August 31, 1889
It all started with some drunk boys from Brooklyn.
They were walking back to the Sixth Avenue Elevated after a night of carousing in the Tenderloin when they claimed they were assaulted by a large, lurching thing that reeked of the sewers. As you might have guessed, the patrolmen of the Twenty-Ninth Ward failed to take the story seriously. When they finished laughing, they arrested the boys and tossed them in a cell to sober up.
But over the next two weeks, more monster sightings were reported in the same area. Whatever it was, the thing only came out at night. After it attacked the son of a Tammany Hall bigwig, shoving him into the gutter and spraining his wrist, the boy’s father kicked up enough of a fuss that the Ninth Detectives Division was called in.
Commissioner Thomas F. Byrnes had quietly formed the new unit in the spring of 1889 after the Hyde case and the museum murders. I suppose he chose the bland name to keep it under wraps, but everyone in the department called it the Night Squad. It specialized in bizarre cases and often worked in cooperation with my own employer, the American Society for Psychical Research.
Which is how I found myself staring into an open manhole on a scorching Saturday night at the tail end of August. My best friend John Weston stood next to me, along with an engineer from the Croton Aqueduct Department. We all wore rubber boots.
“I’m starting to hate this case,” I muttered.
It was not our first foray into the sewers.
John flashed his dimples. “Now, Harry, it could be worse.”
A lock of sandy brown hair had fallen over one eye. The other glinted with excitement. He was actually enjoying himself, I thought sourly.
“How?” I crossed my arms and gave him a skeptical look. I wore an old shirt and trousers that had been passed down through the ranks of John’s four brothers. The material was already damp with perspiration and I knew it would be even more hellish down in that hole.
He studied the sky with a thoughtful expression. “Could be raining.”
I conceded the point. New York made its own vile gravy and it all drained into the labyrinth beneath our feet. After weeks of investigating the sewer beast, as John called it, I knew far more about Manhattan’s plumbing than I’d ever wanted to.
The manhole was on the east side of Thirtieth Street and Sixth Avenue in the shadow of the elevated tracks. It was a little after midnight and the various gambling hells, brothels and dance halls were going full tilt. Reformers had dubbed the Tenderloin “Satan’s Circus” and they weren’t far off the mark. I counted six saloons within spitting distance, bearing names like the Star and Garter, Buckingham Palace, and less appealingly, Chick Tricker’s Flea Bag.
Whiffs of French perfume mingled with beer and tobacco smoke. Music and laughter drifted down the street. A tiny man in a sagging flannel suit preached the gospel to indifferent passersby, declaiming loudly about the wages of sin.
In short, everyone was having fun except for us.
The latest victim stood adjacent to a group of six patrolmen, who were keeping their distance. They’d thrown a horse blanket across his shoulders, but I could still smell him from ten feet away. Albert Wood fit the usual profile: male, early twenties, on his way home from an evening with friends at some fine establishment called The Billy Goat, where you could get two drinks for a nickel. He said he’d been thrown to the ground and trampled by a “mud man,” which then vanished into the manhole.
Judging by the odor that wafted in our direction, I deduced that “mud” was a polite euphemism.
Mr. Wood looked unhappy and dazed, which was entirely understandable.
“I don’t think we can wait any longer for Sergeant Mallory,” John said, his boot tapping impatiently against the manhole cover.
I drew a deep breath. “We’re heading in,” I called out.
As a rule, policemen are a superstitious lot. These showed no sign of wishing to accompany us down the ladder.
“Happy hunting,” someone said cheerfully.
The engineer, whose name was Albanesi, gave a curt nod. “I’ll go first,” he said.
We watched Albanesi descend the iron rungs into darkness. When no shriek of horror came from below, I followed him down, with John just behind me. A patrolman lowered three bull’s eye lanterns, their cones of light dancing wildly over the brickwork.
“If we’re not back in an hour, send reinforcements!” I shouted.
One of the cops stuck his head into the hole. “Sure thing, Miss Pell,” he replied seriously.
I heard laughter in the background.
We stood in a round tunnel just high enough for a tall man to walk without crouching. A stream of dirty water flowed south through a shallow channel cut into the center. It smelled strongly of horse manure and other nameless waste.
