It is officially less than a month until The Reanimator’s Heart (The Reanimator Mysteries #1) releases in ebook and paperback form (October 25th!). You can read the prologue and chapter 1 in a previous blog post. Today, I wanted to share with you chapter two. Do you need to have read the prologue and chapter 1? No. You can definitely read this one independently. Hopefully this will whet your appetite until it releases in a month.
I’m also super excited because so far the reviews that have come from early readers have been very positive. If you’re interested, you can preorder it here at your favorite ebook retailer. Paperbacks will be available closer to launch day.
Chapter Two: Masks
Felipe stared out the window of his apartment at the back of the Paranormal Society, though he wasn’t truly looking. He had been back for nearly three days, and while he slept through most of the first day, he should have unpacked his bags by now. But he couldn’t bring himself to do it. He had used this apartment as a landing ground between trips and investigations for years, yet it never truly felt like home. At the other hotels and safehouses, he never unpacked. Why should he here? But it was his. His name was on the door, his extra clothing hung in the wardrobe, his daughter’s picture and their family portrait sat on the dresser. Putting the teacup of sherry he had been nursing on the windowsill, Felipe snatched up the last picture they had taken as a family.
It had only been taken two years ago, but he looked so much younger to his eyes. There was no stripe of grey near his temples to mar the sweep of walnut brown. Louisa had told him it made him look distinguished, but his father was sixty and had less grey and it made him feel old. Now, he had dark circles and more lines at the corners of his eyes. Beside him in the photograph was his daughter. Teresa had been seventeen when they had had their picture taken. Where there once was an unsure girl, Teresa had now grown into a woman with plenty of ideas and opinions and a whole future unfolding before her. She was studying at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women now. One day, she would go on to study design in Europe and have her work in the best department stores, he was sure of it. While he was in town, he should take the train to visit her.
He sighed and scrubbed a hand over his face. He should visit Louisa, too. She and her partner, Agatha, always knew how to snap him out of these grey moods. Vibrant, clever Louisa who never seemed to change in all the years they had known each other. She had, of course, but it always was in ways that made her more herself. Louisa grew out and up like a tree, stronger and better, while he felt the years creep over him like a fungus. With Teresa out of the house, Louisa had taken up new causes and spent more time at the gallery with Agatha. Felipe was happy for Louisa and Agatha finally having more alone time together. After all, his and Louisa’s reciprocal proclivities had drawn them together into their marriage of convenience in the first place, but it had been a long time since he had that sort of steady companionship.
Even without all the women in his life, he should be happy to be back in Manhattan. The city had everything he could possibly want: a wealth of entertainment, food he couldn’t find anywhere else in the country, the best tailors and department stores, a community of men who shared his tastes, yet he still felt hollow and alone. So unbearably alone.
At the solid rap of a knuckle on the door to his rooms, Felipe pulled himself together and put on his usual devil-may-care expression. The look fell off his face when he came eye-to-eye with Oliver Barlow. When he told Miss Jones he was looking for Barlow, he had never expected him to actually come. Barlow rarely came up to the society’s main rooms, except to eat, and almost never paid visits. Hell, he barely opened the door of his lab. In previous trips, Felipe had knocked but received no answer despite hearing the other man moving around inside. It wasn’t the worst outcome as Oliver Barlow had the worst effect on him, yet the other man didn’t seem to notice. Barlow wasn’t beautiful in the way most men were, but he was arresting. His skin was deathly pale, to the point that Felipe had thought him ill when they first met, which was only compounded by his severe black hair and grey eyes. He reminded Felipe of a drawing done in charcoal, all hues of black and white, which carried to his clothing, as he always wore the same nearly black suit and grey tie. The most color came from Barlow’s shapely mouth, which hung agape for a brief second before it snapped shut and the solemn, stiff man he presented to the world reappeared.
Behind him, Gwen Jones stood watching them with interest. Felipe often wondered if Miss Jones had taken to Barlow for the contrast alone. He was all stillness while she was all motion. She was full of warmth with her copper skin and vibrantly patterned dresses while Barlow exuded a sepulchral air befitting his job. She flashed Barlow a grin before slipping down the hall. He stared at her longingly as she mouthed, “You’ll be fine,” before he turned back to meet Felipe’s gaze.
“Gwen— Miss Jones said you wanted to speak to me.”
