Read City of the Absent Online

Authors: Robert W. Walker

City of the Absent (30 page)

McCumbler's stock answer had become a mantra. “Quit making my case out to be so bloody awful! It's not awful.”

“And it's not your life on the line is it, Malachi?” This, as Alastair wondered,
Can I trust even this man? Suppose the senator's money has reached out to him?

And so it went, and so he paced day after day, awaiting trial here in what'd always been his second home, the station house he'd worked out of for so many years. Seeing it from a cell was not a new experience. He'd been thrown in the drunk tank before. However, awaiting this ordeal for his life while caged and staring through a barred window at the dreary rain-swollen Chicago clouds had converted this place into a bleak, bleak house indeed.

When Alastair slept, fitfully if at all, he recalled stolen moments with Jane. He'd lie half awake, recalling all she'd whispered in his ear. How she'd said,
Alastair, I have been
and hope to be again.

Now Ransom wondered at the odd, unfamiliar schoolgirl behavior, her silliness, her abandon and giddiness in those intimate moments. Yet it'd felt good to see her with no guard up, to experience her truly; to know her feelings, even though her zeal frightened him off that night the world had been upended when Mayor Carter Harrison was murdered.

He recalled how Jane had voiced a desire to be his completely. Still, this abandon had come on the heels of their lovemaking, when all else save the thrum of the city outside
Jane's window had fallen silent. She'd made amazing pronouncements then, all of which had stuck in his head these many days. Words no flesh and blood woman could possibly live up to.
What in hell was she thinking?
he silently asked the empty cell now.

In Ransom's head, her melodic voice and words played again, a kind of sonata; the kind of unfettered, unconditional song a man of his bearing, nature, and sensibilities had never heard in life. Yet deep within, it amounted to words he'd always secretly longed to hear from a loved one.

What was that she whispered?
The world be damned, Alastair, if things aren't all right with me and you…

Could things ever be right with them again?
he wondered now, lying on his back in this cell.
Could he come out on the other side of this trial a free man, declared innocent by a jury or by a judge or by decree or blackmail?

The latter might well be his only hope, but at least he was not without hope.

Along with McCumbler, who claimed to have more than mere hope on his side, along with Jane's and Gabby's belief in him, perhaps he could indeed beat the charge and bring down his worst enemies in the bargain.

“And why not?” he roared like a bear, disturbing others in cells around him, mostly derelicts and petty thieves. He stood out as the star inmate here.

His bare hands and cell walls were beginning to take on the same color and texture before his eyes, and he found his hands trembling at times. They trembled now as Jane and Gabby were led in to see him, guided by Mike O'Malley.

“I told you, Alastair,” began a tearful Jane, “that Nathan Kohler would one day have your head.”

Mike quickly vacated to give them a moment and to guard the entryway.

Alastair had come off his bunk like a man propelled, and he took Jane's hands in his through the bars. “And I'm telling you two that McCumbler and I have a few heads to chop off ourselves, Nathan's among them.”

“And if McCumbler is gone before the trial?”

“What're you saying?”

“He's in Cook County Hospital.”

“No, how? What's happened?”

“Christian says a bad case of food poisoning, but I suspect simple poisoning.”

“Poisoned how?”

“Impossible to say, but he very nearly died.”

“But he can't die. I need him.”

Gabby piped in, “I've no doubt they tried to eliminate Mr. McCumbler. He's been through a shocking night. But to be safe, we've hired a private guard around him twenty-four hours a day.”

“It may take that. This means he's frightened them; means we do have enough to counter their lies and slanders.” Ransom paced his cage now, looking like a trapped animal.

“We've hired an outside lawyer, an Indianapolis fellow that McCumbler respects. They're catching up now at the hospital.”

“Backup…in case they get to Malachi next time.”

“All manner of people die around you, Alastair,” accused Jane, her eyes boring into him, “but this time I mean to keep those helping you alive.”

“I believe we can win in this case and cast serious light on Chapman and Kohler's dealings.”

“So do I, dear. So do I.”

“Mother means we,” added Gabby. “So do we.”

