The Demon Catchers of Milan #2: The Halcyon Bird

The Demon Catchers of Milan #2: The Halcyon Bird by Kat Beyer Page A

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Authors: Kat Beyer
Maria nodded, though I guessed that she had more advice than that. She gave it to me after dinner, when we headed down to the shop office to go over the notes she’d brought.
    “Guys are pretty simple,” she told me. “You just need practice. You’re too shy, for one thing. You need to get over that.You’re quite pretty, in a mousy kind of way, and you’re dressing better now, thanks to Francesca’s shopping expeditions. But you’ve got to get out more, too. I think Nonna would skin me if I took you to clubs, though.
    “And if you do decide you are a lesbian,” she added as she took some notebooks down from a shelf, “I know some great gay bars.” She opened a drawer and took out a slim satin-covered box.
    My face felt hot, even though I knew for sure I liked guys. “Thanks, but I think I’ll be okay,” I said.
    Most of the time I can’t believe that Anna Maria is only three years older than I am. She seems to have lived an entire lifetime.
    “You’ll have your chance,” she said, smiling, as if reading my mind. “Don’t worry about it so much; that’s the first thing. You’ve got to relax.”
    It’s always so unhelpful when people say that. I sighed and reached for one of the notebooks she’d set on the table.
    “No, wait,” she said, opening the satin box. “Put these on. Don’t handle the books with bare hands. They’re too old.”
    She handed me a pair of white cotton gloves, the fingertips smudged faintly brown with leather dust, and the backs stitched with neat rows.
    “I feel like Mickey Mouse,” I said.
    She shrugged, pulling on her own gloves. “I bet Mickey Mouse has perfectly kept hands,” she said. “I’d hate to let him loose in our archives, though.”
    I laughed.
    We each cleared a space in the piles of notes and accounts that always covered the office table.
    “We are looking for an account relating to the Austrians who ruled Milan in the 1740s,” Anna Maria said. “We served on a few cases in their court. There’s something about altering a building at the palace. There may be more than one case. If a client likes what we do for them, we often get called in again, of course. There are families we’ve served and aided for centuries.”
    “Like the Strozzis? Have we helped them before?”
    She looked up and creased her elegant brows, thinking.
    “I don’t think so. But we’ve helped a lot of people over many centuries, so I could be wrong.”
    She pulled a book from the shelves, one of the thicker history books that I hadn’t yet found my way through. She flipped quickly through as if seeking a page by feel, then laid it open on the table and ran one gloved finger down a list of names and dates.
    “In the 1740s, the ruler of Milan was the Archduchess Maria Theresa of Hapsburg. She had briefly visited the city in 1739 on her way home from Tuscany,” she said thoughtfully. “She had a whole pile of other places to rule, so we were just another dot on the map. But she did have a governor in Milan to rule for her, who used the Palazzo Reale as his residence.”
    She looked up, lifting an eyebrow, then went on, “Otto Ferdinand, count von Abensberg und Traun, was the governorfrom 1736 to 1743, and Prince Georg Christian von Lobkowitz governed from 1743 to 1745. Before the Austrians, the Spanish and French fought to control Milan.”
    “Never a dull moment,” I joked. “Why does everybody always war over this city?”
    Anna Maria replied in an offended voice, “Why not? It’s the greatest city in the world.”
    “Oh, I didn’t mean to …” I began, and she laughed.
    “No,” she said, and I realized she’d been teasing me. “It’s money, trade, location. It’s a gateway between the Alps and all of Italy to the south, and between Venice in the East and Genoa in the West. Plus, we have always had the most skilled artisans, the best armorers … and the best clothiers. We led fashion long, long before today.”
    She opened her notebook, writing down the

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