The Spectral City

The Spectral City

by Leanna Renee Hieber

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Available for Pre-Order. This item will be available on November 27, 2018

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781635730616
Publisher: Random House
Publication date: 11/27/2018
Pages: 234
Sales rank: 255,096
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.53(d)

About the Author

Author, actress and playwright Leanna Renee Hieber grew up in rural Ohio inventing ghost stories. She graduated with a BFA in Theatre and a focus in the Victorian Era from Miami University. She began her theatrical career with the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company and began adapting works of 19th Century literature for the stage. Her novella Dark Nest won the 2009 Prism Award.

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CHAPTER 1

Manhattan, 1899

Only the ghosts surrounding Eve Whitby could cool her blushing cheeks as the inimitable Theodore Roosevelt, Governor of New York, stood to toast her before a host of lieutenants, detectives and patrolmen, all of whom found her highly dubious.

Many of these same New York Police Department officers found Roosevelt just as problematic. He wasn't Police Commissioner anymore — he'd used the notoriety from having cleaned up corruption within police departments and ridden it straight to the governorship, but as some detractors noted, the man couldn't leave well enough alone. So here he was meddling again with the police, and Eve was at the center of it.

While Eve tried to appear confident in most situations, being at the center of a crowd made her nerve-wracked and flushed. She was surer of her mission than she was of herself. When one followed a calling, passion was often a driving force greater than self-assuredness.

Whole departments turning to her and lifting glasses made her stomach lurch and waver like the transparent, hovering ghosts glowing about the room who made her work possible. She looked down at the hem of her black dress — simple light wool attire of clean lines and polished buttons she'd designed to look like a police matron's uniform, but in the colors of mourning. When she took on this department, she donned mourning. Not out of sorrow, but in celebration of her co-workers, the dead.

I am a woman of particular purpose ... she thought, an internal rallying cry. Any moment Roosevelt was going to make an announcement about The Ghost Precinct, the project she'd put everything in her young life on hold to spearhead.

Taking a breath, she steadied her feet, shifting the heel of her black boots on the smooth wooden floor. She glanced in a mirror and tucked an errant thick black lock of hair back into her bun, trying to shift her pallid, nearly sickly- looking expression to something that appeared more commanding lest her wide green eyes give away her concerns.

The manner in which the three ghosts at the edges of the room were bobbing insistently in the air meant something. They had something to say and were her most vocal operatives. Vera, Olga, and little Zofia, who was actually wringing her hands. Eve had asked that her operative spirits not come tonight, for fear of distraction, but they had come regardless. She ignored them, though their behavior made her nervous. Something was wrong. But she couldn't ask what. Not now. Not in the spotlight in front of a crowd who didn't trust her.

Roosevelt, dressed in a white suit with a striped waistcoat, his iconic moustache moving with his expressive face as if it were punctuating his dialogue, adjusted his wire-rimmed glasses, lifted a glass, and bid his fellows do the same.

"I give you Miss Evelyn H. Whitby, daughter of Lord and Lady Denbury, and I bid you toast the inception of her Ghost Precinct. Now, because we live in an age of skeptics and charlatans in equal measure, we're not going public about this Precinct beyond our department heads here. We don't need undue fuss, we don't need hysterics. What we know conclusively is that this young woman's talents aided in solving two brutal murders to date. As we near a new century, no one knows what new crimes will come with it, but one thing we can count on is that there will always be the dead, with a perspective none of us have. It's foolish to leave such a resource untapped, especially as this city grows by the thousands every month.

"We await many more resolutions and have directed her to cases that have gone cold. Perhaps, dare I say, she and her colleagues may even garner a few premonitions to stop a crime before it's even begun! To the young lady and her ghosts! Whether you're a believer or not, she has assured me there's nothing to be afraid of!"

There was a polite if less than enthusiastic clap of hands.

Nothing to be afraid of ... she repeated to herself. That's exactly your purpose on this earth, to make ghosts a less frightful reality for those who do believe. For those who can see, for those who want to know. You are the voice of the departed, you are their champion. Be proud. Show these people how proud you are to be the advocate for the dead.

Eve nodded to the politician, squared her shoulders, lifted her flute, and allowed herself to enjoy the distinct, sweet bite of a good champagne, feeling the chill of the dead on the air. If her spirits could not calm her nerves with their presence, at least their drastic temperature wafting towards her warm cheeks made her appear more poised and stoic than nervous in the spotlight.

While she was fairly certain she was the only one present who could fully see and interact with her spirit department, she didn't rule out that some members of the force might be aware that they were being watched from beyond the veil. While the ghosts had disobeyed Eve's orders to stay entirely away tonight, at least they were keeping their distance from the attendees, as some of her friends and family were too affected when more than one was in the room. When she had agreed to be noted in tonight's reception, she'd done everything in her power to avoid a scene.

