Today's Reading

But now, he was no longer a shadow. He was flesh and blood, a person who was once a baby named by a mother and father who undoubtedly had hoped for more for their son than for him to become a counterfeiting murderer.

"What is it?"

Another quick peek over his shoulder. "Fletcher Pitch."

Abby mouthed the name of her enemy.

You're not supposed to have enemies, you know. The Good Book says— She ignored the voice in her head. "He's in custody, then?"

"No, the wily creature is a master at eluding us, and as you know, he has assumed numerous names these past several years for his day-to-day undertakings. But knowing his birth name has allowed our operative to glean a fascinating bit of information—"

Mr. Welch stopped short at the appearance of their waiter carrying two steaming plates on a silver tray. He set them down, sending a waft of savory aromas around their table. Bone-in steak, roasted carrots, and mashed potatoes swimming in butter, garnished with tomato relish and a yeast roll. Abby hadn't seen anything so gorgeous in eons, much less eaten it, but she determined to ignore the noisy growls emanating from her stomach. The instant the waiter left them to their food, she leaned over her plate. "What information?"

Mr. Welch selected his knife and fork. "The most useful tidbit is that he married nine years ago."

"What sort of woman would marry him?"

"An honorable sort, apparently. When she realized the truth about him, a year after their marriage, she abandoned him, even though she'd just given birth to a son."

"Oh, that poor woman." Deceived by a man like that, and with a tiny baby too. Abby knew a thing or two about men not being who they appeared to be. She consumed a carrot—oh my, it really was delicious—and then speared another, this time swirling it in the butter spilling over the side of the mashed potatoes. "Can she be persuaded to tell tales about him?"

"She cannot. I'm sorry to say she died shortly thereafter."

Pitch was responsible for that death too, just like he was for Father's. And Mother's, because his cruelty killed innocents by breaking their hearts. "Where's the baby?"

"Disappeared in the care of the wife's sister, Katherine Hoover. She never met Pitch." His gaze flickered around the restaurant. The elderly couple had slipped out when she wasn't looking and the ladies by the window rose from the table, donned their wraps, and made their exit into the snowy afternoon, leaving Abby and Mr. Welch alone in the restaurant.

Nevertheless, Abby kept her voice low. "Disappeared, you say?"

"Like chaff on the wind. She told her friend goodbye in a dramatic, forever-like fashion, saying she'd promised her dying sister she'd ensure the baby's father never found them—but she showed her something extraordinary. A wedding tintype of her sister and Pitch, so her friend could recognize Pitch if he came sniffing. The friend couldn't tell our operative anything beyond saying he was decent-looking." He sighed. "At any rate, Miss Hoover vowed to protect that boy."

"She's a brave woman."

"I'll say. Left everything, changed her name for a child that wasn't hers. I wish we could leave her be, but she's got something that'd sure help us out in our investigation. That tintype of Pitch."

"That would be a valuable clue, to be sure." She sliced her steak. "But if Miss Hoover is in hiding under a false name, how can you find it? Find her?" "Not easily, but we have reason to believe we aren't the only ones looking."

A shiver ran from her neck to her toes. "Pitch wants the baby. No, not a baby. He'd be, what, eight years old now?"

"Pitch wants to control everything that concerns him. His image as a mysterious, violent, unknowable 'Artist' is carefully cultivated to intimidate. Everything he does is executed with the greatest care, from his engravings to his, well, God rest your father's soul, but Pitch's, er, dealings with those who cross him. When he engages in that sort of activity—"

"You can say murder."

"I'm trying to be delicate, Miss Bracey. But yes. When he does that, he makes a statement of it, intended to frighten. He's controlling, for sure, and if I were the wagering sort I'd bet a thousand dollars, genuine currency, of course, that Pitch is furious to have been without his boy near on a decade, unable to mold him as he wishes."

A boy raised by a man like that? What a horrifying thought. "You must find Miss Hoover, then, and warn her." For the boy's sake. For Miss Hoover's sake. And for the sake of all of Pitch's victims. "And get that tintype, of course, but I'm not sure how to find a person who's so careful to hide her past."
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