It was fitting—accidental, impromptu, but fitting—that the damaged book Olive Ince had snatched up in a fit of pique and then hurled at Bill Harrigan’s head in the stationary store was a Tom Swift novel, since Bill Harrigan, like the hero of Victor Appleton’s popular adventure series for boys, was a tinkerer, an inventor, a mechanical genius, and had been since he himself was a boy. In 1896, at age 11, he built his first bicycle; he’d seen a litho of one displayed in a barber shop window, instinctively ciphered out its kinetics, determined what he needed to make his own, and made it in his spare time from salvaged parts. (A bovine boy—he wouldn’t become slender till he was in his middle twenties—Bill had no interest in games or athletics; he had few chums and preferred his own company.) In short order he designed and built others—high-wheelers, tandems and safeties alike. All were of such impressive craftsmanship and reliability that his father, the foreman at a small and struggling zinc foundry, yanked young Bill out of parochial school and the pair of them went into business together, opening the second bicycle shop in the city of Bayonne, on Avenue D. Riding the wave of national cyclomania, they prospered spectacularly.
Soon the Harrigan family—mother, father, Bill and his three brothers and sisters—moved from a dingy tenement on 52nd Street (what, in those days, was known as the “Hibernian Annex”) to a foursquare house downtown on West Sixth Street: deep porches, tall windows with striped awnings, fancy gingerbread, sloped turrets, three chimneys, eleven rooms and four baths. At the northwest corner of the plot was a stable that Bill converted into his workshop. When he was 15 and already a subscriber to Popular Science Monthly, and The Scientific American (letters he mailed to the magazines often were published), Bill created a perpetual motion machine and a rechargeable electric battery. His passion then pledged itself to more complicated machinery, to noiseless motors in particular, and when he was 16 he built a steam car. At 17, he built a one-cylinder gasoline car; and at 20, an electric car that won prize money in speed contests on Long Island. When it came to mechanics, Bill (never Billy) Harrigan knew his onions!
He and the old man talked about selling the bicycle shop to go into the automobile manufacturing business; they lined up willing investors, including some notoriously tight-fisted descendants of Bayonne’s original Dutchmen, and even selected the ideal spot for the motor works—waterfront property at the foot of the city and west of the Hudson County Boulevard. But then one day in the spring of 1907, while taking a ruminative bicycle ride along the Morris Canal, Bill Harrigan suddenly was bitten by the movie bug, and from that point on the only mechanics that interested him, the only kind at all, were the mechanics of motion picture cameras, lenses and film projectors.
“You remember that day, don’t you, Olive?” said Bill. Earlier, he’d offered to drive her home from Mr. Fleming’s store, but then on the way suggested a slight detour; with Olive’s permission, he wanted to show her around the red-brick former creamery on East 49th Street that he’d purchased last winter and converted into a film production, laboratory, and distribution facility. Reminiscing out loud, and at length, about what had brought him to where he was now and to what he was struggling to achieve (three 2-reelers a week, for the time being), Bill had taken Olive through the property room where a crew of men in coveralls was filling huge cardboard flats with paintings of frontier forts, Egyptian pyramids, Boston harbor in the 18th century, and a volcanic island. Then he showed her the packing room, where clerks in green visors were filling out invoices and shipping labels, and half a dozen boys of 15 and 16 carefully wheeled hand trucks laden with crates—“Release prints,” said Bill—out to the rear loading dock. In another room, two small, solemn, balding men (Olive thought they looked almost identical and wondered if they were actually twins) carefully fed reels of stock film through a pedal-driven machine which, according to Bill Harrigan, “perforated them perfectly.” Now they stood in the open doorway of what he called the “positive joining room.” Several young women, laboring under high-intensity lamps, sat on stools at trestle tables splicing together pieces of motion-picture film. One of them was humming softly as she worked. Olive recognized the tune: “When You Wore a Tulip and I Wore a Big Red Rose.”
“Surely,” said Bill, “you recall the day as well as I do.”
Olive smiled. “I was 11 and got to fire a musket! How could I ever forget a thing like that, Mr. Harrigan.”
