There’s more than one way to catch a killer—though the methods employed by the NYPD’s Ghost Precinct, an all-female team of psychics and spiritualists led by gifted young medium Eve Whitby, are unconventional to say the least. Eve is concerned by the backlash that threatens the department—and by the discovery of an otherworldly realm, the Ghost Sanctuary, where the dead can provide answers. But is there a price to be paid for Eve and her colleagues venturing beyond the land of the living?
Searching for clues about a mortician’s disappearance, Eve encounters a charismatic magician and mesmerist whose abilities are unlike any she’s seen. Is he a link to mysterious deaths around the city, or to the Ghost Sanctuary? Torn between the bonds of her team and her growing relationship with the dashing Detective Horowitz, Eve must discern truth from illusion and friend from foe, before another soul vanishes into the ether . . .
“There is something truly magical about Leanna Renee Hieber’s writing.”—Shana DuBois Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi/Fantasy Blog on Perilous Prophecy
“Smart, boundlessly creative gaslamp fantasy.”—RT Book Reviews on Eterna and Omega
“Will have readers chomping at the bit for more.” —Suspense Magazine on Eterna and Omega
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Union Square Manhattan, 1899
"Maggie." Eve Whitby waved at the distracted ghost who floated before her, a transparent, greyscale and luminous form. "Answer me. How could you, of all spirits, simply disappear? And what brought you back?"
"I am dead; we do that sometimes, you know. Vanish," Maggie said with a laugh. She turned and began floating north, in the direction of the train depot where they were headed. The wraith was a visual echo of the lovely young lady she'd been in life, dressed in a fine gown of the early eighties.
"Don't you be flippant, my dear," Eve chided, lifting her skirts and hurrying after the specter, running directly into the cold chill of her wake. "We've been distraught for weeks," she continued with a shiver. "We knew you'd never leave without telling us! We couldn't even catch a trace of you during our séances!"
The dark-haired man taking long strides to keep up beside Eve cleared his throat.
The generally drawn pallor of Eve's cheek colored. "I'm sorry, Detective." She turned to him without breaking her pace. "I forget you can't completely hear or see our subject here."
Tall and lithe, with a neatly trimmed mop of dark brown curls that bounced in the breeze, dressed in a simple black suit with a white cravat, Detective Horowitz, in his midtwenties, was as sharp in wit and mind as he was in features. The angles of his face curved and softened as he smiled. His ability to shift from serious to amused was as swift as it was attractive.
"I'm catching pieces here and there," he replied, "but to be honest, I'm more enjoying the looks you're getting from passersby, averting wary, disdainful eyes behind hat brims and parasols."
"Oh." Eve batted an ungloved hand, caring not a whit for the fine details of sartorial propriety, as gloves often got in her way of tactile experience important to her work. "Mad folk walk New York streets daily and no one stops them; it's one of the glories of the city — minding one's own business!"
Horowitz laughed and kept pace.
The three angled along bustling Broadway as it slanted up ahead of them, the ghost at the fore, dodging passersby with parasols and weaving past horse-carts, careful to mind their droppings. Eve grumbled as the stray foot of a businessman's cigar was lifted by the wind onto her shoulder, and she brushed off the embers before they caught the thin wool on fire. She wore an adaptation of a police matron's uniform: a simple dress with buttons down the front, but in black, having donned constant mourning in honor of those she worked with and for, the spirits of New York.
The detective didn't seem to hold Maggie's interruption against her, despite the fact that he'd been leaning toward Eve in a near- kiss when the spirit's incorporeal form had appeared between them. That the detective even entertained the idea of a ghost was a blessing. That he could slightly see and barely hear fragments from Maggie was incredible progress. Just weeks before he'd been a confirmed skeptic. Perhaps Eve's Sensitivities were rubbing off on the practical, level-headed detective. The idea that she might be able to draw this man further into her world was an equally thrilling and cautionary prospect. Eve reeled in more directions than one.
