Friday, May 26, 2006

The Curse of Alexander Braker, Chapter 2

     There was time before the ball for Sam to get some research done. Back copies of the New York Imperial
Times would be his best source to start with.

     The first copy of the Times that he looked at was that day’s purchased from the boy just outside of Molly’s denire. The little short order place on the corner of his office building was one of Sam’s frequent haunts. Aside from his regular breakfast, Molly also served one of the best cups of coffee in the city.

     “Morning, Sam. What can I set you up with?”

     As always, Molly was right there with a cup of coffee and a menu. It never mattered that Sam was a creature of habit when it came to breakfast, Molly always had the menu. The point wasn’t that she might convince Sam to try something new, but instead, it served to cover the occasional copy of the Liberty Press she would pass along. Sam could tell that there was no new news from the underground press that day just from the feel of the backside of the menu.

     Sam had more on his mind than just breakfast this time. He took a couple of minutes of perusing the menu for appearance’s sake.

     “Two eggs, over easy and bacon, Molly.” The usual and nothing but. The food came over quickly and Sam tucked in with gusto. It wasn’t until after he finished eating that he got to the next part of the stop.

     “Molly, if I may take the liberty that was the best meal I’ve had in ages. My compliments to the man in back.”

     The diner matron smiled at the apparent compliment.

     “Why that’s so kind of you. I’ll make sure the word gets back. Have a nice day.”

     “You too, Molly.” Sam left a Mark on the counter with a healthy tip. He then left the diner, knowing that his need for a meeting with Liberty, the leader of the New York City Resistance, was on its way.

     The New York Public Library had undergone a major upheaval in the aftermath of the invasion. Much of the history and political philosophy works were put under lock and key. The Empire did everything it could to make it appear that the American Revolution and everything that happened afterward never happened. That included the newspaper archives. The only parts that were accessible were those that had been written under the Empire’s watchful eye.

     Sam worked two sections of the paper at the same time. Heading backward into the library’s archive, he found that the Albany-Wichita Railroad predated the Invasion. There was no mention that the ownership had changed when the Empire took over. Only those who had proven useful would have been allowed to keep possession of such a resource. That implicated Alexander Braker, in Sam’s mind, of having been a collaborator, if not an active traitor. Since then, the Barons Braker had kept a close working relationship with the Empire.

     The Board of Directors, beyond the family holdings, might have been an Empire in miniature. Among its members were members of the aristocracy, the Order of Illumination, and other Commerce Lords. Sam found names for most of them, including Lamar Steele, the representative of the Order of Illumination and the wizard who encouraged the whole idea of a party on the anniversary.

     In reference to the deaths whose anniversaries the gala was intended, the deaths of the two previous Barons Braker were covered as fully investigated accidents. The timing of Samuel’s death was noted, but only as an ironic point of interest.

     As an organ of the Empire since the invasion, the Times had to operate under the eye of the censors. Even so, Sam found stories of acts of sabotage and robberies of the Albany-Wichita Railroad. If some few stories had made it through, then there were probably twice as many that didn’t get reported. The stories that were printed were slanted into diatribes against the Resistance and sedition in general.

     The society pages had the stories regarding the Baronesses, both the mother Mildred and wife Amelia. The tones of the stories early on after the invasion regarding Mildred Braker were surprisingly frosty. Nothing out and out insulting, simply less than glowing descriptions or short shrift as if she were an afterthought. Over the course of many charity events and memberships in all the right organizations, she seemed to have redeemed herself of whatever stain her reputation had suffered.

     Amelia Braker (nee Emerson) appeared to have been embraced since her debut ten years previously. By the time of her marriage to Jonathon, whatever social stigma was on the family was entirely in the past.

     The search through the archive took Sam the best part of the day. He decided that an early dinner would be called for. So it was back to Molly’s for a bite. After the meal, Molly handed over the check. Sam pocketed it and paid with a good tip.

     Back in his office, Sam took a look at the back side of the check. McTaggart’s Pub, 10PM. Sam burned the check with a bare thought of magic.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Curse of Alexander Braker, Chapter 1

     There was little chance that Sam was going to forget about the meeting. Calliope was not going to let him, for one. She had been cleaning up the office while Sam was out on other jobs. He could not recall the office ever being tidy. Now it was cleaner than he had ever seen it.

     It was also not that having an appointment was that unusual. Work had been fairly decent, certainly enough to keep the landlord off his back and Calliope paid.

     No, the reason this meeting was special was that this was a meeting with a member of the gentry. Sam was a staunch Resistance man. Still, he had to keep a professional cover. So if a baroness wanted to meet with him, the least he had to do was hear her out. If this case worked out, then there might be more work with the better paying upper crust.

