Monday, April 19, 2010

Ghosts of Manhattan by George Mann


INTRODUCING THE WORLD'S FIRST STEAMPUNK SUPERHERO

1926. New York. The Roaring Twenties. Jazz. Flappers. Prohibition. Yet things have developed differently to established history. America is in the midst of a cold war with a British Empire that has only just buried Queen Victoria, her life artificially preserved to the age of 107. A series of targeted murders are occurring all over the city. This is a time in need of heroes. It is a time for The Ghost.

The trail appears to lead to a group of Italian-American gangsters and their boss, dubbed 'The Roman'. However, as The Ghost soon discovers, there is more to The Roman than at first appears. As The Ghost draws nearer to him and the center of his dangerous web, he must battle with foes both physical and supernatural and call on help from the most unexpected of quarters if he is to stop The Roman and halt the imminent destruction of the city.
“A very enjoyable read. It is pure pulp entertainment… Ghosts of Manhattan makes for excellent entertainment on dark, rainy evenings.”
-Gatehouse Gazette

“Turns out that a Jazz-Age-superhero-steampunk-occult thriller is a perfect concoction.”
-Booklist

Let yourself get caught up in the action. Scroll down to read an excerpt from the book:


Ghosts of Manhattan
A Tale of the Ghost
George Mann


     I have no name.
     I am the judgment that lives in the darkness, the spirit of the city wrought flesh and blood.
     I was born of vengeance and I have no past. I am both protector and executioner. I represent the lives of the helpless; those who will not or cannot help themselves. I show no mercy.
     I exist only in the shadows. The alleyways and the rooftops are my domain. I feel the heartbeat of the city, like a slow, restless pulse; I flow unimpeded through its street map of veins.
     I live to keep the city clean, to search out the impurities and deliver retribution.
     I am Life and Death, Yin and Yang.
     I have no name . . .
     And I know where to find you.



CHAPTER ONE

DOWNTOWN MANHATTAN,
NOVEMBER 1927

Something stirred in the shadows.

“Fat Ollie” Day flicked the stub of his cigarette toward the gutter, watching it spiral through the air like a tumbling star. It landed in a puddle of brackish rainwater and fizzed out with a gentle hiss. Nervously, he rested his sweaty palm on the butt of his pistol and edged forward, trying to see what had made the noise. It was too dark to make out anything other than the heaps of trash piled up against the walls of the alleyway, illuminated by the silvery beams of the car’s headlamps. The air was damp. Ollie thought it was going to rain.

Behind him, the car engine purred with a low growl. He’d left it running, ready for a quick getaway. Ollie had stoked it himself a few minutes earlier, shoveling black coal from the hopper into the small
furnace at the rear of the vehicle, superheating the fluid in the water tank to build up a head of steam. It was a sleek model—one of the newer types—and Ollie couldn’t help grinning every time he ran his
hands over its sweeping curves. Who said crime didn’t pay?

Now his smart gray suit was covered with coal dust and soot, but he knew after they’d finished the job they were doing, he could buy himself another. Heck, he could buy himself a whole wardrobe full if he had the inclination. The boss would see him right. The Roman knew how to look after his guys.

Inside the tall bank building to his left, the four men he’d ferried downtown in the motorcar were carrying out a heist—their third in a week—and once again he’d been left outside to guard the doors. It
suited Ollie just fine; he’d never had a stomach for the dirty stuff.

Being on the periphery didn’t worry him—as long as he still got his share of the proceeds.

There was another scuffing sound from up ahead, like a booted foot crunching on stone. Ollie felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle with anxiety. The pressure valve on the vehicle gave an expectant
whistle, as if in empathy, calling out a shrill warning to its driver. Ollie glanced back, but the car was just as he’d left it, the side doors hanging open like clamshells, waiting for the others to finish the job inside.

“Who’s there?” He slid his pistol from its holster, easing it into his palm. “I’m warning you. Don’t you mess with Ollie Day.”

There was a sudden, jerky movement as a nearby heap of trash was disturbed, causing cardboard boxes to tumble noisily to the ground. Ollie swung his pistol round in a wide arc. His hand was shaking. He couldn’t see anything in the gloom. Then more movement, to his right. Something crossed the beam of the headlamps. He spun on the spot, his finger almost squeezing the trigger of his pistol. . .

. . . And saw a black cat dart across the alley, scuttling away from the pile of boxes. Ollie let out a long, wheezing sigh of relief. “Hey, cat. You got Ollie all jumpy for a minute there.” He slipped his pistol
back into its holster, grinning to himself. “Man, I gotta learn to take it easy.” He looked up.

Two pinpricks of red light had appeared, thirty feet further down the alleyway, hovering in the air at head height. Ollie stood silent for a moment, trying to figure out what was going on. For a minute he
thought he was seeing things, and made to rub his eyes, but then the lights began to move, sweeping toward him through the gloom.

Footsteps running. Ragged breath. Ollie fumbled for his weapon, but he was already too late.

The man sprang at him from nearly ten feet away, hurtling through the air toward him like a panther, body coiled for an attack. Ollie caught only glimpses of his assailant as the man was crisscrossed by the headlamp beams: dressed fully in black, a long cape or trench coat whipping up around him, a fedora on his head. And those glowing red eyes, piercing in the darkness. Ollie thought they might bore right into him, then and there.

He got the gun loose just as his attacker came down on him, hard, causing the weapon to fly from his hand and skitter across the ground toward the car. It clattered to a stop somewhere out of sight. The man was fast, and Ollie was hardly able to bring his hands up in defense before he was punched painfully in the gut and he doubled over, all of the air driven out of his lungs. The man grabbed a fistful of Ollie’s collar and heaved him bodily into the air. Ollie tried desperately to kick out, or to cry for help, but was able only to offer an ineffectual whimper.

Before he knew what was happening, Ollie felt himself being flung backward. He sailed through the air, his limbs wheeling, and slammed down across the hood of the car. He felt the thin metal give way
beneath his bulk. But he had no time to lament the damage to his precious vehicle. Pain blossomed in his shoulder. He realized that his arm had been crushed and was hanging limply by his side. The back of his head, too, felt like it was on fire, and he could sense a warm liquid—blood?—running down the side of his face. He emitted a heartfelt wail, just in time to see the grim face of his attacker looming over him.

The man was unshaven and unkempt. His eyes—his real eyes—were obscured by a pair of glowing goggles, strange red lights shining bright behind the lenses, transfixing the mob driver as he struggled to inch backward on the car’s hood, to get away from this terrifying apparition of the night. He had nowhere to go. He was going to die. He squeezed his eyes shut, waiting for the fatal blow. Seconds passed. He peeled his eyelids open again.

The man was still hovering over him. After a moment, he spoke. His voice was gruff and filled with ire. “In there?” He gestured toward the set of double doors that the others were planning to use as their
escape route from the bank.

Ollie nodded. He knew he was likely signing his own death warrant by giving them away, but all he could think about was getting free from this maniac, this . . . vigilante. He could taste blood. If the
car would still drive . . .

The stranger grabbed the front of Ollie’s jacket with both fists and hauled him into the air again. “Oh no. No, no, no . . .”

Turning, the man charged at the double doors, swinging Ollie in front of himself like a battering ram. Ollie’s shoulder connected painfully with the heavy wooden doors as they burst through, causing
the hinges to splinter and the doors to cave inward with a huge crash.

Stars bloomed in his field of vision. His head spun. He couldn’t remember what it was like not to feel numb with pain. He felt as if he was going to die, and realized that he probably was.

They were standing in the main lobby of the bank. The scene inside was one of utter chaos. Around thirty or forty civilians were scattered over the polished marble floor, lying prone on their bellies, their
hands behind their heads, their distraught faces pressed to the ground. Another of the Roman’s men was standing over them with a gun, keeping guard. Two further men were standing by the bank tellers as they stuffed cloth bags full of paper bills, and a fourth was up in the gallery overhead, surveying the scene below, a tommy gun clutched tightly in his hands.

A huge holographic statue of Pegasus dominated the lobby space, flickering ghostly blue as it reared up on its hind legs, its immense wings unfurled over the swathe of terrified civilians below. Above that, an enormous chandelier shimmered in the bright light.

Silence spread through the lobby as everyone turned at once to see who had burst through the doors in such a violent fashion. A woman screamed. The four mobsters offered Ollie and the other man a silent
appraisal before raising their weapons.

Ollie was struggling to catch his breath. He couldn’t feel his left arm anymore, and he didn’t know if this was troubling or a blessed relief. He didn’t have time to consider it any further before he found
himself unceremoniously dumped against the wall.

“Stay there.”

The man in black stepped forward, glancing from side to side. Ollie could see now that his billowing trench coat concealed a number of small contraptions, including what looked like the long barrel of a
weapon under his right arm. Dazed, he watched the chaos erupt again before his eyes.

His attacker spread his arms wide, facing the rest of the Roman’s men. “Time’s up, gentlemen.”

One of the mobsters opened fire. There was a series of loud reports as he emptied his chamber, yelling at the others to take the newcomer down. The man in black seemed unconcerned by the spray of bullets, however, waiting as they thundered into the wall behind him, failing even to flinch as the mobster went wide with his shots, too hasty to take proper aim. Ollie watched in dismayed awe as the man gave a discreet flick of his right arm, causing the long brass barrel of the concealed weapon to spin up on a ratchet and click into place along the length of his forearm. It made a sound like a steel chain being dragged across a metal drum.

The man swung his arm around toward the crook who had fired on him and squeezed something in his palm. There was a quiet hiss of escaping air, and then he gave his reply. A storm of tiny steel fléchettes burst out from the end of the strange weapon, a rain of silver death, hailing down on the crook and shredding him as they impacted, bursting organs and flensing flesh from bone. It was over in a matter of seconds. The shattered body crumpled to the floor, gore and fragments of human matter pattering down around it in a wide arc. The teller who had been standing beside the felon dropped to the floor in a dead faint, the pile of cash in his hands billowing out to scatter all around him as he fell.