John raised his lantern while Albanesi consulted the map. The engineer was in his late forties, with the black eyes and hooked nose of southern Italian stock. He sported a large handlebar mustache which I found reassuring. It was a mustache that had no fear of mud men.
The engineers of the Croton Aqueduct Department were a hardy bunch, I’d learned. They built the sewers and seemed protective of them. When Mallory’s Night Squad requested its expertise, the department had obliged — to our eternal gratitude. Navigating down here alone would have been an even bigger nightmare.
The sewers flowed on gravity, carrying waste through a series of pipes into mains that emptied into the city’s waterways. Most were too small to enter, but the one we stood in allowed the engineers access for maintenance of the pipes and to carry storm runoff. These larger tunnels roughly followed the grid system of the streets above.
Albanesi’s map bore pencil marks with the locations of the previous sightings of the mud man, which were clustered in an area bounded by Fifth and Seventh Avenues, and running from Twenty-Eighth to Forty-Second Street.
“Which way?” he inquired, his black brows arching.
John exhaled a soft breath and studied the map, though we both knew the pattern of dots by heart. It had been a little over an hour since Albert Wood was attacked. The creature (or prankster — I still held out faint hope) could have gone in any direction. But as I stood in the damp, oppressive atmosphere of the sewer, I caught a whiff of something indefinably loathsome.
I followed my nose down the left wall of the tunnel, sweeping the lantern beam across the bricks. They bore traces of dark-colored muck leading off into darkness. “Over here,” I called.
Albanesi folded the map and returned it to his pocket. We inspected the streaks more closely. Most were at shoulder height, but I observed a few on the ceiling as well. Albanesi’s gaze lingered on the moist splotches.
“What if we find it?” he wondered with a touch of unease.
“Not to worry,” John replied with supreme confidence. “We aren’t permitted to carry firearms, but we do have legal authority to detain any suspects for Sergeant Mallory.” He patted his pocket. “I’ve got a set of double-locking handcuffs right here.”
Albanesi glanced at him and said nothing. He didn’t seem reassured.
Personally, I felt irritated that Mallory had failed to join us on this subterranean monster hunt and didn’t even bother to send any of his men. Had the Night Squad given up on the sewer beast? No one was dead yet so technically it was still in the nuisance category, but I had a bad feeling that could change.
“The main thing is we’ve got the trail,” John said. “Nice work there, Harry.”
We started walking in single file, sticking to the sides of the tunnel where the ground was drier. I resisted the urge to look back as the open manhole dwindled behind us and darkness closed in save for the three beams cast by the lanterns. The light could be dampened with a quick twist of the wrist in case we wanted to lie in wait for the creature – a tactic we’d tried before with no success. It was either very smart or very lucky, probably the latter.
“What do you think it is?” Albanesi whispered to me.
I met his eye with a shrug. “Mud man.”
“But what does that mean?”
“You should ask Mr. Weston. He’s the expert on these matters.”
Albanesi turned to John, who squinted down the tunnel with a steely gaze like Davy Crockett on the trail of a rampaging grizzly.
“I have a few theories, but I prefer not to speculate until we’ve gathered more facts,” John said.
I knew that meant he had no idea what it was either, but Albanesi nodded gravely. After several minutes, the trail doglegged into an intersecting tunnel and turned east. The flow in the center cut grew clearer than the brown murk we’d been following.
“There’s an ancient stream that runs parallel to Broadway,” Albanesi explained. “You see, the topography of New York is essentially the same as it was when the Dutch settlers arrived, even if it’s been diverted belowground. Spring Street, for example, is named after an actual spring….”
I nodded distractedly as he gabbled on. Despite the merry stream splashing at our feet, the air was still close and foul, freshened only by the occasional storm drain in the street above. At last, the engineer’s lecture wound down and we walked in silence, broken only by the monotonous squeak of one of John’s rubber boots.
How had it come to this?
I had joined the Society for Psychical Research the previous winter at the age of nineteen after gaining some small notoriety by successfully concluding the Hyde case with John’s assistance. Employment at the S.P.R. was the culmination of a lifelong dream. We investigated everything from hauntings to clairvoyance, astral projection, mesmerism and demonic possession. I’d embraced the work with enthusiasm even after I discovered that much of it involved not debunking the supernatural, as I’d been led to believe, but doing battle with it.