The intense, inimitable Mister Roosevelt had never tried to convince the New York Metropolitan Police Force that creating a 'Ghost Precinct' was a good idea; he had simply done it. He made it Eve's purview and ensured, thanks to powerful allies, that she had access to departmental services, support, and resources. He had also kept the press out of it lest the Precinct become, as he'd said, "an unnecessary rodeo. I don't want to field calls for you to contact departed loved ones unless they can solve crimes." Roosevelt wasn't a man who much cared what other people thought when he was committed to a cause, and that quality was maybe the only thing she had in common with the bombastic legislator.

When Roosevelt had told her family he wanted to honor Eve and the Precinct, her grandmother Evelyn, whom she was named for, had taken control of the arrangements to ensure the reception was held in the grand downstairs foyer of The Players Club, Edwin Booth's beautiful brownstone complex in Gramercy Park, established in hopes of making the theatre more respectable — a much harder sell after his brother had killed President Lincoln.

While most of the city's grandest clubs were for men only, as was the Players Club's regular membership, Eve fought additional stigma regarding Spiritualists, mediums, psychics and the lot — a hierarchy of respectability that kept a celebration like this relegated only to theatrical spaces. Whether they were believed or exposed as frauds, people passionately loved or hated a woman who spoke with the dead. There was hardly a middle ground. She could not be entirely lauded, and would always be considered suspect. Eve had heard one detractor say that people like her were for 'parlor tricks, not politics'. The man had been a New York congressional representative and had stood in the way of her department when it was first being finalized with the police commissioner. Roosevelt had ignored him and had bid Eve do the same. She was hardly as positioned or as powerful as the Governor, but she tried to follow his lead.

Her parents, Lord and Lady Denbury, were sitting off to the side of the richly-appointed foyer. Poised on cushioned benches against the wood-paneled wall, they watched uncomfortably, in elegant but subdued evening dress, matching the tone of mourning dress Eve had taken on out of the kind of respect and engagement she hoped would ensure spirits' ongoing help. The mourning, she felt, was not only a uniform for this work, it was a mission.

To either side were her grandparents, Evelyn looking on in beaming pride in a stunning black gown direct from France, taking the mourning cue from her granddaughter. Her grandfather Gareth looked pleasantly baffled in a plain black suit, choosing to cope with a strange world by way of detached bemusement. This attitude had served him well thus far and kept relations with his clairvoyant wife at their most pleasant.

Eve's parents had come to know the paranormal by violent force. By murder and horror. Her father was a titled English Lord who had been targeted by a demonic society, her mother was a middle class New Yorker. She and Gran had been the only ones who had helped him and it was incredible they had survived at all, having both been targeted by abject evil. They'd survived thanks to cleverness, good friends and Gran's help. They'd fallen in love, married and remained in New York, hoping to have a normal life with their newborn Eve, praying none of what they went through would be passed on to her. They would never fully accept a life lived with ghosts at the fore and Eve could not expect them to.

The gifts Eve manifested placed a distinct strain on the family. Not wishing to bring such loving parents any inconvenience, let alone pain, she had tried to block out her gifts, once.

That effort had nearly killed her at age nine. When she'd tried to stop hearing the dead, migraines had seared her head for weeks, and she couldn't eat or sleep. Only when she opened back up to hear the murmurs of the spirit world could she breathe again, her fever breaking and life returning to her paranormal normal.

The reality of this precinct meant she could never go back on her talents. The dead would never let her. Her parents knew it, as she could tell by their haunted gazes. A new chapter had begun.

Roosevelt was staring at her. So were her ghosts, expectantly. So were all the men.

"Would you like to say a few words, Miss Whitby?" Roosevelt prompted.

"Ah." She wouldn't have liked to, really, as nerves always got the better of her if she was put on the spot in such a manner, but it was necessary.

Taking a deep breath, she thought about what was best to say. The absence of trust in the room felt like an impossible gulf to cross. She wanted to thank her mediums but that seemed odd after not having invited them. She didn't want the patrolmen, detectives and lieutenants to look at a group of four young women of vastly different backgrounds and judge them all as a threat. She wanted that pressure to land solely upon herself, and keep her Sensitives sensitive, not defensive.

Taking a deep breath, she reminded herself that this department was her mission, it was not about her. It was about respect for the great work of mediums and all the good the dead could do for the living. Just like Edwin Booth had sought to lift up the profession of theatre by this grand space. This freed her to speak with a calm, crisp tone.

"In this day and age of charlatans and magicians in the guise of Spiritualism," she said. "I blame no one for their skepticism. In fact, I encourage it. Skepticism offers investigative integrity. A questioning mind solves a case. My specific and unprecedented Precinct hopes to earn continued trust by the thing we can all always agree on: solving crime and easing suffering."