Maggie Hathorn had been Eve's dearest friend since childhood, the most trusted spectral asset in her Ghost Precinct since its recent inception, and the spirit didn't seem to be taking her own disappearance seriously. Yes, ghosts often came and went as they pleased. But they were generally creatures of habit with particular patterns of haunt. Eve's Ghost Precinct of four mediums relied on the constancy of their stable of specters, Maggie at the core. Until she'd vanished with no word.
"If the Summerland draws you and you wish to go, Maggie," Eve said earnestly, reaching out to the floating figure and touching chilled air, "just tell us. I love and need you, but I know I mustn't keep my dear friend from her well-earned peace."
"Oh, my dearest friend." Maggie turned and reached out. A transparent, icy hand brushed across Eve's cheek. "None of this was about wanting to go but wanting to stay, to help. But come, there are details I can't trust myself to remember. I'll take you to where the Sanctuary left me. You can't go in, but you of all people should know where I came out." She turned and resumed her float. Eve and the detective tried again to keep up.
The spirits that pledged themselves to Eve's Ghost Precinct promised they wouldn't go on to the Sweet Summerland, as the Spiritualists called their idea of a heavenly plane, without telling their coworkers. It was a way of ensuring that the delicate channel between the precinct Mediums and the spirits did not tear itself into injurious pieces. An open, psychic channel to the spirit world hurt if torn away and not properly shut. A wounded third eye could never properly heal. It had injured Eve when Maggie had been ripped away. It seemed the spirit hadn't thought of that. Eve swallowed back a reprimand that would seem ungrateful considering how glad she was to see her dead friend.
"Eve, who is this gentleman trailing you?" Maggie waved an incorporeal hand toward the detective. "Have you started hiring men since I've been gone?"
Eve shook her head. "Detective Horowitz and I have been consulting on strange cases that have unexpected, intersecting patterns. He's been a critical liaison for the department and a valuable friend."
"To be clear," the detective added, looking vaguely in Maggie's direction as they continued uptown, his gaze focusing and losing focus as if he faintly caught sight of her spectral person then lost her again. "I do support Miss Whitby and her precinct, even if I don't always understand it."
The public at large didn't know about the existence of the small Ghost Precinct, technically part of the New York Police Department. The few lieutenants and sergeants who did know thought the whole thing preposterous. "Full of hogwash," Eve had overheard one day in Mulberry Headquarters. The fact that the Ghost Precinct was made up of women didn't help the force's estimation, and it had been Eve's hope that Horowitz championing them would help win over some colleagues. The ones who didn't similarly judge him for being Jewish, that is.
The unlikely trio made the last fifteen blocks to Grand Central quicker by jogging over an avenue to catch an uptown trolley line, hopping on the next car that clanged its bell at the stop.
Maggie looked around with fierce interest in every sensory detail as the trolley dinged along, her luminous eyes taking in every storefront and theatre. The venues grew grander as the blocks ticked up their numbers. The ghost seemed to study every horse and cart, carriage or hack; every passerby, be they elegant or ragged, watching the shifting sea of hats along the sidewalk, from silk top to tattered caps, feathered millinery to threadbare scarves, forms dodging and darting like fish in a narrow stream. Eve saw it all pass around and through the ghost, her transparent image superimposed over the tumult of midday Manhattan.
"I've missed you," the specter murmured to the metropolis. Eve didn't hear New York reply, but she felt it in her heart. When one genuinely loved the city, the soul of New York took note.
Watching Maggie watch New York was a study in eternal eagerness. Love kept the good spirits tethered to the tactile world. Moments like this were Eve's lesson about life taught by the dead: drink it all in, the chaos, the tumult, the bustle of existence and its myriad details as much as possible, as one's relationship to it all could change at any moment.
Once inside Grand Central Depot, a noisy, dark, crowded place filled with glass and trestles, soot and steam, a building dearly overdue for an upgrade to a full station, Maggie gestured toward a particular platform.
