Thieftaker (Excerpt)

Take a look at this excerpt from D.B. Jackson’s Thieftaker, out on July 3:

Boston, 1767: In D.B. Jackson’s Thieftaker, revolution is brewing as the British Crown imposes increasingly onerous taxes on the colonies, and intrigue swirls around firebrands like Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty. But for Ethan Kaille, a thieftaker who makes his living by conjuring spells that help him solve crimes, politics is for others…until he is asked to recover a necklace worn by the murdered daughter of a prominent family.

Suddenly, he faces another conjurer of enormous power, someone unknown, who is part of a conspiracy that reaches to the highest levels of power in the turbulent colony. His adversary has already killed—and not for his own gain, but in the service of his powerful masters, people for whom others are mere pawns in a game of politics and power. Ethan is in way over his head, and he knows it. Already a man with a dark past, he can ill afford to fail, lest his livelihood be forfeit. But he can’t stop now, for his magic has marked him, so he must fight the odds, even though he seems hopelessly overmatched, his doom seeming certain at the spectral hands of one he cannot even see.


Boston, Province of Massachusetts Bay, August 26, 1765


Ethan Kaille eased his knife from the leather sheath on his belt as he approached Griffin’s Wharf, the words of a warding spell on his lips. He had sweated through his linen shirt, and nearly through his waistcoat, as well. His leg ached and he was breathing hard, gasping greedily at the warm, heavy air hanging over Boston on this August eve. But he had chased Daniel Folter this far—from the Town Dock to Purchase Street, over cobblestone and dirt, past storefronts and homes and pastures empty save for crows and grazing cows—and he wasn’t about to let the pup escape him now.

The western horizon still glowed with the last golden light of day, but the sky over Boston Harbor and the South End shoreline had darkened to a deep indigo. Hulking wooden warehouses, shrouded in a faint mist, cast deep, elongated shadows across the wharves. Clouds of midges danced around Ethan’s head, scattering when he waved a hand at them, only to swarm again as soon as he turned his attention back to his quarry.

Ethan stepped onto the wharf and peered into murky corners, expecting Folter to fly at him at any moment. The boy had shown himself to be a fool; now he was desperate as well, a dangerous combination. Ethan preferred to handle this without casting, but he already knew what spell he would speak if he had to.

“You’re mine now, Daniel!” he called. “Best you come out and face what’s coming to you!”

No answer. He crept forward, wary, his gaze sweeping back and forth between the warehouses that loomed on either side of the pier. He heard small waves lapping at the timbers, and the echoing cries of a lone gull. But Ethan was listening for the man’s breathing, for the scrape of a shoe or the whisper of a blade clearing leather.

After a few more steps, Ethan halted, afraid to stray too far out onto the pier lest the pup sneak past him. If he lost Folter to the tangled streets of the South End, he would have to begin his search anew.

“You shouldn’t have stolen Missus Corbett’s necklaces, Daniel!” Ethan pitched his voice to carry, but his words were swallowed by the hazy twilight air and the sounds of the harbor. “Her husband is angry. He’s paying his hard-earned money to get her jewels back, and to have some justice meted out on her behalf.”

He waited, listening, watching.

“Your only way out is through me, lad. And I’m not going anywhere.”

Still no response. Doubt started to gnaw at Ethan’s mind. Had Folter found some other way off the wharf? Or was he simply smarter and more patient than Ethan had allowed?

Neither, as it turned out.

Ethan heard a footfall to his left and wheeled quickly, his knife held ready. Folter stepped from the darkness, the faint glow of twilight shining in his eyes and glinting off the dagger he carried.

“Corbett can rot fer all I care!” he said. Brave words, but his voice trembled, almost as badly as his blade hand.

Ethan shook his head and approached him slowly. “You know better, lad. Mister Corbett is a man of means. He decides who rots and who doesn’t.”

Folter was bigger than he remembered. He stood a full head taller than Ethan, with long limbs and a thin, bony face. His hair, damp and lank, hung to his stooped shoulders. His breeches were torn at the knees, his waistcoat stained; the sleeves of his shirt barely reached his narrow wrists. His knife had a long, curved blade, and though he passed it from one hand to the other, wiping his sweaty palms on his breeches, the movements were deft. Ethan guessed that he would be a formidable foe in a knife fight if it came to that.

