There was something to be said about current fashion (Keith admitted it was probably lecherous), and the rare times Rachel was willing to submit to a corset, much of his time would be spent reminding himself not to stare. Not to say, of course, that she needed to submit to the latest trends to catch his eye, but it made it harder to ignore the fact his partner was indeed of the 'fairer' sex, and good looking at that. But right now, he was cursing the first person who decided complicated laced things made for good female fashion.
"Damn, damn, damn, DAMN." Perhaps in another, more intimate situation, he'd be thanking the gods at the chance to be unlacing such a woman's garment. But right now, Rachel Maddow, US Marshal, had a bullet in her, and he needed to get this damnable corset off NOW.
Richard allowed him to struggle for a moment, before grabbing his hand and offering him one of the surgical knives. "Here. We can worry about paying for repairs later."
Keith grit his teeth. "Rachel, just remember, if I don't do this, you won't live to kill me for it." He sliced the laces, wincing as the knife scraped the steel boning of the infernal device. But it was enough to remove the corset, and Richard quickly pushed him aside to assess the wound.
The doctor quickly dabbed a clean alcohol sponge to the congealing mess. "Well, it does seem the boning managed to deflect the shot. A bit bloody, but it's rather shallow." Using a set of forceps, Richard slowly pulled out the bullet. He examined it for a moment before dropping it in Keith's hand.
Rachel was still unconscious, but twitched violently as Richard cleaned the wound and sewed it shut. He motioned for Keith to hand him clean linen bandages and gauze. "She'll have a bit of a scar, but I suspect this won't be her first. Maybe you should suggest a chain mail corset next time if this going to happen every time." He smiled at the job well done, but Keith didn't laugh, rolling the shot in his fingers as he watched the pale face of his partner.
Richard raised an eyebrow, but said nothing as he handed Keith a rag to clean off the offending object (and his fingers). Keith nodded to him in muted thanks, using the moment to study the grooves and compressed shape through his pince-nez. But he couldn't see anything that might tell him who the bastards were who'd shot Rachel, or how to find them to return the favor, preferably between their eyes.
"She'll be fine, Keith." Richard sighed when his friend stayed silent. "Will you help me place her in her bunk? She's still going to be out for a few hours at least from the ether."
Keith tried not to grunt as he lifted her up with a bit of difficulty, trying his best not jostle the wound. "Looks like she's out for the night." He placed her in the hardwood bunk as gently as he could manage, before drawing the blanket.
"It's for the best. By the time she awakes her body will be well on its way to recovery. As I'm sure you well remember, Keith, she's a strong woman." Richard held up the ruined corset and poked his finger through the bullet hole. "Who knew the cruelty of women's fashion would save her life? The steel boning probably absorbed most of the velocity."
"Yeah...." Keith couldn't keep the worry from his face, however, and all but collapsed in a chair next to her bed.
"What has she dragged you into, Keith? I know I've voiced my disapproval of your profession before-" He raised his hand before Keith could protest. "-despite the fact it was that said profession that allowed you to save my life, and for me to have your acquaintance. But this seems even more dangerous than the expected scrapes and dodged bullets. Serial killers, gang wars, conspiracies? What is going on?"
Rachel stirred a bit in her sleep, mumbling something, drawing Keith's sidelong gaze to the younger woman, who seemed to be having a heated argument in her dreams.
He smiled, and stroked her hair softly. "When I...left the Pinkertons, I assumed that I'd seen it all, and all I had left were chasing adulterers and petty crooks. But we're making a difference, doing this. It's all rather amazing."
Several weeks ago, the last thing former Pinkerton Detective Keith Olbermann would have never suspected he would ever see anything other than the tail end of lousy cases. The was little hope for a life as a detective after the Pinkertons; he'd been lucky to get any cases with their influence closing every door he'd tried.
It wasn't like he'd planned to leave the Pinkertons- he had considered himself one of their better detectives to hire on after the war, and had developed a good rapport with several of his regular partners, including Daniel Patrick. He still had tucked into his inner breast pocket the article from the New York Tribune, hailing his work on busting the kidnapping ring responsible for the disappearance of Dr. Richard Wolffe. He had done well, and they had paid well, and they generally had been willing to forgive his occasional outbursts against his superiors.
