’ll tell them you made a mistake. You don’t want Mr. Pike. Then we’re returning to Spadros Manor, and this whoring will stop. Do you understand?”

Whoring? I felt bitter. “I was never a whore until I married you.”

Tony’s face went blank. “I don’t understand.”

“Isn’t that what this quadrant-marriage is about? Forced to pretend you love someone to survive? To be violated night after night, unable to say a word, make a sound, even shed a tear, for fear of death? At least Pot whores get a choice.”

I’d become resigned to my fate long ago. But Joe … how could I forgive killing a man whose only crime was to love me? “I’d rather die than return with you.” I spit in his face. “Go to hell.”

He let go of my arms and took a step back, face shocked.

Everyone else in the courtroom pretended they didn’t see.

Tony took out his handkerchief, wiped his face. “I can’t believe I used to love you.”

I turned away to lean on the small railing, trying desperately not to cry in front of these people.

He knew how to hurt me, Tony did, more than anyone.



“I ought to kill you right now,” Sawbuck growled. He stood close by to my left across the railing. Yet he didn’t touch me.

“You’re welcome to try.” At least thirty officers of the Court stood in the room. “I did what I thought best. It was you and your men who fouled everything up.” If they hadn’t killed Joe, we’d have been far away. Yes, Tony would’ve been hurt, but he could’ve had what was best for everyone.

Sawbuck peered at me. “What the hell are you talking about?”

Doyle Pike strode in. At least eighty, the man nevertheless appeared as perfect as a man of his age might appear: vigorous, well-groomed, immaculately dressed by the finest clothier, silk hat, soft leather briefcase, gleaming walking-stick. He approached me as if entirely at home, confident and unhurried. Tucking his case under one arm, he took my hand. “Come with me, my dear.”

The guards escorted us through a side door into a windowless, richly carpeted room with a table of polished oak in its center.

“Leave us,” said Mr. Pike. Once the door closed behind them, Mr. Pike gestured to the table. “Please sit, madam.”

So I did, curious as to what he might have to say.

“No one listens,” Mr. Pike said. “So you may speak without fear of discovery.” He took a pale yellow folder from his briefcase then placed the briefcase under the table. “And no one can force me to betray you, under law older than Merca itself.”

I nodded, impressed. But I felt disturbed by today’s events. “I did nothing wrong. How can they force me to have this trial?”

“They can’t. Change your plea to guilty, and you can go straight to the gallows. It’s entirely your choice.”

I stared at him, appalled. “But —”

“I’m sure you feel the need to maintain you didn’t do this -”

“I didn’t!”

“Yes, my dear, everyone says that. And I’m sure that out of all my many thousands of clients over the decades, you’re innocent as a newborn babe. But right now, maintaining that isn’t helpful.”

“You don’t believe me?”

“It’s even more fundamental: I don’t care whether you did it. I’m not here to judge you. My responsibility is to obtain you a fair trial. The only way I can do that is to know the entirety of the matter.” He folded his hands atop his folder. “So tell me what happened with the zeppelin. The truth. Or hire another lawyer.”

His attitude was infuriating. But I should never have expected him of all people to believe me.

I really needed a drink.

Where to begin? “This goes back much further than the day of the Celebration.”

I told him about my private investigation business, and the call to Bryce Fabrics on New Year’s Eve, where Mrs. Eleanora Bryce asked me to find her son David.

Mr. Pike didn’t seem alarmed, shocked, or even surprised at my running a business. Did he have spies of his own?

“During my investigation, I learned two men were involved in the disappearance: one calling himself Frank Pagliacci, the other fitting the description of Jack Diamond.”

Mr. Pike paled. “So this is why you wanted notice of Jack Diamond’s whereabouts. What have you become involved in?”

“Master Jack Diamond has targeted me, my father, and the Spadros Family for over a decade.” The last time we met, Jack became so enraged at his identical twin Jonathan for sitting with me at the Grand Ball that he attacked him. “These two men run a group called the Red Dog Gang. Mrs. Bryce told me this second man visited her home the week before the kidnapping. I saw the two men place a large bag with a boy in it into their carriage.”

Mr. Pike nodded slowly, his face thoughtful.

“I tracked the boy to a factory in Diamond quadrant, yet he’s ruined, unable to tell us anything.” I sighed, feeling melancholy. “When I went to the factory, Mr. Pagliacci said his goal was to destroy the Spadros Family.” Then something else came to mind. “Two boys who went looking for David were found strangled. You might’ve seen it in the papers.”

Mr. Pike raised an eyebrow at that.