“Tha’s not true,” Folter said. “Not all of it, anyway.”

Ethan stopped, leaving some distance between them. Folter’s gaze met his for a moment before darting away, first to one side, then to the other. He was looking for a way out or past—or through, if need be. Ethan sensed that Folter had already taken his measure and convinced himself that he could prevail in a fight if he had to. He was wrong, but he had no way of knowing that. Ethan didn’t exactly cut an imposing figure. He was of medium height and build, and looked like a competent fighter, but not one to be truly feared. His hair was starting to go gray at the temples, and his face was lined and scarred. Folter would see in him someone too old and too small to be a true threat. Others had made the same mistake.

“I done a bit o’ work fer Pryce—Miss Pryce—back a year or two. If she could see her way clear t’ let this slide . . .”

“I don’t work for Pryce,” Ethan said.

Folter stared at him. “Then why are ya—?”

“I work on my own.”

The pup actually laughed. “Yar own? Ya think Sephira Pryce will stand by an’ let another thieftaker work anywhere in Boston?”

Ethan shrugged. “She has for the last few years.”

Folter’s smile faded. “Who are ya?” he asked.

Ethan twirled his knife casually between his fingers. “I was hired by Ezra Corbett to retrieve the jewels you’re carrying. My name is Ethan Kaille.”

The pup’s eyes widened at the mention of Ethan’s name. “Kaille,” he repeated. He tightened his grip on the hilt of his blade. “I’ve heard o’ ya.”

“Good,” Ethan said. “Then you know that you’d best be giving me what I’m after.”

“Ya’ll take them an’ then give me t’ th’ lobst’rbacks. I’ll be fourteen years at hard labor.”

“It doesn’t have to come to that.”

The young man shook his head, panic in his eyes. “I don’ believe ya.” He shifted his weight just slightly toward his right, his knees bending, his shoulders tensing. Subtle changes, but taken together they were all the warning Ethan needed.

By the time Folter lunged at him, leading with his blade, Ethan had already started to spin away. He had every intention of countering over Folter’s off hand, but at the last moment he saw that the boy— more cur now than pup—somehow had drawn a second knife. Only another spin saved Ethan from being skewered.

But in evading Folter’s attacks, Ethan had opened a path of escape. Folter looked at the thieftaker once, perhaps weighing another assault. Instead, he ran up the wharf back toward Purchase Street.

With the harbor at his back and the air heavy with moisture, Ethan had enough water at hand to cast an elemental spell. He spoke it quickly under his breath—“Imago ex aqua evocata”; illusion, conjured from water—and at the same time made a small flicking gesture with his hands, directing the charm so that the image formed directly in front of Folter.

Instantly the air around him felt charged, as it did when a storm came upon a ship at sea; as it did any time he conjured. Ethan felt the hairs on his neck and arms stand on end.

The old ghost appeared at Ethan’s side, glowing a rich reddish brown like the moon when it hangs low in the night. His eyes gleamed like brands, and they held a hint of annoyance, as if Ethan had torn him away from something too important to be interrupted for a mere illusion spell. Not that the ghost could refuse him. He was Ethan’s guide, a spectral guardian of the power-laden realm between the living world and the domain of the dead. Folter wouldn’t be able to see the specter; no one who wasn’t a conjurer could. But he would see the conjuring that Ethan’s ghost made possible.

For this illusion, Ethan summoned the first image that came to mind: a great white horse with a flowing mane, like the one he had seen earlier that day leading a chaise through the streets near the Common. Ethan cast the spell quickly, with little preparation; at midday, the creature might have looked insubstantial, but in the gloaming it appeared solid and huge and wild. It bore down on Folter as if intent on trampling him, and the pup did exactly what Ethan had hoped. He halted, dove to one side, and wrapped his hands over his head to shield himself. He gave no sign of noticing that though the beast looked real enough, its hooves made no sound on the wharf.

