Clara gave me a wry look but otherwise let that pass. "If it makes you so miserable, why do you keep going back?"
"It's not as if I have a choice. The Agency has put a lot of resources into this first big expansion of the special branch. They want to make sure we're well trained."
"I don't see where shooting arrows and jumping little fences with your horse is much use. This ain't Camelot."
She had a point. Learning to fire a pistol or throw a punch was one thing, but it was hard to see how horseback riding and dancing the waltz came into it. "The worst of it is, I'm starting to wonder if any of it will be useful. These past few months, what we've been doing...what if that's all there is to the job?"
"I thought you liked all this ghost business?"
"Ghosts are projections of spirits from the otherworld," I said, reflexively reciting from 'Pullman's Guide to the Paranormal,' the little handbook we'd been given as a reference. "Whereas shades are still tied to the physical world. They're similar, but not the
Clara planted a flour-coated hand on her hip. "Why, thank you. It's a good thing you straightened me out. I might've gone my whole life without knowing the difference, and then where would I be?"
"Sorry," I said with a guilty laugh. "Habit. Between the training and the shade-hunting, it's hard to remember what it was like before we knew any of these things existed. Back when life was—"
"Normal?" She sprinkled another pinch of flour on her dough. "Ain't hard for me. Tell the truth, I'm half sorry I learned about any of it. All this keeping secrets...Feels like I'm keeping part of my life locked away from my family. From Joseph, especially. Ain't right, keeping things from your fiancé. On top of which, the whole business gives me the jimjams. I liked it better when ghosts and magic was nothing but children's stories."
"I know what you mean."
There must have been something in my voice, because Clara paused, dusting flour from her hands. "What's wrong, honey? Something happen out there?"
"Nothing that hasn't happened a hundred times before. I humiliated myself in jujitsu, and the other recruits—"
Clara clucked her tongue impatiently. "Weren't you the one said they was just jealous 'cause you already out there doing the real work?"
"But that's hardly my fault. Thomas only needs me because I can sense shades." I'd been able to do it ever since the incident at Hell Gate, when a fragment of a spirit had become embedded in my body. It had nearly killed me, and when we'd finally found a way to banish it, I discovered that I could still sense it when shades were nearby. Even if they were invisible, a shiver down my spine would always warn me of their presence. Handy if you were in the business of hunting down escaped spirits of the dead, but otherwise..."Hardly something to wish for."
"Maybe it ain't what you're doing they're envious of, but who you're doing it with."
"Didn't you tell me there was lots of folks lining up to be Mr. Wiltshire's partner, and now here you are stepping in? Maybe you're stepping on some toes while you're at it."
"I don't see how they can blame me for that."
"Rose, Rose." Clara shook her head. "And you a detective and all."
I started to ask what she meant, but just then Thomas appeared on the stairs. "Good evening, Clara. Supper smells wonderful."
"It's ready if you are, unless you're dying for biscuits."
"Excellent. Jackson has just arrived. Shall we, Rose?"
"I'll be right there." I blew out a sigh as I watched him head up the stairs. "Another day, another shade."
"You could always come back to work here," Clara said, gesturing vaguely at the kitchen.
She was joking, of course. Clara knew better than anybody how unhappy I'd been as a housemaid. "Thanks for the offer," I said dryly, "but I'd feel terrible about displacing the new girl. How's she working out, by the way?"
"Who, Miss I Don't Work Weekends?"
"Poor Louise. You're being unfair. That was Thomas's idea, remember? To keep her out from underfoot?" The strategy had largely worked. With Thomas and me away at Newport most of the week, we rarely crossed paths with my replacement.
"If he hadn't asked for it, she would have, believe you me. Thinks about as much of this job as you did."
"Oh, dear." I laughed. "Now I really do feel sorry for her."
Clara eyed me pointedly. "Maybe you oughta remember that next time you're fixing to complain about your new job. Now get on upstairs.Don't wanna keep Mr. Wiltshire waiting."
This excerpt ends on page 12 of the paperback edition.
Monday we begin the book Sidewalk Saint by Phillip DePoy.