     That was why Sam found himself seated across his desk from one Baroness Amelia Braker. She was a young woman of about thirty years. She had brown hair tending toward red, and wore it in a fashionable cut just below her jaw line. Her dress was conservative, a matching skirt and jacket set of the lightest blue.

     On the lapel of the jacket was an Order of Commerse pin. That particular order was comprised of the business men who controlled most of the economy of the conquering Empire. The more equity that a person controlled, the higher his title within the Order. Baroness Amelia Braker was the wife of Baron Jonathon Braker, chief executive of the Albany-Wichita Railroad.

     Calliope had just made an offer of tea or coffee to Sam’s guest who politely declined.

     “I would much rather if we could just get to the matter at hand, Mr. Watson.”

     “Of course…,” Sam hesitated as he struggled to recall the appropriate honorific, “Your Excellency.” It was tempting to allow his voice to show the faint distaste he felt. He corralled the impulse as not good for either his cover or professional opportunities.

     “Please, Mr. Watson, Mrs. Braker is sufficient for now.”

     “Thank you, Mrs. Braker. Now, how may I be of assistance?”

     “I have been given to understand that you have experience in matters beyond normal.”

     Beyond normal. That was a first, even for Sam.

     “I presume,” said Sam, “that you mean the supernatural?”


     Sam paused to consider. He didn’t question that reputation. He’d had jobs dealing with ghosts and tangled with vampires. They tended to be interesting in manners less conducive to his health. Hopefully that didn’t mean that she knew he was a mage in his own right.

     “If you could give me some details, then I can give you what advice I can.”

     “I may be in need of more than just advice, Mr. Watson. I wish to hire you to provide some protection for a party this coming week.”

     “Protection from what?”

     “Pardon me, but I must explain regarding what I fear will happen. My husband’s father and brother had both died under strange circumstances. Jonathon, the Baron Braker, his father, Alexander, fell down a flight of stairs and broke his neck. His brother, Samuel, died after falling between rail cars on one of the company’s trains.”

     “Was there anything to imply that the two incidents were connected or anything more than accidents?”

     “First of all, Samuel died five years to the day after Alexander. I have difficulty believing that it was a coincidence.”

     “Then what makes you think it was not normal foul play?”

     “I am not entirely certain. There were guards at both scenes that saw them acting strangely, as if there was something behind them. Either all of the guards were involved in a conspiracy, or something frightened the two barons into accidents. The men in question are above reproach, or so say the Sheriff’s investigations into the deaths. The second option, however bizarre, strikes the family as the only one possible.”

     “I get the impression that you are not entirely sold on the idea of a curse.”

     “I am not,” said the Baroness. “There are some details that I, having married into the family, to which I am not privy. I have heard rumors among the staff that there was a message sent to Alexander that announced the curse. The stories range from a simple letter to the head of a dog being left in his bedroom. Despite my efforts, my husband refuses to discuss the matter.”

     “What of the elder Baroness? Has she told you anything of the matter?”

     “Humph. So far as Mildred is concerned, I am a nice little porcelain ornament for her son’s arm. She would prefer that I not have a brain in my head, and so she treats me as such. That has left me little choice but to make arrangements on my own.”

     “Has Mrs. Braker made arrangements?”

     “Yes, in fact the entire idea of the ball was the idea of one of the members of the Board of Directors. His name is Lamar Steele and he shall be representing the Order of Illumination.”

     “Steele is a mage?”


     Sam had to consider the point. Steele would surely establish some means of magical protection for the estate. Sam had little doubt about his ability to conceal his power from casual inspection. The defenses should be little problem in that regard. What would be more difficult would be to work whatever spells he might need without drawing attention.

     “I believe that I can help you, Baroness. My rate is fifty marks a day and I will need a couple of days before the event to do some research.” The rate was twice what same usually charged, but he reasoned that the rich were different.

     He was proven right when the Baroness didn’t even blink at the price. With a handshake, they sealed the deal and Amelia Braker took her leave.

     “Calliope, how do you feel about heading for a little soiree?”

     “Sorry, Sam, not my scene. Besides, I already have a date.”

     “Hmm. Can you tell me where Rachel is working tonight?”

     “Sure, she’s at McCallum’s Joint tonight, and she just got a little black dress that she has been wanting to wear out.”

     Sam nodded as he picked up his hat.

     “Thanks. In the meantime, I need to get to the Times. I need to dig up what I can on this family before the party begins.”