Ethan sprinted forward just as Folter scrambled to his feet.

The young man looked around frantically, his knives still in hand, though seemingly forgotten for the moment. “Where’d it—?”

Ethan didn’t allow him to finish the thought. He crashed into him, sending him sprawling. Ethan fell, too, rolled, and was on his feet again. One of the knives had flown from Folter’s hand; Ethan kicked the other one away. He aimed a second kick at Folter’s jaw, but the pup was too fast for him. He grabbed Ethan’s foot and twisted viciously, flipping Ethan to the ground.

Folter threw himself onto Ethan, and for a few harrowing moments the two of them grappled for control of Ethan’s blade. Folter was younger, quicker, stronger. He tried to pry Ethan’s fingers off the knife, and though Ethan fought him, he could feel his grip on the weapon slipping.

He wrapped his other hand around Folter’s throat and squeezed as hard as he could. Immediately the younger man stopped trying to tear the knife away and instead grabbed at Ethan’s other hand. Ethan, his blade hand now free, drove the heel of it up into Folter’s nose. He heard bone break, felt hot blood splatter on his cheek. An instant later, Folter rolled off of him, both hands clutching his face, blood running over his fingers.

“Damn ya!” the pup said, his voice thick.

Ethan got to his feet and kicked Folter in the side. The pup gasped and doubled up.

“Where are the jewels?” Ethan demanded.

Folter groaned.

Kneeling beside him, Ethan laid the edge of his blade along Folter’s throat. The young man stiffened.

“Don’t try it, lad,” Ethan said. “I don’t want to kill you, but I will.” Folter didn’t move; Ethan began to search his pockets with his free hand. In no time at all, he had found three bejeweled golden necklaces. “Was this it, or were there more?” he asked.

When Folter didn’t answer, Ethan pressed harder with his knife, drawing a small trickle of blood from the pup’s throat.

“Tha’s all,” Folter said sullenly.

Ethan didn’t release him.

The young man looked up at Ethan, fear in his eyes. “I swear!”

After holding him for another moment, Ethan removed the knife and stood once more.

“Are ya going t’ kill me now?” Folter asked. He sat up, eyeing Ethan, his body tensing, coiled.

“I can tell you that Mister Corbett wouldn’t object,” Ethan said. “The Admiralty Court would probably thank me for performing a service. And I promise you that if I meant to, you couldn’t stop me.”

“But ya’re going t’ let me go,” Folter said with disbelief. “Ya really don’ work fer Pryce, do ya?”

“No, I really don’t. I’m giving you this one chance, Daniel. I’ll let you go, but you have to leave Boston and never return. Corbett instructed me to give you over to Sheriff Greenleaf; he would be happy to see you transported to the Carolinas, or the Indies.” Ethan felt a twinge in his foot at his mention of the islands, the remembered pain of an old wound. “But Diver Jervis is a friend of mine, and he wouldn’t want to see you come to that end. I’m risking a great deal by letting you go. If I see you again, I’ll turn you in. Failing that, I’ll have no choice but to kill you.”

“I’s born here,” Folter said. “I ain’ never been anywhere else.”

“Then this is your chance to see the world,” Ethan told him. “But one way or another, you’re leaving the city.”

Folter opened his mouth to argue.

“I’ll give you one day, Daniel,” Ethan said. “If you’re still in Boston after midnight tomorrow, I’ll know it, and I’ll find you. Then you’ll have the sheriff to deal with.”

The young man nodded glumly.

“Go,” Ethan said.

Folter started away, then stopped, turning again. “My knives—”

“Leave them. And when you get to wherever you’re going, try not to make a mess of your life.”

The pup frowned and glanced about as if he had barely heard. “Say, where did tha’ horse go?” he asked. “Th’ one tha’ nearly ran me down.”

“I didn’t see it.” Folter eyed him curiously.

“Ya had t’ have seen it.”

“Good-bye, Daniel.”

