City of Wolves by Willow Palecek is a gaslight fantasy noir and debut novel (Available now!).
Alexander Drake, Investigator for Hire, doesn’t like working for the Nobility, and doesn’t prefer to take jobs from strange men who accost him in alleyways. A combination of hired muscle and ready silver have a way of changing a man’s mind.
A lord has been killed, his body found covered in bite marks. Even worse, the late lord’s will is missing, and not everyone wants Drake to find it. Solving the case might plunge Drake into deeper danger.
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I spent the next day getting my affairs in order. First a visit to my barber, Bill Hughes, who gives what is perhaps the closest shave in Lupenwald. Then, a payment made to Miss Margaret, my landlady, for several months of back rent. After that, I picked up a few supplies that would be useful for my investigation. And I burned the damnable Tracking Charm.
The most important visit of the day was Butcher, a fence. Butcher was a short, ugly little man, with a bulbous nose and an uneven beard, large, perceptive eyes, and wide lips covering large teeth, usually clamped around a cigar while he did his business, which involved more than just cutting meat. He'd never betray his own clients, but he kept his ear to the ground and was a valuable source of information about the criminal element.
“I'm looking to cash in some of these.” I held open my palm with one of the Sebastian-headed coins, and clamped my hand tightly closed as he attempted to take it. “You get your cut when the job's done, Butcher, not before.”
“Of course, of course.” He pulled t a jeweler's glass out of his apron pocket. “Just need a closer look.” I held the coin out between thumb and forefinger. “How many?” he asked.
“Twenty five. All the same quality.” I had already broken the others with the type of moneychangers who get you coming and going.
“I'll give you twenty crowns with the smiling face of Old Pretender, right here and now.”
“I'm not looking to sell them fast, Butcher. I'm looking for the best price.”
“I'll ask around. My fee is ten percent, straight off the top.”
“Fair enough. Let me know when you have a serious offer.”
I returned to my lodgings, and was surprised to see a coach out front with Mr. Winters standing next to it, flanked by two of his brutes. He was checking his pocket-watch and looking worried.
“Ah, Mr. Drake, wonderful.” He sounded apprehensive, hardly wonderful at all. “I must apologize, there's been a change in plans. We must leave for the Abergreen estate, posthaste.”
“I don't appreciate it when plans change.”
We were in the carriage, driving through the outskirts of Lupenwald. Slums gave way to fashionable new neighborhoods, which gave way to farmland, which the cruel forces of time and civilization would one day turn into fashionable new neighborhoods and then reduce to slums. Mr. Winters sat across from me, a hired brute crammed in next to each of us.
“My apologies, Mr. Drake. However, we've received word of the Crown's involvement.”
I grunted a harsh affirmative, waiting for him to continue.
“Royal Inspector Sir Ernst Loxley-Birmingham.”
Bloody hell, I thought. Loxley-Birmingham was widely regarded as the Ministries' finest investigative mind. He could have been Inspector General if he wanted, but he'd turned down the position. If the Ministries were sending him, then this was far bigger than I had realized.
“What are the known facts of the case?” I asked.
“Lord Abergreen was found in the gardens. He had fallen from the window of his study, and his body was covered with wounds.”
I was taking notes in a small book, cursing my shaky hand as the carriage bounced over uncertain terrain.
“What sort of wounds?”
“Bite wounds. Canine.”
“Was Lord Abergreen— or anyone close to him — a dog fancier?”
“No more than anyone else. A kennel, a staff breeder, perhaps twenty hounds in total.”
Foreigners may not fully appreciate the significance of a Lupenwalder's hound. Specimens of the Walder breed are cunning, loyal, ferocious and large; sometimes as tall as four feet at the shoulder. Truly, they are closer to wolves in character and stature than they are to most domesticated dogs, and they are a far cry from the small, furry lap-dogs popular in parts of the Continent.
Lupenwald was so named for the locals' use of hunting wolves, and the name stuck. The wolf was the symbol of the Royal Family, and now a Walder hound was a possible murder weapon.
“I'll need to see the site of death, the Lord's study, and I’ll need access to the corpse. I'll want to speak with some members of the household staff once I know more.”
“Of course,” said Mr. Winters.
“Tell me more about the missing will, Mr. Winters. I find it surprising that Lord Abergreen would not have left any specifications for his entail.”
Mr. Winters shifted uncomfortably. “He was in excellent health for his age. There was nothing registered with the family solicitor, but our employer is quite concerned that there was not even an informal document.”
“Perhaps I will find one. But suppose I don't. What does the law have to say about the inheritance?”
“The standard disbursement would be that the heir— in this case, Corth Abergreen, the eldest son — would receive the estate, the title, and sixty percent of all assets. The remainder would be divided amongst Lord Abergreen's remaining four children.”
Lord Abergreen was a wealthy man. Was he killed, I wondered, to ensure someone's ten percent? Or for sixty?
Copyright © 2016 Willow Palecek.
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Willow Palecek is the writer of the role-playing games Awesome Adventures, Escape from Tentacle City, and The Arm. City of Wolves is her first published novella. Willow resides in Madison, Wisconsin, with her husband and their two cats.