THE CAPITAL EXPRESS shuddered to a halt. "Why are we stopping?" Ben Magruder squinted out the window.
"Carrollton Viaduct," said Enoch Rubman. "Most likely a freight barring our way. Give it a few minutes and we'll be rolling again."
Ira Nutwell studied his cards. "You ought to know, being as you're the big railroad man. By the way, the whores in D.C. were right accommodating. How'd you know about that house?"
"Research. Nothing but the best for old soldiers." Enoch puffed on his cigar and smiled lazily.
A half an hour earlier the three men had finished an eight-course dinner inside the train's luxurious private car. Its curtains of plum velvet shielded the three of them from the fireflies flickering in the soft Maryland night. The glow shed by the car's batwing gas burners burnished their faces. Their eyes glistened with memories.
Nutwell stroked his luxurious auburn mustache. "You ever think about that cave, Enoch?"
"Never. That's the past."
"Past has a way of coming back at you."
"Not when you've got my future."
Nutwell guffawed. "Damn, but who would have thought it!" He punched Enoch's shoulder. "You such a big muckety-muck with the B and O. You the worst hellraiser of the bunch! Now you're a family man."
"Two kiddies and another in the oven," Rubman agreed. He chewed his cigar with enjoyment. "The wife is just what she should be. Reads the Bible and thinks of nothing but good works." He winked at Magruder. The thin, balding man with the goatee winked back.
The train's iron wheels had been still for several minutes, but a loud clacking broke the silence. Magruder looked around frowning. "What the devil?"
The clacking became a thunderous roar.
"Christ!" Enoch leaped to his feet, knocking back his seat. The bottle of very old rye the men had been draining crashed to the floor amidst scattered cards. While his friends cursed, Enoch dashed to the rear window and tore aside a curtain. His insides liquefied. "Run for it. We're being telescoped!"
Nutwell and Magruder were out of their seats, Enoch well ahead of them. He knew about telescoped railroad cars. He'd seen the splintered wood and twisted metal, the burned and broken bodies. Escape! But he was too late. The runaway car he'd spied coming at them plunged through the rear of the private car like a brick through a cracker box. Ripping wood howled and tortured metal shrieked. The private car was upended and shoved overtop the one ahead. Seconds later it exploded into flames with the three men trapped inside.
DEPUTY MARSHAL RACKLEY spit a brown wad onto the wood floor. "Time to see if you're as good as you're cracked up to be." His voice dripped doubt.
Oliver Redcastle folded his jacket over a chair stacked with ladies undergarments. He knocked a stack of corsets off another chair and positioned it at an angle to the window. He took the Remington-Beals Single Shot out of its deer hide case. It's curly maple stock, well-polished by years of use, glowed in the dim light.
He ran a finger down its barrel to check its convertible front site, then peered through the rear site. He manipulated its action to see if it was still smooth as cold satin. It was. He slid in a .32 rimfire cartridge. With an effort, because his knee had been paining him all day, he knelt in front of the open window and rested his bent elbow on the edge of the chair. Slowly, he leaned his weight on it and worked the rifle's butt into his shoulder.
Rackley and Lieutenant Krooth of the Eastern District had commandeered this third floor bedroom atop a corset shop opposite Hiram Flatt's tin emporium. Flatt was holed up with an eight-year-old girl he'd kidnapped hours earlier.
Since two other city children of a similar age had been kidnapped, molested, and murdered, the Baltimore police assumed Flatt intended the same fate for his present victim. This time, however, the tin man had made an error.
The other hapless children had been the offspring of immigrant cannery workers. The police had not exerted themselves. This child, Annie Bailey, was the pampered daughter of a prominent banker. Soon after she'd disappeared, lawmen scoured the city. Now, they'd cordoned off the cobblestone block on either side of Flatt's house. Around the barriers neighbors and curiosity seekers pressed against the officers grimly standing guard in the dusk.
"Light's mighty poor. Think you can get him, Redcastle?"
"Depends if he shows himself at the window before dark. If he stays out of sight, you may have to rush the house." Oliver passed a hand over his forehead. If Flatt didn't show himself, he might be harming the child. If, on the other hand, the tinsmith did poke his fool head out, Oliver would kill him. He'd hoped he wouldn't have to kill a man again.
Rackley tugged at his muttonchop whiskers, then took another cut of tobacco and thrust it into the corner of his mouth. He was beefy, with a ruddy complexion that suggested a quick temper. "Flatt's a cornered rat," he said between chews. "If we rush him, he'll kill the child. Lord knows what he's done to the poor kiddie already."
Oliver understood what it meant to be a father with a child at risk. He shifted some of his weight off his right elbow. Concentration was everything these situations. Let your mind wander and you'd lose your chance. Nevertheless, it was a chore to ignore Rackley spitting as his square-toed shoes paced a groove in the floor.