The young man stared at him for a long time. “Ya’re a speller, aren’ ya?” he finally said. “Tha’s why I’d heard o’ ya. Ethan Kaille. Sure, tha’s it. Th’ speller wha’ does thieftakin’ here in th’ city. I remember now. Tha’s where tha’ horse came from. It was bloody witch’ry. An’ tha’s how ya can compete with Sephira Pryce.”

Ethan retrieved Folter’s knives and put them in his pocket. He made no answer.

“I could tell someone,” Folter said. “I could tell Pryce or one o’ her men.” A smile crept over his thin face. “I could get ya hung fer a witch.”

“You could,” Ethan said, meeting his gaze. “But if I really am a speller, what’s to keep me from killing you in your sleep if I think you’re a threat to me? What’s to keep me from tracking you down whenever I want to, and giving you smallpox or plague?”

Even in the failing light, Ethan could see the pup’s face go white. In truth, the fact that Ethan was a conjurer—a speller, as Folter put it—wasn’t as much of a secret as he would have liked. He suspected that Sephira Pryce already knew, and it was possible that some on the Admiralty Court still remembered the names Ruby Blade and Ethan Kaille. But he didn’t want word of his talents spreading farther than necessary, and he surely didn’t want Folter thinking that he had any advantage over him.

“I’m not sayin’ I’d tell,” Folter told him. “I was jus’ . . . I wouldn’ tell anyone.”

“Go, Daniel. Right now. Get out of Boston, and you won’t need to worry about me ever again. Remain here, and I’ll make Sephira Pryce seem like a kindly aunt. Understand?”

The pup nodded, and began to back away from him, his eyes wide, his face still ashen save for the bright blood that trickled from his nose. After a few steps, he turned and ran.



Ezra Corbett and his wife lived only a few streets west of the South End waterfront, in a house on Long Lane along the edge of d’Acosta’s Pasture, a broad ley within the confines of the city. Ethan made his way up from the water’s edge, crossing Purchase Street once more, and then Cow Lane. The sky had darkened almost to black. A gibbous moon hung in the east, its glow dulled and made faintly yellow by the summer haze that had settled over Boston.

As Ethan approached the Corbett house, he caught the scent of smoke riding the warm breeze, and he thought he heard the excited babble of many voices in the distance. He wondered if another mob was abroad in the city, drinking Madeira wine and making mischief. Only two weeks before, such a rabble had made its way to Kilby Street, just a short distance from Henry Dall’s cooperage, where Ethan leased a room, and had destroyed a building belonging to Andrew Oliver, the king’s newly designated distributor of stamps here in the province. The crowd had been loud, vulgar, and violent. Ethan sat out front for several hours guarding Henry’s cooperage, while the rioters dismantled Oliver’s building, ransacked his home, which was also nearby, and finally built a bonfire at Fort Hill. In the end, they didn’t approach Cooper’s Alley, but Ethan didn’t relish the idea of spending another sleepless night listening to the drunken cries of agitators.

The Corbett house was no more grand than its neighbors, but neither was it any less so. It was built of stone and oak, its few windows thrown open to coax inside whatever breeze drifted along the lane. Ethan rapped on the door with the brass knocker and stood with his hands behind his back. His shoulder hurt where he had run into Folter, and he was sure that he would be sore come morning. Twenty years ago he could fight in the streets without worrying about such things. Not anymore.

A pretty young servant opened the door and led Ethan into a small sitting room before going in search of her master. He surveyed the room: wooden floors, simple furnishings, an empty hearth in the center of the south wall. The subtle aroma of roasted fowl and fresh bread blended with the bitter scent of spermaceti candles. There were finer houses in town—mostly on Beacon Street and in the North End—but it was obvious the Corbett family didn’t want for much.

Ethan strolled around the room, looking at the paintings of Corbett’s wife and his two daughters. After several moments, a door opened at the far end of the chamber. Mr. Corbett stepped in and closed the door quietly behind him. Facing Ethan and eyeing his clothes, he faltered, a frown on his homely face. Belatedly it occurred to Ethan that he must look a mess. His breeches were filthy from his struggles with Folter on the wharf, and there probably were bloodstains on his waistcoat and shirt.