She could see the unsure faces before her, some bemused, some seeming openly hostile. Every woman entering a predominantly male field had encountered these same faces, even without her subject matter being additional fodder for derision. Her nerves crested but she kept talking. She believed, above all, in her mission, and no critic would change that.

"However unorthodox the means," she continued, raising her voice and commanding more of the room, "however unprecedented the methods, our aims are mutual and always will be. Ghosts are far too often misunderstood, and I hope that by working with them in proven, positive ways, our work can begin to change the perception of hauntings. Spirits can walk where we cannot, hear what fails our mortal senses, and keep the most vigilant of watches when we must take our rest. I hope you will see them as a help, not a horror." She finished not with a request but a demand: "Thank you for your support."

"Hear, hear!" said Ambassador Bishop, a tall, striking, silver-haired man across the room. Impeccably dressed in a black silk tailcoat and charcoal brocade waistcoat, the diplomat to England and lifelong friend of the family lifted his champagne glass for a second toast. It was Bishop who had gotten Roosevelt involved in the first place, since his present ambassadorship did not carry the same legislative control as when he had been a New York senator. In those days he'd have seen to such a department himself.

Bishop's wife, Clara, a sharp-featured woman many years his junior, with dark golden hair that matched the gold core of her piercing eyes, stood at his elbow in a graceful plum gown. Clara stared at Eve with a fierce pride that held none of her family's hesitance. Eve owed more to Clara than either of them would admit to anyone but each other. Clara nodded at Eve as if she knew she was passing off work she could no longer do herself.

"Hear indeed, Ambassador!" Roosevelt exclaimed, grinning at the Bishops. "Now enjoy refreshments and the fine company! I'll be here if any of you men need me and Miss Whitby has been gracious enough to agree to answer some questions from the department present, provided they are posited with all due respect. Respect, and transparency. I didn't clean this filthy force up for nothing. Well, I reckon the Ghost Precinct will be our most transparent department yet! Ha!" Roosevelt slapped a hand on a serving table and enjoyed his pun amidst a few groans.

When asked Eve's opinion on Mister Roosevelt, she had once replied that he was a man who wanted to preserve wilderness so he could shoot things within it. That summed him up, she concluded. She found many of his ideas sensible but was often baffled by his road getting there. But no one could deny he was a compelling, larger-than-life character who never failed to surprise.

Gratitude was her most abundant sentiment, if she were asked how she felt in this moment. Thanks to Bishop and Roosevelt's machinations, she'd been given steady employment, without which, like all the many strong working women around her, she'd go mad. The moment she'd signed paperwork on the precinct, the constant, dull ache that rested at the base of her neck even if she wasn't having a migraine had eased. It was as if the whole of the spirit world that clutched at her from behind had released their talons ever so slightly. It was a world that wanted to be seen and acknowledged, and that's why it sought to communicate in such a wide array of methods. Now it was seen in a whole new light and given responsibilities.

At nineteen years old, when most young women of any kind of title and society were very busy with their 'seasons' and hoping for a well-placed marriage, Eve found she had no interest in following the path of her supposed peers in the city. Of course there was the occasional ball she attended due to the pressures of her father's Lordship, her gran's high-society dealings, her grandfather's Metropolitan Museum soirees, the Bishops' esteemed gatherings. But theirs were generally philanthropic functions that had great purpose, not dances meant to pair up eligible bachelors with debutantes. The former suited her, the latter bored her.

Her circle attracted a constant parade of ghosts whose chill presence ruined the warmth of a good party. Here at the Players, the fireplaces were roaring as the new electric fixtures were buzzing in a juxtaposition of ancient and modern light and heat, making the room so warm that the ghostly retinue on the margins caused a much-needed draft. But she couldn't keep ignoring them. If she did, they might start throwing things, and now was hardly the best time for a poltergeist.

Roosevelt held up his hand, hailing Eve as if he wished to speak with her, but men in tail-coats blocked his path as he took a step forward. As legislators were forever called upon for favors, the veritable inferno of energy that was Roosevelt was immediately beset by an entourage. Eve took this as a chance to slip away, into another room where the ghosts and she could speak freely.

Glancing around, she moved towards an opening in the crowd, preparing to make her way to whatever empty, dark space she could find in the grand place. But a young detective stepped into her path and she paused with a smile she hoped did not appear strained.

She recognized the dark-haired, clean-shaven, sharp-featured man with rich brown eyes ringed in blue; a distinct gaze that pierced her right to the core. During a recent case, Eve's ghosts had bid her examine a crime scene herself, as they were having trouble describing it. While she had not been welcome at the site, and it was assumed she would both be in the way and taint the evidence, this man had quelled the protesting officers on duty. He had found a place for her to stand within view of the exsanguinated body and take notes. It had been grim but her composure was a test that she'd passed.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "The Spectral City"
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Copyright © 2018 Leanna Renee Hieber.
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