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Uuml;BERMENSCH

Jericho sat in the private dining room of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on Fifth Avenue. He’d noted on the way over that the edges of the leaves were changing from green to a faint red and gold. It reminded Jericho of the farm and harvest. Thinking about that always made him melancholy, so he turned his attention to stirring milk into his tea. A moment later, a white-gloved attendant opened the doors, and Jake Marlowe swept into the room like a benevolent prince.

“Don’t get up,” Marlowe said, taking his seat at the table. He was considered handsome. The papers spilled as much ink on his dark good looks, strong jaw, and tall, athletic build as they did discussing his latest industrial invention or scientific breakthrough. “How are you, Jericho?”

“Fine, sir.”

“Good. That’s good. You look healthy.”

“Yes, sir.”

Marlowe pointed to Jericho’s battered volume of Thus Spoke Zarathustra. “Any good?”

“It passes the time.”

“I understand you have a lot of time to pass working at the museum. How is our friend Will?”

“Fine, sir.”

“Good. Will and I may have had our differences, but I’ve always admired him. And I’m concerned about him and his… obsessions.”

The silent attendant in white gloves reappeared and poured coffee into Marlowe’s china cup. “I’ll have the Waldorf salad. Jericho?”

“I’ll have the same, please.”

The attendant nodded, then vanished.

“How’s business, sir?” Jericho asked with no trace of real interest.

“Business is good. Business is terrific, in fact. We’re doing exciting things at Marlowe Industries. And California’s beautiful—you’d love it there.”

Jericho bit back the urge to tell Marlowe he had no idea about what Jericho loved.

“The offer’s open—if you get tired of shelving books on magic and ghosts, you can always come work for me.”

Jericho examined the spoon on his saucer. It was real silver, with the stamp of the hotel on the handle. “I have a job, sir.”

“Yes. You have a job. I’m talking about a profession. A chance to be part of the future, not wither away in some dusty museum.”

“You know that Mr. Fitzgerald is quite brilliant.”

“Once,” Marlowe said and let the word linger. “He was never quite the same after what happened with Rotke.” Marlowe shook his head. “All that brilliance spent chasing ghost stories. And for what?”

“It’s part of our history.”

“We’re not a country with a past, Jericho. We’re a country of the future. And I mean to shape that future.” Marlowe put his elbows on the table and leaned forward, his expression serious. His blue-eyed gaze was penetrating. “How are you, Jericho?”

“I told you, sir. I’m fine.”

Marlowe lowered his voice. “And you’ve experienced no symptoms?”

“None.”

Marlowe sat back with a satisfied smile. “Well. That’s promising. Very promising.”

“Yes, sir.” In the spoon, Jericho’s face was distorted.

Marlowe rose and stood beside one of the tall windows. “Look out there. What a city! And growing all the time. This is the best country in the world, Jericho. A place where a man can be anything he dreams of being. Can you imagine if other countries had the same democratic ideals and freedoms we enjoy? What would that world look like?”



“Idealism is just an escape from reality. There is no utopia.”

Marlowe grinned. “That so? I couldn’t disagree more. Is that Nietzsche talking? Ah, the Germans. We have a factory in Germany, you know. Actually, Germany is a fine example, so let’s take Germany: They were crushed in the Great War. Their debt was staggering. A pound of bread cost nearly three billion Marks! The Reichsmark was practically worthless—you’d have better luck papering your house with it than trying to buy goods or pay your bills. But Marlowe Industries is going to help them get on their feet. We’re going to change the world.” Marlowe smiled brightly, the smile that made the newspapers rhapsodize over his can-do qualities. “You might change the world, Jericho.”

“No one would choose this,” Jericho said bitterly.

“Oh, come now. It isn’t as bad as all that, is it?” Marlowe returned to his seat opposite Jericho. “Look at you, Jericho. You’re a walking miracle. The great hope.”

“I am not one of your dreams.” Jericho banged his fist on the table, shattering a saucer.

“Careful,” Marlowe said.

“I… I’m sorry.” Jericho began gathering the pieces, but at a gesture from Marlowe the attendant appeared to whisk the table clean with a small hand broom.

“You have to be careful,” Marlowe said again.

Jericho nodded. Under the table, he clenched his fist, unclenched it. When he felt calmer, he folded his napkin, set it on the table, and rose. “Thank you for the tea, sir. I should be getting back to the museum.”

“Oh, come now. Let’s start this over—”

“I-I have a lot of work to do,” Jericho said. He stood, waiting.

“But you haven’t eaten anything.”

“I should be getting back.”

“Certainly,” Marlowe said after a pause. He walked to the other side of the room, where his briefcase sat with his umbrella. He took a small brown bag from inside the case. “You’re sure you’re fine?”

