Jessica Nettles has a B.A. in English and an M.A. in Professional Writing from Kennesaw State University. She is also currently on the board of the Broadleaf Writers Association in Atlanta. When she's not writing, knitting, playing ukulele (not very well), or playing Dungeons and Dragons, she teaches English Composition at a local technical college.

The Children of Menlo Park by Jessica Nettles

Magical children, American legends, and the nation's first lady detective come together in this thrilling fantasy for fans of The Wild, Wild West and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Kate Warne shattered the glass ceiling and helped save a President as the first female Pinkerton detective. Now she's learning a new role in life – ghost detective. Coming back from beyond the Veil to continue her work, Kate and her partner Shadow are tasked with finding a missing girl somehow linked to the famous Wizard of Menlo Park, Thomas Edison.

But all is not as it seems with the strange inventor, and Kate begins to suspect that his strange assistant may be much more than he appears to be. What she learns is that Edison, the girl, and all her strange siblings are involved in something much deeper and far darker than she ever imagined.

Now Kate and Shadow must join forces with a traveling snake-oil salesman, a semi-retired combat airship pilot, Edison's most famous rival, and a legendary river boat captain and itinerant scribbler of tales to keep Edison and his mysterious cohort from calling forth an ancient power and possibly the end of life as we know it.


This book is so far from the typical small press or self-published book that it's almost funny. It's alternate history with mystery, airships, jetpacks, and Lovecraftian horror. There's so much going on in this book that I can't wait to see what comes in the sequels. – John G. Hartness




Kate Warne, Senior Female Detective for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, glanced up from her work as Shadow, her partner and liaison between the Pinkertons and the mysterious group known simply as The Brotherhood, stepped out of a dark corner of their shared office on Washington Street. He became more solid as he moved closer and into the warm gaslight that glowed around her desk. His appearances from the darkness had become less disturbing during the years she'd worked with him, and she'd learned to be prepared for almost anything when he'd return in this manner. She pulled a small brush from a lower drawer in her desk and handed it to him.

As he brushed away alley dust from his dark suit pants, she continued clicking along on the Hammond #2 typewriter she used for all of their reports.

"Did you see the girl?"

He hung his coat and hat and picked up a stack of letters out of the slot in the pigeon-hole cabinet by the office door. "There was a fire. She came to town with the Halvard boy."

"How many dead?"

He took out a slim letter opener and began slicing open one of the envelopes. "Only the parents. She saved the boy and the horses and drove them into town despite her hands being burned. She either can't feel the pain or was focused on getting to safety. The boy was crying, but she was as calm as you or me."

"Mr. Edison said she might be that way." She tucked her report into the vacuum chute to Allan's office and was thankful for the conveyance. Dealing with the man himself was not something she was keen on at the moment. Things had been awkward since her funeral. She hadn't reckoned on how disturbed and confused her former companion would be when she arrived at the office a few days after she was buried. Her body may be done, but her spirit was not. She'd made the decision to continue in the Inside, the world of the living, within days of her arrival to the Outside, the world of the spirit. Now, she was sure she'd miscalculated a few things in her haste to continue doing what she loved best.

Her partner continued to sort through the mail. "We need to extract the girl before she lights up an entire town."

Kate sipped from a porcelain teacup ringed in pink roses. It had always been her favorite pattern. "You make this sound like she is on the attack."

Her partner tossed empty envelopes into the trash bin the nearby trash bin and stacked the letters on his desk. "She's already killed two people. Three if you count O'Neill."

Setting the cup on her desk, Kate pulled a cover over her typewriter. "Did it look like she set the house on fire on purpose?"

Her partner shrugged. "There's no way to be sure at this point. Or maybe ever."

"Sounds a bit like O'Neill's death. No way to know, which is why I find your connecting the girl to his demise disturbing at best."

Shadow arched his eyebrow and smoothed his mustache in that way he did before a rousing discussion. This is one of the things that she appreciated about having him as a partner. He was always up to counter her claims. Three hundred years of experience with people and argument made his viewpoint more challenging to come up against than most men, even Allan. Noticing that her cup was empty, she called up a matching pot. She thought better with a cup of tea. One of the perks of being a ghost is that she could use some of her energy to conjure things she loved most from her former Inside life. While she could manipulate items in the Inside world, she still used the typewriter on her desk, being able to have tea at her desk was a bit of a luxury. The aroma of bergamot wrapped around her like a comforting blanket, and she smiled. This should be fun.

Her partner sat down at his own desk. "We both know O'Neill didn't just plunge into the river on his own."

She poured steaming liquid into her cup. "He suffered from melancholy, did he not?"

