Authors: J.I. Radke
5032 Capital Circle SW, Suite 2, PMB# 279, Tallahassee, FL 32305-7886Â USA
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of author imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Rooks and Romanticide
Â© 2015 J.I. Radke.
Â© 2015 Garrett Leigh.
Cover content is for illustrative purposes only and any person depicted on the cover is a model.
All rights reserved. This book is licensed to the original purchaser only. Duplication or distribution via any means is illegal and a violation of international copyright law, subject to criminal prosecution and upon conviction, fines, and/or imprisonment. Any eBook format cannot be legally loaned or given to others. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law. To request permission and all other inquiries, contact DSP Publications, 5032 Capital Circle SW, Suite 2, PMB# 279, Tallahassee, FL 32305-7886, USA, or http://www.dsppublications.com/.
Digital ISBN: 978-1-63476-059-1
Library of Congress Control Number: 2014958501
First Edition July 2015
Printed in the United States of America
This paper meets the requirements of
ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992 (Permanence of Paper).
Special thanks to friends and loved ones for all the support while writing, with a shout-out to Melissa Regan for her excitement and encouragement with any and all spooky, sexy Victorian endeavors.
They say miracles are past.
All's Well That Ends Well
it Lovers' Lane, and he thought that was a mess of something more evil than irony.
The broken ground under his boots was flooded with grimy puddles, which hid the cracks and the gravel and the sharp juts between potholes in the concrete and cobbles. The walls of the narrow alley were no better. Dank and gritty, they dripped with moisture, cracking under the weight of the world. Bandaged water pipes and boarded-over windows offered a bit of aesthetic flair, at least, if one cared for that desolate, grungy look.
Sometimes the water running down the alley was dark with fresh blood. Some stains in the concrete never went away. Corpses and cadavers, the victims of turmoil and violent frays in a world where Her Frail Little Majesty simply could not seem to hold the peace, no matter how many civil agreements and treaties were signed to end the bloodshed, to bring noble families together, to leave revenge in the rich and dusty past with the unforgiving ancestors.
Not too many years ago, Cain had found his parents there, in Lovers' Lane. Shotâexecution style. Murdered and dumped on the uneven cobbles, where the dead were left until the undertaker ventured along with his ancient cart and hoisted them away.
They'd been dumped over the tin shingles, strewn bloodied and cocked at frightening angles on the ground.
When first Cain had found the family hound dead and cold in the parlor of Dietrich Manor, puppy-dog eyes never to roll around in greeting again, he'd cried out in grief. Ah, no, not his dog. Not the German shepherd. Not the one that kept him warm at night, the one that looked more like a great wild wolf than a domesticated breed, the one that barked at all the nightmares and monsters hiding under the bedâGod, no!
But when, in Lovers' Lane, the toe of his boot had nudged the lifeless side of his father, Cain hadn't managed to do much else but stare.
And the rain fellâa shy and dreary mist the wind tossed to and fro, which felt incredibly clichÃ© even in its monotonyâand Cain had stepped over his father's broken neck, petted the matted blonde curls from his mother's blank eyes, and dug into his pockets for coins to close them with. He'd come up empty-handed. He hadn't expected to find much anyway, because the first rule was that you didn't carry money on your person unless you were planning to spend it immediately, or so his father had taught him very early on once he'd hit adolescence. Money matters were pivotal for a noble heir to master. So Cain had tromped through the dirty puddles and the shadows of Lovers' Lane, slipped around the corner, and ducked out of the cursed alley to meander his way home.
Except that was when they found him, and it was a long while until he made it back to his warm bed, becauseâ
“Nostalgia, young one?”
Cain started briefly, a meager flutter of the lashes and twitch of the pale skin between his brows, but he repressed the rest of his surprise. He had his revolvers tucked away safely at the small of his back, under his suit coat. He didn't need them with the undertaker. The undertaker wasn't even worth a bullet shell.
