Sunday, January 17, 2016

Sunday's Safe Word Shelf: Life Under New Management by Jane Davitt

Working for a perfectionist like strict, sexy-as-hell Ethan isn’t easy. Falling in love with him? No problem at all.

Taking a bar job in an exclusive hotel is a stopgap for Andy. He’s an actor and his big break is coming soon—he knows it. His hot new boss Ethan is strict, demanding and totally off-limits but Andy can’t stop thinking about him.

When Andy learns of Ethan’s need to be in control of his partner—in bed and out of it—he’s stunned by the intensity of his reaction. He wants Ethan guiding him, bringing order to his chaotic life. And he sees that Ethan needs him too, though they can’t be open about their feelings.

Ethan deals out deliciously perverse consequences for misbehaving, but when it comes to incentives, he knows just what to offer to have Andy on his knees begging for more.

But some secrets can’t stay that way for long. And when difficult choices arise, for once Andy can’t turn to Ethan for guidance. This time, he’s on his own.

And if he chance to speak, be ready straight,
And with a low submissive reverence
Say, ‘What is it your honour will command?’
—The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare

“Tell me why you think I should hire you, Mr. Naylor.”

Andy directed another winning smile at the man behind the desk. Ethan Mason hadn’t responded to the last three, but maybe they were chipping away at the ice—ice that had formed when he’d told Ethan to call him Andy then solidified after the confession that most of his experience of bars had been as a customer.

“I’m a hard worker.” If he was doing something interesting. “Reliable.” Up to a point. “Good with people.” True. “I invented a cocktail once.” Then drank so many of them, he’d forgotten the ingredients. Puked up around three in the morning. It had been a nasty mess.

Ethan pushed back his heavy wooden chair—no padding for this guy—and stood. Not an overly tall man, no obvious muscles bulging underneath the dark gray suit, but Andy guessed Ethan could break up a bar fight if needed without ruffling his smooth, dark hair. Cool guy. Ice-cool. And now ‘ice, ice, baby’ was stuck in his head in a retro hip-hop loop-de-loop, and shit, he needed this job. His rent was due. His place was a crappy dump, but this was Vancouver and even shoebox-sized rooms without a view of the water or the mountains—which took some doing—weren’t cheap. He hadn’t heard back about the dog food commercial yet, but something told him he hadn’t gotten the part—the something being his main competition emerging from the final interview with lips barely dry from giving a blow job. No jizz streaking his chin, but that smug, used look was unmistakable. Andy had seen it in a mirror often enough, but he sucked cocks for pleasure, not to get a job. When he got his first major role—and he would, anytime soon—it would be down to his acting talent and nothing else.

His determination was wearing thin after a few years of bit parts that went nowhere, but he patched it when needed.

“Show me,” Ethan said and left his office without looking back.

Andy chewed the inside of his cheek—a bad habit he had to stop—and followed him. They walked along a hallway with doors opening off it—storeroom, break room, cleaning supplies, the paintwork clean, the black and white floor tiles freshly mopped. Even behind the scenes, the Totally Five Star Hotel lived up to its name. The corridor led to a swinging door with a narrow glass panel set in it, allowing safe passage in either direction.

Behind the door was a bar, although not the main one for the hotel. Andy had seen that on the way in, impressed by the muted elegance of the place, all gleaming brass and dark green carpet, the swoop of the counter drawing attention to the glitter of glasses and bottles behind it. This was a smaller lounge—clean, severe lines, a black granite surface shimmering in the overhead lights as if it was liquid instead of solid enough to resist the blade of a knife, the walls painted bronze. Upmarket but still welcoming. At eight-thirty in the morning, it was empty.

Ethan kept going, opening a gate to give him access to the room. He took a seat on a stool with a curved back. Did that make it a chair or did they need four legs? Andy wasn’t about to ask.

Ethan tapped the bar. “Make me your cocktail. And without getting tacky—we don’t twirl bottles here—give me something to look at.”

“Huh?” Andy’s tie made his blue eyes a shade darker, but it had clearly developed a new ability of tightening at crucial moments, throttling the wearer. He couldn’t breathe. He was a performer, for God’s sake. What was wrong with him? He’d always excelled at improv sessions, even when the audience was hostile or unreceptive, and Ethan was neither of those. More like a teacher with a disappointing student, waiting for the correct answer and sure it wouldn’t be forthcoming.

“I’m a customer in a classy cocktail bar. I’m about to pay fifteen dollars for a fancy drink with an improbable name from an attractive young man.” Ethan’s mouth twitched. Not a smile. More of a pained grimace. “Give me my money’s worth, Mr. Naylor. Charm me, so the tip I leave is a generous one.”

Andy eased the knot on the tie and gave Ethan smile number four—or five. He’d lost count. “Sure thing.”