"Not when he was on a case." The gangly detective pulled a bottle of Four Roses whiskey, his favorite, from a small glass-doored cabinet behind him.

"He was a bit of a bulldog like President Grant. I will give him that much."

Her partner continued. "O'Neill visits the farm. Twenty-four hours later he is floating in a creek only a mile from the Halvard property. There were no gunshot wounds, no knife wounds, and the lady at the hotel in town said he never came back after leaving to go to the farm. If that girl felt the least bit threatened who's to say she didn't follow him long enough to find time to shove him into the river?"

She laughed at this bit of conjecture. "You cannot be serious. O'Neill was almost as tall as Pinkerton. She's not a big girl, is she?"

Her partner shook his head. "Just a slip of a thing, but with a bit of stealth and good timing…" He made a hand motion indicating going off a cliff.

"Even with my level of skill and ingenuity, I'm pretty sure I couldn't shove Pinkerton off into a river, even if I wanted to."

Shadow chuckled as well. "Maybe after he'd had a few drinks? Wait. What was it the notes said about not looking her in the eyes?"

She picked up a file from her desk and rifled through it until she found what she was looking for. "'Agents should not make eye contact with subject.' Something about bad luck following. If he looked the girl in the eyes…"

"Seems a bit far-fetched. O'Neill was new to our unit, right?"

"We deal in far-fetched, remember? And yes, this was his first solo case with us."

"Perhaps he saw this like you do. Far-fetched. There aren't many agents on staff who deal with the sorts of cases we deal with. Allan swore O'Neill would be a good fit. If O'Neill's death is connected to the visit, then it could have been caused by lack of understanding of the situation on both O'Neill's and the girl's part. I doubt she intended for him to die."

"Even if his death is accidental, I have a suspicion that this fire is less of an accident."

"Maybe you can ask her when we bring her in." Kate turned the last page back. "This is odd."

Shadow came around to look over her shoulder. "What are you looking at?"

"It's what I'm not looking at. It's what's missing from this file." The lady detective flipped through several typed and handwritten pages.

"There's Edison's letter." He pulled it out from the file.

"And what's left of O'Neill's notes about how he found the girl." She laid a small notebook emblazoned with a single eye.

Her partner took the empty folder from her. "But no interview notes."

"So, O'Neill never visited Menlo Park at all?" This was not protocol. Kate checked her desk to be sure the interview notes hadn't slipped out. "There are no notes from Pinkerton saying not to visit the client, so why didn't O'Neill do the interview?"

"I'm not sure, but perhaps we should do it for him now." Shadow joined in her search and even checked under the typewriter. "Should we ask the man upstairs?" He pointed and scowled in a way that made her laugh in spite of herself.

"No. I have no desire to rile an already unhappy bear." She studied the notes in the file again. "Go ahead and check things out. You can get there faster than I can. See what the inventor says. While you're gone, I'll go through the file once more to see if I missed anything."

Shadow put on his black overcoat and bowler hat and turned down the gas sconce so that one corner darkened. He parted the darkness and stepped into the Paths to make his way to Raritan, New Jersey the small town near Edison's Menlo Park.

Blue-gray light fluttered, and the corner began to close. The glow brightened to the point that Kate had to cover her eyes with her arm. After a moment, the sconce popped hard and a heavy thump followed. She made her way, half-blind, to her partner's part of the office and his body crumpled at her feet. The darkness was heavier in the corner since the gaslight was out. She knelt beside him and leaned close to his face. Still breathing. His body faded in and out as though he were moving through the Inside and Outside at the same time.

From her previous experience, she knew that touching Shadow wasn't the best idea, so she used a pencil to tug his watch from his vest pocket. Clicking the pupil of the Pinkerton's Eye opened his watch. Twelve o'clock sharp, just like when she'd checked it all those years before on the train in Baltimore with Mr. Lincoln. When her partner came to, he was convinced that Mr. Lincoln was dead at the Ford Theater in Washington, D. C. The future president had to bring him a drink and sit with him to convince him that he was Inside and well.

The worst part was that she couldn't follow him. A good partner should be able to follow if there is trouble. In a usual stepping out, all Kate would have to do is check his notes, which he often left for her, and go to the physical locale where he was headed. That was easy. Time travel was not. Since her demise, Kate could travel up and down her own timeline because it was hers and it was complete. But she could not just show up on other timelines where she'd not been when she was Inside. After Baltimore, Shadow told her that the members of the Brotherhood were unable to travel in time, and he wasn't sure why he could.