“After I retrieved David Bryce, those who could identify these two men began dying. The stable-master, who told me Frank Pagliacci’s name. An associate who knew Mr. Pagliacci had his yacht blown up. And Dame Anastasia confessed to being Frank Pagliacci’s lover the day she was killed.”

Mr. Pike stared at me, mouth open. “Is that so?”

“They’ve framed me, Mr. Pike. But I didn’t do it.”

“Can you prove it?”

“Anastasia was my friend! I had no reason to hurt her.”

“Is there anything else you can tell me about the day it happened? Anything at all may help.”

So I told him about Dame Anastasia’s letter, received as I left to go to Market Center with Gardena Diamond and her brothers. I didn’t know how else to explain why I was with them but the truth: Gardena was being blackmailed.

At this, Mr. Pike’s eyes narrowed, but he said nothing.

Then I told him about the man in brown with the briefcase, and my belief that Frank Pagliacci meant to bomb the zeppelin. “I was desperate to get to the station, but —”

“Wait,” Mr. Pike said. “You just learned that Dame Louis had been helping the man who’d not only ruined your friend’s son but tormented you and your Family. Why rush to save her?”

“You must promise not to speak of this to anyone.”

Mr. Pike nodded.

“It wasn’t just Anastasia on there. These men threatened my mother. I’d smuggled her onto that very zeppelin to get her safe.”

“Oh, my dear,” Mr. Pike said. “I’m so very sorry.”

“I got to the station too late, and I was caught there with the others. There was nothing else I could do but to give my name.”

“So you were there when it happened.”

To this day, I’ve never forgotten the horrible sound as the Station shattered. The screams of men, women, and children impaled beside me by thick shards of stained glass. The smell of blood, of burning pieces of zeppelin as they fell to the ground.

“Why were you at Clubb Hotel?”

I sighed, watching the zeppelin fall. “Speak with Mrs. Clubb as to how you want to play that. She’s taken me under her protection.” I focused on him. “But if you want to know the truth, I’ve left my husband. I don’t plan to return.”

“I see.” He leaned back. “So how will you pay me?”

I stared at the table. “I don’t know. But I will. I promise.”

“Promises are not good enough. I’m not running a poorhouse.”

This reminded me so much of what Mrs. Clubb said a few days earlier that I laughed in spite of myself.

Mr. Pike’s face changed, as if he had come to some decision. He took out a form. “Sign here, and we’ll get started.”

I felt uneasy. “What happens now?”

“Have your things sent to where you’re staying. As much as you can get. Everything, if you can.” He gave me an evil grin. “We’ll sell them.” Then he leaned back. “Once you’re acquitted, I shall sue the city for false and malicious prosecution. You couldn’t possibly have blown up a zeppelin with your mother aboard, and it sounds as if you have several witnesses to back you up.”

I signed without reading it. “Why are you helping me?”

“To thwart that sniveling ass Trevisane. I wish I’d seen his face when you named me as your counsel.” He cackled in delight. “I imagine it about sent him into apoplexy!”

A knock at the door. “The judge requests your presence.”

“Come, my dear,” Mr. Pike said, “we have much to do.”





The Situation

After the arraignment was over, I stood; Jonathan Diamond and Mr. Charles Hart focused on me at once. Today, Jon had no cane with him, which was always a good sign.

Mr. Hart, a portly man of seventy, took my hand in both of his and kissed it. “My dear girl, are you well?”

My head was pounding. I needed a drink. “As well as one might be, given the circumstances.” Retrieving my hand took a bit longer than normal. “And you?”

Jon grinned as I offered my hand for him to kiss.

Mr. Hart seemed flustered. “Of course, my dear. I’m perfectly well. I wished to offer my sincerest wishes for your success.”

He wished to offer wishes? I had to restrain myself to keep from laughing. “That’s kind of you.”

“Mr. Hart would like the honor of calling on you,” Jon said.

I shrugged. Mr. Hart couldn’t be serious. “If you can get into Spadros quadrant unmolested, by all means.”

At this, Mr. Hart chuckled. “While I appreciate your concern, I don’t believe that to be a problem.”

Why? Roy Spadros hated Charles Hart with passion. Would Roy really allow Mr. Hart to come into his quadrant?

The two guards and Mr. Pike stood waiting. The room was otherwise empty. “I’d hate to make these men wait. So if you’ll excuse me.” I winked at Jon when Mr. Hart wasn’t looking.

The guards brought me out to the steps, Mr. Pike following. Tony stood next to Mr. Trevisane, who spoke to a huge crowd of reporters. When the reporters saw us, they descended, notepads and pencils in hand.

Mr. Pike hurried up behind me. “Don’t say a word.”

I nodded, alarmed at this horde of men rushing towards me.