The undertaker had caught him strolling memory's way, of course, and stood slouched over the side of his rickety little cart, straight from the streets of Bombay or Peking, threading his ugly knuckles together. His hands were as gray as the fish in the markets, nails all the color of a bruise.
-looking. Did one begin to change with one's occupation after working in it for so long? Cain shuddered involuntarily, closed his eyes, and only opened them when he'd turned his face away, because he refused to watch the undertaker hoist the body of a young woman from the cobbles of Lovers' Lane and into the bed of his cart.
“Not at all,” Cain mumbled, peeking back at the undertaker only after the girl's corpse hit the bottom of the cart with a sickening
and unsympathetic rattle.
The undertaker smiled at him, hair stringy in his eyes and hood pulled down low across the bridge of his nose. “Not at all,” he echoed, and Cain's frown pinched tighter at the sharp grating of the man's voice against his ears.
The undertaker was a real freak, if anyone was. Strange and estranging. An ex-resurrectionist, he claimed. Now an honest working man, if anyone actually believed him. His shop was full of horrors. Wondrous horrors. Horrible wonders. All manner of objects from the curious to the funerealâdusty graphoscopes, broken mirrors, bottled specimens, and baby's coffins.
“Then what's someone of your name doing wandering Lovers' Lane?” the undertaker pried.
Someone of your name
Cain brushed past the undertaker, fingers trailing along the grimy alley wall as he made his way toward the street again. Water and grit squished beneath the soles of his shoes. The rest of Dietrich Security was waiting. Chin held high, Cain said, “Word was that there were bodiesâ”
“I haven't seen any bodies but this.”
“Ah, so I'm to trust everything you say now?”
Those bony gray fingers curled around Cain's arm and tugged him backward, but before the beads of the undertaker's rosary chain had stopped chattering against one another, the rustle of clothing, the slosh of a puddle, and the
of a hammer cocking bounced off the opposite wall. Their movement together ground to a standstill with the undertaker smiling that crazed yellow smile of his and Cain regarding him from behind the barrel of a revolver engraved with a crest and the model name Rapier-A227.
“I am, after all, the one you should come to with inquiry about
,” the undertaker chortled, the last word drawn out below his breath.
Cain's nose wrinkled. The man smelled like dogs, dirt, and death. But the body of the girl had nothing to do with the rumors Cain was investigating, probably just another domestic dispute. It wasn't worth his time.
Cain cleared his throat, dismissing the undertaker's interruption. He uttered a dainty scoff and began again. “Word was that there were bodiesâbodies found outside Lovers' Lane, below the wall. Bodies of Dietrich patrons. Hanging.” Cain shook free of the undertaker's claws, but the gun didn't lower until he'd backed away a number of steps. “Maybe a murder, maybe a double suicide, maybe some kind of cult activity or a petty gang's plot to get a rise out of us.” He returned his Rapier to the small of his back. “Yes, go about your business, Undertaker,” he husked. “But as a Dietrich, investigating such talk is
The undertaker chuckled to himself, drumming his fingers on the side of his ghastly cart. “But what's another citizen to you, the great little lord of the most splendid house in New London?” he simpered, and he accepted Cain's scowl of distaste with a respectful bob of the head. “My lord, because you hold great power, you inevitably fail to understand the importance of those things which we may never ourselves recover.”
Cain smirked. It wasn't beyond the greatest little lord of the most splendid house in New London to stand in the mess and mire of Lovers' Lane, caught up in witty remarks with the local undertaker. It was almost fun, really. A flare of humility beneath all the status and the gold. “And what are those things?” he prompted.
“Salvation!” the undertaker gasped. “Repentance! Redemption! The value of one human soul, the same as another human soul after the glamor and name or the lack thereof have all been stripped away, peeled off like the flesh and the bonesâ”
Cain turned his back, lifting a hand. “Maybe, after the investigation, you can have the bodies,” he offered, sloshing through another puddle. His nose wrinkled; it reeked here. “Especially if it's interesting,” he added, fingertips grazing the corner of the alley.