Ethan’s gray eyes hardened and he raised an eyebrow. “Excuse me?”

“Yes, sir?” Andy hazarded.


If he got the job—and it wasn’t looking likely—he hoped this guy stayed in his office and delegated. Working under that chilled-steel glare was going to rack up the breakages. His hands sweating, he turned to survey the bottles. They weren’t in any order he could see, not at first, and his gaze darted from bottle to shakers, swizzle sticks to frankly scary implements whose purpose he could only guess at. He’d never realized how much stuff there was back here.

“You said on your application you’d worked behind a bar before.”

“Yes, true, I did, I—” For ten minutes. As a favor to his friend, Paula, who’d been called away to sign for a delivery with no one else around to take over. He’d flirted for six of the ten minutes and mixed a vodka and coke that was supposed to be a double but had been a quadruple by the time he’d worked out how to get the upside down bottle to release a full measure.

Ethan stood, hand slashing through the air, a dismissive gesture that stung like an actual blow. “You’re wasting my time.”

“I’m not! Look, let me—” Andy snatched up a martini glass. He turned, setting it down, then lifting it again and grabbing a cocktail napkin to go under it, emblazoned with the hotel’s logo. “You look like a man in the mood for something smooth and sophisticated.”

“Is that so?” A flat growl, but Ethan sat again then crossed one leg over the other, the impeccably pressed trousers he wore pulling taut across his thigh.

Cocktail shaker. Take off the lid. Scoop up some ice. God, the metal of the shaker got cold fast. Andy threw a grin over his shoulder, toning down his inner slut before he added a wiggle of his ass. “Trust me, sir. It’s my job to know what my customers need.”

Calling Ethan sir felt wickedly good, as if he was getting away with something, flirting without anyone knowing. Where the fuck had that come from? He was used to examining his motivations when he was playing a role, not so much when it came to himself. Andy shoved the question aside to think about later or better yet, forget. Now what the hell had he put in that drink? Vodka. Yeah. A cheap Polish one had been on sale at the liquor store and he’d bought two bottles for the party.

He picked up a bottle of Grey Goose and sloshed some into the shaker, shielding what he did from Ethan’s view because he was probably supposed to measure it. What else? Cointreau had been involved, the screw top sticky with crystalized sugar, hard to open since no one had used it in months. The bottle behind this bar opened smoothly, the neck clean. He added a slug of the liqueur and a quick shot of club soda from the gun then put the top on the shaker.

Turning back to Ethan, he began a brisk shake, the rattle and swoosh of the ice sounding reassuringly professional. He had the common sense to hold the top. Showering his prospective boss with freezing liquid would leave him without a job and probably barred from the hotel for life. When condensation clouded the outside of the shaker, he removed the top with a flourish, poured the drink into the glass then looked around for a garnish.

“The fruit for the drinks is sliced shortly before opening,” Ethan said, reading his intention but with luck, not his mind. “What would you have used?”

“Orange,” Andy said promptly. “No sense trying to fight the Cointreau.”


Ethan raised the glass to the light, studying it. The clear liquid held a silvery glow. It wasn’t fancy, but something told him Ethan wasn’t a fan of complicated. “What do you call it?”

Since ‘damned if I know’ wasn’t going to cut it, Andy shortened his late grandmother’s favorite saying about necessity being the mother of invention to one word.

“It’s a Necessity.”

Ethan took a sip, then another, before pushing the glass away. “Make it again, this time using lemonade. The real stuff. There’s some in the fridge over there.”

“Yes, sir.” It slipped out naturally this time, drawn from him by the note of authority in Ethan’s voice.

Ethan tasted the new version, rolling the liquid around like mouthwash, though he didn’t spit it out. After swallowing, he pursed his lips. “Okay, it’s basic but it’s not bad.”

“I’ve got the job?”

Ethan snorted. “No. You got a compliment you barely deserved on a drink that’s halfway to being a real cocktail. You never stood a chance with the job, not once the lies on your application outnumbered my thumbs. I would’ve let you get away with shining up your experience, but you can’t polish thin air. You’ve wasted my time. The door’s over there, eh?”

“Wait!” Andy’s hands were cold now, disappointment and nerves shredding his optimism. “I need this job.”

“Were you telling the truth about the acting degree from UBC?”

“Yes!” His indignation made the word echo off the walls. He took out his wallet. “My student card’s in here somewhere.” He needed to clear out his wallet. Along with his single credit card, close to maxed out, were expired vouchers for free coffee, receipts and cinema tickets.

“Don’t bother. I can tell when you’re lying and that sounded true. So you’re a wannabe actor looking for a job until he gets offered a starring role?”

Yes, but admitting it would guarantee he was shown the door. Time to test Ethan’s lie detector skills with a half-truth. “Three years ago, yes. Now I’m a guy who’s been to more auditions than there are bottles in this bar and I know it’s not going to happen. I need to pay my rent and I’m not fussy about how I do it.”

