Excerpt 3—The Dancer Wore Opera Rose
Mysterious Devices Book 2
Copyright 2018 by Shelley Adina
Chapter 1, Part 3
Wednesday, August 21, 1895
“There has been no word among the travelers at the airfield?” Freddie asked. “Or those who are employed by the airship companies? For we have information that as recently as April, our father, Professor Linden, was planning to make his way back to Santa Fe to look for us.”
He sipped his water. “He was known to be alive in April of this year? Four months ago?”
“Yes,” Daisy said. “Hence our eagerness to hear any news of him. For surely he would have been seen at one of the ticket offices, or even called here to make inquiries about my sister and me. I gave you his description in my letter, to remind you of what our mother would have told you. Though my account of his clothing is inaccurate. He was last seen wearing a military greatcoat of Prussian blue wool, not his tweed jacket.”
“He certainly hasn’t been here,” the general said flatly. “And I’ve heard nothing of an educated man with a Prussian accent, with or without a greatcoat.”
Heard nothing while sitting in his sunlit office with its view on the square? Or heard nothing while actively collaring people and asking them questions?
Daisy would have given anything to be a man at that moment, with the courage to ask.
Oh, bother that. It was only a question.
“While you may have heard nothing here at headquarters,” she said, “perhaps your men’s active questioning of people at the airfield, the boardinghouses, and the saloons might have borne more fruit?”
“We assume that is how an investigation might be conducted,” Freddie added. “We have little experience in such matters, naturally.”
“Naturally.” His blue gaze rested upon Daisy, tinged with what might possibly be dislike. “My men have better things to do with their time than to open a closed missing-persons case and start all over again. And now you tell me that your father is well—that no misadventure has befallen him, but instead he is alive, last seen in Reno. By whom was he seen?”
“By Captain Sir Ian and Captain Lady Hollys, of Her Majesty’s Airship Swan,” Freddie said proudly.
The dislike in his gaze congealed into something positively glacial. “Then surely you can see that we do not have a case here. Any investigation we might mount would only turn up the same conclusion—that he is alive as of four months ago, and nothing unpleasant has happened to him.”
“If that were the case, he would have found his way back to us,” Daisy said a little flatly. “The questions you must surely ask are, what prevented him, and where is he now?”
General Van Ness gazed at her. “Would he have found his way back to you? Are you quite certain?”
Daisy frowned. “I do not take your meaning, sir.”
“I merely point out that this would not be the first time a man has chosen not to return to the bosom of his family. For there are many opportunities in the Wild West for a man to remake himself, perhaps in an image that carries fewer expectations and greater freedom.”
Both young ladies stared at him until the silence became suffocating.
Under her jacket, blouse, corset, and chemise, Daisy’s heart pounded, flooding her body with the urge to fly across the short distance between them and claw his eyes out. Her silence was not rooted in something as namby-pamby as affront. No, if she was silent, it was because she had no resources to waste if she were to win this heroic struggle for self-control.
Now was not the time to be arrested for assaulting an officer.
“Then,” she said, choosing each word with care, “are we to infer that you will not be assisting us in locating our father? That the remit of the Texican Rangers does not extend to citizens of Her Majesty, despite the fact that our Texican train was attacked and he was kidnapped not fifty miles from here?”
He steepled his fingers and touched the forefingers to his lower lip. “Do you believe the Territory culpable in this matter? That because the Californios invaded our lands and kidnapped the male passengers from one of our trains for their work crews, we bear the responsibility for finding them?”
“It seems reasonable,” Freddie said after a moment, when it became plain that Daisy was not going to reply to the glaringly obvious.
“Then allow me to give you what information I do possess,” he said. “There is a new Viceroy on the throne of the Royal Kingdom now, and much has changed since you visited us last. The borders are open. Any men kidnapped to assist with the great dam or any other engineering project have been released without compensation or apology, to return to their homes and families. Men of talent are employed now, not enslaved, should they choose to remain.”
“I am glad to hear it, but what does that have to do with our father?” Freddie asked.
“Men have returned to their homes all over the Territory, following notices in the papers and published lists of the missing. We have been notified in most cases, and closed out dozens of files. If a man chooses not to come in to ask where his family has gone, or even to identify himself as having been a prisoner, then we can only assume he has his reasons. Of course, if a man chooses to be seen in Reno and then returns to the Royal Kingdom to seek employment, we would not be informed at all.”
“Our father would never—” Daisy began, her voice rising.
“If, after having seen his name on our published lists, Professor Linden reports to any of our detachments, we will notify you at once.”
“But he may not be able to—”
“Good day, Miss Linden. I am sorry I could not tell you what you wanted to hear. Please keep me informed of your whereabouts while you are in the Territory.”
And before Daisy could protest or scream or grasp a pillar and refuse to be moved, she and Freddie found themselves and their baggage outside on the boardwalk in the shade of the portal once again.
The warm air fanned her hot face, bringing with it the raw green scent of chilies being roasted somewhere in the warren of adobe buildings. A fine black horse trotted past bearing a Texican Ranger. And above the flat roofs, black birds with enormous wing spans circled the slender spires of rock that were as numerous as trees in this city.
“Daisy?” Freddie touched her arm. “What shall we do now?”
“I haven’t the faintest idea,” she said, watching the birds circling … circling … and wondering what dead things might be up there on the pinnacles to attract them so.
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