Rackley said, "I only made such a fuss to get you here because my man, Gloger, is down sick. Gloger's the best shot in fifty miles."
"During the war he went sesesh. Shot blue coats out of the trees like ripe fruit."
Oliver wished Rackley would shut up. The reek coming off him suggested that his monthly bath was inadequate.
"How'd you get to be a marksman, Redcastle?"
"Shooting rattlesnakes for dinner."
"Ain't no rattlesnakes in Baltimore."
"I grew up in Kansas." His gaze flickered over the street below. Flatt appeared to be quite an accomplished tinsmith. His shop windows were stuffed with pans, kettles, buckets, squirrel cages, and the small tin horns used by garbage cart drivers and fish peddlers.
Some of the neighbors shouting jeers at Flatt's upper windows had doubtless patronized his business never guessing his sick obsession with children.
"If I get a clear shot at him," Oliver said, "do you want me to wing him?"
"Don't take chances. Do whatever need be to save the child. I promised her father she'd come home safe."
"It may already be too late."
Across the street an unseen hand shoved up a window. The grimy strip of burlap covering it was torn aside and the silhouette of a smallish man appeared. In front of him was the child. Flatt pressed a knife to Annie Bailey's throat and held her close to shield himself.
A cry went up from the crowd outside the cordon of police. As Oliver squinted down the Remington's long barrel, he heard it only as a muted roar, like the rush of waves on a distant shore.
It was that twilight period when solid shapes dissolve into shadow and dusk deceives the eye. But Oliver saw Flatt as if the man were bathed in radiance. The universe contained only himself, Flatt, and the child between them. Time slowed to the heavy tick of his pulse.
Horrified screams wavered up from the crowd. The knife dropped away from little Annie Bailey's throat. Behind her, Flatt swayed and jerked. He sagged out of sight. A bullet hole divided his colorless eyebrows.
TWO HOURS later Oliver climbed off a horse-drawn streetcar. He adjusted the weight of the Remington slung over his shoulder in its case, and set off toward home. Limping down the brick sidewalk, he passed three boys playing leapfrog. Lilac, brick dust, and horse urine scented the warm night.
He'd recently inherited his aunt's red brick rowhouse. As a child he had visited her in summer and admired the handsome brass knocker on her paneled door and the white marble steps and fancy iron rail that led up to the entrance. Those features still pleased him. Yet, if it weren't for his daughter, he might have sold the place instead of moving to Baltimore to make it his home.
Inside, Mrs. Milawny eyed the Remington weighing down his shoulder. "And did everything go well, sir? It give me a turn when the police came asking after you."
Mrs. Milawny had been in Oliver's employ for less than a week. She was a pleasant, motherly woman with an aphorism for every occasion. A pouf of blinding white hair crowned her broad forehead. With her crinkled blue eyes and apple cheeks she looked a proper mate for Father Christmas. So far she and Chloe had been dealing well together. Which was a blessing since the child was still nervous of him.
"I used to be in law enforcement. The local police needed some help with a kidnap case."
"That's why you took that big gun with you tonight?" Her white eyebrows flew up. "You wouldn't be a Pinkerton man, would you?"
"I was that for many years. No more. You needn't fear I'll be dealing with crooks. I'm here in Baltimore to open a new sort of business."
"You don't say so. And what would that be, sir?"
"Don't know just yet. I've given myself a year to look around before I decide. Is Chloe asleep?"
The interest on the housekeeper's face shifted to concern. "She's having a hard time with the asthma tonight, poor little soul. We don't appreciate the air we breathe 'til it's hard to find. I sat with her until she fell asleep. It tore at my heart. She was asking about her mother."
Mrs. Milawny gave Oliver a look that invited explanation. Ignoring it, he locked away his Remington and ascended the staircase. A candle burned on a table in his daughter's room. The smell of camphor lay over the airless enclosure.
He opened the curtains at the window and pulled up the sash. A puff of summer air, like a balloon on a thread of moonlight, streamed through the opening. Quietly, he lowered himself into the chair next to Chloe's bed. Through her shroud of mosquito netting, he studied her small face.
She resembled her pretty mother. The same thick auburn curls and alabaster skin. Was there anything of himself in those babyish features? Was he truly her father? Or had Marietta made a fool of him all over again?
As the child struggled for air, each of her labored breaths fluttered in the room like the wings of a trapped bird. A whitish film lay like a scale on her lips.
He thought of an icewagon he'd seen earlier and wished he had a sliver of that ice to lay against her tongue. He wrung a sponge out in the bowl of camphor water on the bedside table. He lifted the gauze canopy and wiped off her forehead and cheeks. It seemed to help. She turned her head and breathed a bit more easily.
Mrs. Milawny's stout body appeared in the doorway. She shot a disapproving glance at the open window and said, "You're wanted, sir. There's a man downstairs says he's got a job for you. Something about an accident on the railroad."