The vigilante didn’t wait for the stutter of another gun. He rolled forward and left, moving with ease, and came up beside the holographic statue, his weapon at the ready. Another hail of fléchettes dropped the man in the gallery above, sending him tumbling over the rail, his face a mess of blood and broken bone fragments. He crashed to the marble with a sickening crunch, his limbs splayed at awkward angles.

The mobster guarding the civilians—who Ollie knew as Bobby Hendriks—wasn’t taking any chances. He leapt forward, grappling with one of the women on the floor and dragging her to her feet. Looking panicked, the heavyset man pressed a knife to her throat, which gleamed in the bright electric light as he turned the blade back and forth, threatening to pull it across her soft, exposed flesh. The woman—a pretty blonde in a blue dress—looked terrified and froze rigid, trying not to move in case she somehow made the situation worse.

“I’ll kill her! I’ll kill her!” His voice was a gravelly bark.

The man in black flicked a glance at Hendriks, and then back at the other mobster guarding the tellers, who were still furiously emptying the cash drawers. He stepped toward Hendriks and the hostage.

Hendriks stepped back, mirroring the movement. He pressed the blade firmly against the woman’s throat, drawing a tiny bead of blood. She wailed in pain and terror.

A shot went off. The man in black flinched as a bullet stroked his upper arm, tearing a rent in his clothing and drawing a line of bright blood on his skin. He turned on the gunman, but Ollie realized he
wasn’t able to get a clear bead due to the tellers. Instead, the man reached inside his trench coat and gave a sharp tug on a hidden cord.

There was a roaring sound, like the deep rumble of a distant explosion. Bright yellow flames shot out of two metal canisters strapped to the backs of the man’s boots, scorching the floor. Ollie stared on, bewildered, as the stranger lifted entirely into the air, propelled by the bizarre jets, and shot across the lobby at speed, flitting over the prone civilians and swinging out above the mobster’s head. He didn’t even need to fire his weapon. Bringing his feet around in a sweeping movement, he introduced the searing flames to the gunman’s face, who gave a gut-wrenching wail as his flesh bubbled and peeled in the intense heat. He dropped on the spot, still clutching his gun, hungry flames licking around his ears and collar.

The man in black reached inside his coat and pulled another cord. The flames spat and guttered out. He crashed to the floor, landing in a crouch on one knee. All eyes were on him. He climbed slowly to his feet and stood, regarding the last of the felons.

“I’ll kill her! I’ll kill her!” Hendriks was swinging the girl around as he looked for an escape route, edging away from this terrifying man who had come out of nowhere and murdered his companions. “I’ll kill her! I’ll kill her!”

When he spoke, the vigilante’s voice was drenched in sorrow. “You already have.”

Hendriks looked down at the girl in his arms. Sudden realization flashed on his face. His knife was half-buried in the woman’s throat, blood seeping down to drench the front of her dress, matting the fine hairs on his forearm. Shocked, he stumbled backward, allowing the dead woman to slide to the floor, the knife still buried in her flesh. “Oh crap. Oh crap. I didn’t mean to do it. Hey, mister, I didn’t mean it! I just—”

There was a quiet snick. Something bright and metallic flashed through the air. Hendriks’ head toppled from his shoulders, the stump spouting blood in a dark, crimson fountain. The body pitched forward,
dropping to the floor. The head rolled off to one side. Ollie glanced round to see a metal disk buried in the wall behind the body. He started to scramble to his feet.

All around, people were screaming, getting up off the floor, and rushing toward the exits. The massacre was over. Or at least Ollie hoped it was over. He needed to get to his car, fast.

The man in black stooped low over the body of the dead hostage. He seemed to be whispering an apology, but Ollie wasn’t quite able to hear over the noise of the crowd.

Ollie backed up, edging toward the burst double doors. His arm was hanging limp and useless by his side, he was sure his rib cage had been shattered, and he was still bleeding from the back of his skull.
Even if he made it out of there alive, he’d never be the same again.

He saw the stranger’s red eyes lift and fix on him from across the lobby. He didn’t know what to do, didn’t dare turn and run or take his eyes off the stranger for a second. The man watched him for a moment, unmoving. Then in three or four graceful strides, he was on top of him. He grasped Ollie by the collar and the fat man whimpered as the vigilante leaned in close. He could feel the hot breath on his face, smell the coffee and whisky it carried. Ollie’s heart was hammering hard in his chest. Was this how it was going to end?

“Today, you get to live.”

Ollie nearly fainted with relief. “I . . . I—”

“But you take a message to the Roman for me.”

Ollie nodded enthusiastically, and nearly swooned from the movement.

“You tell him he’s not welcome in this town anymore.”

The stranger dropped Ollie in a heap on the ground and then stepped over him, making slowly for the exit, his boots clicking loudly on the marble floor.

Ollie’s mouth was gritty with blood. He called after the mysterious figure. “Who . . . who are you?”

The man shrugged and kept on walking. “Death,” he said, without bothering to look back.



CHAPTER TWO

“Eggs! I need eggs, Henry. Two of them. With a side of toast.”

Gabriel Cross dropped the morning paper onto the breakfast table and leaned back in his armchair, stretching his weary limbs. He was a thin, wiry man in his mid-thirties, clean-shaven, with hair the
color of Saharan sand. He was dressed in an impeccable black suit, of the expensive variety, but wore his collar splayed open, betraying his innate sense of informality. Some, he knew, would call him louche for such behavior, but he preferred to consider himself freethinking, unbound by the stuffy conventions of the age. In truth, he was simply unbound by the conventions of money; he had about him the casual air of the exceptionally rich.

Yawning, Gabriel surveyed the aftermath of the prior evening’s entertainment. His eyelids were heavy with lack of sleep. All around him, devastation reigned. The drawing room was cluttered with discharged glasses, a few still holding the remnants of their former owners’ drinks. Accompanying these were the pungent stubs of fat, brown cigars and pale cigarettes; even a woman’s red silk scarf and a man’s topcoat, abandoned there in the early hours by drunken lovers, carefree and searching for intoxication of a different kind.

Gabriel had a love/hate relationship with New York society; it loved him—or rather, it loved his wealth and status—and he hated it. He disliked “society” as a concept. To him it was a metaphor for the socially inept, the “upper” classes, a means of filling one’s head with notions of self-import and grandeur. Yet he adored people. He needed people. He surrounded himself with them, night and day. He was an observer, a man who watched life. An artist without a canvas, a writer without a page. He lived to amuse himself, to attempt to fill the vacant space where a real life should have been.

Gabriel Cross was a nothing. A man defined by his inheritance, characterized by his former life. He’d heard people whispering in hushed tones at the party, huddled in small groups under the canopy
on the veranda, or leaning up against the doorjambs in the drawing room, drinks in hand. “Yes, it’s true! He used to be a soldier. I heard he fought in the war.” Or, “A pilot, I heard. But now he just throws parties. Parties! Who needs parties?”

Gabriel knew they were right. Yet they swarmed to his Long Island parties like honeybees searching for pollen, intent on finding something there that would make their own lives that little bit easier to
bear. He had no idea what it was. If he did, he would administer it to himself in liberal doses.

Gabriel rubbed a hand over his bristly chin. “Better send a Bloody Mary with those eggs, Henry. God knows, it’s going to be one of those days.” He turned and looked out of the window at the sound of a
motorcar hissing onto the driveway in the watery morning sun. Its wheels stirred the gravel track, whilst black smoke belched from its rear funnel. He recognized the sleek curves of its ebony bodywork, as well as those of its owner, who sat in the driving seat, her head and shoulders exposed to the stiff breeze. It ruffled her shock of bright auburn hair as she turned toward the house and saw him watching. Smiling, she raised her hand and offered him a brief wave. Gabriel smiled and raised his own hand in reply. He watched her climb out of the car’s side door, swinging her shapely legs down from the cab. Gabriel felt his heart beat a little faster in his breast. Celeste. Celeste Parker.

He’d missed her at the party. Missed the opportunity to peel away with her to a quiet spot and blot out the presence of everyone else. But he was also pleased, in a sense, that she hadn’t come. She didn’t need the party, not like everyone else needed the party. And for that reason, if no other, he was very much in love with her.

Gabriel listened to the sound of her heels crunching on the gravel, a soft rap on the front door with a gloved fist, Henry’s footsteps as he crossed the hallway to let her in. Smiling, Gabriel retrieved the newspaper from the breakfast table and rustled it noisily, as if intent on continuing with an article he had earlier abandoned. He attempted to exude his most nonchalant air. He knew Celeste would see through this ruse, but then, such was the game they played.

A moment later the drawing room door creaked open. Gabriel didn’t look up from the newspaper to watch Celeste enter the room. She hovered for a moment at the threshold, silent save for her soft
inhalation, awaiting his acknowledgement. The moment stretched. Gabriel turned the page and pretended to scan the headlines.

Finally, the visitor broke the silence. “You look terrible, Gabriel. I see the party was up to its usual . . . standards.” Her voice was soft and melodious; it had broken many hearts.

Gabriel folded the left page of his New York Times and peered inquisitively over the crease, as if he’d only just realized she was there. Framed in the doorway, the soft light of the morning streaming in
from the hallway, she seemed to him like an angel; surrounded by a wintery halo, beautiful, ethereal. She dressed with the confidence of a woman who knew she would turn heads: a black, knee-length dress, stockings, high-heeled shoes, and a black jacket. Her auburn hair was like a shock of lightning, bright and electrifying, her lips a slash of glossy red.

“You didn’t come.” It was a statement, not a question.

“Of course I didn’t come. Did you expect me to come?”

“You were missed.”