Over the last six months, we’d solved another gory murder at the American Museum of Natural History and looked into a rash of precognitive dreaming at an elite girls’ school, which turned out to be an elaborate hoax. John continued to act as a consultant with the S.P.R., though his studies at Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, where he was a second-year student, took up most of his time.
I glanced over, glad as always to have him at my side — squeaky boot notwithstanding. Our fathers were old school chums and we had been close friends since childhood. At twenty, John still had the same innocent, boyish features that always persuaded my housekeeper to give him an extra slice of her famous plum cake. Now his brown eyes were alight with excitement. John lived for these kinds of adventures. He was big and athletic and totally lacking in a healthy fear of dark, confined spaces.
I, on the other hand, was growing restless.
Our recent assignments had left something to be desired. Frankly, they were small potatoes. I craved a case that would challenge my faculties of deduction, and the mud man was not it. We had interviewed every victim, searched endlessly for some kind of pattern, but they had nothing in common and seemed to have been chosen at random — or simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I remained open to the possibility of a ghoul, those undead spirits that returned in various forms to plague the living, but this was unlikely given that it hadn’t killed anyone. Ghouls were ruthless and predatory. This creature seemed bumbling, which made me wonder if it wasn’t a couple of kids scaring people on a lark. We’d searched the tunnels for hours on prior occasions and found nothing.
And now the trail seemed to have petered out again.
My lantern beam played over the black water, which slowed to a trickle. Almost imperceptibly, the tunnel walls had narrowed and the ceiling had lowered. Now my claustrophobia, held tightly in check, reared its head.
“Where are we?” I asked in a low voice.
Albanesi halted and pulled out the map, tracing a convoluted route with one finger. “Let’s see. We followed Broadway up to Forty-Second, crossed back over to Sixth Avenue, and then headed south again. I’d reckon we’re nearly back at the manhole on Thirtieth Street.”
I sighed. The thing — or idiotic prankster — was probably long gone. I prodded John to check his pocket watch and learned we’d been walking for nearly an hour.
“Well then,” I said, relief mingled with annoyance at another wasted night I could have spent sleeping. “I say we head out. Perhaps Sergeant Mallory has arrived. We can give him our report, for whatever it’s worth.”
Albanesi nodded. He seemed as eager as I was to escape this purgatory. “The ladder should be just ahead.”
“I really thought we had it this time,” John muttered as we resumed walking.
“Yes, it’s a shame the thing got away,” I lied. “They’ll just have to flood the area with patrolmen. Catch it in the act.”
The thought cheered me considerably. Let the flatfoots of the Twenty-Ninth Ward deal with the mud man. It was their turf, after all. The sewers were too vast and complex to track an elephant through – even Mallory would be forced to concede the point. And with any luck I would be reassigned to something more interesting. Above ground.
After a minute I saw the glint of metal fifty yards ahead. The ladder! My spirits soared at the prospect of fresh air, of drunken voices and bright lights. Then John wrinkled his nose. “Do you smell that, Harry?”
“I stopped smelling anything half an hour ago,” I replied.
We looked at Albanesi, who nodded. “I do.” He made a horrible face. “My God, that’s rotten.”
A second later the stench hit me. It had a base layer of raw sewage, punctuated with notes of something worse. Much worse. A meaty odor, rancid and thick. My fingers tightened around the hot wire handle of the lantern. We all paused to listen. Albanesi was impressively stoic as he held his own lantern high and aimed its beam down the tunnel.
“I think something’s coming,” John said in a theatrical whisper that was probably audible in the dance hall above us.
He opened the shutter on his lantern all the way and turned to illuminate the passage behind. Nothing moved in either direction, not as far as the next junction at least, where the brick walls gently curved away. But the stench grew worse, making us cough and cover our noses. I detected an odd humming sound that was even more annoying than his squeaky rubber boot.
“Yes,” I hissed, peering into the darkness. “But which way, John?”
We stood near a crossing tunnel and our lantern beams suddenly seemed pitiful, with no ability to penetrate the solid blackness beyond a dozen or so feet. My skin crawled as I imagined something watching from beyond the edge of the light.
“Should we keep moving?” Albanesi whispered through his huge moustache. “Head for the manhole? It seems the sensible thing to do.”
“Just hang on a minute.” That was John, of course. “There’s three of us. Maybe we can bring it in.”