Then the Pinkertons had begun to take more and more jobs from the robber barons, which he had tolerated when it had been simply theft investigations and other minor scuffle work. But the barons began to ask in indirect words for the detectives to their dirty work, legal or not. By this point, Dan had transferred to desk work to be with his wife and children, and Keith had found himself working with men who were no better than bar thugs. These men had no problem doing whatever it took to get their palms greased well.
Keith had been prepared to go straight to the judges with the evidence he'd compiled of the espionage, but he'd been found out by the traitors; the Fox Gang, as they called themselves. They liked their operation and the authority given to them by the Pinkerton badge. So, one wrong back alley turn later, one detective was set upon three others.
Keith was the first person to admit physical activity was not his strong point, and even at his peak wasn't one to engage in the more sporting gentlemen excursions. But a good detective knew how to read body language, and Keith was a damned good detective. He was never one to back down in a corner.
Keith came out of the fight with a black eye, a formal discharge from the Pinkertons, and his favorite work cane bent at an odd angle. After 15 years, he had lost the one job he had loved with little more than a formal letter and a small severance pay. The three other detectives had been dismissed as well, nursing bruises and broken bones (one was left with a interesting condition- he'd blubber at almost anything), but it was little comfort to Keith. No reputable agency would hire a man thrown out of the Pinkertons, no matter the reason.
He had resigned himself to a small office in the Bowery, managing to eke out a living working any case he had come his way- jilted lovers, money sharks and lost heirs. Dan had tried to help, sending him cases that the Pinkertons didn't need. He was miserable, teetering on the edge of becoming the morose drunk at end of the bar for almost two years. His only joy was writing penny articles on law and politics in the back sections of the Tribune.
That would all change on a dreary September evening, sitting in the comfortable dim of his favorite bar, reading over his notes of his latest case. It was a strange case, the first in a while to give him a challenge. Someone was funneling money into the Swamp Angels to steal cargo off government ships, and they'd murdered his client's wife for what she knew of it. He had a lot of the pieces, but none of the answers.
The loose ends and missing pieces were so engrossing he didn't notice another had joined him at the bar until several minutes later. More surprising was the fact that the voice that cut through his thoughts, ordering a whiskey smash with a husky, laid back tone, was female. Detective instincts schooling his facial features, he cataloged what he could of his neighbor.
She was tall, nearly as tall as he was, with her dark brown hair shorn as short as any man's. He thought for a moment his original assessment was incorrect, but there was still the touch of femininity around her features, and slight curves in her form that confirmed his fellow bar patron was a she. Her clothes showed little of the latest fashion- her outer corset was more a worker's leather vest than the fashions of Harper's Bazaar, suggesting her as one of the few women who worked outside the home (and not upon a streetcorner either). Her skirt was split down the front, and leather breeches peeked through, along with a leg holster.
But most telling was the bandoleer hanging from her shoulder, and the golden badge pinned there. This woman was a U.S. Marshal.
It seemed only then that she noticed him, and gave him a critical once over using none of the misdirection of the detective. "You're Keith Olbermann." It was a statement, not a question.
He nodded, wary of the familiarity. "Yeah, who wants to know?" He shuffled his notes to place back into his own bandoleer, but a grip on his arm stopped him.
"Rachel Maddow, U.S. Marshal. I've investigating the theft of government property from the East River dockyards. I think we're working the same case."
That was the last thing any detective wanted to hear about a case- that it was now government jurisdiction. They had a greater budget for bribery and resources; better equipment and more manpower; they also tended to scare off any potential witnesses from snitching- never mind they preferred to not have any competition, period.
He'd probably be ordered to hand over his notes, and be forced to explain to his client there was nothing further he could do; something his pride- and his sense of justice- would find very hard to do.
But as these thoughts boiled over in his brain, he caught what the Marshal was actually saying to him. "Look, I know you have no reason to trust me, but you know this area a lot better than I do- and people are more likely to talk to a familiar face. You were here first, Mr. Olbermann, and I can understand your reluctance to share that hard work. I know the government has a history of not wanting to share its cases, but I personally would love the help."
That certainly hadn't been what Keith was expecting. The openness of her plea and her admittance of her agency's faults threw him off balance. "I... Alright. Perhaps we can find something the other has missed. But it's probably best if we don't talk here."