Celeste laughed. She stepped further into the room, placing her handbag on the sideboard beside the door. Gabriel crumpled the newspaper and tossed it on the breakfast table, where it disturbed the ashtray, sending a plume of gray dust into the air. He wrinkled his nose. “Yes, it does rather make a terrible mess of one’s house.” He paused, as if thoughtful. “I think next time we’ll stay outside. We’ll all have to wear beach clothes. A bathing party, out by the pool.”

Celeste looked confused, despite herself. She offered him a wan smile. “In November? Whatever are you talking about?”

Gabriel grinned profusely. He leaned forward in his chair. “Yes! Why not! There’s that place down in Jersey selling some new-fangled contraption. A thing that heats your pool. The Johnson and Arkwright
Filament, they call it. Just imagine. It would be a showstopper! I’ll order one next week. A pool party in November! Oh, do say you’ll come?” He knew she wouldn’t come. But he had a role to play, and so
did she.

“I’m busy.”

He glanced out of the window. His voice was quiet. “Yes. Of course.”

“Oh really, Gabriel. You need a drink. And I need a cigarette.”

Gabriel smiled. He reached for the small silver cigarette case he kept in his jacket pocket. It was engraved with his initials: GC. “Do you want eggs? Henry’s making eggs. Sit down.”

She sat. “No. Not eggs.” She reached over and took one of his proffered cigarettes. He noticed her fingernails matched the color of her hair. She crossed her legs and leaned forward, pulling the tab on the end of her smoke so that it sparked and ignited. A blue wreath encircled her head.

“Are you singing tonight?”

“Yes. At Joe’s. Will you come?”

“I’m busy.”

“Yes. Of course.” Her lips parted in a knowing smile.

Gabriel grinned. Celeste was a jazz singer at a club in downtown Manhattan. That was where Gabriel had met her, six months earlier. He’d taken a pretty girl named Ariadne, a perfectly lovely young thing, all lipstick and short skirts and oozing sexuality. But Celeste had stolen his attention. It had nothing to do with romance; it was dark and harsh and exotic, an attraction of a different kind. When she’d parted her lips at the microphone the entire world had ceased spinning. Her voice carried truth. It spoke to him—not to Gabriel Cross, but to the real man who hid behind that name. It carried knowledge of the world, and poor Ariadne hadn’t stood a chance.

He’d driven Ariadne home in silence; abandoned her on the front steps of her house. She’d been sanguine yet desperate, resigned yet somehow wanting more. She still came to his parties, sometimes,
floating around ethereally in her sequined dresses, catching his eye as he showered platitudes and cigarettes on his other guests. She needed a reason, an understanding of what had passed between them. She needed to know what she had done wrong, what fatal act of sabotage she had committed. But Gabriel couldn’t bear to tell her the truth, couldn’t bear to strip away civilities and reveal to her the hollow reality of the matter: that poor Ariadne was just another girl in just another city. That her life filled with parties and laughing and booze didn’t mean anything. That she could never compare to a woman like Celeste. She couldn’t see the world for what it was.

Ghosts. New York was full of people like that. So were his parties. People who drifted through life as if it didn’t matter, as if it were simply something that they had to do. Get up in the morning, pass time, sleep, fuck, die. Even Gabriel Cross was a member of that illustrious set, as much as he hated to admit it. But Celeste was not, and her allure had been unavoidable, her effect on Gabriel predetermined from the outset. He had been ensnared, and for the rest of that night he had lain awake in the stifling summer heat, drunk on whisky and desire, replaying the sound of Celeste’s voice over and over in his mind.

The next night Gabriel had returned to the club by himself in search of the jazz singer. He’d found her haunting the bar; drinking orange juice laced with cheap, illegal gin. He’d bought her drinks, offered her cigarettes, watched her as she brushed aside the other men who each lined up to make a play for her attention. At first she’d seemed amused by his presence—the confident interloper—intrigued by the fact that he had returned to the club so soon after his previous visit, this time without the pretty embellishment on his arm. But Gabriel had seen where the other men had tried and failed. He wouldn’t make the same mistakes. Not this time. So, instead, he had simply offered her a final cigarette for the evening, before retiring. He didn’t leave his name or his number. He didn’t need to.

A week later he had found her playing cards in his breakfast room with three other girls whose names he could never remember. His party was in full swing; it was dark outside, but drunken men strutted
loudly on the lawn by the light of the moon, and women laughed gaily as though being treated to the height of theatrical endeavor. All around them the house was full of bustle, of noise and tension and sex and booze. Of people looking for a way to force some feeling into their lives, or else to numb the pain. But when Celeste had turned to smile at him, he’d wanted nothing more than for them all to disappear. He’d wanted the world to stand still again, like it had a week before, the night he’d first watched her open her mouth to sing.

He’d fucked her that night at the party, hot and fast and urgent.

And in the morning, as the sunlight streamed in through the window to dapple the pillow where she had lain, he knew then that he was in love with her.

He looked up. She was watching him now whilst she gently rolled the end of her cigarette around the rim of the cut-glass ashtray. He turned to meet her gaze. “Have you read the papers?”

Celeste shrugged. “It’s not news, you know, Gabriel. Not real news. It’s just hearsay and opinion. It’s what people tell each other to make the time go by.”

Gabriel smiled. “But what about this ‘Ghost’? Did you hear about that? The crazy vigilante who burst in on that bank job and killed all the crooks? Now that’s news.”

Celeste shrugged, pursing her lips. “Yes, I suppose it is. But I don’t know why it’s so surprising. It was only ever a matter of time before someone tried to take the law into their own hands. Crooks and vigilantes, they’re just different sides of the same coin. He’s as bad as the rest of them.”

Gabriel nodded. “Perhaps you’re right. The papers certainly share your opinion. But I can’t help wondering if the guy is actually a hero. He saved people’s lives.”

“And took others. He caused that woman’s death. The hostage.”

Gabriel fingered his cigarette case before turning it over, flicking the catch, and withdrawing a cigarette. He pulled the tab, and met Celeste’s penetrating gaze through a brief wall of smoke. “Perhaps . . . but I’d still be inclined to blame that on the crook who put the knife in her throat, rather than the guy who tried to save her.”

Celeste looked as if she was about to speak, but then she turned to watch Henry, the valet, enter the room through another door. On a tray he bore a plate of toast and eggs, with a Bloody Mary on the side. He smiled genially when he saw her looking. “Will Miss Parker be taking breakfast this morning?” He’d made her breakfast before, on more than one occasion.

Celeste folded the stub of her cigarette into the ashtray. “Not today, Henry. I have rehearsals. And I think Mr. Cross could use some more sleep.”

Henry nodded politely and placed the silver tray on the table beside the crumpled newspaper. He straightened his back, glancing at his employer. “Will that be all, sir?”

Gabriel nodded. “Yes, that’ll be all, Henry.” He glanced at the eggs. His stomach growled. “I’ll be taking a trip into town later. I intend to watch Miss Parker’s show this evening. Could you ask Graves
to prepare one of the cars?”

“Very good, sir.”

Celeste flashed Gabriel a wry smile. Gabriel offered her an abundant grin.

“I’ll leave you to your breakfast.” She regarded him with something approximating satisfaction, and then stood, collecting her handbag from where she’d left it on the sideboard. “Until this evening, then.”

Gabriel dropped his still-smoldering cigarette into the ashtray and pushed himself up out of his easy chair, riffles of blue smoke billowing from his nostrils. “I’ll walk you out.” He took her arm and led her into the hall.

“What about your eggs?”

“Never mind the eggs.” He stopped her at the foot of the stairs and took her face in his hands, pulling her near, kissing her deeply on the lips. Once again he felt his heart hammering in his chest. He wondered if she could feel it too.

They stood for a moment, staring into one another’s eyes. Then Celeste broke away, moving toward the door. She pushed it open and Gabriel felt a cold breeze sweep into the hallway. He shivered involuntarily.

Celeste crossed to her motorcar, the gravel crunching noisily with every step. Gabriel followed to open the door for her, watching as she smoothly lowered herself into the driver’s seat. A moment later the
engine roared, a shot of black smoke belched out from the exhaust pipe, and the vehicle hissed away. Celeste didn’t look back.

Gabriel watched the car slide off into the distance, steam rising from the rear funnels to leave long vapor trails in the crisp morning air. As he turned back to the house, already lamenting the fact that she’d had to leave so soon, he noticed a small, dark bundle on the ground, resting on the driveway at the bottom of the step. He crouched so that he could get a better look. It was a dead bird, its black feathers ruffling in the breeze. It looked as if it had been mangled somehow, caught and abandoned by a predator, perhaps, its head twisted awkwardly to one side, its wings broken out of shape. He’d seen a man like that once, lying in a ditch in France. His neck had been broken, too, blood caked ominously around one ear, eyes glazed and milky-white. If it hadn’t been for the startled look of terror frozen on the dead man’s face, Gabriel could almost have imagined he was resting, his head on a soft pillow of mud, watching the plumes of distant explosions as innumerable airships drifted lazily above, relentlessly bombarding the landscape below.

Sighing, he stood. He wished his mind wasn’t full of such memories. He’d have Henry come and clear the remains of the bird away later. Now, he needed eggs. And he needed to clear his head. The
Bloody Mary would help.



CHAPTER THREE

Felix Donovan was having a terrible day.

He’d been dragged from his bed at five-thirty by the buzzing of the holotube, only to find his sergeant on the line, nervously informing him there’d been a homicide. From the look of the flickering blue
image that appeared in the mirrored cavity in his holotube terminal, he’d been able to tell that Mullins was calling from a private booth in a hotel or bar, and that he very much considered himself out of his
depth.

