James Asher 2 - Traveling With The Dead

James Asher 2 - Traveling With The Dead by Barbara Hambly

Book: James Asher 2 - Traveling With The Dead by Barbara Hambly Read Free Book Online
Authors: Barbara Hambly
laundry maid” and “Grandmother English”—and the innkeeper at one village had taken Asher aside and gravely asked if it were true that in the City—meaning Vienna—they had doctors who could cure people of such ailments. Asher had been hard put to explain that Grandmother English was such a doctor.
    He grinned at the memory and settled into his compartment again with a feeling of having successfully dodged through a complicated obstacle course. In addition to sending the telegrams, he had purchased the Neue Freie Presse and two spring-operated children’s toys: a bear that clashed cymbals when wound with a key; a donkey whose four legs moved so that, if carefully balanced, it would more or less walk. He put them through their paces on the table, deeply and gravely entertained.
    Other passengers were reboarding, armed with fresh books, magazines, newspapers, candy or pastry. Through the window he glimpsed the man who had to be the jealous Steffi and his fairy-like Viennese girlfriend, her arms full of fresh flowers, and smiled a little at the capacity of humans to believe what they wish to believe.
    There was a beautiful dowager in an impeccable Worth suit, trailed by a cowed-looking maid and three little black French bulldogs; a white-bearded gentleman with the face of a warrior monk, and a boy who might have been his grandson or a servant hurrying in his wake. Karolyi, clean-shaven and fresh, a winter rose in his buttonhole, strode lightly along the platform, pausing to remove his hat when he spoke to a shabby girl selling peanut brittle. Asher saw by the girl’s face that he’d considerably overpaid her, and remembered the brassy-haired whore again, tied to her chair. He wondered if the police had found her body yet.
    Why Ernchester?
    His mind gyred back to the question as the train rocked into motion once again.
    Why an Englishman at all? Had the Vienna vampires refused to cooperate with an Austrian offer? Not as odd as it might sound: the Viennese, in Asher’s experience, had their own rationale for doing things, an idiosyncratic frivolity that could encompass any reason from Czech or Hungarian—or Serbian or Moldavian or Venetian—nationality to a personal opinion that the Emperor was an old fuddy-duddy whom they disdained to serve.
    And indeed, whatever promises the government made, Asher knew the vampires were right to guard their anonymity. Having been a spy for seventeen years, he knew too well that no government—certainly not his own—could be trusted to keep any promise it made.
    It still didn’t explain why an English, rather than a French or a German, vampire had been approached.
    Or had they? He paused in the act of dismembering the key-wound bear, a half-farcical vision rising in his mind of the sealed baggage car stacked high with coffins and trunks in which slumbered the vampires of Paris; of himself, strolling innocently into the restaurant car to face table after table of chalk-white, bone-thin faces and a sea of eyes that burned like actinic flame.
    When it came down to it, what the hell was he going to do once he reached Vienna? Try to hand the problem over to another incompetent and reluctant Department head? Get some other young novice killed?
    He unfolded his bunk, undressed, and slept again, to wake from uneasy dreams with the sensation he’d had in dealing with vampires before, of having had his mind momentarily blanked. In silence he swiftly rolled from his bunk, the compartment around him lit only by the yellow glow from the passage leaking around the edges of the curtain. It showed him an empty compartment—certainly there was nowhere to hide, for there was barely room for one person, let alone two—and he pressed his face to the edge of the door, moving the curtain just enough to see past it.
    Karolyi and Ernchester were walking up the corridor, Karolyi speaking with eloquent gestures of his white-gloved hands, Ernchester expressionless, very small and thin beside him.
    “It

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