“Even if it’s bar work?” Ethan asked.

Had his eyelid drooped in a wink?

“We both know that a trained monkey can mix drinks, smile and make change, right?”

Andy laughed, relaxing with Ethan as if their moods were magically linked. “I guess.”

Ethan slapped the bar, a flat, uncompromising smack, making Andy jump like a hooked fish. “Wrong. And with an attitude like that, good luck getting any job. Bartending’s not rocket science, but people take courses in it. Get trained. For a place with a reputation to uphold, it’s mandatory. You’re not good enough to work here. Aside from a pretty face, name one skill you have that would interest me.”

Ethan thought he was pretty? Well, he was—no doubt about it—but straight guys didn’t notice shit like that. Not proof Ethan was gay, but a definite pointer. It didn’t matter to Andy, of course. Ethan probably had a sophisticated boyfriend waiting for him when he got home. He was too tightly wound to be Andy’s type anyway. Though de-icing the guy would be a fun challenge. Hmm. What was underneath the stern disapproval? A molten center or a lake of beige?

Time to get on his knees, metaphorically at least.

Author Bio:
When I was eight I decided to write a book. I found a notebook, scribbled a few hundred words about triplets with improbable names, and lost interest. Three decades later I still wanted to write a book, but the dim realization dawned that meant I had to actually, well, write something.

Yes, it surprised me too.

So I did. Not about triplets, but love, angst, hot and spicy smut, and for the most part they're m/m romances.

There's a shelf in my library where I keep the books with my name on them and yeah, there they are. I did it.

That eight-year-old me expected a lot of her future self though. Like being an astronaut. Did not do that.

Sorry, younger me. Here, have a wine gum.

Free reads and my fanfic are here: Jane Davitt at AO3.



The Road to Silver Plume by Tamara Allen

Secret Service operative Emlyn Strickland may be new to field work, but his talent for identifying counterfeit bank notes, honed over ten years at the Treasury, has given Sing Sing’s population a respectable boost. When counterfeiter August McKee takes illegal advantage of a sinking silver market, his former confederate Darrow Gardiner shares that information with Agent Strickland so they can track down the once-friend who left Darrow to rot in prison.

Promised his freedom in return, Darrow’s after something more. He wants possession of his best work, the flawless fifty dollar plates still in McKee’s hands. And with a little maneuvering, he’ll have the one thing a vengeful McKee may consider fair barter: the Secret Service operative whose testimony sent them both up the river.

It seems an objective within Darrow’s reach after he rescues Emlyn from an assassin, earning a measure of his trust in the process. But on the cross-country journey in search of McKee, another attempt on their lives leaves operative and outlaw stranded miles from Denver, with no one to rely upon but each other. Beset by turncoat agents, angry miners, and the burgeoning threat of a wealthy and powerful McKee, Darrow and Emlyn discover that standing on opposite sides of the law doesn’t safeguard them from the dangers of friendship—or a deeper attraction that may force Darrow to choose between the real and the counterfeit as he’s never done before.

Some might call this enemy to lovers sub-genre, for me Emlyn & Darrow are not quite enemies to begin with but they are definitely what I would call adversaries.  At first, I wasn't sure that I was going to be able to "get into" this story right now as it wasn't really the time frame I was searching for but it only took the first chapter and I was hooked.  Emlyn might be out of his depth as a field agent but he sure does know his money.  Darrow may be a convict looking for his way out but he too knows his money or how to create it anyway.  Together they have a common foe in their sites but watching them find a way to work together is interesting and immensely entertaining.  Once again, Tamara Allen has captured the era with precision and created characters that burrow their way into your heart in both loving and not-so-loving ways.  A great read for anyone who loves historicals but also for those who love a great story.

Chapter One
The sun was too goddamned bright. The afternoon, for that matter, too cold and windy. The wood plank under him would rattle his bones from their sockets even before Grand Central fell from view, and Sergeant Fulton was hitting every damned bump and hole in the road. Deliberately.

Still, the September day—so far—had more to recommend it than the Mount Pleasant accommodations Darrow had said farewell to, hours before. And one hell of a farewell salute it had been from his suddenly sentimental cellmates. His head pounded yet, his stomach rocking with the wagon's sway. He didn't know whether to blame the last whiskey or the first.

The play of morning light on green leaves and the rushing gleam of the Hudson had only occasionally distracted him from his misery on the train trip downriver. Now, in the half-forgotten territory of home, he raised his aching head to peer through the bars. Manhattan hadn't changed much since ’87. The buildings stood higher than he remembered. Traffic ran thicker and faster; but maybe it seemed so because the only traffic he'd seen in six years were police wagons, arriving with clockwork regularity, and the occasional closed carriage concealing uneasy visitors. But the unrelenting clamor of the city hadn’t changed. He was home and he was free.