Nevertheless, for a moment Donovan had actually considered going back to bed. It wasn’t as if murders were anything new or unusual in downtown Manhattan. Another dead body on another
apartment floor. He was sure it could wait until a reasonable hour of the morning, at least until he’d showered and eaten his breakfast. But then Mullins had told him who had been murdered, and suddenly everything had changed.

Now, at a quarter after eleven, his head was still thick with lack of sleep, and he was desperately in need of a coffee.

“Inspector?”

Donovan turned to see Mullins standing sheepishly behind him. The sergeant was a portly man who sported a short, clipped moustache and appeared to Donovan to have a permanently ruddy complexion. He was currently dressed in a long, gray overcoat, which covered his disordered blue suit: a symptom of being roused from his bed at such an ungodly hour of the morning. The inspector could forgive him that. Donovan himself, however, was dressed immaculately, as usual; his black suit and crisp white collar were pressed and pristine, and he had taken the time to freshen up before driving out to the scene of the crime. It was a small, fruitless rebellion, but it made him feel better just the same. After all, he was alive and the victim was dead, and the dead man wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry. Regardless, the man had been an odious toad. Politicians, Donovan found, were very rarely anything
else.

He regarded Mullins with an impatient eye. “What is it, Sergeant? Have you finally managed to search out some coffee?”

Mullins wouldn’t meet his eye. “No, sir. Not coffee. But there’s a gathering crowd of reporters out front, and they’re calling for a statement. Are you planning to say anything?”

Donovan looked round at the tall revolving doors of the lobby. Beyond, through the glass panes, he could see a gaggle of reporters and photographers being shepherded back from the sidewalk by a couple of uniformed men. Flashbulbs blinked, reflecting in the glass and causing miniature, shimmering coronas to burst momentarily to life.

He and Mullins were standing in the lobby of the Gramercy Park Hotel, all plush modernity and chandeliers. It was a bit rich for Donovan’s decidedly down-to-earth palate. He gritted his teeth. “No.
They can wait.” He looked back at Mullins. “They can wait like everyone else. We haven’t even informed his wife yet, for God’s sake.” He was muttering now, as if to himself more than to his sergeant. “How the hell are we going to break it to his wife?” A sigh. “And then there’s the matter of the scandal. The Commissioner might want to keep the details out of the press.” He gestured at Mullins. “Tell them to get back to the gutter.”

Mullins sucked in his breath. For a moment Donovan thought he looked even redder in the face than usual. He hadn’t thought that was possible. “They’re asking, sir, if it’s the work of the Roman.”

“Well, yes. I’d very much imagine they are.” Donovan gave another, plaintive sigh. His voice was tinged with weariness. “Mullins, do me a favor and find that coffee. And let’s have another look at the
crime scene. Then the ambulance crew can take the bodies to the morgue. After that—we’ll see about facing those reporters.”

“Yes, sir.” Mullins nodded and shot off in the direction of the kitchens.


The murder of James Landsworth Senior had taken place in the early hours of the morning on the top floor of the Gramercy Park Hotel. It was a sordid affair, and Donovan, standing on the threshold of the
room with a cigarette dangling from his lips, didn’t quite know what to make of it.

The dead man was a senator—a well-respected one at that—and this whole affair, Donovan had concluded, had been set up to discredit him. There was no doubt the scene inside the hotel room had been posed; a grisly diorama intended to embarrass the government.

Landsworth was—or had been, Donovan corrected himself—a middle-aged man of about fifty, with a full head of graying hair and a significant paunch, and he had built his career on a foundation of right-wing policies and conservative opinions. He supported Prohibition. He had a healthy hatred for the British Empire and he campaigned against “progress,” claiming that science was “dehumanizing” the American people. He sold himself as a family man, and was often seen around town with his wife and two young children. He never attended parties or large social gatherings, and the newspapers had a
dog of a time digging up anything about the man that could even be considered controversial.

But nevertheless, here he was, his pants round his ankles, chained to a bedpost, wearing rouge, a half-drunk bottle of illegal whisky on the bedside table. His chest was covered with cigarette burns and there was lipstick all over his prick. His mouth was hanging slack-jawed and two small Roman coins had been placed over his eyelids. They glinted in the lamplight as if they had been freshly minted.

Across the room, a dead whore lay on the floor, her skirt pulled up around her hips, stockings torn, her face bruised and split where she had been viciously beaten. Donovan couldn’t even tell what she had looked like before the beating, except for the fact that the lipstick smeared across her lower face matched the color of that now found on Landsworth’s corpse. Mullins had told him she’d been asphyxiated, but Donovan hadn’t yet brought himself to take a proper look. He’d needed a coffee and a cigarette before even contemplating that.

Donovan looked from one body to the other, and shuddered. The reporters were right to be asking. This was clearly the Roman’s handiwork. It was the third murder in as many weeks, and each victim had been a man of standing: a councilor, a surgeon, and now a senator. Each of them had also been found with identical Roman coins resting on their eyelids, a calling card, of sorts, from the mob boss responsible for their deaths. Donovan had had the coins analyzed, assuming them to be recent copies that he could somehow trace through the city’s dealers, but had been startled to discover they were actual Roman coins, dating from the reign of Vespasian. They looked as fresh and new as if they had been pressed the day before, not nearly two thousand years in the past. He didn’t know what to make of that, either.
The Roman had seemingly come from nowhere, but had quickly risen to become one of the most powerful mob bosses in the city. His network of heavies, informants, and petty criminals was unparalleled, and he managed to inspire an unflinching dedication in his men. Donovan suspected it was a reign of terror, but so far he hadn’t managed to get close enough to find out.

No one had ever seen the Roman. That was the most bizarre factor in the whole matter. It was supposed he was Italian—thus the moniker—but the truth of the matter was that the police had been
unable to establish any information regarding who he really was, or even where he could be found.Whoever he was, the only certainty was that he had somehow managed to bring the city to its knees. And it was Donovan’s job to find a means to stop him.

He took another draw on his cigarette and then stubbed it out on the doorframe, ignoring the appalled look this inspired from his sergeant. As if in response, he nonchalantly handed the butt to Mullins, who accepted it with a surprised expression, and then, seeing no obvious place to discard it, slipped it into the pocket of his overcoat without a word.

Donovan crossed to the bed, screwing his face up in disgust. Landsworth was a mess. He couldn’t let the papers get hold of the details, of that much he was certain. He might not be able to put right what the Roman had done, but he could prevent him gaining any satisfaction from it. He turned to Mullins. “Do you think he was already here, with the good-time girl, before the Roman’s men . . . interrupted
things?”

Mullins shook his head. “No. I think he was killed elsewhere and brought here later. The girl was killed here, though. There’re signs of a struggle.” He indicated for Donovan to follow him across the hotel suite. “Watch you don’t step on the bloodstains, sir.”

Donovan swallowed. The girl had been viciously brutalized. He couldn’t be sure, but she must only have been nineteen, twenty years old.

Mullins lowered his voice, as if trying to mask his horror. “What a waste of life.”

Donovan didn’t know whether he meant the fact that she’d been murdered, or the fact that such a young girl had been forced into whoring herself to unscrupulous politicians and gangsters. Either way,
the sergeant was right.

Donovan glanced around. An overturned table, a smashed lamp, a rug all ruffled up at one end. Yes, there’d been a struggle here. She’d been a spirited girl. “She probably thought she had a good paying gig here, at this hotel, before all this.” He shook his head and glanced at the uniformed officer who was still lurking in the doorway. “Cover her up,” he said, with a resigned gesture. He wondered what they’d made her do before they killed her. It didn’t bear thinking about.

“Is there anything here, Mullins, that might give us any clues? Anything different about this one? Different from the others?”

Mullins shook his head but remained silent. Just like Landsworth’s corpse, splayed out on the bed, unable to tell Donovan what the hell he should say to the Commissioner when he got back to the station. Unable, too, to bring him any closer to understanding who the Roman was, or how on earth he was going to set about bringing him to justice for his crimes.



CHAPTER FOUR

The man looked out, surveying the scene across the city. Electric lights glowed like pinpricks in the darkness, causing apartment blocks to take on the appearance of jewel-encrusted towers. Police dirigibles drifted lazily overhead, their searchlights punctuating the gloaming with long, brilliant columns of white. Above them, a full moon hung low over the city like the smoldering tip of a cigarette, shrouded in wispy clouds.

He’d heard it said that New York was a city that never slept, but his own experience told him that wasn’t entirely true; Manhattan spent its days in a state of bleary-eyed lethargy, only truly coming alive after nightfall. That was the city that most people didn’t see, the city full of urgency and emotion and life, the city he had grown to know and to need, and that—more than ever—needed someone like him in return. The police operated with one hand tied constantly behind their backs. They could never do what was necessary, bound as they were by law and convention. Yet the city was falling to crime and corruption, the government and politicians giving way to an endless series of crime lords. It was a war, and it called for brutal measures. The wound needed to be cauterized before the festering grew worse.

The man the newspapers were calling “the Ghost” shifted slightly, reaching inside his long coat to produce a packet of cigarettes. He popped the lid and extracted one of the thin white sticks. With his
gloved fingers he pulled the tab on the end of it and watched it flare, briefly under-lighting his face, before bringing the cigarette to his lips and taking a long, deep draw. The nicotine flooded his lungs, giving him a light-headed rush. He left the cigarette drooping from his bottom lip as he once again surveyed the city streets below.

From his vantage point atop the roof terrace on Fifth Avenue—above his city apartment—the Ghost watched the comings and goings of the people down below. Coal-powered cars hissed along the road,
whilst lonely pedestrians drifted along the sidewalks, solitary specters in the wan light thrown down from the surrounding buildings. If it hadn’t been for—

He stopped, suddenly, snapping his head to the right. He’d caught a sound, carried to him on the stiff breeze that rumpled the tails of his long coat. The sound of a man calling out in pain, from somewhere far below. Leaving his position at the front of the building, he rushed over to the other side of the terrace. He scanned the streets below. Nothing.