The grin that broke out on the Marshal's face was wide and welcoming, not something he'd ever expect from someone working for the government. "Great! Perhaps your office, in a few hours?" He fumbled in his breast pocket to pull a business card out, which she slipped into the top pocket of her bandoleer, and pulled out a card of her own. "Only fair. And now, good sir,- " she turned back to the bartender- "what are you doing for my drink?"
He watched her then quiz the bartender on the brand of alcohol, the freshness of the mint, his muddling techniques and everything else one could think of in the simple ways of making a drink. Any other patron, and the bartender would have simply ignored the questions or told them to shut it. But this Ms. Maddow...
As Keith watched her debate the bartender and the other patrons over the next hour, he had to appreciate the open, laid back attitude with which she engaged every one. She treated them all as friends and equals, laughing at their jokes and politely contradicting falsehoods. She worked the room like a seasoned politician, and easily let each patron open up to her. Seasoned detectives would kill for such a skill.
The detective worried later that it was that ability to manipulate that had him agree so readily to partner up on the case. But as Ms. Maddow left the pub, the only thought Keith seemed to have was how warm her smile.
He flipped the U.S. Marshal's card through his fingers. The front confirmed the woman was indeed an agent of the government, with the embossed seal of the U.S. Marshal's office front and center. On the back in formal type was the words, "U.S.S. Constitution". In slightly sloppy handwriting, a dock number was written underneath. An airship dock, no less. Keith wasn't all that fond of airships.
The little information he'd been able to garner from his sources, Ms. Maddow was a 'spinster' in her mid 20s, born in California to a captain in the U.S. Zeppelin Force. Dan had mentioned that there were suggestions in her file at the Pinkertons that she was a 'progressive' woman; but her excellent track record, sharp shooting abilities and ability to manage a cohesive unit (Dan had included the word 'crazies' in his telegraph, whatever that meant) had the U.S. Marshals overlooking her preference for trousers... and other such things.
The bells of St. Mark's had just marked the 5 o'clock hour when the knock finally came. Keith steeled himself- he had no doubt the warm cordial attitude that he'd been cajoled with in the bar would be gone. She had only offered partnership to throw him off balance, to gain access to his hard work. At best, he would be lucky if she allowed him to do all her legwork, while she stitched the case together and took all the credit.
But... he knew he needed help with this case. This went beyond a simple murder, and if he was going to make sure his client got the justice she and her family deserved, he would need someone with a longer reach than he could ever hope; all his evidence pointed to a group much larger than a simple street gang pulling the strings.
He grasped the hilt of the shotgun mounted under his desk, his small insurance against violent visitors. "Come in."
The U.S. Marshal walked in quietly, and Keith had to once again admire her sensible fashion. Standing, the skirt hid her leather work breeches, giving the illusion of a proper ladies' fashion; or would, if she bothered to fasten the buttons. He could see a government issued side arm tucked into her bustle; she didn't have her hand on it, but he did notice she kept it within quick reach. Somehow this was more comforting than her open stance or her soft smile.
She surveyed the office, and he couldn't help but cringe inwardly; the small rented office (and the personal bedroom beyond) was cluttered and skewed with personal mementos from his days in the Pinkertons. Dust had settled on various surfaces, and those few friends who still visited had often remarked on the need for 'a woman's touch.' Woman or not, he wished he'd taken a rag to the tabletop before the Marshal had walked in. However, the only commentary from her was a soft, warm smile before she turned back to him.
Pulling out a few files from a leather suitcase, Ms. Maddow sat down and laid out a few photos of a crime scene. "Two weeks ago, one of our agents was investigating the theft of several key components of a massive combustion engine that had been seized from a mad scientist." From her suitcase came a picture of a mugshot, and photos of several dangerous looking gearworks. "We knew it had been lost shortly after arriving in New York. He said he had a lead... and then he was dead. We only had the barest of ideas of what he'd stumbled upon... but the investigation stalled, and other cases came through. The thefts continued of other private freighters' cargo, and some surmised it was just gang activity gone sour." She made a bit of a face at that, and Keith didn't blame her- he'd dealt with such thinking from management in the Pinkertons.