The engineer didn’t look thrilled at this prospect and I couldn’t blame him. But “bringing it in” was, in fact, what we had been specifically tasked with doing, so we retreated a few feet and waited with our backs pressed together, John and I peering into the west-running tunnel, Albanesi watching the east.
The space felt too tight and I reminded myself that at least we could escape up the ladder if necessary. A drop of sweat rolled down my forehead and hung from the tip of my nose, then splashed gently to earth. An eternity passed, the stench growing thicker with each moment. It was quiet save for the droning hum.
“Flies,” I muttered, fingers clamping on John’s sleeve. “Oh Lord, I think it’s flies.”
He cocked his head. “Maybe the beast is made of insects like that cursed pharaoh from the Sixth Dynasty—”
John broke off as the shaft of light spilling from the open manhole fifty yards down the tunnel wavered and winked out. For a panicky moment, I thought the cover had been replaced, but then I understood that something had passed beneath it, something so large it blotted out the light of the street lamps.
“Madonna santa,” Albanesi muttered softly, crossing himself.
We huddled closer together. I heard loud splashes like a floundering animal moving at a rapid rate of speed. It was nearly upon us and it was big.
I wished I’d brought my sister Myrtle’s pearl-handled pistol, official orders be damned. Bullets might be ineffectual, but I felt certain it would feel good to fire them regardless. What had we been thinking? The sewers belonged to the beast and it was rightfully enraged that we had dared to encroach on its territory.
Dust rained down as something slammed into the bricks.
“Here it comes!” John whispered, unnecessarily.
Every instinct urged me to run in the opposite direction, but as the only woman I wasn’t going to be the first to break ranks — and some perverse part of me craved a glimpse of our quarry after weeks of fruitless hunting.
A moment later it emerged into the beam of Albanesi’s lantern, trailing a tornado of flies. The engineer uttered an inarticulate shout as a mighty limb knocked man and torch aside. I had the quick impression of yes, a mud man, its head brushing the roof of the tunnel, but then glass shattered and kerosene from Albanesi’s lantern spattered on the bricks. A moment later, it caught fire.
I clung to my own lantern as two huge hands grabbed my shirtfront. The mud man lifted me up into the air and I stared at a crude visage with a turnip-shaped nose and mouth clamped in a grim line. There were no eyes to speak of, merely shallow depressions on either side of the face. In the flickering yellow firelight, it seemed a demon from Hell.
John shouted something and the creature tossed me aside. I landed on my bottom in the shallow water but managed to keep my lantern aloft. In the beam of light, I saw Albanesi tear his coat off and try to smother the flames leaping up the tunnel wall.
The mud man paused in our midst, lumpen head swinging to and fro. I regained my feet just as it stooped toward John and I had the impression it was studying him with intense interest. The buzzing of the flies rose to a crescendo. Then creature tilted its massive head and it almost seemed to me that its face softened.
John held up the handcuffs. His voice was stern. “By the power vested in me by the City of New York and Police Commissioner Thomas F. Byrnes—”
The creature threw its head back and gave a wordless howl of fury. It moved with sudden speed, pounding its great fist against the wall just over John’s head. A crack ran through the bricks from the force of the blow. Then it turned and shuffled away.
No one gave chase.
Albanesi leaned against the wall in his shirtsleeves, fingering his rosary and muttering in Italian. John aimed the beam of his lantern down the tunnel, but the mud man was gone.
“Are you all right, Harry?”
I scowled. “No.”
John looked me over with a critical eye. “Yes, you are. Mr. Albanesi?”
The engineer made a creaky noise to indicate that he was unharmed.
“I must commend your quick action in dousing the flames,” John said, returning the handcuffs to his pocket. “You should submit an expense voucher for your coat. They’ll replace it.”
I peered into the darkness. “Did you get a good look, John? It really was a mud man.”
He nodded sagely. “It’s all come clear now.”
“Has it?” I sniffed at my shirt and recoiled. “Oh, my Lord, that’s atrocious.”
“We need a rabbi.”
I looked up, my eyes literally watering from the stench. “What?”
John expelled a long breath. “I’m fairly sure it’s a golem.”
“Right.” I frowned. “What’s a golem?”
“A figure from Jewish mythology. A man made of clay and brought to life.” John met my skeptical look with maddening poise. “Has to be, Harry. Nothing else fits.”