“You will hear all manner of vicious attacks against me at trial,” Ransom assured them.

Through the bars, Jane clasped his hands in hers. “
but we know the true man within the bear.”

“With you and Gabby at my side, Jane, I know I'll win. I will.”

Once upon a time…in the gaslight era of the
1800s, well before television and the advent of technological wonders that've changed our relationship with the written word…the written word was God. An exacting god for both reader and writer. A sense of passion for language pervaded all written documents. In all media, people expressed themselves with such force, flare, pomp and circumstance, even in the lowly area of advertisements and “throwaway” brochures like the one below, handed to every ticket holder at the Chicago World's Fair or Columbian Exposition of 1893.

A quick glance backward in time is what we have here.

While this paper “tour” guides us to and through the highlights of the great fair, it also evokes a time when the written word created a wonderful dialogue and closeness between writer and reader, as did live lecture houses, theaters, and later the radio. As an author and wordsmith all my life, I've so marveled at Mark Twain's time period; on how well written the magazines and newspapers were. These were the TVs, iPods, BlackBerries, and Palm pilots of the day—
Collier's, Harper's Weekly,
all the
In fact, a simple glance at the language of the day is found in this exquisitely written “throwaway” document.

Furthermore, the eloquent, unknown author of this lost brochure fills this current day author with wonder. I invite you to join me in this stroll down the lanes lit by Thomas Edison's amazing street lamps. It is so worth the time, and it will fill you with wonder as well. The size, scope, and fascination of Chicago's celebrated White City cannot be overstated nor comprehended so well without the coffee table photographs, but in this brochure a thousand words are worth a photograph or two. Besides, Inspector Alastair Ransom most certainly would ask you to read the brochure or face the consequences…


My great and abiding thanks to Lyssa Keusch, who guided my hand over many a rough spot and opened my eyes to what I couldn't/shouldn't do to my own hero, heroine, and story. She has been the “constant” on the project, and she deserves an award as One Great Editor. A series such as
City for Ransom
Shadows in the White City
, and now
City of the Absent
does not get written in a vacuum, and I remain indebted to Lyssa, May Chen, and Danielle Bartlett for all their help. I would also like to thank artist Debra Lill for the wonderful, moving artwork evoking the gaslight mystery-noir appearing on all the covers.

Robert W. Walker

About the Author

a graduate of Northwestern University, is the author of thirty-six novels, including the acclaimed PSI Blue series featuring FBI Psychic Rae Hiyakawa, the Instinct series with FBI Medical
Examiner Dr. Jessica Coran, and the Edge series featuring Texas Cherokee Detective Lucas Stonecoat and psychiatrist Meredyth Sanger. He has also recently published the serialized thriller set in India entitled
on\shorts. Robert was born in Corinth, Mississippi; grew up in Chicago, Illinois; and currently resides in Chicago and Charleston, West Virginia. In between teaching, lecturing, and book touring, Rob is busy tackling his next crime novel.

You can visit him at or

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“Lovers of historical thrillers will be shocked, stunned, beaten to hell, and, most importantly, riveted…. Robert Walker is a master craftsman and this is the series he was born to create.”

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“Walker's taken on Caleb Carr's territory, with a superb haunted protagonist with a graveyard on his back. Ransom your soul for this one; it's that mesmerizing.”

Ken Bruen, Macavity Award winner for
The Killing of the Tinkers

“His prose cuts like a garrote, transporting us back to the Chicago of yesteryear with panache and style to spare.”

J.A. Konrath

“Vivid and passionate.”

Barbara D'Amato

“Walker writes…entertaining stories filled with surprises, clever twists, and wonderfully drawn characters.”

Daytona Beach News-Journal

“Robert W. Walker has enjoyed a solid reputation for his unique concoctions of twisted crimes, colorful characters, dark humor, and solid plotting. The Walker brew is as bubbly as ever…. I'm hooked!”

Raymond Benson

By Robert W. Walker




This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

. Copyright © 2007 by Robert W. Walker. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins e-books.

EPub © Edition NOVEMBER 2008 ISBN: 9780061979378

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