Dead Man's Reach - D. B. Jackson



Boston, Province of Massachusetts Bay,

February 21, 1770

Ethan Kaille slipped through shadows, stepping from one snow-crusted cobble to the next with the care of a thief. He held a knife in one hand, his fingers numb with cold. The other hand he trailed along the side of a brick building, steadying himself as a precaution against the uncertain footing.

Dim pools of light spilled onto the street from candlelit windows. Flakes of snow dusted his coat and hat, and melted as they brushed against his face. Every breath produced a billow of vapor, rendering his concealment spell all but useless.

The air was still—a small mercy on a night as cold as this one—and a deep silence had settled over Boston, like a thick woolen blanket. Even the harbor, her waters frozen near to shore and placid where they remained open, offered not a sound. In the hush that enveloped the city, Ethan’s steps seemed as loud as musket fire.

Will Pryor, who had stolen several gemmed necklaces and bracelets from the home of a merchant in the North End, lived here on Lindal’s Lane, in a room above a farrier’s shop. Ethan had followed the man for two days, and though he’d not yet seen the jewels in Pryor’s hands, he had little doubt but that the pup still possessed them, and was merely biding his time until he could sell them without drawing undue attention to himself. Ethan was determined to keep him from finding a buyer. He feared, though, that the uneven sound of his footsteps would be enough to wake Pryor from a sound slumber, much less alert the thief to his approach.

Ethan reached the worn wooden stairway leading up to Pryor’s room and began to climb, wincing at every creak, eyeing the window, which glowed faintly. It wasn’t until he heard the murmur of voices, however, that he thought to examine the steps with more care. Leaning forward, squinting in the murky light, he felt his stomach clench.

Footprints in the snow. Several pairs.

Seconds later, an all-too-familiar voice called out, “Come and join us, Ethan. We’ve been waiting for you.”

“Damn it!” he muttered, teeth clenched.

He kept still, snow settling on his shoulders, and he pondered his options. Realizing that he had none, he pushed up his sleeve, cut his arm, and whispered an incantation to remove his concealment spell.

A glowing figure appeared beside him, russet like a newly risen moon, with eyes as bright as flames. He was the ghost of an ancient warrior, tall, lean, dour, and dressed in chain mail and a tabard bearing the leopards of England’s Plantagenet kings. He was also Ethan’s spectral guide, the wraith of an ancient ancestor who allowed Ethan access to the power that dwelt at the boundary between the living world and the realm of the dead. For years, Ethan had called the ghost Uncle Reg after Reginald Jerill, his mother’s waspish brother, of whom the ghost reminded him.

Reg regarded Ethan with an expression that bespoke both amusement and disapproval.

“I didn’t know she was here,” Ethan said.

Reg scowled, as if to say, No, but you should have.

Ethan could hardly argue. For years, Sephira Pryce, the so-called Empress of the South End, Boston’s most infamous and successful thieftaker, had been interfering with his inquiries, swooping in at the last moment to take for herself items he had been hired to recover, stealing his clients and with them the finder’s fees they paid. She reveled in tormenting him, although most times she seemed content to taunt and ridicule. On occasion, she set her toughs on him, allowing them to beat Ethan to a bloody mess. And every now and then, she threatened to let them kill him, and dump his body in the leas of Boston’s Common.

That she and her men had reached Pryor first should have come as no surprise at all.

“Don’t stand out there pouting, Ethan. It’s only a few pounds. Mister Wells should never have gone to you in the first place. A man of means, of culture. He should have been mine.”

Ethan glanced at Reg. “I’d gladly pay a few pounds if it meant a moment’s peace and an end to her mocking.”

Reg grinned and faded from view. Ethan cut his arm again before climbing to the top of the stairway and pushing open Pryor’s door.

Three of Sephira’s men stood before him, blocking his way. One of them, a brute named Afton, was as large as a British frigate and almost as welcoming. He had dark, stringy hair and a