Who was the man who'd held this weapon? she wondered, projecting her mind to another time. Circa 1675 the catalog read. Whose blood had it drawn?
The filigree patterns at its base remained vivid, but the knife's edge was nearly serrated with corrosion. Though she knew it still had a bite, Haley couldn't resist tentatively scraping the pad of her thumb along the tip, and she gasped when it nicked her. She raised the cut to her mouth and breathed in the sour tang of steel that clung to her palm.
Another blade, sharper and colder, invaded her thoughts. It was years ago now but, in a single heartbeat, Haley was back. Reliving the moment that had changed her forever.
She fingered her scar, grazing lightly along it, as if it were some ghastly length of twine with the give of flesh beneath her fingers. The tissue had no feeling, and she could almost imagine it wasn't a part of her body. And yet she could never forget it. Would never forget that other blade, once pressed hard to her throat.
Her breath hissed sharply from between her teeth. Deep inhale, sharp exhale. The breath sweeps the mind clear, she could hear her father say. He'd been so helpful after the attack, using his experience and sheer will to pull his daughter back from the darkness that had enveloped her.
Just thinking of her dad brought a smile to her face. The love of her family had brought her back, but it had been her father's police academy training – leavened with some good old South Boston street fighting – that had helped Haley control the feeling of vulnerability that had paralyzed her.
Dammit. She really needed to figure out her dissertation, not get sidetracked by some weapon. She put the strange dagger back on the table and took a rubber band from around her wrist to pull her hair back tight. She'd come to the museum that day for inspiration, and Sarah had let he r into the second-floor storage area to peruse what few artifacts they had that might be germane to a topic in seventeenth- century Britain.
Her advisor had threatened that Haley was in danger of losing her teaching stipend. She'd been in the graduate program for four years now, and though she'd managed to eke out a chapter here and there, she needed to establish her argument and finish the thing.
A thick hank of black hair slipped free and Haley roughly tugged her elastic out and pulled the coarse mass back into place. She needed a breakthrough to catch her advisor's attention. Something fresh. Something she could even milk into a journal article or two, and get the heat off of her for a little while.
Dr. Clark had just about lost his patience. Haley's interests in early modern weaponry didn't help matters, skewing, as they did, so dangerously close to what he considered military theory. And with a fellowship cofunded by the History Department and the Department of Celtic Languages.
Haley had no choice but to position herself as a pure
Reformation- era Scottish historian. Period.
As much as she'd prefer studying old broadswords instead.
Muttering a very American expletive, Haley snatched the weapon back off the table anyway. She leaned back and, slouching low in the chair, stretched her legs out in front of her. It was gorgeous. And inexplicably buried deep in the museum's archives with so many other gems in the Harvard collection.
On the surface, it looked like a simple dagger. An elegant, though stout, dagger. But Haley had known instantly what she was looking at. It was what was known as a “combination weapon.” Wary of gunpowder's unreliability, early modern arms makers created guns capable of multiple jobs. A spear that shot bullets. A hunting trousse with a small pistol flush against its machetelike blade. She'd once even seen an elaborate museum piece that was a sword, cane, hammer, and musket – rest all in one.
Many of the combination weapons were clunky – they would have been ostentatious displays of wealth, not something one would've relied upon for day-to-day hunting or fighting. But this one was stunning, extraordinary. It was only when she held it in her hand that she could sense the hollowness of the blade that would've served as the barrel of the pistol. And if the owner wasn't inclined to bullets, the tip of the knife could separate and shoot from the base like a lethal steel arrowhead. The flintlock mechanism that acted as cock and hammer was almost completely camouflaged by elaborate etching on the blade, and by the fine hounds' heads crafted at the T-shaped crossguard above the hilt.
Haley smoothed her palm along the flat of the blade, marveling at the intricate pattern. She shivered.
The air- conditioning must've clicked on. She set the dagger down and pulled her cardigan over her jersey dress, and was distractedly buttoning it to the top when she noticed it. Picking the weapon back up, Haley squinted closely at the hilt. She held it up to the light. Something was etched at the base, and it was unlike the filigree work on the blade.
She darted her eyes around the storage area. Seeing she was alone, Haley licked her thumb and smudged it along the bottom of the handle. Something was engraved there, but it was obscured by black tarnish. She huffed her breath on the metal and used the hem of her dress to polish it. The letter J appeared. And then L. V. E.
It was an inscription. “For J.”
Could it be “with love”? Who on earth would give their lover a dagger?
