Trace spent much of the morning away from the house. It was easier to think that way, and he had a lot to ponder.
Miss Fairweather had handed over a lot of information last night, far more than she’d surrendered in the previous six months. He rather thought most of it was true, even. But with the exception of the detail about her niece, she hadn’t told him much more than he’d deduced for himself. And even if the bit about the niece was true, it didn’t account for certain other things he’d observed, like her strange bouts of illness, and her reluctance to venture out of her house. And he remembered something else from the trance—Trace had cut the line between Mereck and himself, but he had sensed a tether on Miss Fairweather, as well. Despite her protestations that she had no psychic powers, despite her verbal exclusion of herself as one of his protégés, despite the late Herr Kieler’s observation that she didn’t not bear the master’s “mark,” there was apparently something about her that Mereck deemed worth watching. There was clearly more she hadn’t yet told him. Which was typical of her.
Trace dropped in at Jameson’s and wrote a quick reply to Boz’s note—quick in the sense that it was short. He spent a good half-hour struggling with what he wanted to say and what he couldn’t. In the end he settled for the bare facts. “Back in St. Louis. Trip no trouble. Lots of book-learning ahead—likely to be quiet for a while—Trace.” Jameson, of course, was in a talkative mood and hastened to share all the latest town gossip, but Trace had lost his taste for who was working where, who was drunk, in jail, or keeping a ladybird.
He needed another source of information, he thought, listening to Jameson prattle on. Someone who knew something about Miss Fairweather’s past, or Mereck’s. He couldn’t imagine hunting down a phantom Russian, couldn’t even suppose Mereck was the man’s real name, given he seemed to spend much of his time in a travelling show. Miss Fairweather might be easier to track, but she was from England, which wasn’t exactly the next county over, and she’d already told him her nearest kin was dead. Even supposing she had any connections left, they were unlikely to know of her occultist actitivies, much less consent to discuss them with a stranger.
As for the people they had in common—Mereck’s victims—all those Trace had met were mad, dead, murderous, or some combination thereof. He remembered that dead whore down in Sikeston, poor mad Lisette, who had been much like Trace while she lived—a powerful medium, strong in her faith, and uneasy about reconciling the two. Mereck had played on her fears, set her beliefs against her desires until her mind gave way, and then abandoned her to commit the ultimate sin. Trace wondered if her entrapment in the spirit world was due to the tragic circumstances of her death, or a curious effect of her power, or a curse from God for taking her own life, or a final trap laid by Mereck—to keep her in servitude to him even after death. Her spirit had certainly been eager to whore itself to a new master; it had killed a man in an effort to show Trace what a good servant she could be.
Trace had come a long way away from his conviction that his power was a curse laid on him by God. He had stopped fearing it, for the most part; he no longer felt as if every spectral visitor was sent to torment him or tempt him into Hell. But he still shied from the idea of taking spirit familiars, especially the murdering kind.
And yet… Miss Fairweather had regular contact with the spirit world. She apparently had a house full of spirits who helped her—or helped him, at any rate. Some of them might be willing to spy for him, but he doubted the kitchen maid was privy to Miss Fairweather’s dark plans, far less a match for her sinister manservant.
He needed someone stronger. Someone… more like mad Lisette.
The thought was chilling… and intriguing. And slightly maddening, that he was thinking of enlisting the spirits of the dead in a war of espionage.