"Then, four days ago, four more items were stolen out of a government transport, all major seizures from labs busted by the government. The one witness, a hot corn girl, winds up dead under suspicious circumstances. I finally get the go ahead to reopen the investigation. Three hours into my investigation, I know two things: this somehow involves a local gang called the Swamp Angels, and I should talk to a private detective by the name Keith Olbermann, who apparently pisses off nearly everyone he meets." There was a small smirk pulling at her lips at that last point. He wondered how much of his past she knew, and his nickname of 'The Masochist' by some of his colleagues.
And why was he focusing on her lips, for crying out loud?
He coughed and cleared his throat to collect his thoughts on the information he'd just heard. He pulled out a paper file from his desk drawer, and removed some battered mugshots from the New York Police Department. Each face was grimy and unkempt, each the very image of a poor thug. "The Swamp Angels used to be the defacto smuggling gang here in New York during the run up to the Civil War. They used to run out of an area known as Paradise Alley, using the sewers to travel right under the police's noses. Since the end of the war, though, they've been rather quiet. But in the last few months, they've suddenly gotten their hands on a lot more funding, and somehow have been getting inside information about shipments coming into the docks- times, dates, shipment manifests.
You're right, my client's wife was killed for what she saw near the docks four nights ago. But the Swamp Angels aren't this quiet about a killing; they're good at smuggling, I'll give them that, but they're poor thugs. Whoever killed Sally Hardsgrove knew what they were doing- quick, clean, with little noise. As best I can tell, Ms. Maddow, someone is paying the Swamp Angels to smuggle certain shipments for them, but keeping a short leash on them as well- there's someone keeping sure they don't get caught on the big scores, and keeping them funded, and buying those government shipments- the Swamp Angels are selling small things on the black market, sure, but none of the important stuff. Find who holds the purse strings, and you will find the stolen government property- and the murderer- I'm sure of it."
Keith pulled out an ink drawing from his file. Not as nice as her photographs or a professional sketch artist, but one could still see the defining features. "Sally wasn't the only one who saw something 4 four nights ago, Ms. Maddow. They didn't see the smugglers, but they did witness a 'bad man' stand over the body of the nice lady who occasionally gave her an odd end of corn. This is who she saw. He's our link to the financial backers and real perpetrators."
The Marshal frowned at the picture, soaking in the details of the man; heavy set jaw, close shorn hair, a look of a man who wasn't the brightest lamp on the street, but probably served time some point in his life. The detective was right; he didn't belong to a gang like the Swamp Angels. "Doesn't ring any bells off the top of my head. Is this witness safe?"
"I think so. She's a smart kid, and only came to me after I spoke to her father, on her own- she knows too well how snitches are treated around here. I- do you hear something?"
"What? I can't say that I-"
The glass of the window exploded as an object came sailing through it. As it hit the floor, fire erupted from the old wooden floorboards, and time seemed to slow as an ominous ticking began to fill the room along with smoke and flame.
A clockwork bomb- rare;, and definitely beyond the means of a street gang in New York City. Someone big didn't mind leveling an entire building to remove evidence- and those interested in it. They'd never get away in time to survive.
Suddenly time snapped back as a shot rang out, hitting the bomb dead center. Keith looked over to see the Marshal holding her still smoking pistol. "We need water, quickly!"
He unfroze then, grabbing his wash basin and spinning the meager tap wide open. The water hit the clockwork device dead on.
The office was quickly enveloped in an eye-watering black smoke, but the fire and ticking stopped. The detective and the Marshal looked out the broken window to the empty street below, the perpetrator long gone.
An hour later, Keith sat on the stoop of his office and apartment, breathing in the (relatively) fresh air. The building was saved, but his office- his home- was ruined. Half of his files over the years were gone. Smoke had damaged the rest,; even his small bedroom wouldn't be habitable for days. He was just thankful the few prize possessions, save from a layer of soot, seemed to have survived. If he was lucky, he'd only have to sell half of them to have enough money to find a new place to live.
Ms. Maddow was still inside, using one of those transmission devices to speak to a colleague. No doubt she considered the situation too dangerous to leave in the hands of a minor private detective.
He sighed. He'd always hoped he would go out in the blaze of glory on some important case- he was too old to hope to settle down at this point- but with this, he'd be lucky to keep himself out of the pauper's house. It'd taken a good part of his severance pay to establish himself here- but when word spread his office was destroyed, no doubt potential customers would be too scared to come to a man with such enemies. He was ruined.
