An Excerpt from Final Destiny—John Decker book 13
New York City—April 1912
Elise Felder stopped and stared, awed by the spectacle ahead of her. Beyond a roughhewn stone entrance that looked more like the mouth of a cave than the doorway to an underground world beneath one of the world’s busiest cities lay a grotto of sorts, lit in a warm yellow glow by sconces at intervals along its granite and brick walls. But if this was a grotto, it was bigger than any Elise had ever imagined.
The cavernous space, with vaulted side passageways stacked floor to ceiling with fine French champagnes, brandies, and liqueurs, stretched as far as she could see. And in the main chamber, a hundred or more revelers danced in sweeping turns to the quick tempo of a stirring Viennese waltz, while even more partygoers sipped champagne, enjoyed hors d’oeuvres served by servers carrying silver trays, and gushed excitedly about the unusual setting of the soirée.
The dazzling sight took Elise’s breath away.
“It’s incredible,” she whispered, as much to herself as her companion and latest beau, Wallace Alden.
“I thought you’d like it.” Wallace escorted her through the door, then stopped and glanced up at the vaulted ceiling soaring fifty feet over their heads. “Just think of what’s above us. The streets of New York, bustling with cabs and trolleys and pedestrians going about their business with no idea of what’s happening right beneath their feet.”
“How is this place even here?” Elise asked, noticing the chamber’s more intricate details for the first time. A fresco on the far wall. A vineyard scene with rows of grapevines in front of a turreted château framed by distant mountains painted with such exquisite skill that if it were a religious scene, it might have graced the walls of an Old World cathedral. The names of champagne manufacturers painted on the brickwork between the arches of each wine vault. Signs above the arched entrances leading to the various wine cellars. Avenue Regoud. Avenue Les Deux Oefs. Avenue Sichel Bordeaux.
Wallace smiled, clearly enjoying his companion’s delight. “These tunnels and vaulted rooms were built back in 1876, when the anchorages for the New York and Brooklyn Bridge were under construction. Behind these walls, hidden from view, are massive slabs of stone heavier than you could ever imagine that anchor the steel cables used to support the bridge and tension them. It’s really quite incredible to think that without these cellars and the anchorages that made them possible, the bridge would simply collapse into the East River.”
“That’s hardly a comforting thought,” said Elise, shuddering at the thought of the mighty bridge tumbling into the frigid river and taking with it any soul unfortunate enough to be crossing at the time.
“Oh, don’t worry. It’s quite safe.” Wallace was distracted now. He was scanning the crowded taproom, as the wine cellar’s main concourse was called, and craning his neck.
“Who are you looking for?”
“Why Clarence, of course. He was kind enough to invite us to this soiree, so it’s only fair that we wish him many happy returns.”
He invited you, not me, Elise thought. Clarence Rothman was in another league. Younger brother to Howard Rothman III, a shipping magnate who had taken over the family company upon their father’s death, Clarence refused to enter the business and instead lived a bohemian life in Greenwich Village thanks to his fat trust fund. Elise had only met the man a couple of times through Wallace, who had recently discovered the avant-garde lifestyle, and found him to be boorish and self-centered despite his boyish good looks. Thankfully, she didn’t see any sign of him right now and decided to distract Wallace, which was why she took his hand and said, “Let’s dance.”
“There will be plenty of time for dancing later.” Wallace extricated his hand and stepped further into the room.
“Then at least get me a glass of champagne.” Elise swallowed a flicker of annoyance. She loved Wallace, at least as much as she had ever loved anyone, but found him infuriating at times. Especially when he was trying to climb the social ladder, which she suspected was the main reason they were at this party.
“Very well, my love.” Wallace studied the room one more time, a slight smile touching his lips. “I’ll be right back.”
Elise watched him go. She smoothed a crease from her dress and waited, listening to the music, and watching the revelers spin around the dance floor. She became so engrossed that she failed to notice Wallace returning with a pair of champagne flutes until he was almost upon her. But he was not alone. A tall man with thick dark hair, a firm jaw, and iridescent blue eyes accompanied him. Elise groaned inwardly. Clarence Rothman.