Reaching up, the Ghost felt under the brim of his hat until his fingers located the rim of his goggles. He tugged them down over his eyes, turning the lenses slowly away from the bridge of his nose. Everything took on a red sheen. Targeting circles floated, disembodied, before his vision. He cranked the lenses once again, tiny cogs whirring inside the device, and the view suddenly magnified, becoming sharp and bright. He could see the sidewalk five stories below as if he were only a few feet away.

The sound came to him again, a stifled cry. The Ghost tracked along the sidewalk toward where he thought it had originated. There, by the mouth of an alleyway, was a large armored car, thick iron plates cladding its sides to form a tank-like vehicle, the windshield just a slit in the otherwise impenetrable metal sheeting. The engine was running, and the exhaust chimney was belching oily black smoke as it burned coal at a furious rate. Behind this, in the alleyway itself, he sensed movement. He decided to investigate.

The Ghost flicked a switch on the side of his goggles and the lenses snapped back into place, returning his vision to normal. He glanced along the edge of the building, looking for the quickest route down to street level. Just a few feet away, a steel fire-escape ladder was fixed to the outside of the building. Shrugging to loosen his shoulders, the Ghost pulled himself up onto the stone lip of the building, ran sure-footed but carefully along the top of it, and dropped easily onto the metal platform below. His heavy boots rang out into the quiet night. Then, gripping the railings with his gloved fists, he used his weight to slide down from platform to platform, hitting the sidewalk a matter of moments later.

The alleyway was only a hundred or so yards away. At street level, the sound of the car engine was a constant background growl. He’d use that to his advantage, muffling his footsteps as he crept closer to the mouth of the alleyway. He liked having the element of surprise on his side; it usually meant he avoided getting shot.

The Ghost drew opposite the parked vehicle, trying to ascertain whether there was anybody inside. He guessed the driver would be waiting behind the wheel, keeping the engine running, ready for the
others to make their getaway when they were done.

Whatever was going down, he knew it involved the mob. Only the Roman’s men could afford an armored car like the one across the street from him, and only the Roman’s men would ever have a use for it. The thought rankled him. Dealing with the Roman’s lackeys was like dealing with the symptoms of an infection. Sooner or later, he’d need to root out the cause of the infection itself. For now, though, it sounded like someone needed his help.

The Ghost crossed silently toward the car, as graceful as a cat sneaking up on a bird. Careful to avoid any of the viewing slots that had been cut into the armor plating, he peered over the roof of the
vehicle at the scene unfolding on the other side.

A middle-aged man in a shopkeeper’s apron was on the ground. He twitched unconsciously as two men in black suits carried on with their indiscriminate assault, kicking him viciously in the face, chest, and stomach. Their victim had long since lost the will to defend himself and now his arms and legs were splayed out on the damp flagstones as he silently accepted each blow. The two men in black suits were laughing with each other as they went about their business. It was clear to the Ghost almost immediately what was happening. He’d heard from others that the Roman had started a protection racket, and either this man had bravely refused to pay up, or else he couldn’t afford to meet his payment.

Whatever the case, he didn’t deserve the kind of treatment he was receiving at the hands of the two goons.

He stood back from the car, flexing his gloved fingers and stretching his neck muscles. He could feel the tension in his shoulders as he prepared himself for a fight. In and out. He didn’t plan to linger. He’d take down the two stooges and then be gone with the unconscious shopkeeper before the driver had chance even to consider pulling a pistol.

He glanced at the weapon that was folded away beneath his right arm. The long brass barrel gleamed in the moonlight. For a moment he considered shooting the two men from a distance, safe behind the
cover of the car. Then, almost imperceptibly, he shook his head. He couldn’t kill in cold blood. He had to let them shoot first. That was his code, the thing that separated him from them. If they shot first, they died. For now, his fists would have to do the talking.

The Ghost glanced around him to make sure there was no one else nearby. Then, without further ado, he heaved himself up onto the roof of the car, his black trench coat billowing around him in a sudden gust. Almost simultaneously, the two mobsters turned to look at the interloper. Their kicking ceased.

“Hey, Mickey, it’s that freak who shot up the guys at the bank.” This from the goon on the left. The man’s hand went inside his coat, searching for a pistol. “Let’s plug him.”

The other man, wide-eyed, looked less convinced by this course of action and remained standing, rooted to the spot, staring up at the imposing figure of the vigilante atop the armored car.

“Mickey!” The stooge’s pistol barked loudly as he roared at his companion, just as the Ghost dived forward, swinging his arm out to catch the gunman beneath the chin. The man went down, heavily, his
weapon skittering away across the sidewalk. He groaned and rolled to the side, clutching at his throat. The Ghost didn’t have time to worry about what the gunman was going to do next, however, as the report of the gun had somehow stirred the other man—Mickey—back to life. He swung at the Ghost, his fist glancing painfully off the vigilante’s jaw as he turned quickly to face his new opponent. A lesser man would have gone down from such a blow, but the Ghost was ready for it and simply shook his head, steadying himself for the next attack.

Mickey was clearly a boxer. The Ghost could tell from the way he handled himself, from his stance and the power and accuracy of his blows. But the Ghost had boxed during his army years and knew what was coming. A swift jab with the left, a hook with the right, and the mobster was reeling. The Ghost brought him down with a sweeping kick that took his legs out from under him, sending him crashing into the garbage bins heaped in the alleyway beside the store.

The Ghost glanced back at the first goon, the gunman, but he was still on his knees, clutching at his throat and gasping for breath. The shopkeeper was still out cold, and blood was pooling around his head from a number of nasty-looking wounds. His nose was clearly broken, smeared halfway across his face, and a cursory glance suggested his cheekbone had been cracked, as his face was swollen and sagging. The Ghost knew that there would be internal injuries too; the man would be lucky to pull through after the beating the Roman’s men had given him.

From behind him, the Ghost heard the sound of the car door creaking open. The driver. He hadn’t been quick enough. He swept round, bringing his arms up in defense but expecting the impact of a
bullet at any second. But the sight that greeted him was not at all what he was expecting.

If there was a driver, he was still seated in the front of the armored car, and his door remained closed. Rather, the two doors at the rear of the vehicle had sprung open, and two enormous figures had emerged. They were huge, both at least seven feet tall, and dressed in long overcoats and trilby hats. Their faces were lost in shadow. They walked with a shambling gait that did not look entirely natural.

The Ghost stepped back, swinging his right arm in a circle so that the long barrel of his fléchette gun ratcheted up into place along his forearm. His breath steamed before his face in the cold night air. The
two men were slowly shambling toward him, menacingly, but so far their arms remained limp at their sides. They showed no sign of bearing any weapons.

The Ghost wasn’t about to let himself get pinned in the alleyway by these giants, especially as the two goons were stirring. The odds were suddenly not in his favor.He decided his best recourse was to take them by surprise: charge them and try to smash his way through to the street beyond. At least then he’d be out in the open and he’d have more chance of getting away if he needed to bolt. But then there was the shopkeeper . . .

He had to act. He’d fight the men, but he needed to change the odds. Steeling himself, he charged, aiming squarely for the space between the two giants, hoping to knock them aside as he rushed past.
He’d then fling himself over the armored car and duck for cover while he worked out his next move.

The Ghost dipped his head and presented his shoulders to the two men. Too late he saw them close ranks, and he was unable to stop his forward momentum. He crashed into the mobsters at full speed, still hopeful that his weight would carry him between them. But instead he rebounded painfully, his head and shoulders smarting as if he had charged into a solid wall. He fell to the ground, shaking his head groggily, his nostrils filled with the scent of damp earth.

Regaining his senses just in time, he rolled to the left as a powerful fist came slamming down, narrowly missing his head. He hit the alley wall and sprang to his feet, using the brickwork to steady himself. Who were these men? He’d barely had time to ask himself the question when another fist came flying at him, and he had to duck to one side to avoid its crushing impact. It crashed into the wall where he’d been standing with enough force to shatter all of the bones in its owner’s hand, but the man seemed hardly to notice, simply wheeling around in an ungainly fashion to take another swing at the vigilante. He didn’t even grunt with the pain or the exertion.

The Ghost kicked out, catching one of the giants in the midriff. The mobster didn’t react, didn’t even acknowledge the blow, whilst the Ghost came away with a sharp pain in his leg, as if his booted foot
had just encountered solid iron. He could hear one of the goons laughing in the background somewhere. “Hey, Mickey, looks like the Roman was right about these things, eh?”

Trapped against the wall, the two giants closing in on him, the Ghost decided that the only thing he could do was shoot his way out. He flicked his right wrist and the pneumatic trigger for the fléchette
gun slid into his palm. He squeezed, showering first one of the lumbering figures, then the other, in a hail of tiny steel blades. He heard the fléchettes strike home, embedding themselves in the giants’ torsos with a rapid series of dull thuds. But again, his efforts appeared to have no effect on the men, and they continued their assault regardless. He had no idea what the things were, but it was becoming clear to him that they weren’t human. There was no way a human being could have withstood a spray of steel blades like that and carried on walking.

Unsure what else he could do, the Ghost tried to duck away again, but one of the giants’ fists struck home, powering deep into his stomach. He doubled over, clutching at his belly, unable to stop himself
from slumping to the ground. All of the wind had been driven out of his lungs by the impact of the blow. Gasping, he glanced up, realizing with horror that, beneath their hats, these giants—these monsters—had no faces.

The creature loomed over him. The Ghost thrashed out in desperation, clawing at its throat. His fingers sank into something soft and pliable and he tore at it, gouging a handful of the stuff in an effort to
stop the giant in its tracks. With dismay he realized the monster was entirely unaffected by the action. He glanced down at his hand. His fist was filled with soft moss and crumbling earth. He was filled with a sudden sense of creeping terror. The things were formed from clods of clay; golems in the shape of men, somehow animated to create deadly foot soldiers, and dressed in coats and hats for disguise.