By choosing that moment to look out one of the room’s horizontal pivoting windows, Olive avoided Bill’s side-glance as she said, “Well, sir, you are a considerably older than I, and I do have good manners.”
“Still, I respect my elders.” She gave Bill a gentle poke in the side with the elbow of the arm she carried in a sling. Then, noticing one of the cutters quirk her mouth at such blatant flirtatiousness, Olive laughed. Back in the corridor again, she slipped her right arm through Bill’s left, and they strolled on. He pointed—that’s developing fluid, in those bottles; that’s nitrocellulose film, in those racks; and this big open floor right here is the production studio. “Look,” said Bill, pointing up, “half the roof opens to the air by a crank that even a two-year-old could turn. It lets in all the daylight we could ask for.” (And it was far less warm in there, as well, less stifling and humid; in the other rooms they’d visited, electric table fans whirled furiously.)
Olive put her head back and peered through the top of the building, wide open to slate-blue skies and scudding clouds. “You did that?”
He pretended to be shocked. “Need you ask? And this, my dear, is our little kitchen. There’s probably lemonade in the ice box—we’re very homey here at the Cosmos Film Company. Would you care for a glass?”
“Thank you, I would.” While Bill took out the pitcher and searched for tumblers in a mounted cupboard, Olive sat down at a long bare table with benches on either side of it; on top were a freckled, dried-out-looking green apple and a milk-glass bowl used as an ashtray; also the morning and afternoon Bayonne papers, which Olive scooped up without so much as a glance at the major headlines, and tossed on a stool next to the sink. She’d had quite enough of the strike for one day, thank you very much. Bill set her glass on the table, filled it, then poured himself only a splash, and remained standing.
“So what do you think?” he said. “Impressive place, no?”
“But?” Scowling, he finally sat.
“But? But, jeepers, Bill—you’ve been back here since when? Last winter? Weren’t you ever planning to let me know?”
“Well, of course I was, Olive. And I guess it wasn’t last winter, it was March.”
“That’s the winter!”
“All right, it was the winter. But you know me, honey, I get busy and distracted and lose track of time.”
“Five months of it? Good grief, Bill Harrigan!” She felt a fresh impulse to throw something at him—maybe that apple—but resisted. “I thought we were friends.”
“Of course we are—we’re best pals! Would we be getting married if we weren’t.”
She waved her left hand disparagingly. “I wish you’d quit saying that. You embarrassed me in front of Mr. Fleming.”
“I’m not a little girl anymore, Bill.”
“I said I was sorry.” He held his head on an angle, raised his eyebrows a jot, and laughed. “Still pals?”
“Why’d you come back from California anyway?”
“I got homesick.”
“Oh, come on, that’s a little strong. You always hated Bayonne.”
“I never did, Olive! That’s unfair. I just said it was getting hard to make pictures here, and that’s true, it was. Still is. It’s a whole lot easier in California—there’s nothing but open spaces and you can shoot any kind of picture there you want. And the weather, of course, all that sunshine.”
“So then why did you come back?”
Bill put aside his glass, decisively, and then leaned forward, over his folded arms. “Haven’t you been listening to what I’ve been telling you, Olive?” (Well, yes, but absently.) “Much as I like, Mr. Horsely, I didn’t want to just shoot his pictures anymore. I wanted to shoot mine. I wanted to do everything, the whole megillah—produce them, shoot them, cut them, and release them. I wanted my own company, Olive, and since I have the money, that’s what I’m doing.” He sat back in his chair. “That’s what this place is for!” His hands swooped up. “Pretty great, don’t you think?”
Because her feelings were still hurt, and because his explanation sounded fishy (why hadn’t he just started his picture company out in California?), Olive gave him back only the stiffest shrug when what Bill was looking for, she knew, were gushing kudos. Although he’d grown into a slender, solid, and compellingly handsome man with curly black hair and red-fair skin, to Olive Bill Harrigan still behaved, as he’d always done, like an adolescent boy, earnest, animated, indefatigable, and selfish; selfish and puffed up. Still, she’d never known anyone like him, or liked anyone half as much. Since she was 11—since that magical day on the Morris Canal—Olive had felt something for the big goon that she knew was very like love. She turned her head slowly now and her eyes met his. “I suppose it’s very nice, Bill, if you like big old brick buildings.”
