ROSE GALLAGHER OF THE PINKERTON DETECTIVE AGENCY—THE ART OF FALLING—NOVICES OF NEWPORT
The way the yellow-back novels tell it, being a female detective is full of flash and breathless adventure. To look at the covers, you’d be hard pressed to think of a more glamorous vocation: sly, svelte heroines smoking cigarettes and toting Colt revolvers, bursting onto murder scenes with petticoats billowing. Well, trust me, the real thing isn’t like that at all. I tried my hand with a Colt .45, but it was much too heavy. I don’t smoke, I’m more skinny than svelte, and my skirts are distinctly not of the billowing variety. As for glamour, well … it’s hard to look glamorous when you’re being thrown face-first to the floor.
I should know. By the autumn of 1886, I’d had plenty of practice.
If you’d told me back in January that I would be learning jujitsu, I’d have laughed, mostly because I’d never heard the word jujitsu. A humble housemaid from Five Points doesn’t have much occasion to acquaint herself with Japanese martial arts, no matter how devotedly she studies Harper’s Weekly. Of course, she has even less occasion to learn about ghosts, or shades or fae, or half a hundred other things collectively known as the paranormal. Your average housemaid, like the vast majority of New Yorkers, goes through her whole life without ever knowing such things exist. As for me, I’d learned about them only recently, and my world had never been the same.
For the most part I was grateful for that, but every now and then I found myself pining for the simple days when I was just Rose the Maid, scrubbing floors and mending linens. Back when Thomas Wiltshire was my employer instead of my partner; before he asked me to join him at the special branch of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency and spend my time chasing after all things paranormal.
Back when it never would have occurred to him to throw me to the floor like a sack of dirty linens.
On the morning in question—the day all the trouble started—he’d done it twice already, and I’d had about enough.
“Don’t worry, Miss Gallagher,” he said, “it’s early days yet.” And he offered me a hand, which is as close to being gentlemanly as it’s possible to get when you’ve just tossed a lady onto her face.
Except it wasn’t early days, not anymore. After eight solid months of training, I ought to have been able to last more than ten seconds against my sparring partner, even if he was the instructor. Though to be fair, it didn’t help that I still couldn’t come within five feet of Thomas Wiltshire without feeling a little weak in the knees, which is something of a disadvantage in hand-to-hand combat.
“It’s terribly frustrating, I know,” he said as he pulled me to my feet, “but don’t be discouraged. I spent the better part of my first six months in Japan on my backside. You’ll get there.”
And without further ado, he grabbed my wrist, swept my ankles, and we both went down. He landed on top of me, pinning me beneath him. His face hovered barely an inch above mine, the press of his body so close that I could practically feel his heartbeat against my own flesh.
“Good,” he said brightly.
It took me a moment to find my voice. “H-How is this good?”
“You landed brilliantly. Falling properly is half the battle.”
I’d fallen properly, and no mistake.
There was a long pause. Thomas made no move to release me, apparently oblivious to the scandalous disposition of our persons. Then: “Are you going to try to break free?”
“Yes, of course.” A furious blush warmed my face. “That is, I should have, but—”
“But the moment’s rather passed.” He rolled gracefully to his feet. “Next time. In any case, I suppose we ought to adjourn. We’ll need you in top shape tonight.”
I hauled myself up and set to righting my disheveled clothing. Try as I might, I simply could not get used to trousers, even the white cotton ones we used for training. They were forever becoming twisted up around my legs, and it was impossible to look dignified wearing them. Not that there was anything dignified about me that morning. Even my carefully pinned hair had come undone, leaving wisps of strawberry blond poking out in all directions.
“Shall I fetch us some water?” Thomas headed for the washstand, leaving me alone with the handful of other new recruits gathered around the tumbling mat for the morning lesson. I tried to busy myself with repinning my hair, but I was painfully aware of their gazes. We were few in the special branch—barely more than a dozen in the entire country, nearly half of whom were new recruits like me—but even so, there was always an audience for my humiliation.
“Well done with the falling, Miss Gallagher,” Cabot Fisk drawled. “It’s important to have a specialty.” A ripple of amusement went through the group of gentlemen, though most were too well bred to laugh out loud.
“And here I thought my specialty was fieldwork,” I said, and had the satisfaction of watching Fisk’s expression curdle. At the moment, I was the only first-year recruit on active field duty, which went a long way to explaining the chilly reception I’d had from my peers. At least, that was what I told myself.
