Traveling with the Deadby Barbara Hambly
A former British spy tracks a vampire who is conspiring with the Austrian government in an evil plot
After a career spying for Queen Victoria, James Asher enjoyed a quiet retirement until he met the vampire Don Simon, an immortal Spaniard who taught him about the secret society of bloodsucking undead. Now one of the vampires, the Earl of/b>/b>… See more details below
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A former British spy tracks a vampire who is conspiring with the Austrian government in an evil plot
After a career spying for Queen Victoria, James Asher enjoyed a quiet retirement until he met the vampire Don Simon, an immortal Spaniard who taught him about the secret society of bloodsucking undead. Now one of the vampires, the Earl of Ernchester, has turned his back on Britain. When Asher spots him boarding a train for Paris in the company of an Austrian spy, he springs into action. If the immortals can forge an alliance with England’s enemies, then the Empire is doomed. Asher tails the Earl to Paris and across the Continent, plunging into the heart of a terrifying conspiracy of the undead—with the fate of the British Empire at stake. This ebook features an illustrated biography of Barbara Hambly, including rare photos and never-before-seen documents from the author’s personal collection.
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Traveling With the Dead
By Barbara Hambly
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1995 Barbara Hambly
All rights reserved.
All souls and black rain, and cold that passed like needles through flesh and clothing to scrape the bones inside. Sunday night in Charing Cross Station, voices racketing in the vaults of glass and ironwork overhead like ball bearings in a steel drum. All James Asher wanted was to go home.
A day and a night spent burying his cousin—and dealing with the squabbling of his cousin's widow, mother, and two sons over the estate to which he'd been named executor—had reminded him vividly why, once he'd gone up to Oxford twenty-three years ago, he'd never had anything further to do with the aunt who raised him from the age of thirteen. It had just turned full dark, and Asher drew his greatcoat closer around him as he strode down the long brick walkway of the platform, jostling shoulders with his erstwhile fellow passengers in a vast frowst of wet wool and steam and reflecting upon the lethal adeptness of familial guilt. Outside, the streets would be slick and deadly with ice.
Asher's mind was on that—and on the hour and a half between the arrival of the express from Tunbridge Wells at Charing Cross and the departure of the Oxford local from Paddington—when he saw the men whom he would later have given anything he possessed not to have seen.
They stood under the central clock in the echoing cavern of the station. Asher happened to be looking in their direction as the taller of the two removed his hat and shook the drops from it, gestured with a gloved hand toward the iron frame into which boards bearing departure times had been slotted. Asher's eye, still accustomed to cataloging details after half a lifetime in secret service to his country, had already been caught by the man's greatcoat: the flaring skirts, the collar and cuffs of karakul lamb, the soft camel color and the braiding on the sleeves all shouting at him, Vienna. More specifically, one of the Magyar nobility of that city rather than a German Viennese, who tended to less flamboyance in their dress. A Parisian would have worn that smooth, well-fitted line, but probably not that color and certainly without braiding; the average Berliner's coat generally bore a striking resemblance to a horse blanket no matter how rich the man might be.
Vienna, Asher thought, with the tiniest pinch of nostalgia. Then he saw the man's face.
He stopped at the head of the steps down from the platform, and the blood seemed to halt in his veins. But even before his mind could form the words Ignace Karolyi in England, he saw the face of the other man.
Dear God! No.
It was all he could think.
Later he thought he would not have seen the smaller man at all had his eye not been arrested, first by Karolyi's greatcoat, then by the Hungarian's face. That was one of the most frightening things about what he now saw. In the few seconds that the two men spoke—and it was not more than a few seconds, though they exchanged newspapers, an old trick Asher had used hundreds of times himself during his years with Intelligence—Asher's mind registered details that he should have seen before: the fiddleback cut of the small man's shabby black greatcoat, and the way the creaseless buff-colored trousers tapered to straps under the insteps. Under a shallow-crowned beaver hat his hair was short- cropped, and he did not gesture at all as they spoke: no movement, no change of stance, not even the shift of the gloved fingers wrapped about one another on the head of his stick.
That would have told him, if nothing else did.
Three women in enormous hats, feathers drooping with wet, intervened, and when Asher looked again, Karolyi was striding briskly in the direction of the Paris boat-train.
There was no sign of the other man.
Karolyi's going to Paris.
They're both going to Paris.
How Asher knew, he couldn't have said. Only his instinct, honed in years with the Department, had not waned in the eight peaceful years of Oxford lecturing that had passed since he quit. Heart pounding hard enough to almost sicken him, he made his way without appearance of hurry to the ticket windows, the small bag of a weekend's worth of clean linen and shaving tackle swinging almost unnoticed in his hand. By the station clock it was half past five. The departures board announced the Dover boat-train at quarter of six. The fare to Paris was one pound, fourteen and eight, second class—Asher had just over five pounds in his pocket and paid unhesitatingly. Third class would have saved him twelve shillings—the cost of several nights' lodging in Paris, if one knew where to look—but his respectable brown ulster and stiff-crowned hat would have stood out among the rough-clothed workmen and shabby women in the third- class carriages.
