There’s no tour stop today, so I thought I would do something else. Couldn’t leave you completely hanging, could I?
Here’s a sneak peek at the new book–it will still be in edits for a while–and remember, it is a spin-off, not a sequel–but I am fond of it.
This is the first chapter of Bond & Reilly Investigations: The Case of the Counterfeit Confederate. Now, before I have too many people upset by the use of Confederate…remember, this is set in 1875 when the world was a rather different place.
For those who haven’t seen it, here is the cover by the fabulous Brad Fraunfelter. This will be a frame like the one on the main series, with the image of the cab and horse replaced with the relevant picture for the book.
Aunt Emily’s Dilemma
“Hold still, you little varmint! Almost…got…” Winifred Bond stopped breathing as she twisted the screw another half turn. “Now, let’s find out if you work now. ..”
Crossing her fingers beneath the desk, she set the prototype mechanism down on its surface with a little laugh of triumph. “Well, I’ll be hornswoggled! I was sure you could combine the steam car and a carriage…”
Winding a tiny key on the back of the vehicle, she let the little creation go–to surge forward at a decent clip…right off the edge of the table to clatter in an ignoble heap upon the floor.
“Well…not an optimal outcome.”
Winifred Bond–Fred to her friends–was still adjusting to life in New York City after being born and raised in the sleepy little town of Rosebush Junction in Ohio. At the urging of her best friend Josephine Mann–who almost immediately married her absent-minded professor, Alistair Conn and traipsed off to Ireland and beyond–she had moved to the city. The move was eye-opening in many respects…and very lonely.
With a sigh, she picked up the little mechanism right as the front door opened. Starting, she raked the little vehicle in the nearest drawer. The Conns’ basement apartment at Ma Stark’s boarding house was standing empty while Alistair and Jo were on their honeymoon. He’d given Fred permission to work there–as long as she took care of the cats–but she still was a bit uneasy about the situation. Besides, her work wasn’t ready to share with anyone yet. S he barely had a working model…
“Fred, luv, Mrs. Estes from over the way has come t’ ask your advice on somethin’. I’ve set her in the parlor, but she appears most distraught. Poor woman. Everyone’s run off to the back of beyond and she’s all alone in her big house…”
Fred hid a smile behind a cough. Emily Estes was perfectly capable of looking after herself, but she wasn’t alone as long as the ever-faithful Vanessa was in place to watch over her. Maid, housekeeper, companion…Fred wasn’t quite sure what Vanessa’s official designation actually was, but she would make sure her mistress was taken care of. Mrs. Estes might be a bit lonely with her sister Leonora also abroad at the moment, but she could easily step across the street for a visit.
Rising to her feet, Fred scanned Jo’s little office one last time–everything was back in order. She had promised Alistair to watch things while they were away, and she intended to do exactly that. Twitching her skirts into place, she strode toward the door. “Let’s go find out what she needs then. I haven’t quite finished my work for the day.”
Ma tsked. “You girls work yourselves far too hard. In my day–”
“Now, Ma…in your day you were keeping house for a husband and three children. Not a moment’s rest, if your routine was anything like my mother’s day.”
“I suppose yer right,” Ma said with a chuckle. “The children were quite a handful at times.”
Fred wondered, as she often did, why none of Ma’s children ever came to visit her. She didn’t dare ask in case the reason was something Ma would rather keep private. Perhaps Vanessa would know something….
“The kettle will be boiled away if we don’t hurry back to the main house,” Ma scolded. “Come along now.”
“Yes, ma’am.” She followed the older woman up the stairs and across to the boarding house proper.
“Ah, Winifred, dear,” exclaimed Mrs. Estes as they stepped into the parlor. “I was afraid you might be off having an adventure of your own, but I couldn’t think where else to turn.”
Fred crossed the room to seat herself beside the other woman, taking her hands. “No, ma’am. I’m not much of an adventurer myself. Unlike certain others…”
“Don’t underestimate yourself, dear. You’ll have plenty of time for adventuring. In fact…” She bit her lip. “Something of the sort is rather what I’ve come to talk to you about. I would speak to Alistair, but I don’t want to disturb the newlyweds on their Progress. Especially since they appear to have quite enough on their hands already.”
“What can I do for you, ma’am? I’m willing to help if I can…though if you would rather have Herbert…?”
“Herbert? I think not,” Mrs. Estes said with a sniff. “He’s scarcely able to tie his own shoes without Alistair’s help.”
Fred pictured the beautiful airship, the Pearl, the woman’s nephew Herbert Lattimer had built–not once, but twice now–and bit back a reply. Herbert might be a bit rough, but he did have his redeeming qualities. Still, she had no place to say so.
“This odd telegram came today.” Mrs. Estes pulled a telegraph flimsy from her bag. “I’m at a loss for what I should do?”
Doubly curious now, Fred took the flimsy and scanned its contents.
I must meet with you on the 22nd regarding several business ventures I entered into with your late husband.
Colonel Beauregard Kincaid
“While my husband–quite rightly–kept his business affairs separate from his dealings with me, I am confident he would never have fraternized with the enemy. I do remember he was quite passionate about Lincoln’s vision for the country. Do you think I can construe this man’s name as anything but the moniker of a Southern officer?”
“You may well be right, but we don’t have any proof that is the case. Did your husband deal with a lawyer?”
“My late husband was a lawyer. He handled all our affairs himself.”
“Did he have a partner? Perhaps a clerk?”