“Mrs. Spadros! Why haven’t you been at Spadros Manor?”

Mr. Pike said, “Mrs. Spadros was in the midst of remodeling her property when beset by these baseless accusations, and will remain there until this matter is settled, to oversee the work.”

I smiled, amused at his quick thinking.

“So you’re saying the allegations are false?”

“Entirely. One charge has already been dropped! The District Attorney should feel ashamed for wasting the city’s funds.”

I felt impressed. The man was a master at playing the truth.

“What about reports that Mrs. Spadros tried to flee the city?”

“Nonsense,” Mr. Pike said. “Mrs. Clubb hosted Mrs. Spadros at her hotel for a few days. If you’ll excuse us —” He led me away; the reporters scattered, scribbling on their notepads as they went.

Tony stepped in front of us. “I must speak with my wife.”

“By all means, sir.” Mr. Pike bowed, moving a few steps away.

Tony whispered, “I’m sorry for what I said back there.”

I shrugged: I wasn’t in the least bit sorry for what I said to him.

“You must come home, Jacqui. It’s urgent. You don’t know what’s happened since you left.” He seemed to struggle with himself. “Our quadrant is in turmoil. The men look to us for guidance. We can’t afford to look divided right now.”

“You mean you can’t afford that.” I pointed at his face. The blood spot had spread to the size of a nickel. “What happened?”

“It’s none of your concern.”

“Don’t tell me, then.”

“No one leaves the Family, Jacqui. No one. And you can’t stay at the apartments, no matter what story you’ve concocted.”

“Why not? I can do what I like with my property.”

Tony glanced to one side. A large group of people watched our exchange. His jaw tightened; his tone became laced with sarcasm. “Is it now? Is it really your property?”

“The deed’s in my name.”

“I paid the taxes. If not for me, you wouldn’t have it at all.”

“Fine.” I grabbed the money Amelia put in my pocket and threw it in his face. “I’ve repaid you in full and then some.”

Tony made no attempt to bat the coins away or collect the bills as they wafted along, although the bystanders scrambled after them. “I’ve decided to follow my father’s advice in this matter.”

I stared at him in shock. Tony had said many times he wanted nothing to do with Roy Spadros. What changed?

“My father may be many things, but he’s never betrayed me.”

That stung; I turned away. Roy Spadros had lied to Tony about a great many things, including letting Tony think he was his father. But saying that would only make matters worse.

Mr. Pike chuckled, taking my arm as we walked towards the carriage. “You do have a way about you.” The tone of his voice reminded me of what he said in his office the first time we met: where were you when I was thirty?

I shook my arm from his grasp, revolted. “Fuck you.”

He stood silent, face amused, as the Court men escorted me to my carriage.

* * *

Amelia let me inside without a word, not meeting my eye. She moved stiffly as she served luncheon. “That’s the last of the food. I suppose you want me to do your shopping.”

I felt in my pocket — only a few coins remained. I handed them to her. “See what you can get with this. And get a newspaper.”

Once she left, I wandered my apartments. Little remained to show I once had tenants — a bit of trash, a doll under a bed.

I’d get new tenants, better ones. In the meantime, I had to learn to live …

… without Joe.

I leaned against a wall, overcome.

Running through fields in the golden sun, laughing, rolling in the grass together … planning how we’d make the Pot good again.

All that was gone.

A bottle of wine still sat on my dresser. I drank half, then went to the window. Ten yards from each side of my apartment, barricades were set; police manned them.

Grief dropped me to my knees there at the window. I leaned my elbows on the windowsill, my face in my hands.

Joe was dead!

Joe had to be dead. He would have come for me.

By now the whole city knew where I was. Crowds gathered outside, yelling behind the Prison guards, the police. The hay bales and sawhorses didn’t stop the curses.

Joe was dead — because of me.

I lay my face on the windowsill. I deserved every curse. I deserved them all.

* * *

A white and silver carriage pulled up to the barricade on my left, flanked by very dark-skinned men on white horses wearing white and silver livery. After some discussion, the sawhorses were moved and the carriage waved through to stop in front of my apartments. A footman a bit darker-skinned than myself came round to open the door.

Out came Jonathan! I wiped my face, grabbed the bottle, and rushed to the door as he came up the walkway. The sun broke through the clouds, his smile bright against his dark, dark skin.

“Come in!” I opened the door wide. The breeze smelled of rain.

Jon looked around. “Where’s your maid?”

“She’s at the grocery.”

He didn’t enter. “We’ll speak here, then.”

I laughed. “If that’s how you’d like it.” I brandished the bottle. “Would you like some?” Then I giggled at my mistake. “I forgot the glasses! I’ll go get —”

Then I remembered he didn’t drink.