“Well, hello, my lovely,” Clarence cooed, closing the gap between them. There was a martini glass in his hand and a smile on his lips. “I must say, I was rather hoping that Wallace would bring you with him tonight.”
“And here I am.” Elise plucked one of the champagne flutes from Wallace’s grasp and raised it to her lips, sipping the golden liquid. “Many happy returns.”
“Why, thank you.”
Elise lifted her glass. “And thank you for the champagne. Pol Roger if I’m not mistaken.”
“You are not. All the way from the Vallée d’Épernay. This is a particularly nice vintage of which my brother received several cases only last week.”
“Ah, yes. Your family has entered the wine business.”
“Indeed. It was all Howard’s idea. Since we already ship to and from Europe, it only made sense. Of course, I have no interest in any of that.” Clarence raised his glass. “I prefer to simply drink the profits. In this case, a rather wonderful vermouth.”
Elise took another sip of her champagne. “I suppose it is our good fortune that your brother was willing to part with so much fine wine on the occasion of your birthday.”
“I’ll let you into a secret.” Clarence leaned close with an impish smile. “He only let me use the wine cellars because he doesn’t want my bohemian friends traipsing around the family mansion. He and his fiancée couldn’t even be bothered to show up for this party, so I switched out the second grade hooch he put aside for us in favor of a more palatable selection. I’m sure he’ll be furious when he realizes how much of his newly imported vintages have found their way down the necks of the Greenwich Village crowd he so despises, especially since he lost a sizable cargo of expensive wine in the hold of that ocean liner that sank a few days ago.”
“Indeed. Hundreds of bottles lying on the ocean floor out of my brother’s reach forever. Such a shame. And I intend to deplete his stock even more. It’s devilish of me, I know, but I simply can’t help myself.”
“In that case, I shall become a co-conspirator and drink as much Pol Roger as humanly possible.” Elise downed the last of her drink and glanced around in search of a replacement.
“Not before you do me the honor of a dance.” Clarence grabbed Elise’s hand and tugged her toward the middle of the room. “Assuming your beau has no objections, of course.”
“Absolutely none, old boy. Just promise you’ll bring her back to me when you’re done.”
“I will promise no such thing.” Clarence grinned.
“Wait.” Elise shot Wallace a beseeching look. She didn’t want to dance with Clarence. He had a reputation with the women, and not a good one. But it was too late. He was already dragging her onto the dance floor and slipping an arm around her waist, or more accurately, a little lower than her waist. And then he was whirling her around even as he held her close. While at the edge of the room, she saw Wallace slip a silver cigarette case from his pocket and start toward one of the wine cellars without giving her a backward glance.
John Decker stood on the RMS Carpathia’s Promenade Deck and peered over the rail at the choppy waters of the North Atlantic below, lost in thought.
It had been two days since the Titanic’s deadly encounter with an iceberg and Decker’s last sighting of the ancient Egyptian vampire brought aboard by Ignatius Faucher. The latter, Decker knew, was dead even before the Titanic went down, ripped apart by Amenmosep. Of the vampire himself, there had been no sign since the surviving passengers and crew of the doomed ocean liner were picked up by the Carpathia.
But Decker was not fool enough to believe Amenmosep had perished when the Titanic slipped beneath the waves. The vampire was alive and kicking in the moments prior to the tragedy, and having survived thousands of years buried in the Valley of the Kings was hardly going to let a little freezing water stop him.
This troubled Decker. The Carpathia was only a few days from docking in New York, where the Titanic survivors would be offloaded before the ocean liner once again set sail for the Mediterranean seaport of Fiume in Austria-Hungary. If Amenmosep reached the United States, he would soon disappear into the bustling metropolis and be free to kill with impunity, extending his own life even further with each additional victim. And without the Order of St. George’s resources, it would be impossible to stop him.