“Olive, do you know how much money I paid for this big old brick building? Or poured into it?”
“No,” she said, “I haven’t got the slightest idea.” Olive looked down her nose and decided to examine her fingernails.
Bill was frowning, but not because of Olive’s affected indifference: “Was that thunder?”
“I didn’t hear anything.”
“That is definitely thunder!” he said, alarmed and already on his feet; that time Olive heard it too. She followed Bill from the small kitchen and watched him as he trotted across the production-room floor, scrambled nimbly up the ladder bolted to a side wall, and then swung off it at the top and onto a catwalk. Now there was another loud clap of thunder, directly overhead, then a flash of sheet lightning. Bill was turning the crank on the massively toothed iron wheel that closed the roof when the rain started, a cloudburst that sent Olive dashing back into the kitchen for shelter.
But when the rain, and its drumming roar, never cut off, and she could see there was already half an inch of water covering the studio floor, some of it splashing now over the saddle in the kitchen doorway, Olive went and stuck her head back out, and there was Bill Harrigan, drenched on the catwalk and struggling mightily with the crank that even a two-year-old could turn; say this for Bill, though, he wasn’t swearing as most other men would’ve been in a pickle like that, he was laughing his silly head off. His vanilla-white suit was soaked through and plastered to his body, lewdly in places. Two employees were clambering up the ladder to lend Bill a hand—one of them, Bud Bleach (apparently his real name!), Olive had met earlier at Fleming’s, although he was dressed now in an undershirt and dungarees, not the full regalia of an Indian chief. The women she’d seen splicing film, and some of the stock boys, were dragging in canvas drop cloths and flattened cardboard boxes and flinging them all around the floor. Olive removed her shoes, set them on the ice box, and then, despite having one useless arm, rushed back out into the studio to help as she could. Overhead, Bill was still laughing.
He’d been laughing the first time Olive set eyes on him, that spring day at the canal more than eight years ago—slapping his knees, pounding his thighs, clutching at his stomach, and roaring with laughter at his own damfoolishness. Did she remember that day? Olive Ince would remember it with her dying breath, and not because she’d got to fire a silly musket, either.
It was the first or second week of May. Olive was in her fifth-grade classroom, slouched at her desk laboriously solving (or more than likely, not solving, or solving incorrectly, or pestering Charlie Gillick for the answers to), a series of word problems in her arithmetic workbook; to demonstrate just how vividly that one day dwelled in her memory, these many years later Olive still could recall the problems had to do with grocery store clerks and farmers at market, gross receipts and net profits. At any rate, she was sitting there, bored and frustrated, when Sister Rose Bernadette came and tapped her on a shoulder, and then sent her to the office. Olive couldn’t imagine what she might’ve done wrong (she was certain she hadn’t been seen pestering Charlie Gillick for his answers), but still, any time you were told to go and see Mother Superior, it jangled your nerves. When Olive arrived there, she found her own mother, come to fetch her from school because of some unspecified family emergency. Olive could tell that Mother Catherine DeSalle harbored doubts about the whole business, and when she didn’t tell Helen Ince that she hoped all would be well, and offer prayers, Olive was positive her mother had lamely manufactured another improbable crisis in order to take Olive with her again (jitney, ferry, omnibus) to New York City to attend a vaudeville matinee on 14th Street.
Well, she’d been correct about the deception, but wrong about the destination. When they left St. Mary’s School, Olive was surprised to find an automobile (nothing fancy, just a Ford) waiting for them at the corner of 12th Street and Avenue C. A man wearing a white automobile duster and soft cap got out and opened the rear curbside door for them. He was good-looking and stocky, with dark hair and a bushy mustache. The right sleeve of his duster, Olive noticed instantly, was pinned up; he’d lost an arm! “This is Mr. Horsely,” said her mother. “David, this is my daughter Olive.”
“Delighted to meet you,” said the man, and Olive was surprised and impressed by his British accent. “We’re making a motion picture today, young lady—would you like to be in it with your mother?”