He glanced at the bottle then said carefully, “No, thank you.”

I set the bottle on the small table beside the door and took his hands. “I’m so glad you’re here. I hope you’re well?”

He gave me a small smile. “I’m well, thank you. And you?”

I shrugged. “As well as I might be, under the circumstances.”

“You gave us all quite a fright, Jacqui. If the doctor hadn’t said you needed that,” he gestured at the bottle as if it might bite him, “to avoid another attack, I’d have you toss it away at once.”

“So fierce,” I murmured.

His cheeks colored, and he shifted, seeming uncomfortable. “I care for your welfare, that’s all.”

I gazed up into his eyes and felt quite warm. “I wanted to thank you for retrieving me from the station last week.”

Jon smiled fondly. “It’s of no consequence. I’m just glad we could get you somewhere safe before any reporters arrived.”

I moved towards him. “I’m always safe with you.” I touched his cheek, his hair. Jonathan’s hair felt as soft as Joe’s. “Kiss me.”

Jon drew back instantly, hands on my shoulders, elbows locked. “You’re drunk.”

My eyes stung. “No, I’m not.”

Jonathan would never kiss me. Why? Was I not good enough?

A darkened room. It was night; the only light was an oil lamp. We sat on my bed. In the Cathedral. My mother’s patron the Masked Man had brought Jonathan Diamond to my room.

I liked Jon at once, but after a glance on meeting, he never looked at me. A sadness lay behind his eyes even then. “If you see someone who looks just like me, it’s my brother Jack. He likes to wear white and shave his head, but he looks just like me.” Jon smiled fondly to himself.

“Okay.”

An awkward silence fell. I hadn’t been allowed to practice the things Ma had taught me. Was this my test?

I became excited about this idea. If I passed my test, I would finally get real training to be a whore like all the other girls. I put my hand on Jon’s cheek, turned his face towards mine, moved to kiss his lips …

“Hey!” Jon drew back in alarm. “What the hell? I just got here.”

The bitter pain of humiliation stabbed my heart. My eyes burned.

“Can we not be friends? I didn’t come here to buy you,” Jon said. “I just want to talk to you.”

Why was I recalling all these things? First my wedding, then my poor doomed Nina, now this … what was happening to me?

Jonathan cupped my cheek with one hand, barely touching, hand trembling. “You’re not thinking clearly, that much is plain. You’re not safe here, Jacqui. You must return home.”

I felt annoyed. “Why would I ever want to go back?”

Jon dropped his hand to my shoulder. “It’s your home. You have a husband who cares for you.” His hands fell to his sides; he glanced away. “It’s wrong to live apart from your husband.” He focused on me. “I don’t know what happened, but —”

“Tony saw me and Joe together.” To this day, the look on Tony’s face that night is seared into my mind.

But then, at the door with Jonathan, I said, “I’ve never loved Tony; you know that.”

Jon put his hand on my shoulder. “Jacqui —”

“Did Master Rainbow give you my message?”

Jon turned away, facing the street. “He did.” Jon stood silent for a moment, then faced me. “When we went to the Kerrs’ home, only the maid and her brother were there. He had a shotgun.” He glanced away. “I suppose I don’t blame them; Tony’s men were there earlier. They feared Master Rainbow and I were with them.”

“And no sign of Joe.”

Jon shook his head, not meeting my eye.

“There’s something you’re not telling me.”

“I don’t know anything.” Jon’s eyes flashed to mine, then away. “But there’ve been rumors.”

“Rumors? What rumors?”

“People claim to have seen him, Jacqui. Since we last met.”

“Who claims to have seen him?”

Jon’s face changed, as if he came to some decision. “Let me find out what this is about.”

I took Jon’s hands, relieved. “Thank you.” I gazed at the crowd milling around down the street to my right. “I’m sorry. I just want to know what happened to him. If they find his body.” Grief flooded through me, but I pushed it aside. “I need to know.”

Jon reached into his pocket. A blue-edged zeppelin ticket stub came loose, fluttering away in the breeze as he handed his handkerchief to me. “You honestly believe Tony had him killed?”

I wiped my eyes. “What else could he do? If not him, then his men. Roy. His men.” I shrugged. “I’m next. I can feel it. Even though Tony claims Roy said no.”

“My gods,” Jon leaned his hand high on the door-post, eyes wide. “Roy Spadros forbade his own men to kill you?”

I nodded. The Spadros Family Patriarch had one motivation, it seemed: to torture others. Who did he torture now?

Jon’s hand dropped to his side, and he sounded humbled. “I’m grateful beyond words. But I can’t fathom what’s going on.”