At this point, the best she could do was pour him a drink and hope that he would return soon. Kate glided back to her desk and continued to peruse the case file. If anyone had entered the office at that moment, they would have thought a window was open and a breeze was fluttering the papers on her desk. Most people on the Inside couldn't see her unless she decided to present in a corporeal form. It took a lot of energy to do this, but the longer she worked on the Inside, the stronger she became. Kate laid several photos, including one of a dark, handsome man posing with something that crackled with electricity. The name on the back was 'Nikola Tesla.' She had no idea why he was included in the file.

A groan rose from behind her partner's desk. If Kate had been one who was easily startled, she might have screamed. Instead, she brought him the shot glass as he sat up and scratched his head. The scent of bourbon burned her nose and made her eyes water.

She was far from being a Prohibitionist, but since her move to the Outside, certain scents were stronger. Bourbon was a spirit that, like her, crossed between Inside and Outside easily. "How was your trip?"

"Not what I planned," He took the glass, and knocked the contents back in one gulp. She took his arm when he struggled to his feet.

"I saw the girl, the one they call Thirteen. She was at a train station with a group of other children, but she looked younger."

"I wondered if you'd gone to the past again." She steadied him and he grabbed the back of his chair, which rolled forward, causing them to stumble forward together. "Tell me more once you sit down."

The watch dropped straight down on its chain and dangled around his mid-thigh as he held onto his desk. Kate pulled the chair back and he sat down and fiddled with the distinctive timepiece.

"You checked the watch?"

"It's not often you leave your body behind when you step out. I suspected you might have gone to the Ford Theater again."

"Smart lady."

She sat back on the side of his desk. "I have my moments, m'dear."

"I didn't end up in Washington though." He checked the watch, which was now showing the correct hour, clicked it shut, and placed it back in his pocket.

"Where then?"

"A train station at Raritan Township."

"So, you ended up where you intended to go."

"In a way. A man with a group of children waited there in the dark. He wore a suit and looked as though he was prepared for a trip. The children were in sleeping gowns and long johns but not much else. A train marked "Orphan" came up, and they all boarded but the gentleman."

"Late pickup." Kate sipped a cup of tea.

"The odder part came after the children rode away." Her partner poured a second shot of Four Roses. She crinkled her nose at him.

"Do tell." "A black train pulled into the station, and he got on board."

Kate set her empty teacup on the edge of her desk, and it faded away. "The Brotherhood is involved?"

He took a drink and slammed the glass down harder than she expected. "No one will answer when I ask if we are."

This was surprising. The Brotherhood shared everything as a collective. She didn't understand how this worked, but what one knew, all should know. Then again, her partner had kept secrets, so how was this different?

"Who was the man?"

"Not sure. When he spoke with the children, I thought I heard an accent. Maybe Southeastern European."

Kate picked up a photo from her desk and held it up. "His name is Tesla. He works with electricity. No shock there."

A wry smile crossed her partner's lips, and she handed the image to him.

"What does Tesla have to do with children and orphan trains?"

"And why were you pulled to this girl's past?"

"Perhaps we need to focus on Tesla instead of Edison?"

Kate took the photo from him and replaced it in the file. "Or maybe we needed to see a bigger picture. Mr. Edison asked us to find this one girl. Why? What about the other children who got on that train? Why not hire us to find them all? And why would this man," she tapped the folder, "be taking this girl and these other children to an orphan train?"

"He's moonlighting? I don't know. It doesn't make much sense to me, but then neither did the Baltimore Incident 'til years later."

She made her way to her desk and put the folder in the leather briefcase Allan-Mr. Pinkerton-had given her when she became the senior lady detective at the firm. "I'm thinking we don't want to wait years to find out."

"At least we know where the girl is for the moment. I doubt she will be going anywhere soon with those burns. Maybe if we can talk to her, she can tell us about her family."


Her partner took his bowler off the floor and brushed it off. "That's what she called the other children. Her family."

"They're all related?"

"I don't think so. Not in the truest sense. They were a rather diverse group from what I could see."

Kate straightened her desk as was her custom before a trip. "What if bad things happen while she's with that doctor? We need to extract her soon. I'd hate to have more fires or folks floating down creeks." she said, shifting focus back to the girl.

"No one else will be floating down any creeks, Mrs. Warne." The person she least wanted to see leaned into the office. Allan Pinkerton's broad form filled the space of the doorway. "The girl caused a fire?"

Shadow offered the oversized chair that was meant for their supervisor. Pinkerton settled into it, stretching his long legs across the floor.

"Mrs. Warne. My, we are formal today, Mr. Pinkerton."

"Serious times call for serious addresses." The playful burr of his voice never failed to weaken her knees a bit in spite of her effort to stay focused and professional. He was relaxing and teasing her like he used to, which was a step up from the mixture of confusion and grief she got from him over the last month or so. Perhaps he was settling into their new arrangement. Or he'd read Shadow's report and was engaged in the case, which was much better than engagement with her.