He raised his arm in defense as the golem reared up again, ready to strike another blow, and he saw that he’d exposed a strut of gleaming brass where its throat should have been, a metal skeleton buried deep beneath its earthy flesh.

He knew then it was over. There was nothing he could do to stop these things. None of his weapons would work. He could see no way out. He waited for the killing blow, baubles of light dancing before his eyes as he tried to suck oxygen back into his lungs.

“That’s enough.” It was the voice of the goon who had shot at him earlier. The Ghost looked up, still gasping for breath, to see the two golems retreating to make way for the crook. “I want the pleasure of
finishing this one myself.”

The man came into view, a snide expression on his thin, pale face. He brandished his gun in front of him. The Ghost realized the goon must have retrieved it whilst he was engaged with the moss men. “So, you’re the guy who took out Bobby Hendriks, eh? Don’t look too much to me.” He laughed, glancing over at Mickey.

That was his fatal mistake. The Ghost took his chance. He swung his arm around, squeezing the trigger in his fist and loosing a storm of silver blades in the direction of the gangster’s head. The fléchettes
struck home, ripping into the man’s face, flensing flesh from bone as the relentless stream of razor-sharp metal turned the man’s head into a bloody pulp. He was dead in seconds. The Ghost didn’t wait to see how the others would react. Still crouching, he reached inside his trench coat and pulled the cord that ignited the canisters strapped to the backs of his boots. There was a flash of bright yellow light, and then the Ghost shot into the air, up the side of the wall toward a windowsill. He howled in agony as he realized, too late, that the canisters weren’t adjusted properly. The hungry flames scorched his ankles through the tough hide of his boots. He could feel his skin bubbling and blistering under the intense heat. Anything, though, was better than death.

Bullets ricocheted off the wall behind him. Mickey had found his automatic, and his confidence. But it had come too late. Using the wall to spin himself around, the Ghost kicked his legs out and propelled
himself through the second-story window, covering his head with his arms so that the splintering glass wouldn’t lacerate his face. He shot into the dark room beyond, striking his head hard against the ceiling. Dazed, he reached inside his jacket, pulled the cord, and fell, with a loud, painful bump, to the floor. By the remains of the window, tiny flames were licking at the edges of the curtains like mischievous imps. He lay there on his back for a moment, breathing hard. The room was dark and devoid of life. The backs of his legs were agony, and he had a pain deep in his stomach were the moss man had struck him the blow. He closed his eyes and let out a long sigh.

Then, rolling onto his side, he scrambled to his feet, using the back of a sofa as leverage, and began to hobble—painfully—toward the door. He had to get out of there before Mickey sent the moss golems
after him. He was in no fit state to continue the fight. He presumed the apartment must belong to the shopkeeper, and felt a momentary surge of guilt. He’d failed. He’d been unable to help the man. But it
wasn’t over yet. He’d be back, and the Roman’s men would know vengeance. For now, though, he had to find his way back to his apartment before any other of the Roman’s goons discovered he was hurt. He was already sure the mob boss had half of the city looking for him, and he didn’t want to get caught out in the open unprepared.

A moment later he had crossed the room, opened the internal door, and slipped out into the dark passage beyond, heading for the rooftops, and home.



CHAPTER FIVE

Donovan quit the restaurant with a heavy heart. It was late, and he knew Flora must have been in bed for hours. He’d thought about calling her from the holo-booth in the back of La Campagna—the
Commissioner’s favorite eatery—but even then he knew he’d left it too late. Still, he sighed to himself, he supposed she was used to it. Such was the life of a woman married to a police officer. That was the advice the Commissioner’s wife, Patricia Montague, was regularly heard passing out to the wives of the junior officers: get used to the eccentric hours, the lack of calls, the fact he’ll probably forget your birthday—or leave now. There was a strange irony in that, of course: the Commissioner hardly kept unusual hours, and Mrs. Montague, with her flashing red talons, eyeliner, and short skirts, had a reputation for being one of the biggest flirts in town. It was hardly a model relationship.

The Commissioner had invited Donovan to dinner to talk over the situation regarding the Roman, or rather, to apply another liberal dose of pressure to the inspector while the older, portly man took his fill of pasta. As if that was what Donovan needed right now, to be reminded that he had to do a better job whilst watching the Commissioner eat.

Commissioner Montague had explained that he was anxious to bring the situation to a head. He wanted to break the Roman’s hold on the city, and to put an end to the recent spate of murders attributed to
the Italian’s mob. “And Felix,” the Commissioner had said, leaning over the table with a cigar in his hand, his bushy gray moustache twitching as he spoke, “what’s it with all these funny names, hmmm?
‘The Roman.’ ‘The Ghost.’ You go ahead and tell them that I’m ‘the Commissioner,’ won’t you, and that I won’t hear any more of it, hmmm. Not one bit of it!”

And with that he had rocked back in his chair, grinning wolfishly at his young wife, his smoldering cigar clamped firmly between his teeth. That outburst, apparently, was going to help Donovan to solve
the case and smash the mob. It was all he could do not to throw his drink at the man and storm out of the place.

Instead, he had nodded appreciatively, assured the Commissioner that he was doing everything in his power to close the net on the Roman, and that he would redouble his efforts in the morning. As far
as this “Ghost” was concerned, he would keep his ear to the ground and try to anticipate any further activity. What he didn’t add was that, in his opinion, this “Ghost” had actually done them a favor, and that he wished the Commissioner would grant the police a little more leeway to do the same.

He’d had to sit through coffee, listening to anecdotes he’d heard a thousand times before and feeling embarrassed by the attention that Mrs. Montague was lavishing on the handsome young waiter. Then,
finally, it was over, and he’d been set free to go about his business.

“Remember to tell them what I said, won’t you, Felix?”

He’d bunched his fists in his coat pockets so hard that he’d probably drawn blood.

Now it was a quarter after eleven and he knew that by the time he was home, he’d only catch a few hours’ sleep before morning. Poor Mullins would have to suffer another day of tired imprecations.

Donovan turned the corner and stopped to draw a cigarette. He pulled the ignition tab but it didn’t spark. Cursing, he discarded the useless white stick and took another from the packet. It was dark on
43rd Street. People had retired for the night, and the roads were still and empty. Dark shapes hulked in the shadows: garbage cans; railings; an old easy chair, abandoned in the middle of the sidewalk. Above, in the distance, searchlights reflected off the underside of pregnant clouds and the moon was hazy and lost behind a thick screen of mist.

The deafening roar of a rocket firing overhead momentarily punctuated the silence, causing Donovan to look up. A biplane had just taken off from the roof of one of the nearby buildings, its rocket launcher burning with brilliant light as it surged away into the sky on a great plume, leaving a shimmering trail in its wake. Donovan watched it as it banked to the left and disappeared around a skyscraper, its rocket booster fading to a dull glow as the propellers engaged. A moment later, the sky was clear once more.

Donovan shook his head. The world was changing. Already, the airships of his youth were becoming outmoded, archaic, a thing of the past. They still used them, of course. They were faster than steamships, and the new airplanes were only reliable over short distances. But he knew it wouldn’t be long before something else came along to replace them. The Cold War would see to that. With the British to spy on, technology was being driven forward at an incredible rate.

Still, for all this technology, the criminals remained the same. They never changed. They were always after power and money. No matter what tools they had at their disposal, what new schemes they
cooked up, a crook was a crook, plain and simple. The Roman was the same. Just another guy who thought the world owed him an existence, and who’d decided to take it regardless, no matter how many people put themselves in his way.

The Ghost . . . He was different, although Donovan had yet to put his finger on the guy’s motivation. What was it that inspired someone to don a black suit and head out into the night to stop a bank job? He could see why it made the Commissioner nervous. It showed the police force up for what it really was: a bureaucratic bunch of peacekeepers who didn’t truly have the power or the means to put a stop to the organized crime that was infecting the city. He needed to find out who this “Ghost” character was. Then he’d have to decide whether to shake him by the hand or lock him in a cell and throw away the key. If only he co—

Donovan pulled up short, his previous thought dissolving as he stared, fascinated, at the strange sight before him. There, on the sidewalk, were three dead birds. They were pigeons, he thought, although he couldn’t be certain in this light, as their bodies were so contorted
and mangled. They could have been rooks. This was the third time he’d encountered a similar sight in different locations around the city, and he looked up inquisitively, trying to ascertain whether they had
fallen from the sky this way, or whether they had been caught by some sort of predator and then later abandoned. There was no way of telling.

Donovan grimaced. His cigarette was burning low, wreathing him in pale blue smoke. He was feeling edgy. He needed to get home.

He turned to see a long, sleek-looking car purr up to the sidewalk a few feet from where he was standing. It was a new, expensive model; black and pristine, its headlamps gleamed in the darkness and steam curled from the tall exhaust funnels at the rear. The windows were black and glassy, and he couldn’t see anyone inside. He eyed it warily, unsure of the significance of its appearance.

Presently, just as Donovan was considering heading on his way, the front passenger window rolled down and a fat, porcine face peered out. The man was wearing a wide-brimmed hat and a black jacket. He looked at Donovan with a haughty amusement. “Hey, Donovan. There’s a man here who’d like to speak with you.” He nodded at someone unseen in the back seat and the rear door nearest the curb
clicked open, swinging out toward him.

Donovan peered inside the vehicle, but all he could see was shadows. He cleared his throat. “I’m busy.” He flicked his cigarette butt at the wall and started slowly on his way. He knew it was dangerous
to turn his back on these people—he might easily end up with a bullet in it—but he knew also that getting inside that car would be an even more reckless pursuit. The police did not parley with the mob.