“Here we are.” Thomas reappeared with a cup of water. “Now, you gentlemen will get along fine without us?”
Fisk gave a crisp nod. “Admirably, sir, thank you.”
“Excellent. Mr. Murray, you’ll take over as lead. Please observe the proceedings carefully—I’ll want a full account later. Miss Gallagher, shall we?”
I held my head high in retreat, but I could feel their eyes following us out of the hall.
“You’re still trying to counter me,” Thomas was saying as we walked. “Rather, try to use my momentum against me. That way, strength and weight become irrelevant…” And so on, but I wasn’t really listening. All I wanted was to get out of that training hall—a repurposed ballroom, actually—away from the whispers and judging eyes, and take a nice long soak in the porcelain tub in my bathroom.
Yes, you read that right. My own bathroom. You had to hand it to the special branch: They’d spared no expense when it came to grooming their new crop of agents. The Queen Anne “cottage” they’d leased as a training facility sprawled over a verdant expanse of Ochre Point, one of Newport’s most eligibly situated communities. It boasted fifty rooms, including a library, music hall, billiard room, and something called a conservatory, which was stuffed with so many potted ferns that it resembled a small outpost of the Amazon. There were tennis courts, stables, a shooting range, and ample gardens. Best of all, each guest chamber was equipped with its own bathroom, a luxury I’d taken full advantage of. I’d thought it was a step up trading the communal privies in Mam’s tenement for the shared servants’ bathroom in Thomas Wiltshire’s Fifth Avenue row house. But private guest bathrooms—why, even Mr. Burrows, who was rich as a Rockefeller, was astonished to hear of it.
Of course, none of this opulence was for our benefit. It just provided a convenient disguise for the true nature of the training facility, which, like everything else about the special branch, was a closely guarded secret. Here in Ochre Point, we could hide in plain sight, blending in amongst the Boston Brahmins and New York Knickerbockers at play. Riding, shooting, archery—the silk-stocking pastimes of the East Coast aristocracy provided the perfect cover for all manner of weapons training. To the casual observer, our little band of novice agents would appear to be nothing more than a group of wealthy vacationers. And if we kept to ourselves—well, our blue-blooded neighbors were only too happy to keep their distance from the vulgar nouveaux riches.
Luxurious as it was, though, I’d had my fill of it—the theoretical classes, the etiquette lessons, the infernal jujitsu. Most of all, the inescapable feeling that I was a disappointment to Thomas, who’d vouched for me so staunchly.
“Rose.” He touched my arm, drawing me up short. As my partner, Thomas could take such liberties—an intimacy that also allowed him to guess my thoughts. “Try not to be so hard on yourself,” he said. “These things don’t come easily to anyone.”
“Are you sure about that?” I kept my gaze on the parquet floor, unable to meet his eye. “The others seem to manage just fine.”
“That’s hardly a fair comparison. Those gentlemen are all accomplished athletes. Cabot Fisk was a champion boxer at Yale. Lawrence Murray wrestled for Columbia, and Archibald Rennington gives fencing lessons at the Pewter Club. On top of which, the mere fact that they’re—”
“I was going to say lucky.”
He didn’t just mean fortunate, I knew. In the exclusive, highly secretive circles of the paranormal community, luck meant something very specific: a breed of extraordinary abilities possessed by a tiny fraction of the population. A tiny fraction of the general population, that is; around here, it seemed like every other person was gifted. After all, who better to handle cases involving luck than those who were lucky themselves? Even so … “I don’t see how extraordinary eyesight or an exceptional mind for numbers is a great advantage at jujitsu.”
“So the martial arts are not your forte. You have other gifts, Rose.”
“Yes, I’m told that I fall brilliantly.”
He smiled. “Mark my words, you will be one of the Agency’s most valuable assets. Sharpe has great faith in you.”
“Mr. Sharpe?” I hadn’t seen the head of the special branch since he’d agreed to hire me back in January. As far as I knew, he’d been in Chicago ever since, doing whatever it is lucky, high-ranking Pinkertons do. “Why should he have faith in me?”
“Because I do.”
I glanced up, meeting his gaze at last. Those eyes … pale blue and flecked with green, full of warmth and intelligence and curiosity and all the things I loved about Thomas Wiltshire … they always threatened to undo me. “I’m grateful,” I murmured, distracted by a brief but vivid fantasy of showing him just how grateful.
Copyright © 2019 by Erin Lindsey