“Damn grave robbers.” Agent Mitch Storm stood looking down into an empty hole.
The mortuary safe, a latticework of iron bars designed to keep out body thieves, had been pried open like the rib cage of an autopsy victim. An expensive maple coffin had been torn into with enough force that its lid lay separate from its base. The tufted satin interior was empty.
“You don’t think it could be premature burial?” Mitch mused. He pointed to a nearby tomb with a bell on a rod. Inside, a cord went down to the corpse in the casket, just in case the dearly departed hadn’t actually been dead and gone. Similar bells dotted the cemetery, between the carved urns and elaborate angels.
“Nah,” Jacob replied. “No one calls in federal agents for that. At least it’s pretty clear that someone was trying to get in, instead of getting out.” Agent Jacob Drangosavich, Storm’s partner, swept his gaze across the rolling hills of New Pittsburgh’s Allegheny Cemetery as if he expected to spot the resurrectionists making off with their prize.
“How do you figure?” Mitch asked.
Jacob nodded toward the lid, which lay upturned a few feet away from the casket. “No evidence of scratching against the lining, and an outward-bound force wouldn’t have taken off the lid so neatly. You’ve seen what it looks like when they rise on their own. I don’t care whether they’re ghouls, vampires, or wraiths, they make a mess of it.”
Jacob Drangosavich and Mitch Storm were a study in contrasts. Their badges from the Department of Supernatural Investigation were one of the few things they had in common. Storm was shorter, with an athlete’s build. He had dark hair and dark eyes, along with a five o’clock shadow that started at three. Mitch still had the cocky assurance that had made him one of the Army’s best sharpshooters, along with a rules-are-for-other-people attitude that continued to get him into trouble.
Jacob, on the other hand, was tall and blond, blue-eyed with Eastern European features that let him easily fit in among the new immigrants working the city’s mines and mills. And although Jacob favored deliberation before action, somehow his caution did not seem to keep the pair out of trouble.
“Question is,” Jacob said, “who’s the body snatcher, and why do the snatchers want corpses?”
“It’s not the medical students this time,” Mitch said. “They’ve finally got legitimate ways to get study stiffs.”
Jacob was about to reply when he heard a clockwork click and hum. “Get down!” he yelled, diving to the ground as a shot rang out. He scrambled to his feet, but Mitch was nowhere to be seen. Jacob’s gun was ready in his hand, and he ran for the copse of trees where the shot had originated.
“Federal agents—come out with your hands up!” he shouted.
A figure darted from behind the trees. It looked human but moved all wrong. Metal glinted in the sun from places on the figure’s form, and Jacob heard the click and whine of meshing gears. It was dressed like a man, but it moved stiffly, without the grace of a real person. Whatever it was, it moved fast, Jacob thought, sprinting after it.
“Halt! Police!” he shouted again. He put on a burst of speed, but the attacker paused long enough to squeeze off another shot that sent Jacob dodging, then took off again at a full run.
The stranger was too far ahead of him to catch and running for one of the carriage roads. Jacob’s long legs carried him quickly over the uneven terrain of the old cemetery, but the shooter was faster.
Jacob’s lungs burned and he knew he would tire long before he reached the carriage road. Catching up with their attacker was not going to happen. The hiss and thump of an engine sounded behind Jacob, and Mitch let out a whoop as he roared by on one of the department’s experimental steam bikes.
“Be careful with that thing!” Jacob shouted, but by that time, Mitch was too far ahead to hear him.
Mitch rode the bike like he was jumping hurdles with a stallion. The cemetery’s rolling terrain gave him just what he needed to send the bike airborne, vaulting over several granite headstones and barely missing the wings of a mourning angel sculpture.
The bike came down hard, but Mitch stayed with it, pulling it out of a slew and barely remaining upright. He gunned the engine, and it popped and hissed in protest, but the bike took off again, with Mitch weaving between and around the stone obelisks intent on his quarry.
The shooter was fast, but Mitch’s bike was faster, and the gap between the two narrowed. The runner veered left, and Mitch cut off the corner to intercept. The distance between them went from yards to mere feet. Mitch steered straight for the runner, closing in, intending to run the assassin down.
A muffled explosion echoed off the field of monuments and mausoleums with a sickening wet thud. The runner exploded, just a few feet in front of Mitch’s bike, sending a rain of skin, hair, bone, and clothing falling through the air. Mitch skidded to a stop, covered in gore, staring in complete horror at the spot where the would-be assassin had detonated.
Jacob jogged up a few minutes later, winded and sweating. “What the hell just happened?”
Mitch for once was speechless. “I almost had him,” he said, staring at the burned patch of ground where the bomb had gone off. “And then he just… boom—”
“You’re sure it was a man?” Jacob tried to catch his breath, and wrinkled his nose at the distinctly unpleasant smell.
“It looked like a man,” Mitch replied. “But it didn’t move like one. It was jerky and awkward, and way too fast. There was something really strange about him.”
Jacob frowned and moved into the blast range, sniffing the air and then kneeling to look closer at the chunks of flesh that littered the grass. “There’s no blood.”
“What do you mean, there’s no blood?” Mitch demanded. “Didn’t you see him blow up right in front of me? How can there not be blood?”
Jacob shook his head. “I don’t know how, but there isn’t. Look,” he said, pointing. “I think we’ve answered one question, why the mystery man moved strangely. He was already dead.”
“You saw him run. He shot at us. Dead men don’t do that,” Mitch argued.
Jacob pointed to the spray of gore. “Look at the flesh, Mitch. It’s not bleeding. It’s not the right color. Smell the air. Formaldehyde and rotting meat.” He gestured toward some brass bits that caught the sunlight and shimmered. “Bits of metal. Where did they come from? They had to be in with the skin and bone.”
Mitch sat back down on his steam bike with a worried look. “You think someone finally managed to do it? Create a clockwork creature?”
Jacob spread his hands and shook his head. “More like clockwork abomination… I don’t know much about that kind of thing. But I can think of someone who might.”