Keeping his head down, Donovan picked up his pace. He did not look back at the car. He made it about fifty yards before he became aware of the slow hissing sound of the vehicle as it reversed along the curb, and a moment later it pulled alongside him, creeping slowly so as to keep pace with him as he walked.

Donovan glanced over. The rear door was still hanging open, with its sinister invitation to climb inside. He continued to walk.

“Inspector Donovan. I really think it would be in your best interest to take me up on my offer to talk.” The voice was thin and reedy, highpitched for a man, and all the more minacious because of it. It
emanated from the rear of the vehicle.

Donovan could see that the crook hanging out of the passenger window was now brandishing a snub-nosed automatic and was waving it in his direction. His options looked pretty limited. If he went for his own weapon, he’d likely be dropped by the goon before he had chance to draw it. But who was the character in the back of the car, and what the hell did he want? Was it some sort of elaborate trap? Was he going to end up like that poor bastard Landsworth? He shuddered at the thought.

Donovan stopped walking and turned to regard the vehicle. The driver hit the brakes and the car swung in alongside the curb. Donovan felt his pulse quicken. The back of his neck was damp with perspiration, despite the chill. He held his arms out in front of him to show that he had no intention of making any sudden moves. But he did not approach the vehicle. “Why don’t you come out here and talk?” He gave a wry smile. He knew he was walking close to the line. “I have difficulties with confined spaces.”

The goon in the front waved his weapon more forcefully in Donovan’s direction. “It doesn’t do to refuse a direct invitation from Mr. Gideon, policeman. I suggest you get into the car now.”

Shrugging, Donovan approached the open door. If it was a choice between that and being riddled with bullets on the sidewalk, well, at least this way he had a fighting chance. Resting a hand on the roof of the vehicle, he peered inside. A thin, spidery man, silhouetted by the weak light thrown out by the burning end of his cigar, sat in the back of the car, one leg folded atop the other. He was dressed in an exquisite black evening suit. He turned to look at Donovan and offered him a wicked smile. “You see, Inspector, we’re not going to bite.” The man chuckled, and the sound was like ice water running down Donovan’s spine. “Please, get in, take a seat. It’s late. Allow me to escort you home.”

Donovan cringed at the thought that these people—whoever they turned out to be—knew where he lived. Still, it was too late to make a run for it now.

Dipping his head, Donovan slid into the car beside the thin man, clicking the door shut behind him. It was dark, and it took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the gloom. The man in the back was like a pale specter, the glowing end of his cigar the only source of light in the whole vehicle. The front seats were separated from the rear compartment by a glass partition. Donovan wrinkled his nose. The vehicle was filled with the scent of damp earth, intermingled with the pungent stench of the cigar smoke.

Donovan leaned back against the firm leather seat as the car purred softly away from the curb. He was reassured by the weight of the automatic in his pocket, and the fact that the goon in the front no longer
had a bead on him, although he was quite sure that any wrong moves now would be swiftly and efficiently punished. Reaching into his pocket he carefully withdrew his packet of cigarettes, placed one between his parted lips, and pulled the tab. Then, trying to maintain his nerve, he glanced at the man who had, effectively, taken him prisoner. “So . . . Mr. Gideon?”

The man leaned forward and his face loomed out of the murk, stark and white. “Gideon Reece. I work for the Roman.”

So that was what this was all about. The Roman. Donovan almost gave a sigh of relief. At least he had some idea of what he was dealing with. He took the cigarette from his lips and allowed a riffle of smoke to flood from his nostrils. “The Roman, eh? So tell me, is he an affable sort of boss?”

A smile curled at the edges of Gideon Reece’s lips, and he turned his head as if listening for something that wasn’t there. For the first time since getting into the vehicle, Donovan noticed that the other man was missing the uppermost half of his left ear. “Affable enough, Inspector, as long as one pays one’s due respects. Are you a respectful man?”

“Respect has to be earned, Mr. Reece.”

“Yes. I believe it does. But it can also be bought.” The man reached inside his coat and produced a brown paper envelope. He rubbed his hand over it in a bizarrely ritualistic gesture, and then placed it ceremoniously on Donovan’s knee. Donovan picked it up, unfolded the flap, and looked inside. The envelope was stuffed with used bills. There must have been a thousand dollars in there. He closed his eyes for a moment, took a long draw on his cigarette.

“The Roman would like to offer you a token of his respect. He understands that you’ve been finding things . . . difficult . . . of late, and would like to compensate you for your trouble. He’s aware that
you’ve been having problems sleeping, Inspector. Anyone in your position would. It’s understandable. You’ve seen some terrible things. The state of poor Mr. Landsworth, for example. I’m sure you’d rather just blank the entire affair from your mind . . .”

Donovan grinned. So this was a payoff. Forget about the murder of an odious old politician and walk away with a cool thousand in dollar bills. Flora would be ecstatic with that. For a moment, he was almost tempted. But he was a better cop than that. He was a better man than that. And besides, he knew it would never stop there. Once he’d taken the Roman’s paycheck, it would only be a matter of time before someone was leaning on him again. He knew how it worked; he’d seen it a hundred times before.

Sighing, he laid the envelope neatly on the seat beside him. “You can tell the Roman that, whilst I appreciate his offer, my memory is in good working order, and I’m sleeping just fine.” He took another long draw on his cigarette, listening to the sound of the paper crackling as he pulled the nicotine into his lungs. There was silence for a few moments, save for the hissing sigh of the steam vents at the rear of the car as it slid along the road.

Finally, Gideon Reece spoke once more. “I’m not sure you fully understand what’s being offered to you, Inspector Donovan. This is a gift. To refuse it would be to, well . . . to fail to show respect.” He
paused, sucking thoughtfully on the end of his cigar. “We’ve already discussed the importance of respect. Landsworth had no respect.” Another pause. He turned to regard the inspector and his eyes flashed with menace. “I’m sure that makes things clearer for you?”

Donovan didn’t answer. He understood only too well what was being intimated. He was being presented with an ultimatum: take the money and dine with the devil, or end up dead in a backstreet, or worse, with his pants around his ankles in a hotel suite like that poor bastard Landsworth. He knew it wasn’t an idle threat. But somehow that only worked to strengthen his resolve. Now it was him or the Roman. And what was more, he knew they were getting nervous. Why else would they try to buy him off?

Donovan glanced out of the window. They were in his neighborhood. He met the other’s penetrating stare with a steady gaze. “Can I think about it?”

Reece laughed again, a cruel, terrible laugh. He spread his hands in a placatory gesture. “Of course, Inspector. Of course.” He waved his fat cigar beside his head, as if somehow plucking thoughts out of thin air. “But if I may, I’ll leave you with some well-intentioned advice. Don’t go against him. He’s been at this game for a long time. A very long time. Longer than you could possibly imagine. He knows how to get what he wants.” He smiled, leaning back in his seat. “I’ll need your answer by midnight on Friday.”

Donovan nodded. “Then you can let me out here, Mr. Reece. This is my neighborhood, and I’d be thankful for the walk.”

Reece nodded and rapped on the glass. The vehicle swung toward the sidewalk and pulled to an abrupt stop.
Donovan glanced at the brown paper envelope, and then, without looking back at the other man, pushed the door open and stepped out onto the sidewalk. The cold air hit him like a rush.

He turned and clicked the door shut behind him, and a moment later the car swerved away into the road and growled off into the night. Donovan watched it go.

He had four days to get something concrete on the Roman. Four days to find his way out of this mess. He’d spent weeks on the case already and hadn’t even got close. But now it was different. Now he
finally had a lead: Gideon Reece.

Donovan pulled his overcoat tight around his shoulders and set off for home. He needed some sleep, and he wanted to see Flora. More than anything else in the world, he wanted to see his girl.



CHAPTER SIX

The Ghost flung his apartment door open and pushed his way inside, leaning heavily on the doorjamb. The drawing room was dark, the only light leaching in through the wide panoramic windows that
looked out across the city far below. Shafts of silver moonlight pooled on the soft carpet, casting everything in a strange, ethereal glow.

He was breathing heavily. His ankles were bloody and blistered and he was finding it painful to walk. He’d made his escape across the rooftops, crossing four or five buildings before he’d had to force open a fire escape and swing down to street level, five stories below.

The Roman’s men—or what was left of them—clearly hadn’t chosen to give chase. In that he’d been lucky: the moss golems had been slow and lumbering but effectively unstoppable, at least with the
weapons he’d had at his disposal. He wondered where they had come from, what was controlling them. He’d never seen anything like them before. Automata, yes—but these were something different, something dangerous and new. Twice during the encounter he’d thought he was finished, and if the fight had continued, he knew it would only have been a matter of time. Tiredness would have seen him off. Tiredness and ineffective weapons. He needed to do something about that.

He’d hobbled the rest of the way back to his apartment building, being careful to stick to the shadows. The streets weren’t busy, but he knew that in this city there were prying eyes at every corner, behind
every blacked-out window. At one point, half-delirious with pain, he’d stumbled out in front of an oncoming car, its headlamps cutting wide channels in the gloom. The vehicle had skidded to a screeching halt, the driver leaning out to shout abuse at the strange, shambling figure in the road. The man had probably assumed he was dealing with a drunken bum. In some respects, he wouldn’t have been far off. He certainly intended to open a bottle of whisky, just as soon as he’d cleaned up his
wounds. The entire evening had been a less than successful enterprise.

Pushing the door shut behind him, the Ghost limped across the room, pausing by the window. Outside, from this height, the night looked still and silent, but the city was still shimmering with bright
electric lights. The distant trails of biplanes crisscrossed the sky. He glanced at the clock on the wall. It was early, only ten o’clock. He was meant to be somewhere else. But the stinging pain at the back of his legs and the tender flesh where he’d received blows from the moss men meant that any thoughts of other activity that evening had to be put aside.