“Why was Charles Hart at court today?”

Jon glanced away, shrugging. “He insisted on it.”

Ugh, I thought. The man was old. And married! It was clear Mr. Hart had developed an unseemly attraction to me, a woman young enough to be his grand-daughter! But to force his way into a closed meeting with a judge? I laughed in spite of myself. “I wonder how much of a bribe he had to pay to get in there.”

Jon smiled fondly. “Perhaps not as much as you might think.”

I found this amusing. “True. He is a Patriarch, after all.”

Yet Jon seemed uncomfortable. “I must be going.”

I felt weary, and a sudden loneliness, but I did remember manners. “Thank you for calling on me. And for appearing today in my support. I do appreciate it. Very much.”

Jon grinned, and whatever discomfort he had vanished. “It was fiendishly difficult to get here in the first place. Tony allowed me into the quadrant, so thank him for it.”



I closed the door, leaned on it.

Why would Jon have trouble entering the quadrant, especially if here to see me? He was Keeper of the Court: he should have no trouble going anywhere related to a Court matter. But he came in his own carriage, dressed in street clothes, not in his navy blue uniform and carriage of the Court. Why?

I brought the bottle to my room and took another drink. Maybe I was drunk, as Jonathan said. After everything that had happened, why shouldn’t I be?

I heard the side door open and shut. I could tell it was Amelia from the small sounds she made as she moved around the kitchen.

To be honest, at the time I didn’t care if it was Jonathan’s twin, Jack Diamond, come to torture then kill me for what my father had done to his friend. I almost would have welcomed it.

Joseph Kerr had to be dead.

Why was I still alive?

Amelia came in with a newspaper. She said sarcastically, “You’ll eat the way everyone else does. Anything else?”

I felt taken aback. “No. Thank you.”

She flung the newspaper at me then stomped off.

She must still be upset about last week, I thought.

Amelia stood slumped against the kitchen wall facing away from me, straightening when I entered.

“I shouldn’t have put the gun to you, Amelia. And it was unfair of me to make you give Mr. Anthony my letter.” Tony was like a son to her. How his reaction must have hurt!

She didn’t turn. “You think I care about what happens to me?”

“Well, then, what’s wrong?”

She got very still. “You told the boy you’d say good-bye —”

A shock went through me. Pip!

“— and you didn’t! He just lies in bed weeping.” She sounded ready to cry. “Why did you involve him?”

She can’t even call her own son by his name? “Why do you care?”

She turned, quick as a snake, and for an instant I feared she might strike. “You don’t understand anything! You act so high above us. But you’re just a common Pot rag scrap, whoring about without any decency at all. I have to be here, but that doesn’t mean I have to crawl. If you had any heart, you’d go to him this minute and beg his forgiveness. But I’d tell him not to give it.”

“Well,” I said, “at least now I know where we stand.”

I went back to my room and shut the door. Amelia’s outburst didn’t upset me: I deserved it.

Pip Dewey was just ten. His mother had all but abandoned him, and he’d become attached to me. I remembered the peaceful, happy look on his little face when he held my hand against his cheek in the garden. I should at least have left a letter.

I found a piece of paper, a pen, and a bit of ink at the bottom of the bottle in a writing-desk.

Pip —

I’m sorry I didn’t say good-bye. I hope you’ll forgive me. I was afraid they would stop me from going.

I’m safe and well. I hear you’ve been sad since I left. I want you to be happy again.

Please write if you want to.

Your Friend,

Mrs. Spadros

I went down the front steps, where a policeman stood guard. “Would you post this for me?”

“Surely, mum, if you have money for the messenger.”

What happened to my money?

I rummaged around in my room until I found my handbag with the change I’d set aside for Mrs. Bryce. I gave the policeman his penny and hid the rest well. It might have to last a while: who would give a job to a suspected criminal?

Sitting at my table with a drink, I opened the newspaper.

The Golden Bridges was a disreputable tabloid — its byline: “Fuck the fairy tales, get the Real Story.” The paper was a day old, and I imagined with Amelia’s mood (and the faint smell) that she fished it from a trash-can. But it was unstained and quite readable.

District Attorney Runs For Mayor

Vows To “Clean Up Bridges”

Well, I thought. This explained quite a bit.

District Attorney Mr. Chase Freezout has made a bid for Mayor of Bridges. According to our Inside Reporter, papers were filed late Friday afternoon.

This from a speech Mr. Freezout made on the City Hall steps moments after: “So much has befallen our fair city: financial ruin and the destruction of two of Merca’s greatest treasures. The bombing of Flight A26 is just one example of the rot which has crept into our quadrants. I vow to clean up Bridges, making it safe and prosperous once more.”

