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Shadows in the White City

An Inspector Alastair Ransom Mystery

Shadows in the White City by Robert W. Walker
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The nation and the world gaze in awe at Chicago's magnificent "White City" in this summer of 1893. But Inspector Alastair Ransom sees the rot beneath the splendor of the great Exposition—and he is consumed with an over-powering need for vengeance. "The Phantom of the Fair," a blood-thirsty fiend who nearly added Ransom to his ever-growing list of slaughtered victims, is still lurking somewhere in the shadows of Ferris's gargantuan Wheel. And to end the maniac's reign, Ransom refuses to play by the rules established by the police brass and the corrupt politicians—appointing himself judge, jury . . . and executioner.

But white-hot hatred and zealous fury can blind a determined manhunter to a more terrible truth. And dangerous missteps may lead to even greater bloodshed . . .

HarperCollins; October 2009
352 pages; ISBN 9780061979507
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Title: Shadows in the White City
Author: Robert W. Walker

Chapter One

Chicago, Illinois, June 7, 1893 . . . 1 A.M.

Phantom of the Fair Still at Large

Arrests of Two Suspects Prove False Leads Arresting Officer Ransom Near Death, Under Investigation

Chicago Herald exclusive by Thomas Carmichael

Despite two arrests in the case of the Phantom of the Fair (seven killings by garrote and incineration), both suspects are today free men, released due to lack of evidence against either man—one a photographer, the other a carriage driver.

Meanwhile, Inspector Alastair Ransom is credited with the most recent arrest in the case, now called a false arrest based upon conceit and harassment. In fact, if Mr. Ransom lives, he may well face charges of an extraordinary nature, not the least being incompetence.

In essence, police remain stymied by the elusive Phantom, who no one doubts may strike again at any moment. The list of innocent lives lost to this fiend includes one unborn child, destroyed while in its mother's womb. When will public outrage over these crimes exceed our gratuitous fascination with murder? Masked as it is by the sheer growth of our great city. Masked as well by the commerce and the new skyscrapers rising up along our magnificent lakefront, and the marvels of modern invention and industry we see daily now at the World's Columbian Exposition.

At Cook County Hospital, Dr. Christian Fenger was a god, his word law. He also proved a capable showman. As faculty and doctors on staff taught medicine and surgery in connection with Rush Medical College, Cook County had a modest and typically adequate operating theater with well-worn equipment and staggered seating for just over seventy observers. The arena was a platformed, wooden-tiered wedding cake, so that from anywhere in the room, with good eyesight, anyone might look over Dr. Christian Fenger's shoulder. News had got out that he was performing emergency surgery on none other than the infamous Inspector Alastair Ransom of the Chicago Police Department, shot and mortally wounded. Despite the hour, the room bulged with the crowd.

Christian Fenger was, after all, known the country over as the best surgical mentor in the city. Watching him work to save a wounded copper with a hole the size of a woman's fan in his side proved fascinating and awe-inspiring. Indeed, such an opportunity proved irresistible to medical people—men and women. Indeed, it proved the best education a medical student could find in Chicago and all the Midwest.

It's a terrible thing what's happened to Ransom, thought Dr. Jane Francis—dressed in the clothes and makeup of a male doctor people knew as Dr. James Phineas Tewes—shot by my own daughter.

Still, to see the operation so flawlessly done almost made it worth the experience. Certainly not for the patient, but for those who practiced surgery, and those like Jane who wanted to practice surgery, but could not. Christian was the penultimate surgeon. Watching him work again was, for Jane, like watching the miraculous before one's eyes. People spoke of how they wanted to see God's presence in things; if they only stopped to think of it—here it was, in the deft hands of one of His creations—Dr. Christian Fenger.

As these thoughts ebbed and flowed inside Jane's head while watching the master at work, she also realized that the man on the operating table was the man she'd fallen in love with all over again, and that he could as yet die—Dr. Fenger or no—of the trauma or infection. She privately admonished herself for "enjoying" the grand educational aspects of the moment. So far as surgery went, it was indeed remarkable. But it was also under circumstances that could end in the death of Alastair Ransom.

She had dragged her daughter, Gabrielle, into the theater to get a good position. But Gabby quickly became antsy watching Fenger perform surgery—not due to any squeamishness, as Gabby would one day be a skilled surgeon herself. Guilt had propelled her from the room. Guilt over having shot the patient. The accident with Ransom weighed too heavily on her heart, causing her inability to watch or to learn. Dr. Jane Francis—the real Jane Francis below the makeup—stood transfixed at the delicate operation that may or may not save Alastair for this world.

Even mesmerized at Christian's skill, Jane felt torn. She wanted to learn from Christian, but she wanted to rush out as well. Go behind her daughter and hold her and tell her it was not her fault—that all would be well. To lie to her. To fill her head with all the clichés of comfort necessary at such times; clichés seldom true. To tell her that things happened for a reason. That there is a purpose to all things great and small—regardless of one's limited perspective.

The city of Chicago itself had come about through either divine or satanic purpose, or perhaps both. The city could be seen as an enormous gift to cherish and nurture, or an enormous burden—a view that, if taken to extreme, might result in a desire to destroy it. Perhaps there was something of this dark emotion and purpose in the drive that sent a phantom night stalker scurrying about Chicago and the World's Fair for victims to garrote and set aflame. Perhaps not. Throughout history men of science, philosophy, theology, literature, even military genius were studied, but mankind must also begin to understand the genesis of the maniac, the deviant, and the killer. To understand the workings of the perverted mind in order to, perhaps one day, correct it, possibly through surgery.

Jane's daughter, Gabby, too, was fascinated by the possibility of understanding root causes of murder, and more of the population in general seemed curious, reading such works as Bram Stoker's The Snake's Pass, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and going to see Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde performed live onstage.

"What's to understand?" Ransom had once doggedly asked Jane, when he knew her only as Dr. James Phineas Tewes. Speaking to Dr. Tewes, he'd added, "You don't need to understand the inner workings of a ratty ferret's brain to know that a bullet will end its career."

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