It’s a scorching July in the summer of 1884. William Pinkerton has sent Oliver Redcastle to the Midwestern island paradise of Put-in-Bay.
The assignment seems simple: capture a tight-rope walking train robber. But two beautiful women, a dangerous cult, and reminders of Oliver’s Civil War past complicate the mission.
The sharpshooting detective must fight his way free of a tangled web of personal and professional hazards.
In the process he meets John Brown Jr., Jay Cooke, Ulysses S. Grant, and some of the other powerbrokers that made the Midwest a center of industry and political clout in this fascinating period of American history.
Louise Titchener is the author of over forty novels in a variety of genres. She lives in Baltimore with her Philosophy Professor husband.
July 1884—The prow of the R.B. Hayes parted Lake Erie like a knife through silk. Oliver Redcastle stood at the rail of the steamer perusing a brochure extolling the charms of the ship’s destination, Put-in-Bay, Ohio.
He read: This delightful and salubrious island is famed for its poplar, maple, oak and eucalyptus which furnish shade to cool the fevered brow and rest the sore and weary foot and bring comfort in the eventide. In addition to the delights of the crystalline waters of Lake Erie, visitors can gratify every desire at public baths, livery and pleasure wagons, souvenir stands and general stores, etc.
Oliver tossed the brochure into a bin and strolled toward the ship’s bow. Oblivious of his passing, a pretty young woman leaned over the rail gazing pensively down at the sparkling water. He watched her covertly and considered his options. He could simply introduce himself. But such a direct approach might frighten her and ruin any further chance of getting close.
He had trailed Hermione Mussman all the way from Chicago yet hadn’t found an occasion to speak to the young beauty. Indeed, this was the first time he’d seen her alone. How to seize the opportunity?
A gull skimmed his head and wheeled away into the sky. Distracted, he was checking the condition of his hat when the girl climbed over the railing.
“Don’t!” He rushed at her and managed to seize a handful of her skirt. She gave him a terrified glance and then reared back. The material in his hand tore from his grasp as she plummeted over the side. A woman screamed, her sharp cries mixing with those of the gulls. A gaggle of horrified passengers rushed to the rail and pointed down at the lake. The young woman thrashed silently in the foamy water, her dress billowing around her.
The R.B. Hayes’s engine finally stopped, but inertia kept it moving. Already it was leaving Hermione Mussman in its wake. Oliver kicked off his boots, removed his jacket and dived in. The blow struck by the icy water almost knocked him unconscious. When he surfaced, he gagged, expelling a good portion of the lake.
Half blinded, he looked for the girl. Spotting a pale blur, he stroked toward it. By the time he had closed the distance between them, Miss Mussman had disappeared. Several life rings tossed by passengers floated nearby, but she’d failed to grab them.
Fortunately, the water was clear. Below, Oliver made out the shape of her body and slowly flailing limbs. Diving deep, he seized her arm.
It was like pulling an anchor from a bed of clinging weeds. Kicking for dear life, he finally managed to drag her to the surface and hold her face above water. She didn’t seem to be breathing and looked so pale he feared he’d been too late.
A lifeboat from the steamer rowed up. Amidst much confusion the men on the boat hauled the young woman aboard and helped Oliver out of the water.
When he’d mopped his face and cleared his vision, he saw that Miss Mussman lay draped over the side of the boat. A man with a firm tone of voice was encouraging her to rid her lungs of water. A last trickle of Lake Erie dribbled from her colorless lips. He propped her against the transom and took her pulse.
She was young, no more than eighteen or nineteen. Her wet hair looked dark but would dry to a pale gold. Her sodden dress clung to her body, showing the shallow rise and fall of her high bosom and the faint curve of her belly. Her wet lashes cast dark half moons against her waxen skin.
“Will she be all right?” Oliver asked the man ministering to her.
“She swallowed a deal of lake, but now that she’s breathing normally she should recover.” The man assessed Oliver. “What about you? Seems you’ve swallowed some of Lake Erie’s hard water yourself.”
“I’m all right.”
“More than all right, I’d say. Name’s Brown, by the way.”
“Oliver Redcastle.” Oliver extended his hand and Brown, a handsome man somewhere in his fifties, shook it.
“You’re a hero, Redcastle. I’m honored to make your acquaintance. It was mighty brave to jump in like that. You saved this young lady’s life.”
“Do I know you?” Oliver asked. “You look familiar.”
Brown smiled wryly and shrugged. “It’s possible.”
Hermione opened her pale blue eyes wide and stared accusingly at Oliver. “Why? Why did you save me?” she whispered. She coughed several times, unable to say more. Finally she blurted, “Were it not for you I’d be dead now, and a much happier woman.”