Fulton eased the wagon from the meandering line of horse-cars winding down Park Row and angled for the broad stretch of curb in front of the post office. The four stories of overwrought granite bearing up under a bulbous roof of dark slate resembled nothing so much as a pompous government official with a derby atop his bald head; or more pertinently, the two men at the curb who seemed to be waiting on Darrow’s arrival. As Fulton opened the wagon doors, the older man—a division chief, most likely—peered inside. "Darrow Gardiner?"

"That's him," Fulton said grimly, and unlocked the chain that ran through the shackles. "Come on out, you son of a bitch."

Darrow smiled in the sergeant's scowling, gray-bearded face. Fulton wouldn't get under his skin. A juicier fish waited to be skewered and fried; one smug, self-assured Secret Service operative by the name of Emlyn Strickland, who had sauntered into the courtroom six years ago to swear that only one person in the world could have engraved the near-perfect twenty dollar plates on damning display at the exhibit table.

The case had won Strickland fawning accolades from every city official and praise from every journalist. Sentenced to a dozen years in Sing Sing, Darrow had that day decided to make Strickland regret the testimony; but not with a fist or a gun—no, he wasn't going back to prison, not with a chance to walk free.

It was a freedom so near, not even the shackles on his wrists could dampen his anticipation. The two operatives now apparently in charge gave him a cursory once-over before heading inside, leaving Fulton the task of making sure he kept up. Glad to be free of the leg irons, Darrow kept apace down the marble corridor, past niche after niche of lock-boxes, to the elevators. Few people glanced his way. When they did, they looked away again, seeming startled by the sight of a man with his wrists manacled.

The elevator doors opened upon a fourth floor labyrinth of austere offices. Cells, too, Darrow mused; if not as dark and narrow as the one he'd called home. An inscription at the door read, "Secret Service Division." Below that, for good measure, someone had thought to add, "Positively No Admittance." That didn't apply, by virtue of the information in his possession, to him. He followed the operatives into an office warmed by a wood-fire and busy with the hustle of clerks. Rows of Wanted photographs scowled from the walls, and bulky safes—no doubt stuffed with confiscated evidence—stood, indifferent, beneath them.

A door at the far end led into an interior office. A lone desk occupied the room, and the name on the deskplate, Charles Bishop, belonged, Darrow knew, to the lanky figure lost in reverie at the window, a file under his arm forgotten as he gazed out on Broadway. Fulton offered a gruff good-morning and the man turned, his prominent, raw-boned features set in what Darrow sensed was a perpetual state of wry humor—except perhaps when his genial limits were tested. Darrow suspected Bishop was, then, as capable as a prison guard of putting any man in his place. And Darrow had tested his share.

"Take a seat, Mr. Gardiner." Bishop sat at the desk, his assistant finding a less settled perch on the low cabinet behind him. "This is Franklin Lahey, my personal secretary."

Lahey took Darrow in, head tilted like a curious crow. "Before you share your information, Mr. Gardiner, I must admit I'm curious to know how you came by it."

Fulton, at Darrow's shoulder, hovered all the more emphatically, as if daring Darrow to overstep in the slightest. Darrow ignored him. "Where's Strickland?"

Fulton grunted, clearly unimpressed with the mild tone. Bishop only smiled. "Mr. Strickland went down for some of the evidence in storage from your trial, in case we wanted to review any of it." He leaned forward, arms on the desk, fingers laced. "I'm as curious as Mr. Lahey, I’ll confess. You say you’ve evidence of an undetected counterfeit in circulation. Evidence you’re willing to share.”

“With conditions.”

Bishop’s smile didn’t waver. "Of course you’ll be compensated for your trouble."
Darrow smiled back. "Meaning a discharge of all obligations to the state?"

"Mind yourself," Fulton grunted.

"Yes, Mr. Gardiner, as we discussed. Sentence commuted, and the usual sum to start fresh. But first we must know what particular knowledge you possess that the Secret Service does not."

Darrow sat back and folded his own arms as well as he could with irons around his wrists. “I’m sure you have a good eye for fakes, but this one is going to call for Strickland’s expertise.”

“You have one of the bills?”


Bishop’s eyebrows rose. “Indeed. I suppose we would benefit from Mr. Strickland’s presence.” He turned to Lahey. "Where the devil is he?"

Lahey appeared to have no satisfactory answer. “Shall I go—“

“No, let’s be efficient about it. Sergeant, if you’ll gather up your charge, we’ll track down our missing party.”

They made a peculiar procession, judging by the inquisitive glances of visitors, clerks, and operatives they passed. Bishop strode at the lead, Lahey scurrying along aside, and Darrow could hear their every word.