But just before the depths of depression could set in, an old leather trunk slammed down next to him on the stoop. "C'mon, we don't have much time, we need to get you packed up!" Rachel grinned from the doorway.
"I... what? Who?" It took him a moment to realize that the trunk was his, but Rachel grabbed his hand, hauled him up, and did her very best to ignore his befuddlement.
"One of my colleagues will be here shortly to take a look at the remains of the clockwork bomb, and he'll bring along a cart to take us back. We've got a room to spare, and since you couldn't stay here, I figured it was the least I could do. I...I hope you don't mind...I know, I assumed, but with it being so late, and then we could go over what Chris figures out about the device..."
Keith grinned, and bit his cheek to keep himself from laughing. There was something far too endearing about this Marshal- someone who'd managed to disarm a clockwork bomb with a single shot- blushing in his doorway. "I... Thank you."
If only he'd known exactly what he was getting into.
They were almost completely finished packing his few belongings (and Ms. Maddow had admonished him a good dozen times to just call her Rachel) when the creak and the hiss of a steam engine cart could be heard pulling up outside. A young bespectacled man hopped from the driver's seat. "Rachel?"
The Marshal smiled and waved to him from the broken window. "Chris! Up here! Help us get the luggage downstairs, would you?"
When the young blond haired man poked his head in the door, Rachel motioned to Keith. "Keith, this is my chief scientific associate, Christopher Hayes. Chris, this is Mr. Olbermann. He's investigating the Dock Case with us, and he's going to need to stay with us for the duration." Keith shook his hand, appreciating the callouses on the scientist's hand.
Mr. Hayes crouched over the remains of the clockwork device. "Aww, Rachel, did you have to shoot it apart? It's a whole lot easier to figure out how they're made and the parts when it's intact." Rachel glared at him, and he had the decency to blanch. "Sorry, right, if you didn't shoot it, explosion. Yes." He fumbled with small flash camera, and took a few photographs of the device. "Alright, lemme bag this and I'll look it over back at the ship."
They loaded the trunk and few smaller suitcases into the back, and climbed aboard as Mr. Hayes started the engine. It wasn't too long of a ride to the airship docks.
Keith didn't know how to explain to the Marshal that he had a problem with airships, and fumbled with bringing the fact up along the ride to docks, but never managed to mention it before he was in front of the dirigible that apparently Ms. Maddow called home.
Still he couldn't believe how impressive the airship was in front of him. It was all sleek lines and dark wood, with a gray rigid balloon. It was unlike the other few government ships he'd seen- much smaller, but better built and a little more luxurious. Probably a converted private ship, which made sense.
Rachel grinned back at him and practically ran up the gangplank. "Mr. Olbermann, welcome to the U.S.S. Constitution, the U.S. Marshal's latest airship. She was confiscated from a nasty set of traders last year, and we've been playing with her ever since. Chris swears he's figured out all the secret booby traps."
Keith gulped and looked, wild eyed, between the Marshal and the young man. "Booby traps?"
Rachel rolled her eyes in fond amusement. "Yeah... trap doors, listening devices, rogue automatons, devices that go ping at odd intervals. Actually, the last two may be just what Chris has added." Chris harumphed at that, but grinned a mad boy grin as he unloaded the steamcart's load.
Keith looked up the gangplank, into the dark belly of the beast. Swallowing nervously, he grasped the banister and began to climb after Rachel.
Chris came up a few moments behind them, wheeling in the detective's meager possessions, wheeling them down the corridor. It took a moment for him to realize that he wasn't alone in the darkened hallway. "Ana, stop sulking in the shadows. What are you up to?"
"Nooothing." From around the corner came a young redheaded woman, dressed in heavy, greased overalls, a sly look on her face.
Chris rolled his eyes. "Spill it."
She pulled out of her pockets a new socket set and a shiny sort of pen-shaped object, her eyes shining brightly. "Managed to finally get a new set of gear tools. Wanna guess how much I paid for these?"
"Knowing you? Nothing. C'mon, help me get this detective guy's stuff into the old Franken bunk."
That stopped Ana in her tracks. She pulled the small suitcase off the hand truck and followed Chris down the hall. "Ooooooh, what's his name? Anything valuable in there I can relieve him of?" She wiggled her eyebrows, half joking.