“Yes, sir.”

Marlowe handed the brown bag to Jericho, who looked down at the floor.

“Thank you,” Jericho mumbled. He hated this. Hated that once a year, he had to submit to this ritual. Had to pretend to be grateful for what Marlowe had done for him. To him.

Marlowe clapped a hand on his shoulder. “I’m glad to see you’re doing so well, Jericho.”

“Yes, sir.” He shook off Marlowe’s hand and left him standing there.

Alone in the hallway, Jericho made a fist with his right hand, then flexed his fingers, open, closed, open, closed. They moved flawlessly. He unsealed the bag Marlowe had given him. Inside was a brown glass bottle of pills marked MARLOWE INDUSTRIES VITAMIN TONIC. Nestled beside it was a silver case loaded with ten vials of a bright blue serum. For a moment, he imagined dropping the bag into the nearest wastebasket and walking away. Instead, he slid the silver case into his inside jacket pocket for safekeeping and settled the vitamin tonic into his outside pocket. He tucked Nietzsche’s Zarathustra under his arm and walked out into the cool fall day.

 

Mabel had no time to note the grace of the fall leaves as she walked through the crowd assembled in Union Square. She knew she needed to be on her guard—Pinkerton Detectives posing as workers would often disrupt a peaceful protest, giving the police an excuse to move in, break it up, and make arrests. Sometimes it turned ugly.

The rain had stopped, and Mabel’s mother stood on a makeshift speaker’s platform, inspiring the crowd with her commanding oratorical skills and dark-haired beauty. She was born Virginia Newell, daughter of the famous Newell clan, one of New York’s elite families. At twenty, she’d thrown it all away to elope with Mabel’s father, Daniel Rose, a firebrand Jewish journalist and socialist. Her family had cut her off without a cent. But the Newell glamour remained. They called Mabel’s mother the “Social Register Rebel.” And in some ways, her mother’s throwing it all away for love had made her even more famous than she ever would have been as a society wife. It was the reason they’d been able to move into the Bennington; no one would refuse a Newell girl—even a disgraced one.

But it was hard for Mabel to live in her mother’s shadow. No one was writing about Mabel in the papers. And to add insult to injury, Mabel had taken after her father in the looks department—the round face and strong nose, deep brown eyes, and curly, auburn-tinged hair. “You must take after your father,” people would say, and there would follow an awkward silence. But when her mother smiled and hugged her and called her “My darling, daring girl!” Mabel was suffused with such warmth. And when her mother inevitably got caught up in this cause or that injustice to be righted, Mabel would stand at her side, playing the dutiful daughter, proving just how indispensable she was. People who were helpful and indispensable were loved. Weren’t they?

The only person who didn’t seem to regard Mabel’s mother with awe was Evie. More than once, Evie had imitated her mother perfectly: “Mabel, daaaahling, how can you complain that you haven’t had dinner when the huddled masses have yet to breathe free!” “Mabel, daaaahling, tell me: Which dress says Savior of the Poor and Saint of the Lower East Side to you?” And as much as Mabel felt called to chide Evie and defend her mother, she had to admit that it was one of the things she loved about her old friend: No matter what, Evie always took Mabel’s side. “You’re the real star of the Rose family,” Evie would insist. “One day, everyone will know your name.” She only hoped that Evie could make Jericho see Mabel that way, too.

Jericho. It embarrassed her how often she thought of him. All those romantic fantasies! She was supposed to be so sensible, but when it came to that boy, she was lost to storybook notions. He was so smart and studious and soulful—not some drugstore cowboy, like that Sam Lloyd, all flattery and promises to any girl who’d fall for it. No. Jericho’s affections meant something. That was the challenge, wasn’t it? If you could make a fellow like Jericho fall for you, well, didn’t it prove just how desirable you were?

Mabel thought of all of these things as she moved through Union Square, handing copies of The Proletariat to workers. She waved at the folks manning the table for the Wobblies, but they didn’t notice her, and so she moved on, feeling lost in the crowd. If she decided to disappear, would anyone feel her absence?

“Who are your leaders?” Mabel’s mother called from the platform.

“We are all leaders!” the crowd answered.

Mabel felt a hand on her arm. She turned to see a young woman holding a baby, accompanied by an older woman in a head scarf.

The young woman spoke in fractured English. “You are the great Mrs. Rose’s daughter?”

I have a name. It’s Mabel. Mabel Rose. “Yes, I am,” she answered irritably.

“Please, can you help? They took my sister from the factory.”

“Who took her?”

The woman spoke with the grandmotherly woman in Italian before turning back to Mabel.