“Mister Kaille,” the merchant said grimly. “I didn’t expect to see you again so soon. Is there a problem?”

He was a short, round man whose clothes didn’t fit him quite right. They were too long in the sleeves and legs and too tight around the middle. He was bald except for tufts of steel gray hair that poked out from behind his ears, and he wore spectacles on the end of his nose.

“There’s no problem, sir,” Ethan said, producing the necklaces and laying them on a small table beside the hearth. “I’ve come to return your wife’s jewels.”

Corbett’s entire bearing changed. His eyes widened, and as he crossed to the table he actually broke into a smile. “You’ve found them already! Well done, Mister Kaille!”

“Thank you, sir.”

“And the thief?” Corbett asked, examining each necklace by the light of an oil lamp.

“Daniel Folter.”

The merchant looked at him. “Daniel? You’re sure?”

“Yes, sir. You know him?”

Corbett hesitated. “He did some work for me a year or so ago. He even expressed interest in courting my older daughter, though I didn’t encourage him in that regard.” He shook his head. “Still, I’m surprised. I never figured the man for a thief.”

“No, sir.”

Corbett studied the necklaces a moment longer before facing Ethan again. “Well, these look to be none the worse for their adventure. I take it Daniel has been dealt with?”

“He won’t trouble you again, sir,” Ethan said, holding the man’s gaze.

“Very well. I owe you another ten shillings, don’t I?”

Ethan bit down on his tongue to keep from laughing. He had dealt with merchants before. “Actually, I believe you owe me fifteen.”

Corbett raised an eyebrow. “Fifteen is it?” he asked.

“Yes, sir.”

“Hmmm, I suppose that’s right.” The merchant dug into a small pocket on his vest and pulled out a coin purse. He poured its contents onto his desk and began to count out Ethan’s payment. “An acquaintance of mine said I shouldn’t hire you,” he said as he piled the coins.

Ethan tensed. “Is that so?”

“Yes,” the merchant said, not meeting Ethan’s gaze, lamplight reflecting off his glasses so that the lenses looked opaque. “He said I would have been better off hiring someone . . . safer.”

Ethan didn’t know whether to laugh or yank out his own hair. There was only one other thieftaker in Boston; Corbett’s friend thought Sephira Pryce would be a safer choice than Ethan.

Corbett went on. “I think he was concerned about your past.”

“Of course,” Ethan said. “I bring this up because I wanted you to know that people still speak of it, those who remember anyway.”

He knew this already, of course. Nearly twenty years had passed since the Ruby Blade mutiny, but few who were old enough to have heard of the incident when it happened would have forgotten. Mutinies were scandalous enough; add to that whispers of witchcraft and the result was enough to cause quite a stir.

“Thank you, sir,” Ethan said stiffly.

The merchant finished counting out the money and returned the coin purse to his pocket. “I intend to tell my friend that he was wrong about you,” he said.

I don’t give a damn, Ethan wanted to say. Instead, he thanked him once more.

“Here you are,” Corbett said, handing Ethan the stack of coins. “Well earned, Mister Kaille. I hope that I won’t require your services again, but should I have further need of a thieftaker, I’ll be certain to call on you.”

“Thank you, sir. For your sake, and that of your family, I hope that won’t be necessary.”

Corbett smiled and led him back to the front door. “My wife will be most pleased,” he said, pulling the door open.

“I hope so, sir.”

The smell of smoke had grown stronger. Corbett wrinkled his nose and frowned. “More trouble,” he said sourly. “I don’t hold with lawlessness, Mister Kaille. And I don’t choose to associate with those who do. Do you take my meaning?”

Ethan was about to answer, but in that moment he felt the pulse of a spell, the air around him thrumming like a bowstring. Ethan’s first impulse was to ward himself, and his hand flew to the hilt of his blade.

“Mister Kaille?”

An instant later, Ethan realized that the spell had not been intended for him, that it hadn’t even been cast in this part of the city. Which meant that it must have been a powerful conjuring. He stared into the night, trying to locate the conjurer, wondering who could have cast such a spell.

“Mister Kaille! I asked you a question!”