Over the last year, John had bent his considerable intelligence to becoming a monster expert. He would curl up in his favorite chair in the upstairs parlor at Tenth Street and pore over back issues of the S.P.R.’s journal, along with scholarly works on folklore and less reliable accounts like the penny dreadfuls Mrs. Rivers was always confiscating from our errand boy, Connor.
Nothing was too outlandish or far-fetched. John kept notebooks full of handwritten notes on vampires, were-wolves, Black Dogs, bloody bones and mummies. My own research was confined to forensic science and the rich criminal underworld of New York City, which I believed of greater use, but I was forced to concede that I had no plausible alternative to John’s golem theory.
“All right,” I said. “We’ll find a rabbi tomorrow. Hopefully he won’t laugh us out of his synagogue.”
I turned to Albanesi, who had regained some measure of composure though he kept glancing warily down the dark tunnel. He’d escaped with only a smattering of mud on one sleeve where the golem had shoved him aside.
John, with his preternatural luck, was untouched.
I’d gotten the worst of it by far. Foul-smelling ooze soaked my hair and shirt and I stank of kerosene where the broken lantern had splashed on my trousers.
“You can’t tell anyone about this,” I said to Albanesi, knowing the request was pointless. By morning, the whole corps of engineers would know about the mud man.
Albanesi nodded. “Can we go up now?”
“Yes,” I replied with feeling.
We ascended the ladder, John’s squeaky boot protesting the entire way. Albert Wood, the young man who’d been assaulted earlier that night, was gone. The police must have taken pity and let him return home. But several officers had stayed behind to watch the manhole and the Night Squad had finally arrived – or one of its detectives, at least.
His name was Julius Brach. He had fine, expressive features and a slender build that contrasted with the beefy Irish beat cops who made up the bulk of the Twenty-Ninth Ward. Brach wore the navy coat of the Metropolitan force though with a single row of four brass buttons rather than the double-breasted style of the regular patrolmen. They stood apart from him, not hostile but not exactly friendly. The Night Squad was viewed by half the department as a curiosity, and the other half as a bunch of crazies.
Detective Brach strode over as we emerged from the manhole, his sharp brown eyes taking in the grotesque state of my clothing and Albanesi’s shattered lantern. “I take it you found the beast,” he said mildly.
The engineer removed the map from his pocket and marked the place where we had encountered the golem. Then he thrust it at Brach, turned on his heel, and walked away.
I would have done the same if they’d let me.
“We found it all right,” I said. “But it got away.”
A series of expressions flitted across Brach’s face, which I’d always found fascinating to watch. His features were too sharp and thin and pale and mournful, yet somehow the sum was intriguingly attractive.
“Did it attack you?” he asked.
I shared a look with John. He looked as uncertain of the answer as I was.
“It pushed Mr. Albanesi and knocked me down, but it could have done worse. It was huge. I’d estimate a foot taller than Mr. Weston.”
“About seven feet then,” Brach said thoughtfully. “That corroborates witness statements.”
“Where’s Sergeant Mallory?” John asked with a slight frown. “If we’d had reinforcements down there, we might have cornered it.”
“Called away on another case,” Brach said evasively. “I can’t share the details, but it took precedence.”
My curiosity was piqued but I knew he wouldn’t tell me anything. I’d worked with Brach before; he went by the book. But perhaps I could pry it out of our boss, Mr. Kaylock, when we reported in at the S.P.R. offices on Pearl Street. I was dying for a new case and if it was juicy enough to divert Mallory, it might be just the thing I’d been waiting for.
I left John explaining his golem theory and wandered toward the group of patrolmen, hoping they might have another horse blanket. The Tenderloin was still buzzing and I ignored the glances of pity and disgust from passersby. The ones with money flaunted their Saturday night best, silks and satins and fine wool coats, but even the beggars and thieves gave me a wide berth.
As soon as I got home, I intended to burn my clothes and dig out the lye soap that took a few layers of skin off.
That’s if I could even persuade a cab to pick me up.
I was just thinking I couldn’t hate this case any more when I heard a low chuckle behind me.
“Miss Pell! Fancy seeing you here. Did you just muck out some stables?”
The voice, soft but with an undercurrent of malice, froze me in my tracks.
Dear God, not here. Not now.