Haley roughly buffed the cap of the hilt to a dull sheen, pausing only with the ache in her arm. “For JG, with love from Ma… ”
“Holy crow!” she exclaimed as her phone vibrated to life, buzzing along the top of the table like an angry insect.
Putting her hand to her pounding heart, she glanced at the text message.
You're late. Get your butt over here.
Rolling her eyes, she muttered, “What, is the beer getting warm?” She stuffed her phone in her bag, gathered her notes, and with one last look at the dagger on the table, made her way out.
“Dr. Brawn,” Haley said, leaning her elbows on the front desk and smiling broadly at one of the Fogg Art Museum's conservators.
“Dr. Fitzpatrick.” Sarah Brawn smiled right back. They both knew they were still years from the coveted PhD, but they'd met in a first -year graduate seminar and, sharing a love of pizza and peculiar artifacts, had been friends ever since.
“I think I've got it. An idea for my dissertation,” Haley clarified, seeing her friend's confusion. “Thanks again, by the way, for pulling that dagger for me. It helped get the juices flowing. Those combo weapons blow me away.”
“Ooh, sock it to me. I assume you've got the title?” They enjoyed whiling away the hours contemplating grand titles for their as-yet completed dissertations, that being so much more fun than the actual writing.
She nodded enthusiastically. “Might to Power: British Firearms and the Forging of an Empire.” Haley's tone was appropriately grand. “You know, how it was only with the rise of gunpowder that they were able to build an empire? That way I've got my focus on the seventeenth century, but I can also study all those cool old flintlock weapons.”
“Hasn't that gunpowder thing already been done to death?”
“Hey,” she said, feigning chagrin. “I'm still working on… it.”
“I mean… nicer,” Sarah was thoughtful for a moment. “But forging really sounds more like a sword thing ”-
Haley put up her hand to change the subject. “Meet up with us later?”
She nodded, pulling a long and well -worn scarf from her bag to wind around her neck.
“So that means it must be Sunday.”
“Pigskin and pints at Paddy's.” Haley smiled. “The countdown to the afternoon game's begun.”
“You Fitzpatricks, you're like clockwork.”
“Where football and my brothers are concerned? Yes.” She scowled at the door as someone let themselves out and a blast of autumn air in.
“Don't you mean football, your brothers, and sports bars?”
“Yeah, yeah, and you're so above it all, right?” Haley readjusted her heavy canvas messenger bag, slinging it over her head and across her shoulder. “Come on, come out with me. I'll buy you a slice… ” She elongated the word slice into as enticing a one as possible.
“Some other time, yes. Tonight? No. We've been over this. I am not interested in getting set up with one of the Fitzpatrick boys.”
“Hey, we're good people!” Haley said, laughing. “And the Pats are playing.”
Grinning, her friend merely waved her ringers in goodbye, nose already tucked back in her book.
“Doc!” a chorus of voices shouted as Haley entered. Though far from being a fully realized professor, Haley's family had taken to calling her Doc the moment she began grad school. She looked around at all the welcoming faces, letting her eyes adjust. The place smelled of beer and fried things, and it brought a smile to her face. She may be in the ivory tower now, but she was South Boston through and through.
Three tall Fitzpatrick men were at her side in an instant, and two more waved at her from the table, beckoning with frosty plastic pitchers sloshing with whatever the beer of choice was that day. Sam Adams, if she knew her brothers.
The Fitzpatrick bunch took over Paddy's every week for the Sunday games, and was a fixture many other nights besides. Though the clan had grown to include some friends, a few cousins, one wife, two girlfriends, and the invariable men they tried to set their only-and baby- sister up with, the family resemblance among the siblings was unmistakable. The dark, wiry “black Irish” hair and pale skin with a perpetually rosy flush to the cheeks.
Daniel Jr., aka Danny Boy, clamped Haley into a hug, and the smell of fish filled her senses. She looked up and smiled into the eyes of her oldest brother. His hair was pulled back in a ponytail for his gig as a short-order cook in a seafood joint. Danny was tall and had a cleft chin. Haley couldn't understand how the most charming of them could be so completely single.
Colin and Conor, the twins, vied for a spot by their sister. They'd been the biggest troublemakers of all the six kids -holy terrors, her mother used to sigh – and now they were the most stable of the lot. One was married, the other might as well be, and they'd left their dates seated to come and scruff Haley's hair, take her bag, and unwind the scarf from her neck.