Mr. Freezout will resign as District Attorney should he succeed in his endeavor, but he intends to personally prosecute this current case to its end first. For the Bridges District Attorney to personally prosecute a criminal case is historic.

Mr. Freezout began his legal career in 1862 and was elected District Attorney in 1879. Although his father Sir Stayman Freezout was forced to cede his title, lands, and rank after the Coup, the Freezout family still lives on 190th Street, Hart quadrant.

Elections are set for November 4th to fill the post left by the recent death of Mayor Siete Badugi, who has served for the past twelve years. The cause of Mayor Badugi’s death is still under investigation.

So Mr. Freezout was an aristocrat, with both the money and the motive to destroy the Families.

But why target me? Did he believe I’d lost the Spadros Family’s support? He couldn’t possibly have known I’d planned to leave Spadros Manor: I didn’t know the timing of it until it happened.

I was missing something here.

I poured another drink and continued reading.

Mad Jack Captured in Spadros Quadrant

Yesterday afternoon, the notorious Master Jack Diamond was captured at a business on 2nd Street.

According to our Inside Reporter, Master Diamond was seen entering one Bryce Fabrics, where he accosted the shopkeeper, a widow. Neighbors, alerted to his presence, removed him from the shop and beat him before Spadros men arrived.

Master Jack was taken to the Spadros-Diamond city bridge where he was released into Diamond Family custody. The Spadros Family plans formal protest.

Although the quadrants are free from overt Family violence, the Spadros and Diamond syndicates have been at war since the Coup. We at the Golden Bridges hope that this offense will not throw fuel upon an already tense situation.

“This is unbelievable,” I murmured.

Helen Hart Takes to Her Bed:

“Quite Seriously Ill”

Mrs. Helen Hart, wife of Inventor and Hart Family heir Mr. Etienne Hart, has taken to her bed. Doctors have declared Mrs. Hart “quite seriously ill” and “unlikely to survive.”

The Harts are not planning funeral arrangements at this time, holding out hope that the lovely Lady of Hart may yet recover.

In the same paper, I found an interview:

Our Inside Reporter Speaks:

The Hart Situation

The Golden Bridges now speaks with our Inside Reporter to give you the Real Story.

GB: With the Hart heir over fifty, no sons, and his wife dying, what are the Hart Family’s prospects?

IR: Should anything happen to Charles Hart, we predict a battle between his main men.

GB: Indeed, the man is seventy and a prodigious drinker. But could his son Etienne not simply remarry? As ghoulish as it may sound with the wife not yet in her grave, the stability of the city may depend on the answer.

IR: The battle might happen even if he does. A sickly man rarely seen without his mother beside him, Etienne Hart seems most interested in books, not war. He may not be able to hold the quadrant.

Another man was found strangled. The headline brought fear to my throat — had they found Joe’s body? But this man was short, blond — not tall and brown-haired like Joe. I sighed in relief, without knowing why. I knew Joe had to be dead, but seeing reports of his death would have made it real.

Amelia set my dinner before me.

“Thank you,” I said.

She said nothing.

“I wrote to Pip. You know why I can’t go there.”

She shook her head.

“Sit down. We need to talk.”

Amelia froze. Her lower lip trembled. “Why do you do this?”

“I don’t understand.”

“I want to hate you! I do hate you! Then you do this.”

I remembered the confusion and fear when I asked the staff to sit with me after Tony was attacked. Tony’s anger after Tenni — Madame Biltcliffe’s shop maid — sat at the table with us. “What does it mean to sit at the table? I just wish to speak with you.”

Amelia didn’t move for a few seconds, then nodded as if she’d come to some realization. “You don’t understand. This — it means nothing to you.” She took a deep breath, let it out. “It means nothing.” She nodded. “Very well. Then I’ll sit.”

She was right: I didn’t understand. “I don’t mean to offend.”

Amelia began to laugh. “Your Pot must be much different than people think.”

That seemed a fair statement. We were poor, yes, but free, and proud of it. “I’ve left Mr. Anthony. I won’t say why, as it’s not entirely my story to tell. But to return to Spadros Manor, even to speak to Pip, would make things more difficult for everyone. Mr. Anthony doesn’t understand, which is why he’s so distressed.”

“He’s distressed because he loves you.”

I pushed the remorse and grief away. “Him loving me has never been the issue.” It only made Tony’s problems — and his pain — worse when he learned the truth.

She gritted her teeth, not breathing for a moment.

“There are things I need you to do, yet you mustn’t even speak of them to Mr. Dewey. Roy Spadros must not know.”