I turned slowly and found James Moran staring at me with undisguised amusement. He was dressed to the nines in a black evening coat with tails and and snowy white tie, perfectly knotted. Not a single raven hair was out of place. His boots had been polished to a high gleam and the edge of a spotless silk handkerchief poked from his breast pocket.
Moran had been a musical prodigy as a child and he still had the hands of a concert pianist, with strong, elegant fingers. They toyed with a puzzle of interlocking metal circles. The only flaw in his appearance was a bulge in his coat pocket that I assumed was a weighted leather sap or sock filled with nickels. James Moran wouldn’t risk punching anyone with those hands.
Four young thugs hovered behind him, well-dressed if not of Moran’s class. They all had sharp-edged, too-old faces, but none compared to their boss in projecting sheer menace.
I acknowledged him with a chilly nod. “Mr. Moran.”
And just like that, I found myself standing alone on the sidewalk. The cops of the Twenty-Ninth Ward had suddenly found something of great interest down the block. Even the handful of looky-loos seemed to have vanished into the woodwork.
I pushed a clump of wet hair from my forehead and gathered the shreds of my dignity. “This is the site of an ongoing criminal investigation. I’ll have to ask you and your friends to move along quick-wise.”
Moran surveyed the open manhole and the amusement in his eyes deepened. “Sent you down there, did they? I’d have thought you had your fill of tight spots, Miss Pell.”
It was a reminder of our encounter in another tunnel the previous summer – a desultory jab not intended to draw blood but simply to irritate. I said nothing, aiming to deprive him of the satisfaction.
But Moran wasn’t so easily put off. His lips curled in a wolfish smile. “Seems a waste of talent.” He fished in his trouser pocket and took out a silver case. Moran popped the catch and offered me an engraved card with gilt script. “If you ever become dissatisfied with your current employment—”
“I would rather plumb the depths of the lowest outhouse in the Five Points than associate with you,” I replied sweetly.
Moran grinned and returned the card to his pocket. He took his time eyeballing me one last time from head to toe. “Well then, best of luck, Miss Pell. I hope you find whatever you’re after. Perhaps a moonlight dip in the Hudson would do you some good.” His boys burst out laughing.
“I have the authority to arrest you if you don’t move along,” I lied, taking half a step forward. “Ten, nine, eight—”
Moran held his hands up in surrender. His boys laughed harder, though their leader managed to keep a straight face. “No need for drastic measures. We were just on our way.” He made a show of sniffing the air. “Smells like a pigsty around here anyway.”
The loud laughter finally drew John’s attention. He turned from his conversation with Detective Brach and saw Moran. John’s face darkened and he broke off in mid-sentence, striding towards us with his hands balled into fists. Moran didn’t even glance in John’s direction, but he smoothly pivoted on his heel and sauntered around the corner of Thirtieth Street with his smirking bodyguards.
“What did he say to you?” John demanded roughly, his gaze fixed on the point where Moran had vanished.
I shrugged. “Nothing of interest. Juvenile taunts to impress his lackeys.”
“Odd that he turned up just now.” John frowned. “Coincidence?”
“I don’t know, but it’s a stretch to imagine he’s involved. I could almost see him doing something like that for fun, but I doubt he’d know anything about golems. The Morans are Irish.”
John nodded, though he still looked troubled. “You’d better tell Myrtle.”
“S’pose so,” I said with a sigh.
“Does she know you’ve been working the mud man case?” John asked shrewdly.
I shook my head and he chortled. “You’ll have to explain it now.”
I shot him a dark look and made no reply.
Myrtle Fearing Pell was my elder sister, patron saint and tormenter in equal measure. A renowned consulting detective, she enjoyed the luxury of taking only those cases that caught her interest. She disdained run-of-the-mill crimes, preferring not simply the sensational but those that challenged her prodigious intellect.
And James Moran was the bane of Myrtle’s existence.
But I didn’t want to think about either of them right now. What I wanted was a mug of hot tea, a bath and some clean clothes. “I’ll never get home like this,” I said ruefully. “I doubt they’ll even let me onto the elevated!”
Detective Brach overheard and took pity. “I’ll give you both a ride home,” he offered. “Mallory requisitioned a patrol wagon in case you managed to catch the beast.”