"Mr. Olbermann- he's a former Pinkerton apparently, who doesn't appear to be a thug. Apparently while Rachel was working with him someone blew up his house. If you ask me," Chris leaned into Ana's ear, "the Marshal fancies him."
Ana raised an eyebrow. "But Rachel prefers..."
"I know, I know!"
"Wow. He must be... something special, hm?"
Chris shrugged. "I could be wrong. She could just be picking up another stray."
Ana giggled and bumped her shoulder to his. "I was so glad she picked your stray mad boy butt up."
Chris rolled his eyes again; it was common action around Ana. "She picked you up too, Ms. Engine Rat."
She laughed, and kissed his cheek before bounding off to said engine, still giggling. "Tell Boss-lady that Tamron wants to see her, and I want details later!"
Chris blushed, shaking his head at the notorious flirt of the ship, before catching up with the Marshal, who was trying to assure the detective that it was no trouble for him to stay for as long as he needed.
"Are you really sure? Truly?" Keith looked around them, poorly hiding his nerves.
Rachel raised an eyebrow questioningly. "Mr. Olbermann, if I didn't know better, I'd almost say airships make you nervous..."
He sighed, miserably meeting her gaze before examining his spats. "I would say you don't know better then."
Rachel paused, and gave him a long look, before smacking her forehead with a groan. "Oh, god, I am so... I apologize. I...we can find you a local hotel. I can't believe I just assumed..."
He smiled a bit shakily and pulled her hand from her forehead. "I agreed to share this case with you, and work on it together. As you said, it's only for a few days."
"We won't be taking off until we get the end of our leads here. Would you mind staying here until then? No flying, I promise."
"I think... if I get used to... the ship. I could fly."
Rachel gave him a soft smile and unlocked the empty bunkroom. In the fading light of the evening, Keith could see a large bunk bolted to the wall, with a chest of drawers underneath and surprisingly comfortable looking mattress made above it. She placed the leather satchel on the desk occupying the opposite wall and clicked on the electric light. "I'm so sorry, you've been through a lot tonight. It's not much, but you're welcome to have this as long as you need."
He looked around, and while definitely not as roomy as his flat, it was bigger than his bedroom and much more than he could afford to turn down. It would do quite well for now. "Much better than a grimy boarding house or hotel, certainly." He knocked the desk lightly. Solid oak, no doubt. "You sure you work for the government? A man could get used to this sort of posh."
Rachel's face broke out into a very relieved grin. "You're probably just saying that to make me feel better, but I hope you enjoy your stay. Why don't you take a moment to get settled, then we can go over these notes a bit more."
He considered telling her that he honestly was impressed with the room, with all the modern amenities (Hell, in half of New York, you were lucky to get even running water, never mind electricity), but realized she'd just think he was trying to be polite. He smiled at her and patted her shoulder, delighting when she returned it. The phrase, 'This could be be start of a beautiful relationship' seemed to be at the tip of his tongue...
Mr. Hayes cleared his throat behind them.
The detective and the Marshal practically jumped apart, looking away and mutually embarrassed. The scientific officer, meanwhile, looked like the cat who got the cream; or at least he did until he caught the glare of his supervisor. "Detective, this should be all of your stuff. Let me know if you need anything else. Marshal, the captain would like a word with you at some point."
At this, Keith blinked in surprise. For some reason, the idea that the Marshal having a captain for her ship seemed surprising. But that was neither here nor there, and they had two murders and a smuggling ring to bust.
After Mr. Hayes left, he turned to Ms. Maddow. "Why don't we finish up our briefing, and then continue in the morning?"
Rachel nodded and they sat down, comparing notes and possible leads. Everything, it seemed, came back to the man the young girl had seen, and the money backers. After an hour, an affable young man who was introduced to Keith as First Mate David Shuster, came in with two plates of hot stew, much to their extreme gratitude.
As a distant clock chimed the 11th hour, Rachel withdrew to sleep, both agreeing to begin first thing in the morning with pursuing the leads they'd drummed up. It was only then, as the door shut behind her, that Keith realized he had completely forgotten he was on an airship. Had the company of the Marshal been that soothing, or was it simply mind over matter? This and other thoughts swirled through his head as he slipped off to sleep, the quiet groans of the dirigible playing a soft lullaby into the night.