"Sir, we might be wiser leaving Gardiner behind—"

"The sergeant will keep Mr. Gardiner in hand, should it be required."

"Yes, sir. But Emlyn—he's had so little field experience—"

"I'm aware of that, Mr. Lahey."

"Yes, sir. My concern is..." Lahey's backward glance at Darrow completed the thought.

Bishop chuckled. "Mr. Strickland has been in New York how long?"

“Three weeks, sir."

"Yes. Perhaps it's time to broaden his horizons."

Darrow couldn't help noting that however much respect the Service might have for an operative with a knack for identifying counterfeits, they didn't show it by situating the man in any of the busier front offices. Several twists and turns from Bishop's headquarters, a narrow hall led past a handful of unoccupied rooms to an unmarked door at its end. Bishop entered without knocking, into an office that appeared to serve as secondary storage—or perhaps first. In an atmosphere thick with the mustiness of old furniture and older books and files, dust motes floated in the meager shafts of sunlight, waiting their turn for a resting spot.

Over a desk pushed under the room's single window, Emlyn Strickland sprawled like a sunflower seeking more light. There, the sun obliged, catching the paler shades in Strickland's brown hair and falling warmly on the cream-colored waistcoat and tweed backside hemmed in by stacks of books all over the desk. Strickland looked amiable and innocuous—to anyone who didn't already know what an arrogant, exacting son of a bitch he could be.

At Bishop's gentle throat-clearing, Strickland sat up, knocking over several books in the process. One book fell open on the floor, exposing a collection of counterfeit bills as neatly arranged as a stamp collector's scrapbook. And some of the bills, to Darrow's amusement, were not unfamiliar. Noting the papers Strickland had in one hand, the magnifying glass in the other, he wondered why the Service couldn't buy the man a damned lamp.

But Strickland didn't seem troubled by it. Maybe he was accustomed to putting up with the poor light. If it bothered his eyes, there was no sign in the clear gaze that fell warily on Darrow. The son of a bitch remembered him...

And Darrow remembered him; no trouble to look at, with features still too frankly expressive for a Secret Service agent, Strickland was probably just past thirty and still as leanly built, though he did most of his Service work behind a desk—or on top of it, apparently. His gaze, gray as the coldest day in winter, sat somberly on Darrow as if he'd concluded Darrow's early release from Sing Sing would not be in the best interests of the world at large.

Darrow let one corner of his mouth curl into a smile with more than a thimble's worth of triumph. "You didn’t figure on seeing me again so soon."

"Not in custody, no.”

That dry, even tone Darrow remembered. The tone of a man who could bring down judgment on others without a moment’s regret. “Don’t tell me you thought I’d escape?”

“Considering the direction in which your talents lie, I fully expected you’d forge your own pardon.” Strickland’s glance slid assessingly over the second-hand suit before rising even more somberly to meet Darrow’s gaze. "You've lost weight, Mr. Gardiner."

Caught off-guard by the personal remark, Darrow lifted his shoulders in a careless shrug. "Live on mush and molasses for six years and you won't grow fat."

"I suppose not." Strickland's attention strayed to Bishop and a fleeting grimace crossed his face. "I beg your pardon, sir. I got caught up. Those bills First National turned over to us..." He bent to scoop up the fallen books. "The artist is Edward Johnson. Just as you thought."

Darrow snorted. "What did he misspell this time?"

Strickland looked startled—then unexpectedly laughed. "He didn't. But he still can't resist a flourish where nonesuch exists." He plucked a bill from the book and raised it before their eyes. "The line engraving isn't as steady as it should be. The shading's lacking—"

"Might be Hill's," Darrow said.

Strickland hesitated. "I don't think so..."


"Taylor's a much better hand at the vignettes."

"Well, it's not one of mine."

“Indeed, no. Your work is superior,” Strickland said ruefully. “Far superior.”

“Which returns us to the matter at hand...” Bishop glanced around. "You've no chairs in here, Em?”

Strickland frowned as if he’d only just noticed their absence. “I could’ve sworn—“

"I believe the office next door is adequately furnished," Lahey put in on a dour note.

"We'll settle in there," Bishop said, already heading for the door. "Mr. Gardiner has imparted little yet.” He stepped into a smaller office, empty but for a desk and three chairs. "If you would like to continue, Mr. Gardiner..." He steered Lahey to the chair behind the desk and remained standing as Fulton less than gently invited Darrow to sit. Strickland took the third chair, the dubious light in his gaze as irksome as the amusement. The son of a bitch thought himself made of better clay by virtue of his badge, same as Bishop and Lahey. The same as every goddamned government agent.

And yet here they were, waiting for his help.