Her head shot up. “I swear, mum, I’ve told him nothing since I learned he made that deal with Mr. Roy.”

Roy Spadros violated Amelia Dewey, which is how little Pip came to be born, and had continued to terrorize her. Her husband only wanted to protect her, yet he did the one thing guaranteed to drive a wedge between them.

Had Roy anticipated this? The man seemed uncanny in his ability to torment others. “I don’t care who you report to. But I must know who knows what I do. Mr. Anthony’s life may depend on it.” I felt like a conniver for playing on her love for Tony, but it was close enough to the truth to be reasonable.

She fell silent for a few seconds. “Mr. Anthony, mum. And his man Sawbuck.” She hesitated. “And Mr. Pearson.”

I chuckled, shaking my head. “Who reports to Mr. Roy.”

Amelia stared at me in horror.

“What did you think all those ledgers in my study were about? My husband caught him at it.” I shrugged. “Don’t berate Pearson. He has his reasons.” The main one being that Roy Spadros held John Pearson’s mother as hostage.

Amelia’s head drooped. “Yes, mum.”

“Go to Spadros Manor, please. Have my things brought here.”

“Everything?”

“As much as they’ll let you bring.”

Amelia peered at me. “So you really don’t intend to go back.”

“No,” I said, “I don’t.”

* * *

After Amelia left, I ate dinner, opening my last bottle of wine.

Mr. Pike’s plan was good. I’d hold an auction to “help the poor.” That the poor being helped was me wasn’t going to enter into it. But I couldn’t run it myself. Who might assist me?

Eleanora Bryce might be willing, if she could find someone to watch David, who still did little more than rock after his kidnapping. Madame Biltcliffe would be ideal but I doubted she’d even speak to me after all that happened. Tenni, perhaps?

Gertie Pike had a baby at home and one on the way. But surely the wife of a law clerk would know how to keep records.

Pouring another glass, I turned out the lights and sat by the window in the darkness, as I had every night so far.

Papers blew past in the wind. A dog barked, off in the distance.

I might have dozed; a knock at the door startled me.

Keenly aware I was in the house alone, I peered out. Two men I didn’t recognize stood on my front step. The taller one tipped his hat. “Miz Spadros, we just came by to introduce ourself. I’m Sticks Monarch, this is Eight Howell. We’re in charge of this street here.”

I gaped at them. “What does that mean?”

Mr. Howell had a deep voice and a big bushy beard. “We come for the packets every month. Your Family fees?”

A laugh burst from me. “Roy sent you, didn’t he?”

Mr. Monarch said, “Yes, Miz Spadros, he surely did.”

“Well, I’m under house arrest at present.”

“Yes, mum,” Mr. Howell said. “Every house pays their street number whether you got money or not. You live on 33 1/3 Street. So 33 cents. For the third, you pay an extra penny every Solstice and Equinox. When you get income, we get one out of every ten, pennies or dollars. Put it in an envelope and seal it with your address on the front. We come by the end of the month to collect. Is this a good time? Or should we come when it’s light out?”

And it all goes to Roy at the end.

I remembered Madame Biltcliffe’s bruises. These two seemed pleasant enough but I had no illusions what might happen should they learn I hid income. “That would probably be better.”

“Or ya can come by our place to pay,” Mr. Monarch said. “We run the bar on the corner.” He pointed up the street to my left. “The Backdoor Saloon. Anything ya want, ya can get there.”

Mr. Howell said, “If you need us for anything, mum, just ask. Our street has its own messenger boy. Potholes, someone bothers you,” he gestured to the policemen standing by the barricade, “anything at all. That’s what you’re paying for.”

“Very well.” There were a few weeks left in May still. Anything might happen. “Can I ask a question?”

“Sure,” Mr. Monarch said.

“Roy said you couldn’t kill me. But why are you being polite?”

He shrugged. “It’s none of my business where ya live, Miz Spadros! Sides, Mr. Roy lets us collect from ya, which’s more for us.” He glanced quickly over his shoulder. “If our other guys try something, just so’s ya know, we’re not shooting ‘em for ya.”

I nodded. “Thanks for letting me know.”

The police outside were supposedly there for my protection. But these two just walked right past them and up to my door. If they had evil intent, I’d be dead now.

I closed the door with a laugh. For some reason, I didn’t care.





The Law

I stood at the intersection of Shill and Snow in the Pot. The ruined buildings towered over me, clouds scudding dark across the full moon. Bodies lay around me, bloody, their dead eyes staring at mine. Nina, Dame Anastasia, her silly great-nephew Trey, the men from the Party Time factory, that driver-man of Frank Pagliacci’s I’d shot — the one who tried to violate me. Marja. Even Daniel lay there.