“I don’t recall one, dear. I sometimes wrote out his notes for him–he had the most terrible penmanship–but otherwise, he liked to do everything himself. He had an office downtown, of course, but we packed his things up when he died. He had a study at the house, as well, but other than a few boxes of papers, nothing is left of the study either. I-I simply couldn’t bear leaving the room as if he would be stepping back inside at any moment.”
Fred nodded. “Understandable. Possibly something in those papers might be useful. Do you still have them?”
“Roderick carried them out to the carriage house and stacked them in a corner, I believe. You are welcome to go through them if you wish.”
“Better than twiddling my thumbs waiting for Jo’s next letter.”
“I’ll have him bring them over to you.” Mrs. Estes rose to her feet. “You’ve definitely set my mind at ease, dear.”
“Don’t you fret.” Fred stood in turn. “I’ll speak to Kevin as well. May I keep this?” She held up the telegram.
“If you think the flimsy will be useful to you.”
“Can’t hurt. We’ll figure the matter out for you. Don’t you worry,” she promised recklessly. Her heart was pounding at the thought of something more productive to do than sorting Alistair’s bits and bobs or playing at building an automaton of her own. The truth was, she was bored stiff here in the city without Josephine. She wasn’t used to the bustle of life in New York. Without someone to help her learn her way around, she had begun to understand how an animal caught in a trap might gnaw its own foot off.
Kevin was a dear boy, but he was working practically around the clock at the station lately. She hardly got a moment alone with him. This might be the exact excuse she needed to drop by.
She looked down at the telegram again. “I’ve thought of something…do you have an idea where the telegram was posted from?”
“I’m not sure, dear. I believe somewhere in town, but I don’t think I have any valid reason to believe so. I’ll check and find out if Vanessa still has the envelope.”
“The envelope could be a major clue.”
“It could mean nothing, dear. Do those things have the origin location as a postmark does. I’ve never thought about the matter before.”
Fred slipped the telegram into her pocket and took the older woman’s arm. “Neither have I. I’ll come along with you now and find out and then I’ll go down to the police station.”
Mrs. Estes patted her hand. “You’re a sweet girl, Winifred. Thank you for indulging an old woman.”
“My pleasure entirely, Mrs. Estes.”
“Please, you must call me Aunt Emily too. With everyone one off to the continent, I miss hearing someone say the name.”
Fred smiled. “I’d be happy to…Aunt Emily.”
They strolled across the street in companionable silence, Fred mulling over the best way to convince Kevin to become involved. The case might do to appeal to his sense of duty–there might be a crime involved, after all…then again, encroaching upon his work might merely anger him. Working out the origin of the telegram would be a way they could spend a bit more time together, which might please him… Of course, the time wouldn’t be spent under the best of circumstances.
She sighed under her breath. She’d have to wait and find out what she came up with. Josephine had taught her the benefits of spontaneity.
Aunt Emily pointed down the street. “I wonder if the poor man is lost,” she said thoughtfully.
Fred looked to where she pointed. The fellow appeared to be looking for something. He was rather short and slim to the point of gaunt, and his clothing was a bit shabby for the neighborhood’s general inhabitants. A slight feeling of deja vu shivered down her spine at the sight of him. He reminded her of the first glimpse she’d had of Seamus O’Leary–which had led to nothing but trouble for all concerned.
“Have you seen that man before?”
“No, dear. He doesn’t look like he…belongs here, does he?”
“I wouldn’t worry too much. I’m sure he’s merely passing through as he searches for wherever he is going. This is a fairly central thoroughfare.” Privately, Fred vowed to discuss the matter with Kevin at the earliest opportunity. What was the point of knowing a policeman if you couldn’t discuss such things with them?
When they reached Aunt Emily’s stately house, they entered by the kitchen door, which Fred found a bit odd. However, as Vanessa was making dinner, she supposed the maneuver was practical if they wished to talk to her without interrupting her work.
“Vanessa,” Aunt Emily began, “do you still have the envelope from the telegram which arrived this morning?”
The maid jerked her head toward the counter as she continued to knead her bread. “I left the envelope over by the breadbox just in case, Mrs. Emily. Does Miss Fred agree with you?”
“The telegram is somewhat suspicious, Vanessa. I’m going to take the flimsy and envelope to Inspector Reilly to ascertain if we have something to pursue here.”
“Good idea. He strikes me as a man who can tell what’s what.” Her tone expressed deep admiration for Kevin. Fred couldn’t fault her because she agreed wholeheartedly.
“Indeed,” She hid a half-smile.
“Could you have Roderick carry those boxes of law filings he took out to the carriage house across to Mrs. Stark’s for Miss Fred after dinner, Vanessa?”
“I’m sure he’d be happy to, Missus. Let me put this bread in the oven and I’ll tell him straight away.”
The way Mrs. Estes ran her well-oiled household fascinated Fred. The older woman treated the servants more like family. Never having had servants growing up, Fred had always considered them rather mysterious beings who faded in and out of the woodwork at will. Now she knew differently. Things seemed much better Aunt Emily’s way…
“I’ll head down to the precinct house now,” she said, scooping up the envelope. “I’ll come by in the morning and update you on what Kevin says.”
“Thank you, Win–Fred.” Aunt Emily smiled. “I’m sure I’ve put the matter in the right hands.”
Fred appreciated the compliment. She hoped the words were deserved.
(You might notice some odd bolding here and there–this just shows you where I’ve made changes in Autocrit, a program I highly recommend. I left them to share a bit of my process. Hope you enjoyed the sample. Leave me a comment and let me know what you think. Who knows…maybe you will get a surprise. 😉 )