The Viper, Chapter 01

Chapter 01

For weeks now I've been dreading talking to Zachary and Margery about the counterfeit gang. I've kept them mostly in the dark because they weren't easily fooled and had a habit of jumping into action before all the necessary facts were gathered. Margery especially would have difficulties being patient.

On paper, Margery was the housekeeper and Zach the gardener. But to simply call them "servants" would be grossly understating the roles these two played in my life.

Neither of them had ever shown any interest in bowing and scraping, and I cherished them for it. Well, they had attempted it in the first couple of days in my employ. But such things are bound to change drastically when the supposed prim and proper mistress of the house made outlandish requests of her gardener such as a refitting of the basement for boxing and target practice so that extracurricular nightly activities with a Webley Mark I revolver and a sparring partner would not disturb the neighbours.

As we settled around the kitchen table, I still wasn't sure how much to tell them and how much to withhold.

Zachary, dressed in his usual garb of grass-stained corduroy trousers and a light blue cotton shirt with the sleeves rolled up and ready for the next job, was piling a second breakfast onto his plate, oblivious to the nervousness emanating from me or the exasperated glance his wife Margery threw at the mountain of food he was about to devour.

With a grunt, Margery pulled out her chair, sat down, and narrowed her eyes at me. ‘You look like someone is about to die,’ she said.

I winced. So much for my "cool and controlled" exterior.

Rotating my empty teacup between my fingers I replied, ‘We have a decision to make. Maybe not today, but soon.’ I swallowed to clear the knot of tension from my throat before continuing, ‘I have reason to believe that the counterfeit gang is searching for Arthur—’

Abruptly, Margery clonked her cup on the kitchen table. ‘Counterfeit gang?’

Zach pushed yesterday's evening papers toward her and tapped on an article about counterfeit notes found at two Boston banks.


The Boston Post, Saturday, June 2, 1894.

Boston Banks Besieged by Fraud! We relay a most perturbing tale of trickery infiltrating the strongholds of our esteemed financial establishments. Our revered Secret Service reports the alarming presence of masterfully crafted counterfeits in two eminent Boston banks. The counterfeiters have beguiled even seasoned bankers with their skilfully etched banknotes, casting a shadow of doubt over our banking system. Under the pioneering leadership of William P. Wood, the Secret Service — tirelessly battling currency fraud since the Civil War — utilises modern tools such as photography and Heath's Counterfeit Detector to combat scoundrels. Yet, the artful counterfeiters' craftsmanship renders detection a remarkable test. Nonetheless, faith remains in our stalwart protectors as they persevere to safeguard our economy. Despite this moment of alarm, we urge no fear but support for our resolute guardians in the Treasury Department. Their unwavering dedication to quelling the counterfeit menace continues to shield our nation's currency against those who seek to disrupt its integrity.


‘And how do you know about this?' she asked her husband with a pointed glare.

‘Liz and I discussed it last night after I tucked Klara into bed.’ To Margery's chilling gaze, he hastened to add, ‘And agreed at once that the three of us have to talk about this first thing in the morning.’

She swung her attention to me. ‘And for how long exactly have you known about this?’

This was going precisely as I feared it would. Sighing, I leaned back in my chair. The wood of the backrest produced a faint pop. The morning breeze wafted through the kitchen window, bringing with it the fragrant scents of peonies in full bloom and freshly cut grass.

‘Arthur helped me put it together,’ I answered. ‘We already knew from the orphanage records that the boy had been purchased anonymously. The staff never revealed the buyers' identities to the police. It's unclear whether they didn't know who bought him, or if they were too afraid to identify the men. But when Arthur explained his duties to me, it was evident he was forging signatures and engraving copper plates for printing banknotes.’

Arthur was a deaf boy. Maybe six or seven years old. No one seemed to know when or where he was born. He was discovered by the police in September of the previous year, huddled next to a decaying corpse. We agreed to take him in until the authorities could locate his family.

As it turned out, Arthur’s home was an orphanage full of small corpses. He’d stayed with us since.

‘How sure are you of this?’ asked Zach.

‘Absolutely sure. The police found high-quality copper shavings in Arthur's pockets when he was found. The way Arthur described his job to me made it clear he had a good understanding of how counterfeit money is made.’