“Yes, sir,” Ethan said, far more interested in the spell he had felt than in whatever Corbett had said. “I beg your pardon. What did you ask?”

“I said that I don’t hold with those who would flout the law in pursuit of political aims, and I asked if you took my meaning.”

“I do, sir.” He wanted to go. Right now. He wanted to find the conjurer who had cast that spell. But Corbett had paid him, and might well hire him again. Kannice would tell him that he should give the man his undivided attention.

The merchant gazed out into the night. “Do you support them?” he asked. “These agitators?”

In recent days, Ethan had heard arguments on both sides of this issue. There was nowhere a man could go in the city without overhearing discussions of Grenville’s Stamp Act. Like much of Boston, all the people he knew were beginning to align themselves according to whether they supported or opposed Parliament’s latest attempt to raise revenue. Corbett had made his position clear, and Ethan thought it best to give the safest response he could, even if it didn’t exactly answer the man’s question.

“I’m a subject of the British Crown, sir,” he said. “I recognize the authority of Parliament in all matters pertaining to the colonies.”

Corbett nodded. “That’s most wise of you. This sort of villainy and licentiousness will be the ruin of Britain.”

“Yes, sir,” Ethan said. “Good night.”

“And to you, Mister Kaille.”

Ethan stepped out of the house, followed the path back to Long Lane, and turned northward. As he walked, he wondered if Corbett and his acquaintances knew only of the mutiny and Ethan’s time in forced labor, or if they knew as well the role that conjurings played in all that happened aboard the Ruby Blade. Just how many people in Boston knew that he was a conjurer? Three or four months might pass without anyone speaking to him of his spellmaking abilities. And then he could have days like this one, when it seemed that everyone knew.

He had his share of enemies in the city, and none of them would hesitate to use his secret against him if they thought themselves safe from his retribution. But fear of conjuring ran deep, even among the wealthy, even among the likes of Sephira Pryce.

Corbett’s coins jingled in Ethan’s pocket, bringing a smile. Combined with the seven and a half shillings Corbett had paid upon hiring him last week, it was money enough to last him a while. He wouldn’t need to work again for at least a month, perhaps longer. Maybe this would be a good time for him to stay out of sight; let talk of his . . . talents die out. Particularly if there was another conjurer in the city casting spells as potent as the one he had just sensed. And in the meantime, he could spend a few days with Kannice.

He was headed to the Dowsing Rod now. She would want to know that he had found Folter and managed to avoid getting himself killed in the process.

Ethan strode through the heart of the South End, passing by the brick edifice of the Third Church, its steeple looming dark and tall against the moonlit sky. The smell of smoke grew stronger as he walked, and he could hear shouts coming from different parts of the city—the area just north of Cornhill as well as the North End. He wondered if there were two mobs loose in the streets, or if there might be even more. As he neared the First Church and the Town House, he saw the glow of the fire he had been smelling.

He slowed. Ezra Corbett wasn’t the only client who might look askance at Ethan’s involvement in any mischief, and Ethan had no interest in attracting the notice of officials of the Crown. He had already endured enough British justice to last a lifetime.

A sound behind him made him spin; his knife was in his hand almost before he realized that he had reached for it. Two shadows emerged from behind a dark house and trotted up to him. Shelly and Pitch: a pair of dogs who lived in the streets, and spent most of their time scrounging for food at Henry’s door. Ethan lowered his blade, laughing at himself. But his heart continued to hammer as he sheathed his weapon and squatted down to greet the dogs. They licked his hand, tails wagging.

Shelly had first shown up at the cooperage several years before, not long after Ethan took a room there. She was a large dog with a short coat, mottled gray and white. She had a splash of tan on her snout, and pale gray-blue eyes. Henry had named her Shells because he said her coloring reminded him of the shells that washed up on the harbor shore. But before long he and Ethan were both calling her Shelly.

Pitch, who showed up a few months later, was a bit smaller, and entirely black, save for his deep brown eyes. His coat was long and silky. Ethan often wondered if he had once belonged to a wealthy family; dogs as pretty as Pitch generally didn’t live in the streets.