“Yes, please, come in.”
Barlow hovered in the doorway a moment too long, and for a second, Felipe thought he might book until he seemed to force himself to dart inside as if he didn’t trust himself to slow down. Closing the door behind them, Felipe turned to the tea service he had forgotten on the sideboard. Beneath the garish cozy, the pot remained warm. As he poured some tea into his remaining sherry, he watched Barlow from the corner of his eye. He stood in the center of the room with his hands clasped behind his back, but his gaze slipped over the furniture and hearth, lingering on the closed door on the far side of the room. Felipe thought Barlow lived at the Paranormal Society as well, though he could never figure out which room was his.
“Would you like some tea?”
Barlow hesitated again. “Yes, thank you.” He added in clipped tones, “One sugar and a finger of cream, please.”
“A finger? You don’t hear that often with tea. I have sherry if you’d prefer it.”
Crinkling his nose, he shook his head. “No, thank you. Tea is fine.”
Felipe poured him a cup, careful to follow Barlow’s specifications with the man’s grey eyes boring into him. He must have done it correctly as a ghost of a smile appeared when Barlow saw the color of his drink.
“Please have a seat.”
Trepidation flickered over the medical examiner’s face, disappearing as quickly as it came. Taking the chair across from Felipe, Oliver Barlow sat ramrod straight with his ankles crossed and looked as if he wanted to be anywhere but in Felipe’s sitting room. Better to get it over with.
“You probably know I recently returned from a trip out west with Inspector Monroe. While we were in California, we were asked to visit the estate of an anatomist of some renown who recently passed. The old man was into some esoteric things, but I came across a few specimens I thought you might be interested in.” Felipe’s lips quirked into a smile at the flash of interest that stole across Barlow’s features. “I have no idea if they’re what his records say they are, but I thought they might be of interest to you. I wanted to let you have a look before one of the junior archivists gets their hands on it and it disappears. You know how the archivists are.”
From behind the armchair, Felipe carefully hefted the crate and placed it between them. Barlow’s eyes widened as he abandoned his tea on the armrest. He stared at the box with a reverence that belied the grossness of its contents.
As Barlow reached for the nearest jar, he snatched his hand back. “I should probably look at these later, downstairs.”
“You can look now if you want. I brought them back with you in mind.”
“You thought of me?” Barlow asked, his gaze solely on the specimens, but Felipe swallowed hard at the way he said it. The way Barlow’s voice became huskier, softer, when his attention was focused on things he liked went straight to his groin. The voice he used when prattling with Miss Jones was so different from what he used with the rest of them, but in the quiet of the sitting room with a box of specimens before him, Felipe thought he glimpsed the man underneath all the irreproachable tidiness and polite austerity.
Of course I thought of you, Felipe wanted to say, but instead, he sat in the armchair across from him and watched Barlow slip from the chair to kneel before the box. “As I mentioned, the man who owned the house had passed and his family wanted the Paranormal Society to collect anything they thought might be dangerous or useful. It isn’t all paranormal, but I figured you might know what they are and do something with them. Dissect them, maybe? Or add notes for the archives? They probably would have been thrown out otherwise. His daughter wasn’t particularly thrilled by the collection.”
Inside sat nearly a dozen specimens pickled in unknown fluid or alcohol. A few boasted disembodied tissue, limbs, or whole organs while the rest were from animals or sea creatures. A wax model of a werewolf in mid transformation laid at the bottom beside a pile of notebooks filled with anatomical and life drawings. Or that’s what Felipe could surmise from his quick perusal. Looking at the more realistic drawings turned his stomach. He had seen enough things during investigations for his mind to fill in the horrific blanks.
“Some of these are new to me, but I already have a few of the more typical specimens. That isn’t a problem, though. You can’t have too many preserved hearts,” Barlow said, holding up a jar where a crusty, fist-sized heart sat serenely in cloudy, amber liquid.
“I’ll take your word for it.”
“I have a few in my personal collection already, but they’re all different. They usually look the same from the outside, but inside they might be thicker or scarred or clogged with oil. You wouldn’t always know that by looking at them. When you’ve seen one heart, you really haven’t seen them all.”
“And this is why you’re good at your job. You’re always willing to look beyond the obvious.”