“I thought I’d find you out here,” said a female voice to Decker’s rear.
He turned to find Mina lingering a few feet away, her arms wrapped around her chest against the biting cold and a blanket over her shoulders. “I took another turn around the deck to see if I could find him,” he said, by way of explanation.
“It’s been two days and we’ve seen neither hide nor hair of Amenmosep, despite searching the ship from top to bottom more than once.”
“There’s every chance he went down with the Titanic.”
“And just as much chance he didn’t.” Decker turned away from the rail as a rumbling peal of thunder echoed overhead. The weather had been dreadful since the morning after their rescue, with violent storms and thick fog slowing the Carpathia’s progress to New York, piling further misery onto the already exhausted survivors of what Decker knew would come to be viewed as one of the worst maritime tragedies in history. “We can’t allow him to reach New York.”
“If that creature was on board the ship, I would have sensed him.”
“Unless you haven’t gotten close enough,” Decker said. Thanks to her encounter with Abraham Turner, Mina was forever changed. She had absorbed Turner’s life force and memories, and with them, some of his abilities. She was now a gestalt consciousness. Neither wholly human nor vampire, but something new. And with this transformation came the ability to sense other nearby vampires.
“The only way I wouldn’t be able to detect him is if he were not in the public areas of the ship and beyond the range of my senses.”
“Which could be the case. Maybe he killed a crew member and is hiding in an area off-limits to us.”
“It’s doubtful. The Carpathia is much smaller than the Titanic and therefore has a small crew. If someone didn’t show up for their shift, they would be missed.”
“Perhaps, but I’ll still feel better if we keep looking for as long as possible. The stakes for not doing so are too high.”
“I know you don’t want to hear this, but unless something changes, we have no choice but to assume that Amenmosep didn’t make it off the Titanic and is trapped in a watery grave on the ocean floor, even as we speak. Hard to kill or not, I don’t see how he could survive in such an inhospitable environment.” Mina rested a hand on Decker’s arm and spoke in a low voice so as not to be overheard on the crowded deck. “We know from history that the Carpathia was the only ship to rescue survivors, so if he is not aboard, then he’s gone for good. Besides, what you propose to do if we actually did find Amenmosep? It’s not like we could easily kill him. And even if we tried, the deck of an ocean liner full of traumatized passengers is hardly the place to do it. We would never be able to explain ourselves.”
Decker gave a weary sigh. “You’re right, of course.”
“I know.” Mina smiled. She paused a moment and leaned on the rail, gazing out at the faint outline of another ship barely visible through the shroud of fog that had enveloped them for more than a day. This was the USS Chester, sent out to escort the Carpathia on its last leg into New York harbor. “Amenmosep aside, we have other matters that need our attention. I spoke to the ship’s wireless operator this morning after breakfast, hoping to relay a message to Thomas back in London. We are effectively penniless and will need funds if we are to survive and blend in, especially since neither of us is familiar with early twentieth century New York. But the Carpathia’s captain has ordered that no messages be sent on behalf of passengers and the radio room is also refusing to answer messages from shore regarding which of Titanic’s passengers have survived.”
“Which means we’re effectively incommunicado until we disembark. Hopefully, we’ll be able to send a telegraph to Finch at that point and secure his help.” Decker fell silent for a moment. “With any luck, he will be relieved enough to hear from us to forget that I drugged and locked him in my apartment.”
“I wouldn’t hold your breath.” Mina chuckled. “When the pair of you come face to face again, you might want to keep a safe distance from his fist. At least until he calms down.”
“But I will say that he isn’t vindictive by nature and even if his first inclination is to hang you out to dry, he won’t do the same to me. He might even be grateful you completed the task for which you boarded the Titanic and rescued me.”
“I believe that was all on you,” Decker said with a grin. “You rescued yourself. I was nothing but a bystander.”
“You were much more than that.” Mina looked up at Decker. “You always have been.”
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