Beyond them, dozens, hundreds of others lay there, faces turned away. It seemed quite normal for them to lie on the cold gray cobbles.

Air ran towards me from a distance, shouting a warning, pointing beside me. Jonathan’s identical twin Jack Diamond stood there, head shaved, dressed in white. He held a knife in his hand and hate in his eyes.

Jack grabbed my arm. “I have you now.”

I came awake on the floor beside the chair, heart pounding.

Footsteps ran towards my door, then a loud banging. I got up, found a robe, opened the door.

Three officers stood in the darkness. “Mum, are you well?”

So they hadn’t been told about my nightmares. “I’m well. I’m fine. Thank you.” I began to close the door.

“Are you certain? We heard a scream.”

I felt amused. “Yes, I’m sure. Thank you, constables.”

I closed the door and returned to my chair, feeling shaky. I poured the bit left in my bottle into my glass and drank it.

The sky began to lighten. Tony would be waking. Alone.

I pushed remorse aside. Murderers deserved to be alone.

* * *

The doorbell rang at seven.

I went to the door in my robe, bleary-eyed. A group of men stood outside, a horse truck past them. Three more trucks stood behind that one. “Delivery.”

“Of what?”

The man checked a clipboard. “A hell of a lot of clothes.”

“This way.” I had the men start putting the racks in the back rooms. Then I went to the bathing room.

From the first time I’d ever taken a bath when I was twelve, my bath was always drawn for me. The array of levers and knobs were daunting. Turning one did nothing, and I feared spoiling the beautiful brass mechanisms there.

I didn’t know how to work the stove either. It didn’t look like Ma’s stove back home. I couldn’t find any wood, nor any place to put it. So I forced a comb through my hair, struggled into a house dress, put a shawl around my shoulders, had some bread and jam, and settled by my tea-table to smoke.

Amelia showed up mid-morning. “You can’t even run a bath?”

I felt embarrassed. “Would you show me how?”

So she showed me how to run a bath (you first turned the back knobs to let the water flow). How to use the stove (it ran on electricity from the Magma Steam Generators, just like the lights). Where the cleaning supplies were kept.

We had a cup of tea. This time, Amelia sat without any fuss. “Has no one taught you anything useful?”

I was a grown woman of two and twenty! I knew many useful things: how to direct a household of servants; how to watch for rival gangs; how to make deals and lure a mark; how to read and write and figure. I could pick pockets and locks, track a missing person, shoot a gun quite well, and thanks to Josephine Kerr’s instruction, fight with a knife. I’d also seen people do things I thought I might imitate, such as putting on makeup (Amelia always did mine for me) and driving a carriage. “I suppose I need to know new things here.”

Amelia chuckled. “That you might.”

The rooms full of clothing were fine, but I needed more basic items. “Amelia, can you fetch my morning tea when you return?”

“Of course, mum.”

She seemed unaware of my morning tea’s true purpose: to ensure no heir came to Spadros Manor though my womb.

I had no plot against Tony; bearing children held no appeal. As long as I was captive, a child would only make life more difficult.

I would never consent to lie with Tony after what he surely had done to Joseph Kerr. Yet my encounter with the driver the week prior reminded me of the dangers here. At any moment, a man might force himself upon me, and I was very lucky the last time.

Amelia said, “Mum, why did you bring all your things here?”

So I told her of Mr. Pike’s plan: to sell my things at auction. I told her the auction was to benefit the poor. “I’ve never felt comfortable with this, Amelia. When I was a child, I learned that sufficient clothing was all a person really needed. This,” I waved at the racks standing in the hallway, and realized my truth. “It borders on obscene, when people freeze in the winter.”

Amelia straightened, and her countenance changed. I think for the first time, she respected me. “I’ve never heard you speak so.”

“I suppose what you said yesterday was true. I am from the Pot, and marked by it forever. I can’t help my people, but if I help yours, perhaps I can spur them on to some small kindness.”

At this I felt a deep sadness. We lived in the same city, under the same dome. Why were we hated so?

Amelia swallowed. “Then I will help you. What do you need?”

I gave her the list of who might be willing to help. I couldn’t send mail except through the policemen outside, and who knew whether they opened it? But Amelia could contact many people without being noticed. “I must keep back our Fees. But I’ll also reserve 1% of my sales to be split between those who help.”

She seemed taken aback. “You wish to pay me?”

“You’re doing work which Spadros Manor neither cares for nor has endorsed. Surely you should be compensated for your time.”

Her eyes widened. “I’ve never … if that’s what you wish, mum, I know my mother would appreciate a new coat for Yuletide.”


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