“The men,” she said.

“What men? The police?”

The woman looked around to be sure no one was listening, and then said softly, “The men who move like shadows.”

Mabel didn’t understand what the woman meant by that. It was probably a nuance of language that didn’t translate quite right. “Why would someone take your sister? Was she organizing at the factory?”

Again, the girl looked to the older woman, who nodded. “She is… profeta.” The girl seemed to search for the right words. “She… talks to the dead. She says they are coming.”

Mabel frowned. “Who is coming?”

The shriek of police whistles sounded on the edges of the park, along with shouts and cries from the crowd. A tear-gas canister landed in the crowd, and the park was subsumed in a chemical fog that burned the eyes and throat. Mabel could hear her mother pleading for calm over the microphone, and then the microphone was cut off. The crowd pushed and shoved. People ran screaming as the police descended on the workers. Someone bumped Mabel hard and sent her newspapers to the ground, where they were immediately trod into bits. Mabel couldn’t see her parents through the gas and surging crowd. Coughing and disoriented, she pushed her way through the chaotic crowd and took off running, coming face-to-face with a policeman.

“Gotcha!” he said.

Panicked, Mabel darted up Fifteenth Street toward Irving Place, the policeman’s whistle blasting to alert others. There were easily five cops chasing her now. She started toward the iron gates of Gramercy, but strong hands yanked her into a service doorway behind a restaurant. She started to yell, and a hand clapped over her mouth.

“Not that way, Miss. It’s crawling with cops,” a man’s voice whispered in her ear, and Mabel quieted. A moment later the police marched past, clubs drawn. She watched from her hiding place as they gave up and headed back to Union Square.

“Thank you,” Mabel said. She looked at her savior for the first time. He was young—not much older than she was.

He shepherded her away. “You’re the Roses’ daughter, aren’t you?”

Even here she couldn’t escape it. “My name is Mabel,” she said, as if daring him to contradict her.

“Mabel. Mabel Rose. I won’t forget it.” He gave her hand a firm shake. “Well, Mabel Rose. Get home safely.”

An explosion came from somewhere nearby. “Go now,” her mysterious savior said and ran swiftly down the alley, vaulting up the fire escape and disappearing over the rooftops.

 

Back at the Bennington, Mabel took the elevator to the sixth floor. Two of the hallway lamps had burned out ages ago, casting the passage in constant shadows, which always gave Mabel a bit of the heebie-jeebies. Mabel heard whispering at the far end of the darkened corridor and froze. What if the police had followed her after all?

Against her better judgment, she crept forward. Miss Addie stood at the narrow window in her nightgown. Her long gray hair hung in tangles. She cradled a bag of salt, which she was pouring out onto the windowsill in a fat line. Salt seeped from a hole in the bag and pooled on the carpet below.

“Miss Addie? What are you doing?”

“I have to keep them out,” Miss Addie said without looking up.

“Keep who out?”

“There are awful events unfolding. Something unholy is at hand.”

“Do you mean the murders?” Mabel asked.

“It’s begun. I can feel it. In my dreams, I have seen the man in the tall hat with his coat of crows. A terrible choice is at hand.” Miss Addie’s hand fluttered about her face like a wounded bird. She seemed confused, like a woman waking from ether. “Where is my door? I can’t find it.”

“You’re on the sixth floor, Miss Adelaide. You need the tenth. Here, I’ll take you.”

Mabel took the bag of salt from the old woman and helped her into the elevator, securing the troublesome latch on the gate.

“When the cunning folk stood accused of the ’craft as if it were a game, and our gallows bloomed with the dead, the man was there. When the Choctaw were marched to their ruin on the Trail of Tears, the man was there.”

Mabel counted the floors, willing the elevator to go faster.

“They say he appeared to Mr. Lincoln upon an evening before the War Between the States. It was as if a hand had come down and pulled out the heart of the nation, and the very rivers bled, and the land’s wounds would not heal.” Miss Addie suddenly turned and stared right at Mabel. “Terrible what people can do to one another, isn’t it?”

Mabel hurriedly slid back the gate to let Miss Addie out of the elevator. She knew she should help her to her door, but she was too spooked. “It’s just down the hall on the left, Miss Adelaide.”

“Yes, thank you.” Miss Addie took the bag of salt from Mabel and stepped out into the dim hallway. “We’re not safe, you know. Not at all.”

But Mabel had closed the gate and the elevator was already descending.

“Terrible what people can do,” Miss Addie said again.

From the elevator, Mabel watched the old woman’s bare feet hobbling away, a trail of salt and the lace hem of her nightgown left in her wake like sea foam.


Date: 2015-02-03; view: 761


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