He told himself, as he bought the ticket, that the urgency of not calling attention to himself was the only reason to stay out of third class tonight. But he knew it was a lie.
He walked along the platform among women in cheap poplin skirts loading tired children onto the cars, screaming at one another in the clipped, sloppy French of Paris or the trilled r's of the Midi; among men huddled, coatless, in jackets and scarves against the cold, and tried not to listen to his heart telling him that someone in third class was going to die tonight.
He touched a passing porter on the arm. "Would you be so kind as to check the baggage car and tell me if there's a box or trunk, five feet long or over? Could be a coffin, but it's probably a trunk."
The man squinted at the half-crown in Asher's hand, then sharp brown eyes went to Asher's face. "C'n tell you that right now, sir." Asher automatically identified the cropped ou and glottal stop i of the Liverpool Irish, and wondered at his own capacity for pursuing philological points when his life was in danger. The man touched his cap. "Near killed old Joe 'eavin' the thing in, awkward an' all."
"Heavy?" If it was heavy, it was the wrong trunk.
"'Eavy enough, I say, but not loaded like some. No more'n seventy pound all told."
"Could you get me the address from the label? A matter of information," he added as the brown eyes narrowed suspiciously, "to the man's wife."
"Runnin' out on 'er, is 'e? Bleedin' sod."
Asher made a business of checking his watch against the station clock at the end of the platform, conscious all the while of the men and women getting on the train, of the thinning of the crowd that made him every second more visible, every second closer to a knife-blade death. Steam chuffed from the engine and a fat man in countrified tweeds, coat flapping like a cloak in his wake, hared along the platform and scrambled into first class, pursued by a thin and harried valet heavily laden with hatboxes and train cases.
He'd have to telegraph Lydia from Paris, thought Asher. It brought a stab of regret—she'd sit up tonight waiting for him until she fell asleep surrounded by tea things, lace, and medical journals, in front of the bedroom fire, beautiful as a scholarly sylph. For two nights he had looked forward to lying again at her side. Foul as the weather had been, she'd probably simply assume that the train had been held up. Not a worrier, Lydia.
Still the porter hadn't come back.
He tried to remember who the head of the Paris section was these days.
And, dear God, what was he going to tell them about Charles Farren, onetime Earl of Ernchester?
His hand moved, almost unconsciously, to his collar, to feel the reassuring thickness of the silver chain he wore beneath. It was not a usual ornament, for a man and a Protestant. He hadn't thought about it much, except that for a year now he had not dared remove it. It had slipped into place like those other habits he'd acquired "abroad," as they said in the Department; habits like memorizing the layout of any place he stayed so that he could move through it in the dark, or noting faces in case he saw them again in another context, or carrying a knife in his right boot. The other dons at New College, immersed in their specialties and their academic bunfights, never noticed that the self- effacing Lecturer in Etymology, Philology, and Folklore could identify even their servants and knew every back way out of every college in that green and misty town.
These were matters upon which his life had depended at one time—and might now still depend.
In the summer his students had commented, when they'd gone punting up the Cherwell, on the double chain of heavy silver links he wore on either wrist; he'd said they were a present from a superstitious aunt. No one had commented on or seemed to connect the chains with the trail of ragged red scars that tracked his throat from ear to collarbone and followed the veins up his arms.
The porter returned and casually slipped a piece of paper into his hand. Asher gave him another half-crown, which he could ill spare with his fare back from Paris to be thought of, but there were proprieties. He didn't glance at the paper, only pocketed it as he strolled along the platform to the final shouts of "All aboard!"
Nor did he look for the smaller man, though he knew that Ernchester, like himself, would be getting on at the last moment.
He knew it would not be possible to see him.
Eight years ago, toward the end of the South African war, James Asher had stayed with a Boer family on the outskirts of Pretoria. Though they were, like many Boers, sending information to the Germans, they were good people at heart, believing that what they did helped their country's cause—they had welcomed him into their home under the impression he was a harmless professor of linguistics at Heidelberg, in Africa to study Bantu pidgins. "We are not savages," Mrs. van der Platz had said. "Just because a man cannot produce documents for this thing and that thing does not mean he is a spy."
Of course, Asher had been a spy. And when Jan van der Platz—sixteen and Asher's loyal shadow for weeks—had learned that Asher was not German but English and had confronted him in tears, Asher had shot him to protect his contacts in the town, the Kaffirs who slipped him information and would be horribly killed in retaliation, and the British troops in the field who would have been massacred by the commandos had he been forced to talk. Asher had returned to London, resigned his position with the Foreign Office, and married, to her family's utter horror, the eighteen-year-old girl whose heart he never thought he had the smallest hope of winning.
At the time, he thought he would never exert himself for King and Country again.