‘Inspector McCurley told you? About the procedures, I mean,’ Zach asked.

I nodded. ‘We discussed it, and he agreed with my assessment. The problem is that Arthur is a witness. He can identify the counterfeiters and that makes him a liability for them. And he has a talent the counterfeiters are coveting. He forged my signature like it was nothing to him. All he needed was one good look, and a pencil to put it to paper.

Margery's gaze shifted to the window that overlooked the garden, where the children and their tutor, Annie Lowell, were solving equations and practising sign language.

Unspoken truths weighed heavy on my chest. Bitter memories clogged my throat. How on earth could I warn Margery and Zachary without sending them into a panic? They needed to know that Arthur was in danger, but blind fear would serve no one, least of all Margery.

‘We have a few options,’ I continued. ‘We can wait and hope the Boston PD apprehends the criminals before they find Arthur. We could also assist in the investigation, I guess. Or we can leave everything behind and start fresh somewhere else.’

‘But that's extreme!’ Margery exclaimed. ‘Moving away? Starting all over elsewhere?

‘I agree with you. It's an extreme reaction to a problem we aren't sure even exists,’ I answered. It was a lie. I did consider leaving Boston, but I wasn’t ready to start a new life all over again.

Zachary frowned. ‘But they are killers. They murdered the man Arthur was with… Hartman? Hartworth?’

Averting my gaze from Zach, I said, ‘Charles Hartwell, an investigative journalist. As far as we know, he was killed by the orphanage staff. But we have no proof.’ Again, an outright lie. The gang had thrown Hartwell off a roof, and Arthur witnessed the murder.

‘And who is we?' Margery asked.

‘Inspector McCurley and I. For Arthur's safety, no one but us knows that Arthur is connected to the counterfeiters. Well, except the counterfeiters, of course.’ That, at least, was the truth.

Zachary leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest, giving me his signature “what are you up to now” look. ‘You could have led with that last night and instead of saying that we might have to move to New York or California! Honestly! We could have saved our nerves for some other catastrophe.’

I hoped he wouldn't press me for more details, especially with Margery in earshot.

‘What's your plan, then?’ she asked.

‘To stay. For now,’ I replied. ‘I’ll gather more information on the counterfeit gang, find out how serious the threat is, or if there even is a threat. I need to know how the gang operates, how valuable Arthur might be to them, and if they pose a threat to him at all. Only then can we decide how to protect him, or if relocation is the best solution.’

I glanced outside toward the garden where Arthur and Klara had begun scaling an apple tree while Annie sat with her back against the trunk. 'I'd rather not disrupt their lives any further. Especially not Arthur's. He's already been through too much.'

‘Agreed,’ Zachary said after a moment of thought. ‘But no matter what happens, I trust Inspector McCurley to handle it.’ He offered me a reassuring smile.

I produced a small nod. ‘I’ll visit the new public library tomorrow and dig through their newspaper archive.’

‘Why not just go directly to the Inspector? He'll have all the information you need,’ Margery suggested.

‘I would prefer not to involve him.’

‘Whyever not?’ she pressed.

I sighed. ‘Because I'm withholding information from the police to protect Arthur. McCurley is aware of this, but he doesn’t act on it because he, too, wants to ensure the boy's safety. You know better than anyone the cruel injustices and prejudice black people face in this country. But America isn't all that much kinder to the Irish. As far as I know, McCurley is the only Irish police inspector in Boston. If anyone were to find out he's withholding information, he'd be ruined.’

I didn't mention that Quinn's troubled past could resurface and destroy his career in an instant. I also didn't mention that Quinn, too, had been owned by a man when he was young, forced to do his bidding.

And I definitely would never mention that I couldn't face being near Quinn again. I was too cowardly to examine what was between us.

‘For Arthur's sake, you should reconsider,’ Zach said firmly.

I dropped my gaze at my empty tea cup and slowly nodded. ‘A compromise, then. If it becomes clear that these counterfeiters pose a real threat to Arthur's safety and well-being, I will contact McCurley. But if it seems they'll leave the boy alone, there's no need to bother McCurley or the police.’

Zach raised an eyebrow, his gaze piercing right through me.

Deep in my bones, I suddenly knew that despite all of my careful planning, things would not turn out how I hoped.

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