“No food,” he told them, as they continued to lick his hand and sniff his clothes. “Sorry.”

He scratched them both behind their ears. Judging from their response, this made up for the fact that he had nothing to feed them.

Standing again, he backtracked to School Street, and followed Treamount northward, the two dogs flanking him. He hoped to keep his distance from those abroad in the streets. He soon realized, though, that rather than avoiding the mob, he was walking directly toward it. The closer he got to Queen Street, the louder the noise grew. He could hear raucous laughter and shouted curses, the shattering of glass and the splintering of wood. As he crossed the lane and gazed eastward, he saw men tossing broken furniture and bundles of parchment from the window of a stately home directly across the street from the courthouse and prison. The irony of it nearly made him laugh out loud.

One man stood in the middle of the lane, holding a bottle of wine in one hand and what looked to be a table leg in the other. He spotted Ethan and shouted, “Hey, you!” The man sounded so merry, one might have thought that he was celebrating the coming of a new year rather than the sacking of someone’s home. “Care t’ join us?” the man asked. “Th’re’s plen’y t’ go ’roun’!”

Ethan waved a hand and shook his head without breaking stride.

“Wha’samatter?” the man called after him, his voice hardening. “Don’ like wha’ we’re doin’? King’s man, eh? Well, damn ya t’ hell!”

Ethan walked on, allowing the man to shout at his back. But he spoke a spell under his breath. “Veni ad me.” Come to me.

The air around him hummed, and the ghost of the old man appeared at his shoulder again and fell in stride beside him. The drunkard continued to shout after him, but he didn’t follow. Shelly and Pitch broke off, whining slightly as they headed back to the South End. This wasn’t the first time Ethan had seen the dogs flee at the first appearance of the ghost. He regretted scaring them off, but he felt better knowing that he could summon his power instantly if he had to. Too much was happening this evening. The spell he had felt, these rioters; he had grown cautious over the years, and if ever there was a night that called for care, this seemed to be it.

Ethan felt the ghost watching him, but he kept his eyes trained on the street ahead. He wished he knew more about this glowing figure who materialized at his side whenever he conjured. The man was tall and lean, with a trim beard and mustache, and close-cropped hair that looked like it would have been white had it not been for the shade’s reddish glow. He was always dressed the same way: in a coat of mail and an ornate tabard bearing the leopards of the ancient kings, like those worn by medieval knights. Ethan guessed that he had lived hundreds of years ago, and he assumed that the old man was one of his mother’s forebears. All Ethan knew for certain was that every time he spoke the words of a spell, the ghost materialized to blend his power with whatever source Ethan had chosen to complete his conjuring.

The ghost couldn’t speak; at least, he had never said anything to Ethan, although his bright eyes and bushy eyebrows could be quite expressive. Over the years, Ethan had taken to calling him Uncle Reginald—Reg, for short—after one of his mother’s older brothers who had a prickly personality.

At last, as he continued to walk up Treamount, Ethan glanced at the wraith, who was still eyeing him with that familiar vexed expression.

“Something on your mind?” Ethan asked.

By way of answer, the ghost pointedly glanced back toward Queen Street and then nodded toward the knife on Ethan’s belt.

“Yes, I could have spoken a spell when I needed you. But the castings are faster when you’re already here.” He grinned. “Besides, you’re such pleasant company.”

The specter glowered at him.

They reached Hanover Street, and Ethan heard more commotion coming from down the lane. Two weeks ago the agitators had concentrated their ire on Oliver; tonight, they were casting a wider net. Best to get off the streets.

When at last he reached the Dowsing Rod, Ethan turned to Uncle Reg again. “Dimittas,” he said within his mind, not bothering to speak the words aloud. I release you.

The ghost touched a glowing hand to his own brow and then began to fade from view. Ethan gazed back toward the center of the city, where smoke continued to billow into the night. Shouts echoed through the streets, punctuated occasionally by strident cheers. If anything, there was more commotion now than there had been earlier. He could guess who was behind these riots, and he knew that only trouble could come of them.

Thieftaker © D.B. Jackson


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