And here he was, bound for Paris with the rain pounding hollowly on the roof of the second-class carriage and only a few pounds in his pocket, because he had seen Ignace Karolyi, of the Austrian Kundschafts Stelle, talking to a man who could not be permitted to take Austrian pay.
It was a possibility Asher had lived with, and feared, for a year, since first he had learned who and what Charles Farren and those like him were.
Making his way down the corridor from car to car, Asher glimpsed Karolyi through a window in first class, reading a newspaper in an otherwise empty compartment.
The Dorian Gray beauty of his features hadn't changed in the thirteen years since Asher had last seen him. Though Karolyi must be nearly forty now, not a trace of silver showed in the smooth black hair or the pen trace of mustache on the short upper lip; not a line marred the corners of those childishly wide-set dark eyes.
"My blood leaps at the thought of obeying whatever command the Emperor may give me." Asher remembered him springing to his feet in the soft bright haze of the gaslit Café Versailles on the Graben, the bullion glittering on the scarlet of his Guards uniform; remembered the shine of idealistic idiocy in his upturned face. "I will fight upon whatever battlefield He may direct." One could hear the capital letter in he—the Emperor—and around him, his fellow beau sabreurs of the Imperial Life Guards had roared and applauded, though they'd roared louder when another of their number had joked, "Yes, of course, Igni ... but who's going to point you in the direction of the enemy?"
Even when Karolyi had hunted Asher with dogs through the Dinaric Alps after torturing to death his local contact and guide—when it was blindingly obvious that his pose as a brainless young nobleman who spent most of his time waltzing at society balls rather than drilling with his regiment was a sham—that was still the Karolyi Asher remembered.
They'd never met face-to-face in that hellish week of hide-and-seek among the streams and gorges, and Asher didn't know if Karolyi was aware who his quarry had been. But passing along the corridor now with barely a glance through the window, he remembered the body of the guide, and was disinclined to take chances.
In any case, it was not Karolyi whom he feared most.
The third-class carriage was noisier than second, crowded and smelling of unwashed wool and dirty linen. A child cried on and on like the shriek of a factory whistle. Unshaven men looked up from Le Figaro or the Illustrated London News as Asher walked between the hard, high-backed benches. Yellow electric light jittered over cheap felt hats, wet paper flowers, plain steel pins; a woman said, "Hush now, Beatrice, hush," in a voice that held no hope of Beatrice hushing this side of the Gare du Nord.
Asher kept his collar turned up, knowing Farren would recognize him. It unnerved him to realize that the man might be in this carriage and he would never so much as catch a glimpse of him. He didn't like to think about what would happen to him in that case.
At the far end of the third-class car was a baggage compartment, given over to bicycles and crated dogs and an enormous canework bath chair. It was unlighted, and through its windows Asher could see the rain flashing like diamonds in the dirty light shining from third class. As Asher stepped through and closed the door, the cold struck him—all the windows had been opened, rattling noisily in their frames, wet flecks of water spattering through.
At his feet a dog in a cage whined with fear.
The smell of the rainy night could neither cover nor disperse the stink of death.
Asher looked around him quickly, kneeling so as to be out of the line of the window. Dim light came through the little judas on the door, but not enough; he fumbled a lucifer match from the box in his greatcoat pocket, scratched it with his nail.
The man's body had been folded small, knees mashed into chest, arms bent close to sides, the whole skinny tangle of him shoved tight into a corner behind a double bass in a case.
Asher blew out the match, lit another, and crouched to worm close. The dead man was young, dark, unshaven, with a laborer's callused hands and a roughly knotted kerchief around his neck instead of a cravat. His clothing smelled of cheap gin and cheaper tobacco. One of his shoes was worn through. Only a little blood had soaked into the neckerchief, though when Asher moved it down with one finger, he saw that the jugular vein had been cut clear through, a rough, ripping tear, the edges white and puffy, mangled as if they had been chewed and sucked. Asher had a scar that size where his collar pressed the silver links of the necklace against his skin.
A third match showed the dead man's face utterly white, blue-lipped, eyebrows and beard stubble glaring, though by the appearance of the eyelids he'd been dead for less than thirty minutes. Moving a frayed pants cuff, Asher saw the bare ankle had not yet begun to turn livid. Probably, Asher thought with a queer, angry coldness, it never would, much.
He blew out the match, stowed the stub—with the stubs of the first two—in his pocket, and slithered from between the bath chair and bass fiddle case. He'd passed the conductor in the second-class carriage, on his way down the train. The official's nearness had probably interrupted the murderer before he could dump the body out into the night, or perhaps Ernchester was waiting till they were farther from London. Asher left the compartment quickly, dusting his hands on his coat skirts and muttering to himself like a man who has not found what he sought. Nobody in third class gave him a glance.
By the time the train reached Dover, he suspected, the body would be gone. To call attention now to what he had found would only, inevitably, call attention to himself. He wasn't such a fool as to think he would then ever reach Paris alive.
Excerpted from Traveling With the Dead by Barbara Hambly. Copyright © 1995 Barbara Hambly. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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