Their eyes locked and the mischief that twinkled behind his faded into the sadness she'd become accustomed to since her return. She turned away. The room became less solid and less real, and she was back in her bed. There was a doctor, who shook his head and retreated from the room. Allan sat next to her, his warm massive hand cradled her tiny hand. Why is he here and not with his family? In one corner, Shadow stood, not saying a word. She wanted to adjust his tie. Her chest ached and rattled with each breath. She couldn't sit up because she had no energy. She closed her eyes. The pain lifted and her strength and energy returned. She awoke and sat up, her hand still in her paramour's. His eyes were wide at first, and she thought she'd surprised him with her abrupt turn for the better. Instead, he was sobbing. He laid down her hand and leaned into her lap. She tried to cradle him, but her arms went through him. I'm…dead.

Kate looked at her partner and returned to the present. He cleared his throat as he studied the pages on his desk, and the lady detective wasn't sure if he was coughing past the liquor or was as uncomfortable as she and their lead. "There are more children involved."

His words pulled Pinkerton's attention away from Kate. "How is it that you two know about the other children?"

"Was that in the report you are holding on to, Mr. Pinkerton?" She sipped her tea as the world around her solidified and her heart quieted once again.

"O'Neill mentioned other children, but Edison was more concerned about this girl. I have no idea why. But maybe you can make the connection since my news is already old."

Shadow updated their supervisor on what he'd seen at Raritan Station. The large man stopped him when he mentioned the black train. "Why didn't you tell us your people were connected to the case? You're our bloody liaison for Heaven's sake."

"I didn't know."

Kate braced because she knew what was coming.

Allan shook the report at the liaison. "What do you mean you didn't know? You're talkin' mince, for Christ's sake! All of you are connected."

Shadow's expression never changed. "The war changed many things, even the Brotherhood. You saw how scattered we were at Appomattox Courthouse when the treaties were signed."

The Scotsman's face flushed. "We were all scattered that day. That doesn't explain the lack of communication now."

Kate's partner ignored the man's bluster. "In a general sense, you are right. We share all things. In a more specific sense, there are those who are motivated and make decisions apart from the rest of us." He stood up and leaned into his supervisor's face. "So, no. I have no idea what one of our trains was doing in Raritan picking up this man or if my brothers know anything about these children."

The burly man muttered something under his breath that Kate could only guess was the sort of foul language that he knew shouldn't be spoken in front of a lady, even if that lady was fond of wearing pants and camped with Union soldiers. She focused on her partner. "Why would a faction of the Brotherhood be interested in these children or Mr. Tesla?"

"I will have to ask, but an answer isn't likely if the faction isn't talking."

"The war's ended. Factions seem to defeat the purpose of your organization."

A wry grin crossed the Brother's face. "Tell that to your congressman, Mrs. Warne."

She arched her eyebrow. "Will it make a difference, Mr. Jones? Kate turned to her superior, who was still grumbling. She stomped her foot to get his attention. "Do you have O'Neill's report? It's missing from our file. We need to make up for lost time."

Pinkerton cleared his throat and he flushed anew. "It disappeared after O'Neill died. I can't find it."

Kate hated being stonewalled. "Do not play games with me, Allan. If this is about…"

The man balled his fists. She'd pushed him too far. "You think I'd cripple this case over that?"

"You have been rather distressed as of late."

"And you believe that my distress would cause me to play games and keep information from you?" He marched toward the door. "I have a business to run. I don't have time to ruin a case because I'm upset over my best agent coming back to work after she's died. That's not fair, and you know that, Katie."

The lady detective cringed. She hated that name and hated herself for provoking him. Words failed her, and the silence hung over them like a brewing thundercloud on a summer day.

Shadow said, "Since there is no report, we should visit Mr. Edison."

His suggestion hung between them until she reached for her briefcase and began to fasten the straps and click the locks on the front. "I can take an airship this afternoon and meet you there. Is there anything else, sir?"

Allan Pinkerton left the office without a response. She looked up and caught a glimpse of his bearded face, which was wet with tears.

Her partner shuffled papers on his desk. "That went well."

"He is possibly the most frustrating man I have ever dealt with." She shouldered her bag and approached the lanky detective. He looked like he wanted to say more. Before he could, she asked, "Are you better?"

"I believe I can travel down the Paths safely now."

She straightened his tie and patted it. "No more random time travel. I won't be around to pour you a shot this time."

"I'll meet you at the station on time, at the correct time. I promise. Stay out of trouble."

She laughed in spite of her mood. "As if."