Darrow savored it a moment before digging the dollar from his waistcoat pocket. He’d kept close care of the coin for a good five weeks—no easy thing in prison—until he’d been able to get word to Bishop and secure an interview. Now the coin was going to buy him his freedom and more.

He tossed it onto the bare desk, where it landed beside Lahey’s notebook. Lahey paused in mid-scrawl to glance at it, but Bishop picked it up. He examined both sides and finally fished a quarter from his own pocket to test the ring. The fake rang cleanly and Bishop pinned a reproachful gaze on Darrow. “If you hope to persuade us this coin is filled…”

“It’s not.”

Bishop’s stare sharpened. “Do explain yourself, Mr. Gardiner.”

Darrow turned to Strickland, whose curiosity shone as plainly as Bishop’s skepticism. Rising, Strickland held out his hand and Bishop passed him the coin. Strickland had already produced a small brass magnifier from his waistcoat pocket, and coin in hand, moved to the window.

Bishop was apparently not in the mood to wait for a verdict. “Mr. Gardiner, let me just remind you that you’re not dealing with laymen. We’re all quite aware of the fact that you and your fellow engravers find the means to persist in your trade even in Sing Sing. If this coin is a creation of yours, we will discover it.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And when we do discover it, you may be sure neither we nor the governor will be inclined toward leniency.”

Strickland had a shoulder pressed against the glass, his head bent over the coin with the same intense, single-minded concentration Darrow remembered from the trial. If he followed the conversation, there was no sign of it. Bishop was paying him no mind, having taken to pacing back and forth behind Lahey’s chair as the secretary scribbled furiously to keep up.

“Furthermore, Mr. Gardiner, do not imagine you may, upon being found out, claim it was merely a simple mistake.” He silenced both tongue and stride long enough to cast a stern glance at Darrow over Lahey’s head. “We’re dealing with no layman, ourselves. We know as much.”

“Yes, sir.”

“So if you have altered this coin, however minutely, in order to arrange an early release, you may as well confess it—“

“Good heavens.”

Strickland’s exclamation ended the invective, to Darrow’s relief, but Bishop and Lahey had no more than given him their attention before he abruptly bounded from the room. Bishop cast a puzzled glance at Lahey, as if he might provide an explanation, and Lahey snorted softly. “Ten years in the Redemption Bureau, sir. Addles a fellow some, I expect.”

Bishop’s lips twitched, a hint of long-suffering in his sigh. “Mr. Lahey, kindly retrieve Mr. Strickland.”

“Yes, sir.”

Lahey had only reached the door when Strickland bounded back in, cradling a coin scale and a fruit jar brimming with silver. Without preamble, he poured the silver onto the desk and began to dig through it, his urgency sparking what Darrow guessed was a rare uneasiness in Bishop’s eyes. “Emlyn, what—“

“Eighteen ninety-two.” Strickland plucked the shinier coins from the silver pool, to as quickly discard them after checking the date. “Do either of you have an eighteen ninety-two?”

“It’s counterfeit, then?” Lahey looked awed, Bishop dismayed. Both dug into their pockets, but turned up only a decade-old dollar between them.

Darrow had expected some measure of concern once they’d caught on, but nothing quite so satisfying as this alarmed scramble. The only annoyance was Strickland, who seemed more fascinated than apprehensive. He’d found his prize, Darrow knew, when his fingers curled around a bright bit of silver. As Lahey and Fulton hovered, Strickland passed the magnifier and both coins to Bishop. “The weight’s near-perfect. Off by a few grains, at most.”

Bishop laid the coins side by side on the desk and bent over them with the magnifier. After a long minute, Strickland cleared his throat. “The lettering,” he prompted.

“‘In God we trust.’ It’s not aligned as precisely.”

“Yes, sir. Without the magnification, it’s nearly impossible to tell. The vignette isn’t quite right, either. But I expect the metals are all in proper proportion. Forty cents’ worth of silver in one almost flawless dollar.”

Bishop straightened, chin dropping to his chest, gaze fixed yet on the coins.
“Silver’s still at sixty-three? So he’s making sixty cents on every coin he passes.”

“It may be useful,” Lahey ventured, “to ask just who he is.”

When the three of them turned in his direction, Darrow let loose a soft laugh. “You don’t know?”

The question, directed at Strickland, provoked a raised eyebrow from Bishop. “Mr. Gardiner, I realize it’s tempting, in your position, to engage in a bit of cat-and-mouse, but this can be construed as obstruction of justice—“

“Mr. Strickland’s already got a list of suspects in mind.” Darrow settled back against the comfortable leather. “He was putting it together the minute you handed over that coin.”

“The quality does narrow down the list,” Strickland acknowledged. “I know of five or six men, off-hand…” He leaned against a corner of the desk, arms folded. “August McKee?”

Darrow rocked the chair back and forth. Treasury men had it soft. Mighty soft. All the same, they could be damned smart. “You cut that down quick.”