Barlow’s ears and cheeks pinkened. Dropping the notebook he held in his other hand, he sat back on his heels and looked up at Felipe as if for the first time. “I never even asked how your trip was. That was incredibly rude of me.”
“It’s fine.” Felipe batted the thought away with a wave of his hand. “Honestly, I’m tired of talking about it. Everyone just wants to hear a good story, not the truth. I’ve retold the story at least five times. It’s hard to remember all the embellishments I added to make it interesting at this point.”
“You could tell me. The true version, that is.”
Staring at him for a long moment, Felipe nearly did. Oliver Barlow, strange as he was, wouldn’t ask for more than Felipe could give. He had never asked him to regale him with tales of monsters and saving the day. Barlow knew what the monsters looked like when he and the other investigators finished with them and what they could do to an unsuspecting victim. Felipe shook his head. The sherry must be loosening his tongue.
Instead, he put on his most affable smile and took another long sip of sherry-laced tea. “No one wants to hear about paperwork and estate sales. Tell me about your work instead. What have you been up to?”
“Nothing too arcane.” It didn’t seem like Barlow was going to elaborate, but when Felipe gave him a pointed look, he continued, “An investigator brought in a man they thought was mauled by a werewolf today. It turned out that his pet tigers tried to eat him.”
Gaping at him, Felipe laughed. “Is this a normal day for you?”
“Not really. Why?”
“Because you said it so casually, ‘Oh, he was eaten by his tigers,’ like it’s completely normal for that to happen.”
Oliver flipped through the leather tome in his lap without raising his gaze as he replied, “Stranger things have happened. Werewolf prejudice is all too common when, in reality, foolishness is the most common killer.”
“How did you figure out it was a tiger?”
Slowly putting the book and jars back in the crate, Barlow shifted back on his heels. Felipe watched as the other man seemed to slowly stiffen. The warm interest in his features had been replaced by something tight and bland. A lock falling tightly into place.
When Barlow spoke again, his voice had taken on a clipped, clinical quality. “The claw and teeth marks didn’t match a wolf. And the man owned two pet tigers, so that was the logical conclusion. I should really let you get back to whatever you were doing. I have a report to write about Mr. Henderson.”
Standing, Barlow returned his nearly full teacup to the tray and hefted the box into his arms as if it were nothing. Felipe wanted to say something. He wanted to ask him to stay and to tell him more about his cases, but there was a purposefulness and finality to Barlow’s movements that made that feel futile. Instead, he opened the door for him.
“Thank you for bringing these back for me, Inspector Galvan. I’ll make sure they make their way to the archives when I’m done with them.”
With a final nod of goodbye, Barlow briskly took off down the hall. Felipe stood watching his retreating back until he disappeared around the corner. Returning to the empty apartment, Felipe wished he knew what he said to make him leave.
Unlocking the laboratory door with the box balanced on his knee, Oliver barreled inside before he could drop it. The moment he put it down, he sank to his knees with his back pressed against the hard wall. His breath came in a panicked rush. Why did Galvan have to ask about how he knew? It had been going so well. “Well” being a very relative term, but Oliver had had many conversations go catastrophically wrong, and that certainly wasn’t one of them. But Galvan had to ask about the one thing he couldn’t discuss. When Oliver turned up at the New York Paranormal Society after being dismissed from Howard Hospital, they had been hesitant to take him on. On one hand, a doctor with extensive dissection experience and a tie to the paranormal meant they would have someone who could do forensic investigations without running out of the building screaming. Taking on a necromancer, on the other hand, was far less attractive.
From a young age, he had made certain his abilities were only a footnote on his record. The few who knew when he was hired worried they had made a mistake putting a necromancer in charge of a room full of dead bodies. Imagine the havoc he could have caused, but he made sure to downplay his abilities. After all, he could barely make a bone dance. Mostly because he didn’t try hard in front of them, but they didn’t need to know that. The less he said, the better. They couldn’t know that his methods were often as scientific as they were direct. His employers liked results and little mess, and as long as he gave them both, they rarely asked for specifics. But Galvan asked questions. Friendly questions any normal person would ask, but Oliver couldn’t answer like a normal person. If Galvan knew he could wake the dead, he would never think of him the same way again. He wouldn’t trust him, he wouldn’t bring him specimens from far-flung assignments, and he certainly wouldn’t take tea with him in his rooms.