He turned away from the window and stumbled toward the bathroom. He had blood on his hands. He laughed at the irony of that thought. There was no redemption for him now.

This time, however, it was his own blood, from a gash in his palm. He must have sliced it as he crashed through the window.

He grunted as he pushed the door open with his shoulder. The lights blinked on, triggered by an automatic sensor, flooding everything in harsh electric yellow. He winced at the sight of himself in the
mirror. He was still wearing his long black coat and hat, but his face was smeared with blood, his bottom lip split and still bleeding. His chest ached as if he’d cracked a rib, and he didn’t dare consider what state the backs of his legs would be in once he’d managed to strip away the ruination of his boots.

He swept his hat off his head, casting it through the open door into the drawing room, not bothering to note where it landed. Then, leaning heavily on the edge of the sink, he cranked the hot tap. Water spat into the basin, swirling around the plughole. He thrust his hands into it, watching the red stains mingle with the running water and disappear, leaving a long, puckered cut across his palm.

If only it was that easy.

He knew that not all blood could be washed away like that. He thought of the war, of what had happened to him out there, in France. Those events had come to define him, to forge the shape of his future life. The anger still burned deep inside him. He doubted it would ever be quelled. Time had not done it. Perhaps this, perhaps the fight would help? Perhaps it would be enough to still the maelstrom at the center of his being?

In truth, however, he doubted it. He’d never be able to scrub the stains of that time away. They were indelible now; a part of who he was: a burned-out old soldier with a grudge.

He looked up, meeting his own gaze in the mirror. For a moment he didn’t even recognize himself. The eyes of the man looking back at him were haunted, and the face was pale and unfamiliar. He no longer knew who he really was. He wasn’t the Ghost—that construct of the reporters and their overzealous headlines, as useful as that moniker had proved to be—and he wasn’t that other man, either. That character was just as much a construct, a proxy; he existed only in the same world as
the Ghost. He only existed at all because of necessity.

The Ghost sighed. Only one person had seen to the core of him, and he couldn’t even be himself with her. The irony was not lost on him.

He lowered his face to the sink and splashed water over himself. Then, gingerly, he set about stripping his clothes. He unbuckled the straps that tied his fléchette gun to his forearm and allowed the weapon
to clang noisily to the floor, the barrel skittering away across the smooth ceramic tiles. He looked down at his feet. He was going to have to bandage his ankles. And, he laughed to himself, wincing as he began peeling away the scorched leather, he was going to need to invest in some new boots.


An hour later the Ghost lowered himself into an easy chair by the window and broke the seal on a bottle of illegal bourbon, sloshing a generous measure into a glass and downing it in one long motion. He shuddered as the alcohol did its work. He poured himself another glass, studying the amber liquid as he held it up to the moonlight. It would numb the pain. All of it.

On the table before him sat a large device. It was the size of a wireless receiver, but looked more like a miniature holotube terminal; three large glass valves were set into an old wooden case, arranged like a
crown of glass teeth around a small mirrored chamber. A series of buttons and dials on the front of the device were unmarked. A wire trailed from the back of the unit, snaking away to disappear into the corner of the room, its destination lost in shadow.

The Ghost downed his second tumbler of whisky and placed the glass on the table with a clink. Then, turning to regard the strange device, he reached out and twisted one of the dials. The unit gave an
electrical buzz and flickering blue energy crackled to life inside the three glass valves. The device began to hum as it warmed up. After a moment, the Ghost flicked another switch and a small holographic image shimmered into being inside the mirrored cavity. It was a woman. She was standing beside a microphone, her hair pinned to one side of her face, wearing a long, flowing dress. Her makeup accentuated her features, and the dress accentuated her hips. The backdrop was fuzzy and indistinct, but it appeared to be the inside of a nightclub.

The Ghost reached for the bottle of bourbon and moved to pour another measure into his glass. Then, changing his mind, he sat back with the bottle in his fist and took a long slug from it. He stared for a
moment at the unwavering image of the woman. Then, like some sort of mysterious god, he twisted another dial on the machine and imbued the woman with life.

The Ghost fell back listlessly in his chair. The woman swayed slightly from side to side, clasping the microphone stand, and then the music started, the faint strains of a piano, tinny through the imperfect
speakers of the improvised recording device.

The woman—Celeste Parker—parted her lips and sang, and her voice, even relayed through the fizzing static of the holograph machine, was a thing of beauty. The words were immaterial. The
cadence of her voice carried all of the emotional significance, all of the necessary sentiment. It was a lament for lost love. It was raw, and it was true.

The Ghost stirred, taking another long pull on the whisky bottle. He knew those emotions, knew what it was like to lose someone. Knew what it was like to feel unrequited love for another.

He glanced at the holograph. What the hell did she see in that buffoon, Gabriel Cross? How could she stand to be around him? He only hoped that she could see something others could not, that her perception of the man was different from that of those hordes of partygoers who gathered at his Long Island home to pay homage to their debauched leader. He was a libertine, yes, but he was also a fool, an emotionless caricature of himself. The Ghost could not understand how Celeste could bring herself to endure the man’s company, let alone his bed.

He watched her as she continued with her plaintive song. It was a private performance, just him and the machine, but all the while it felt to the Ghost as if there was more than one man in the audience.

Presently, the song ended and the holograph stuttered to a halt, the image frozen once again, a moment captured in time. He considered starting it over, then held the bottle of whisky up to the light. It was
half-empty. Enough.

Carefully, he swung his legs down from the footrest and tested them with his weight. It was painful, but he could walk. The bandageswould hold. The burns had looked worse than they were—his boots
had taken the brunt of the scorching. His ankles were badly blistered, but he’d be able to carry on. He pulled himself to his feet.

The bathroom light was still on, throwing a sheet of electric yellow into the room, creating bizarre shadows that seemed to come to life as he crossed the drawing room toward the rear of the apartment. He passed the bedroom door, which hung open, revealing a bed that had been slept in and not made, the sheets thrown back and abandoned. This he ignored, continuing on until he reached another door, almost hidden in the shadows at the far end of the apartment. It was the same as all the others, outwardly at least—four panels, painted with white gloss—save for the fact that nowhere on its surface was there any sign of a handle.

The Ghost approached the door and gave a series of sharp knocks, each one carefully placed and timed to perfection. He paused for a moment. Then, as if in conspiratorial acknowledgement of his secret code, there was a pneumatic hiss from beyond the wooden frame, accompanied by the grinding of gears, and the door eased back from the frame and slid to one side with a metallic clang.

Light flooded the apartment. The Ghost had to shield his eyes for a moment to protect them from the glare. The room beyond the door was bathed in the brilliant radiance of an arc lamp, which curved across the entire extent of the ceiling. There were no windows, but the walls were plastered with drawings and schematics, blueprints and technical diagrams. At the far end was an old wooden writing desk, pushed up against the wall. Its once smooth surface was now covered with a series of pockmarks and scars, and it was piled high with all manner of bizarre paraphernalia, from empty ammo casings to filament wire, steam valves to canisters of propulsion fuel. Likewise, a vast array of
equipment and components lined the walls, or was otherwise heaped against them: a rack of long-barreled guns; a plastic bucket of fléchettes; two black trench coats; a spare pair of goggles.

He crossed the threshold, bathing himself in the bright light of the arc lamp. This was his workshop: the Ghost’s true home.

He’d been an engineer during the war, as well as a pilot, and this was his haven, the place where he was able to create. That he created mostly weapons designed to incapacitate or kill others was a fact that did not sit well with him, but he reconciled this knowledge with the understanding that he wielded those weapons for the right reasons . . . and that he always allowed the crooks to shoot first. Violence was the language of the enemy, and he had learned to speak it well.

The Ghost approached the desk and used his left arm to brush away the surface debris with a long, sweeping motion. Papers, batteries, and clockwork components scattered to the floor around his feet
in a tinkling shower. Then, his eyes gleaming with the glassy patina of alcohol and enthusiasm, he searched the floor around the desk until he located the device he was looking for. It was almost identical to the fléchette launcher he’d been carrying earlier: a long, thin barrel attached to a ratchet mechanism that clipped to his forearm, with a small pneumatic trigger that trailed on a rubber cable and a toploading canister for the ammunition. Unlike the other weapon, however, the barrel of this device had been finely engraved with a thinly traced pattern of roses and thorns. He weighed it in his hands for a moment. Then, popping the lid free of the canister, he tipped the weapon over so that the fléchettes inside it spilled out over the desktop in a scatter of shimmering steel. He placed the weapon carefully back on the floor and lowered himself onto a stool, which he extracted from the chaotic mess beneath the desk.

Picking one of the small arrow-shaped blades from the heap, he turned it over in his fingers appraisingly. If they were going to prove effective against the moss golems, he’d have to rethink his approach.

He grabbed a small blade from the nearby stack of tools and slipped it between the two metal plates that comprised the fléchette. Being careful not to shred his fingers on the razor-sharp rim, he prized the
two pieces of metal apart with the blade, just enough so that he could see inside. There was a tiny cavity in the head of the wedge. He smiled with grim satisfaction. He knew what he could do with that.

He dropped the fléchette to the desk and stood, heading back into the darkness of the drawing room. When he returned a few moments later he was bearing the half-empty bottle of bourbon. He set it down beside the pile of ammunition and returned to his seat.

It was going to be a long night, and he had much work to do.


 
Cover Illustration © Benjamin Carré
Design by Jacqueline Nasso Cooke



George Mann is the author of The Affinity Bridge, The Osiris Ritual and The Human Abstract, as well as numerous short stories, novellas and an original Doctor Who audiobook. He has edited a number of anthologies including The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, The Solaris Book of New Fantasy and a retrospective collection of classic Sexton Blake stories, Sexton Blake, Detective. He lives near Grantham, UK, with his wife, son and daughter. Visit him at http://georgemann.wordpress.com/.

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