“You’ve known McKee fifteen years.”

“Sixteen. But I’ve known others as long.”

Strickland’s mouth curved with a hint of reproof. “Sixteen years of friendship and he bid for his freedom with your engravings.”

“I gave him those plates a long time ago. He could do what he liked with them.”

“And your fifty dollar engravings? Where are they?”

“You’ll have to ask McKee.” Fourteen months of painstaking care had gone into the making of those plates. The pride he'd felt on presenting the plates to Gust was as powerful as it had been seven years ago. Gust had called them works of art—and so they were, as thoroughly as any Rembrandt or da Vinci. He’d thought as highly of the tens, but he’d readily traded them for a commutation, two years into his own twelve-year sentence. Where the fifties languished, Darrow could fairly guess. But after six years in prison, he’d lost any expectation Gust was going to bargain for his release, too.

And that was something Strickland had no need to know. “McKee doesn’t owe me. I don’t owe him. If he’s the one minting those dollars—“


“I don’t know it for a fact. But men come and go in Sing Sing. Gossip’s about the most valuable thing they’ve got on them. That, and a little spare change.”

“Let us assume August McKee is our craftsman in this instance.” Bishop scooped a handful of silver and dumped it into the jar. “Might you have an idea of his whereabouts?” His gaze on Darrow was as assessing as Strickland’s, if not as shrewd. The deal to trade freedom for information depended, Darrow knew, on how useful the information proved to be. And Bishop had the power to decide if it wasn’t quite useful enough.

There was little point in the cat-and-mouse. But being too forthcoming was as risky. Once Bishop had all he wanted, he’d toss Darrow into the Tombs for safekeeping. Gust would be arrested, the engravings confiscated. Darrow couldn’t allow either, if he wanted both his freedom and his fifties back.

“I don’t know McKee’s whereabouts, no. But it should be easy enough to come up with a list of possibilities.” Darrow straightened in his chair. “A man setting up his own mint is going to need plenty of metal.”

Bishop’s brows rose. “Are you suggesting McKee has come into possession of a silver mine?”

Darrow shrugged. “He’ll want to keep an eye on every step. If he’s digging up his own bullion, he has control from start to finish.”

Lahey looked up from a notepad crisscrossed with calculations. “If McKee’s minting coin straight out of his own mine, he must be making a fortune. Even a meager production of ore will make him quite wealthy—“

“Mr. Lahey, we’ll need a list of silver mine owners as quickly as you can put it together.” Bishop turned to Strickland. “You think you can track him down through his other counterfeits?”

“If he’s still making use of Mr. Gardiner’s engravings, yes. The banks have sent in a good many letters I haven’t had the chance to file yet. You know, if McKee has acquired a mine, his ownership may be listed under a confederate's name." Strickland's considering gaze rested on Darrow. "A name Mr. Gardiner may recognize."

Bishop seemed satisfied. "Mr. Lahey will make inquiries and I suggest you begin going over the letters from the banks." He smiled faintly, almost as if embarrassed. "I think you're going to need more light and space. I'll have another office set up for you. Sergeant Fulton, if you will return Mr. Gardiner to his temporary quarters—"

"I beg your pardon, sir." Strickland pushed away from the desk, straightening. "Mr. Gardiner can identify counterfeits as well as I can. The work will go twice as fast if he remains."

Bishop sent a dubious glance in Darrow’s direction. "I assume, Mr. Gardiner, that you prefer to stay and assist?"

Sorting through counterfeit bills sent in from banks all over the country… That promised to be an arduous task. An afternoon in the Tombs might be preferable. But he had to keep an eye on things, himself. "I'm at your command, Mr. Bishop."

"Good. Sergeant, kindly release Mr. Gardiner from the irons and turn him over to us for the time being."

Fulton obeyed without a word, but the look he gave Darrow was both warning and promise. Darrow gave the threat no further thought once the irons were removed. With that dead weight off his wrists, he was still under guard, perhaps, but another step closer to being a free man.

He rubbed his wrists, at the same time stretching aching shoulders as he joined Strickland in the dusty storage room. Despite the seemingly haphazard organization, Strickland needed only a minute to locate the bank lists and Reporter journals. He filled one box, then a second from the file cabinets, only hesitating as he passed the first box to Darrow. "It's a little heavy—"

"I was carting barrows full of marble three days ago." Darrow took the box. "You can trust me."

"We're trusting you with a great deal more than bank journals." Strickland picked up the second box. "Whatever you can tell me about McKee...”

Darrow glanced at him sidelong as they stepped into the corridor. “That’s why you asked Bishop to have me stay.”

Strickland met his glance and again unexpectedly laughed. “No insult intended, Mr. Gardiner. I do believe your eye for counterfeits is nearly as good as mine.”