The manhole cover slammed down with a loud clang as we climbed up to the bench of the wagon, which Brach had wisely covered with a blanket. He shook the reins and we rolled down Sixth Avenue, passing the New York Herald Building at Thirty-Fourth Street and then the Ladies’ Mile of elegant department stores. Once we left the Tenderloin the traffic grew thinner and Detective Brach walked us through the encounter with the mud man again, patiently drawing out all the details. To my surprise, he agreed with John’s theory and offered to make an appointment for us the following day at the Eldridge Street Synagogue, where he knew one of the rabbis.
“I’d accompany you, but I have a feeling I’ll be wanted at Mulberry Street on the other case,” he said.
“Can’t you tell us anything?” I wheedled. “You know we’ll find out eventually.”
Julius Brach shot me a sidelong glance. “It’s related to the Cherney kid.”
Now my interest was definitely piqued, though this wasn’t good news. Daniel Cherney was a graduate student at Columbia’s engineering college whose peculiar demise had been of interest to the S.P.R. Unfortunately, another pair of agents had landed that assignment, whilst John and I were given the mud man.
“In what way?” I asked.
Brach’s soulful eyebrows twitched. “There’s been a second death.”
I hoped he might elaborate but then we turned the corner of Fifth Avenue and the carriage drew to a halt in front of my parents’ townhouse at 40 West Tenth Street.
“Good night, Miss Pell,” he said gravely. “The department thanks you for your aid.”
I gave him a wry smile. “Always a pleasure, detective.”
“I’ll come around in the morning,” John said, stifling a yawn. “Let’s say tennish.”
I waved a hand and they trundled east toward the Weston home on Gramercy Park. Mrs. Rivers was up and nursing a glass of sherry when I entered the foyer. A stout woman in her late fifties, she was more of a second mother than a housekeeper. She set the glass aside and peered at me with concern on her kind face. A moment later her nose wrinkled in disgust.
“It got me,” I said.
“Oh, Harrison. Straight to the garden! I’ll fetch a bucket.”
She practically shoved me through the kitchen door and wouldn’t let me back inside until I’d doused myself several times. I had no objection and was only glad it was August rather than January. This task completed, I shed the foul garments in a heap and sank gratefully into the steaming bath Mrs. Rivers had drawn in the upstairs washroom.
It was past two by the time I changed into a clean shift. My parents were travelling abroad and Myrtle wasn’t home either, though this wasn’t unusual. My sister kept odd hours. She consulted with various police forces on particularly baffling crimes, as well as taking the occasional assignment from the Pinkerton detective agency. Myrtle could be single-minded when working a case and often disappeared for days at a time.
I thought again of my encounter with James Moran and wondered if it had been pure chance. Would he summon a golem for his own amusement?
Or simply to torture me?
But how could he know I’d be assigned to the case? No, I was sinking into paranoia. If, as Myrtle claimed, James Moran was the spider lurking at the heart of New York’s criminal web, he surely had better things to do with his time. And although he despised my sister, as far as I knew he bore me no special ill will. In fact, he had saved my life once.
He had done it for his own reasons – a Good Samaritan James Moran was not – and since then he’d barely acknowledged my existence. I’d seen him one or twice at Columbia’s campus on Madison Avenue when I went to meet John for lunch, but our paths rarely crossed.
These thoughts spun around in my head as I fell into a troubled sleep, dreaming of a shadowy presence that stalked me through narrow alleys. I rose the next morning determined to close the mud man case as soon as possible — if only so I never had to go down into those sewers again.
My favourite sleuths Harry and John are back and I couldn’t be happier. I can hardly wait for the release date so that I can get my copy of Dead Ringer.
Thanks Frank, I missed them too! :)
As always I can’t wait to read the ready!!!!
Thank you, Terry!
Great first chapter. I will be excited to read more about James Moran. I like the fact that he seems relatable to older readers, while at the same time not abandoning your younger readers.
Thanks Christopher, yes, I feel the series is definitely adult/YA crossover, I hope you enjoy the rest of the story!
Can’t wait for this new book to be available…I’m hooked this series, characters & era they take place.
Thanks Debbie, I love this time period too, there will be many more books to come! :)
I love these books and am looking forward to the release of this one.
What a great start and time in NYC’s history. I’m looking forward to the full story. Golems make me wonder about the genesis of Gingerbread Men.
Thanks Clare! Yes, I really enjoyed all the research for this one. I hadn’t thought of the Gingerbread Man connection, but it definitely sounds like it came from the same dough, lol :)