"Transit is with us, and if we're quick, you can be back within the two hours I quoted," the ghost exclaimed, wafting up train-car steps on the northern line. With a screeching rumble and a billowing burst of steam, they were off. Eve and the detective took a small bench at the rear of a car before pausing to consider whether it was wise to trust the demands of an excitable ghost.
Greenwich Village, Manhattan
Three mediums of the Ghost Precinct waited for their manager to return, sitting primly at their séance table on a crisp late autumn day. Hands clasped together, they were ready to begin. The lancet windows of their rear office had been cranked wide open to hear the clamor of New York City meld with the rustle of falling leaves and the constant whispers of the dead.
Cora Dupris, Antonia Morelli, and Jenny Friel had been left alone at the Ghost Precinct offices after having given their leader, Eve, a bit of a hard time about leaving again on a whim with the detective to whom she seemed to have a growing attraction. They knew that to wait for her to begin their séance would waste a precious opportunity for new information regarding the many loose ends of their cases. The three young mediums came from vastly different backgrounds and circumstance but were brought together by their gifts and calmly began their ritual of communing with the dead.
Cora, Eve's second-in-command, a year behind her at age eighteen, struck the match.
"Good spirits, come and speak with us, in the respect of your life and your cares in this world. Is there a spirit who would like our attention? We still seek our friend Maggie. We still seek answers for that which remains unsolved."
Two ghosts appeared, their transparent, greyscale forms fully manifest on either side of the table. The two girls, little Zofia and the elder Olga, were immigrants from Poland and the Ukraine who had died in the same garment district fire years prior. Their spirits, most keen on keeping other young people from similar fates or myriad abuses in the vast, churning, industrial behemoth city, quietly stood watch over the proceedings as devoted spectral assets to the Ghost Precinct. Zofia chose to remain a consistent haunt; Olga chose to manifest only during séances. Both girls were silvery, luminous, with dark charcoal hair pulled back from their sharp-featured faces. The darkened, singed hem of their simple dresses was the only reminder of how they'd died.
The appearance of these precinct assets — ghostly, serene faces staring at their living friends — heralded the opening of the spirit realm to mortal ears.
There was a rushing sound through the room, in an ethereal echo, as if a great door had been opened.
"There's a host of children," Zofia said, uneasy. "And they've been wronged somehow."
"We are listening," Cora responded, speaking loudly to the spirit world as a whole but nodding at Zofia to make sure the girl knew she was heard and understood. So often spirits spoke, trying to help the living, and were ignored.
A thousand whispers crested around the mediums like a tidal wave, a jumble of woe, impossible to make out one word over the next. Little Jenny clapped her hands over her ears. Antonia, her tall, wide-shouldered body sitting starkly still and bolt straight, winced. Cora released a held breath carefully, slowly, as if she were lowering a great weight onto her delicate shoulders, untucking a handkerchief from her lace cuff to dab at the moisture that had sprung up on her light brown brow.
There was another sound, a scuttling behind them, though they could see nothing. They felt presences they could not see. Ghosts were unpredictable in the ways in which they manifested. The scurrying sound, accompanied by the same wash of urgent whispers, swept over to the locked file cabinets against their rear wall.
The young women turned their heads very slowly.
Just because one worked with the dead didn't mean they couldn't be frightening. Spirits were often creatures of startle and shock.
The precinct file cabinets flew open.
All of the women jumped.
"But we don't even have all the keys," Cora said, wondering how the ghosts could possibly have unlocked the dusty old wooden cabinets filled with incomplete and shoddily taken case notes from earlier decades of corruption and disarray.
Below one of the four desks scattered about the long room, the center drawer creaked open of its own accord. Then another desk's drawer. Then a third. Papers rustled, and a few flew out. Then a few more.