Oliver pressed his eyes with the heels of his hands. Why couldn’t he have been born with telekinesis like Gwen? Hell, if he had been born a werewolf, his life would have been easier. People were afraid of them, but that fear faded. The fear of someone who could manipulate the dead, potentially manipulate them one day, always remained. He could never forget that. Releasing a tremulous breath, Oliver shook out his hands and rubbed his face. Keeping Galvan at arm’s length was the most sensible solution. He had done it for years, and he would keep doing it. At least Galvan would probably be heading out on another mission soon, so all he had to do was hide away in the lab for a few more days, a fortnight at most, until he was gone.
Picking up the box of specimens, Oliver had gotten as far as the supply closet when a heavy knock sounded on the lab door. “Just a minute!”
At least no one but Gwen would barge in. Oliver smoothed his hair and the front of his clothing before making sure his face was set. He cast his gaze over the laboratory tables and floor one more time for anything he missed with Mr. Henderson and opened the door. Head Inspector Williams stood on the other side, his military bearing obvious even after years on land. Despite being past sixty and having a wooden leg, he was always the one to come all the way down to the basement to fetch Oliver when he needed something. Sometimes Oliver wondered if that was because Head Inspector Williams liked to stay active or because those under him refused to venture to the morgue.
“Mr. Barlow,” he said by way of greeting as he walked past Oliver into the laboratory’s anteroom. Once Oliver shut the door, he continued, “Have you gotten the chance to take a look at Hezekiah Henderson’s body yet?”
“Yes, sir. I don’t believe the cause of death to be paranormal. The bites look to have come from a wild cat, not a wolf or demon, as far as I can tell. They don’t appear to have human influence in terms of placement, so I would rule out a shifter.”
The older man nodded thoughtfully as he walked toward the shelf where Oliver kept his medical texts. Oliver tried not to flinch as the head inspector picked up a wax model of an eye and twirled the wooden stand between his hands. “I expect your report will be ready soon, so I can pass it on to the investigators.”
“Good.” When he put the model back with a thunk, Oliver’s shoulders relaxed a fraction. “Now, I need you to go out to the Corpus Christi Monastery in the West Bronx. A nun died, and the sisters suspect foul play— of the magical kind.”
Oliver frowned; it wasn’t often he was called out to the scene of a crime. “Why isn’t the body coming here?”
“The sisters aren’t comfortable with one of their own being brought to the Paranormal Society. They’re already going against their better judgement calling us in to take a look just in case.”
“Do you know why they suspect it’s something paranormal?”
“No idea, but you know how those types are, a superstitious lot.” As Oliver opened his mouth again, the head inspector held up his hand. “Save the rest of your questions for the nuns, Barlow.”
“Then, I’ll get my bags and leave within the hour, sir.”
“As much as I appreciate your expediency, Mr. Barlow, you might want to wait for your companions. That way you only have to take one steamer.”
“I’m sending you out with Newman and Galvan. They’re Catholic and less,” he made a vague gesture at Oliver’s person, “so they’ll smooth things over for you. It’s for the best that they go in first. The nuns are already jumpy.”
And you’ll make it worse. Oliver clenched his fist behind his back even as he nodded in agreement. “Yes, sir. I’ll meet them upstairs shortly, then.”
“Good. I knew you would be reasonable.” Head Inspector Williams took a step toward the door to leave but turned and said, “If you could clear this matter up quickly, I’d appreciate it. No dog and pony show if it isn’t necessary. Not everyone needs to be sliced and diced, you understand?”
“Yes, sir,” he replied tightly.
When the head inspector left, Oliver stood very still watching the shut door. For his entire life, he had heard the same thing: too brusque, too to the point, too honest, too you, too much. He could make himself as small as possible and they would still say it; they still did. Sighing silently, he gathered all the things he would need into a gladstone bag and prepared himself mentally for the ride to the West Bronx. His hopes of avoiding Galvan were dashed, but luckily, the man would probably not want to talk to him anyway after how he bolted. Locking the laboratory door behind him, Oliver eyed the plaque that read, Oliver Barlow, Medical Examiner. It should have read, Oliver Barlow, unsuitable, as always.
If you’re excited to read The Reanimator’s Heart, you can preorder your ebook copy at all major retailers by clicking this link.