“Took you at least a month to pin down those twenties.”

“And less than an hour to determine you were the artist.” Strickland shifted the box to one arm and turned, meeting him eye to eye. “I recall my testimony as well as you do. And whether I’d taken one month or a dozen, you’d have gone to Sing Sing.”

“Thanks to your testimony, I did.”

“That you spent six years in prison was your doing, Mr. Gardiner. Not mine.”

Darrow let an indifferent smile form. “No regrets, then.”

“None so far.”

“Give it a little more time.”

Strickland brandished the silver dollar between thumb and forefinger, as grave-faced as Liberty herself. “You’ve nearly won your release. You won’t trade it for a moment’s satisfaction.”

“No? A man can find lifelong satisfaction in some moments.”

Strickland’s lips parted, then firmed into a disapproving line. “Employ that philosophy and you may find yourself with very little life left to enjoy.”

“Bishop will track me down?”

“Do you imagine he won’t?”

Darrow broke into a grin. “I expect he might. Even for the sake of a Redemption Bureau coin shuffler.”

That sparked annoyance in the gray eyes. “If you’d prefer to go back with Sergeant Fulton—“

“You can’t afford to send me back, unless you want August McKee to flood your Treasury with these.” He plucked the dollar from Strickland’s hand and tossed it, letting it land flat on his palm. “Gust’s best work to date, really.”

Strickland didn’t offer an opinion, nor any further discussion until they’d found their way to the office Bishop had ordered set up. It was considerably larger than any Darrow had yet seen, with room for two desks—and a long table, in case the desks fell short. Darrow claimed the desk nearest the window and found some mild entertainment in sorting through the counterfeits, increasingly amused by the outraged or exasperated letters from cashiers who couldn't fathom the number of fake bills that had ended up in their accounts. Most of the fakes, Darrow recognized. One or two originated from plates he'd made long ago, plates he assumed were in Gust's possession.

The farther down the list he went, the clearer it became that Gust was somewhere near Denver. "I've seen almost all these bills before. I know which are coming from Gust's operation. Odds are he’s in Colorado."

Strickland rose. "I'll give you more letters—"

"Don't bother. I'm convinced and you are too. Or you should be."

"I know it's not the most enjoyable of tasks—"

Darrow snorted. "Reading letters from a bunch of tellers who don't know what they're doing?"

"What makes you think they don't know what they're doing?"

Darrow lifted one of the bills that had been sent along with the letter. "They're posting these fakes up where anyone can see them, aren't they? Damned kind of you folks to point out a fellow's mistakes. Likely the engraver's already putting out a much better copy."

"How would you suggest we warn depositors of counterfeits in their possession?"

"Don't warn them. You're enlisting them to do your work. Maybe if you did a better job if it—"

“You, of all people, should know what we’re up against. For every fake coin we ferret out, you pass another dozen to take its place.”

“A good engraver doesn’t pass his own work.”

Strickland breathed a laugh. “Sidestep all you want. The more evidence we gather from banks, depositors, disloyal passers—anyone who's had one of McKee's bills or coins in hand—the more likely we can narrow down just where he’s hiding."

“I can narrow it faster.”

That won him a guarded glance. “What do you have in mind?”

“I have friends who can probably tell us just about anything we want to know.”

“Where are these friends of yours?”

“Around town. Most of them frequent Huber’s. If I can talk to them—“

“Huber’s Beer Garden? In the Bowery?"

"You've been there?"

Strickland cleared his throat. "I've passed through the Bowery once or twice."

"No one just passes through the Bowery. That's like a man in the desert crossing a river without stopping for a drink." Darrow leaned his chair back, propping his boots on the desk. "Even Secret Service operatives find their way there. For another sort of field work," he added with a low laugh.

A frown flattened Strickland’s mouth, but he couldn’t seem to hide his curiosity. “You’re suggesting we go roaming the Bowery. Just the two of us.”

“You won’t be recognized. Any friends of mine you’ve sent up are probably still in prison. I don’t bide my time with housebreakers and pickpockets.”

“And yet you perform the same service, relieving a man of the coin in his possession.”

“He can spend mine as readily as he likes.”

“Not if he wishes to remain in the bounds of the law.”

“So you think of me as a pickpocket?”

“You’ve put the false coin in his purse.”

“And you haven’t? You’re passing silver for far more than it’s worth—“

“We do not ‘pass’ silver, Mr. Gardiner. We stamp and issue it.” Despite the amused note, Strickland still seemed uneasy. “I think I want a word with Mr. Bishop. You’d best come with me.”

Author Bio:
Tamara Allen resides in the piney woods north of Houston with her cozy family of husband, son, and cat. Her primary occupation is keeping them out of trouble, but on the side she likes to make up stories, for the pleasure of living briefly in an era long gone by.