Jenny edged over to the seventeen-year-old Antonia, who held her long arm out for the little girl who had become a surrogate sister, and the child tucked in against her. Antonia kept herself calm and collected, for Jenny's sake if nothing else. The little girl didn't need to sign, or write a note to be understood, her small form shook, making Antonia hold her all the tighter. The child didn't need to have any further traumas added to her condition of selective mutism.
"Spirits, what do you wish to tell us?" Cora demanded, finding her voice.
"And why this display? You've never been the sort to give us poltergeists!" Antonia exclaimed.
"Find us ..." came a murmur that consolidated from the voices, the words racing around the room in a freezing chill, though no spirits could be seen to have made the declaration. It came from the fabric of the air itself, repeating again, in aching earnest. "Come find what we've lost!"CHAPTER 2
As the train rumbled away from the depot, heading north, Eve felt driven by something beyond her control. The spirit world was like that, a runaway train, but so too was flirtation, and she was driven by another excuse for she and the detective to be together. Alone. Without a chaperone. For an extended period of time.
For a moment back at the park she and the detective had leaned in, so close, intimate. She wasn't sure how she felt about their near kiss, but she wanted more time to sort it out. The detective wore a pensive, faraway look, his elegant angles turned toward patches of dappled sun blinking through trees as the train gained ground level again. Perhaps he was as dazed as she felt about what was happening.
She and the detective had agreed to "court" on the pretense of averting their parents' mutual pressures about finding someone to marry. A convenient ruse. Whether the courtship was a mere act anymore wasn't something Eve dared ask.
"You know, there's so much ..." Maggie began, taking on a thoughtful gaze as the city rolled away, opening to patches of green and less dense buildings.
"So much what, dear?" Eve asked, accustomed to reminding a ghost to make its point. Sometimes spirits were just as distracted as a young person trying very hard not to fall in love.
"How much there is in the city to block us out," Maggie said. "So much noise. It's a wonder you and the girls can ever hear us. We're going somewhere quieter."
"Can you hear her now?" Eve asked the detective. "Maggie?"
He turned away from the window, looking at Eve and then off just behind her, near to where Maggie floated but not exactly. "Bits and pieces."
"Take his hand, Eve; if you want him to hear, you know that will strengthen the channel," Maggie said. Eve tried to cool her blush, but it bloomed on her cheeks regardless. "And it seems to me you want to hold his hand, so ..." Maggie murmured, a draft against Eve's ear.
"I do not —" Eve said to Maggie through clenched teeth.
"What? What's wrong?" the detective asked. His brown eyes ringed with striking blue pierced her, searching.
"Nothing," both Eve and Maggie said quickly.
Eve did not take his hand, and they returned to their pensiveness as the Hudson Valley came into full and glorious view. The scenes of bridges, sweeping vistas, grand mansions and dramatic tree lines in full autumnal glory along a glittering, wending river rendered them reverently quiet.
It occurred to Eve after taking in the picturesque scenery that she didn't know what had happened to Maggie in the first place. "Maggie, tell me what happened the night you disappeared. Before you show me what saved you, what threatened you? Where were you?"
"The Prenze mansion."
Eve shot a wide-eyed look at the detective.
He cocked his head to the side. "Did I just hear the name Prenze?"
"You did," Eve said in an undertone, careful to check her surroundings. Other passengers, in a mixture of simple business wear or more elegant finery, seemed preoccupied with the view, newspapers, or books. Caution was wise, as the Prenze clan was prominent and powerful. The patriarchs were twins, one alive and one presumed dead, and they cherished their younger sister. None had children that Eve knew of. The Prenze family had made their fortune off dubiously healthful tonics, and the family name kept circling in Eve's precinct for reasons she hadn't yet determined. Because of their prominence, she didn't want any gossip to escape via eavesdroppers. She didn't need more detractors.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Sanctuary of Spirits"
Copyright © 2019 Leanna Renee Hieber.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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