Olive was so startled that her mouth dropped open and she didn’t reply.
“Answer Mr. Horsely,” said Helen. “Of course she’d like it! Won’t it be fun?” She looked at Olive and they both looked at Horsely. “My daughter can be a little shy around strangers.”
It was totally untrue, she’d never been shy around anyone, but there was no point in contradicting her mother; Helen would only smile now, coldly around clenched teeth, but later bawl out Olive at home until Olive’s father, sick and tired of the racket, would quarrel with Helen and send Olive to bed. “Happy to make your acquaintance, Mr. Horsely. What will I have to do?”
“How do you feel about shooting some Indians?”
“Sounds better than doing arithmetic,” said Olive.
Horsely chortled, and then stood aside while Helen followed by Olive climbed into the tight rear compartment of the Ford. He gave the front crank a turn with his left hand, jumped in the automobile, nodded at the impassive and sinewy old man hunched behind the steering wheel, and off they rode, rolling north on Avenue C—“Do you like movies, Olive?” “I haven’t seen very many, sir. I saw one about an ice boat race. And a parade of the Mystic Shriners.” “Those were mine, I made those!” “Olive enjoyed them immensely,” said Helen. “Didn’t you, sweetheart?”—till they came to farmland and orchards that were the buffer between Bayonne and Jersey City. Mr. Horsely’s driver carefully steered the auto about a quarter of a mile down a dirt track and parked it in a wooded and slightly hilly area. Off to the right and beyond some clustering thorn scrub was the towpath that ran alongside of the Morris Canal. Half a dozen other cars and covered trucks were parked haphazardly nearby. Olive saw about a dozen Indian braves with single feathers in their headbands and faces daubed with war paint. Some stood around eating sandwiches and smoking cigarettes, others were shooting arrows at stacked bales of straw or throwing tomahawks at a sheet of plywood leaned against a Dutch elm just beginning to bud.
Horsely left to go see about something, promising to fetch them both in a minute, and the driver, who hadn’t spoken a word, simply wandered off. Helen gave Olive’s arm a good squeeze and said, “Isn’t this thrilling? I’ve always wanted to be in motion pictures!”
Helen frowned. “You know I have.”
No, Olive did not; before that moment, she hadn’t had the slightest inkling her mother always wanted to be in motion pictures. “Always!” So typical of Helen Ince to exaggerate. There hadn’t been motion pictures for more than a few years so how could she “always” have wanted to be in them! And now that Olive thought more about it, the times she’d been with Helen at vaudeville shows, they’d usually got up and left—along with half of the other people in the theater—whenever a movie came on at the end of the program; Helen even told Olive once that people called those movies “chasers” since they were so unpopular they chased the audience away. “Always.”
“How did Mr. Horsely come to ask us to be in his movie?”
“Well, first he asked me, of course, Olive. I was shopping this morning at Maloney’s market and when I came outside, he hailed me from across Broadway. His company is in the building directly opposite Maloney’s.”
“That’s a pool hall, Mother. Directly opposite Maloney’s.”
“Shows how much you know, my girl. Get around town some more, why don’t you? It used to be a pool hall, but now that Mr. Horsely and his brother are producing motion pictures, they’ve turned it into a studio, like Mr. Edison has in Menlo Park. They build their own cameras and everything. And they make four or five pictures a week!”
“But why’d he ask you to be in one?”
Helen drew back her shoulders, intolerably insulted. “He said he was certain I’d photograph beautifully.”
“And why me?”
“A pioneer wife needs a pioneer child, naturally—and I said you were the spitting image of your mother. Now, I think he’s calling us. Stand up straight, Olive, and do exactly as you’re told.”
“How did Mr. Horsely lose his arm?”
“I have no idea—and don’t you dare ask him, either. And don’t stare.”
“I wouldn’t do that, Mom!”
“And for today, Olive, if you don’t mind, I’d prefer that you addressed me as Mother, or ma’am. The Horselys are English.”
When Helen strode off toward the beckoning David Horsely, Olive rolled her eyes and followed. She recognized one of the idling Indian braves, one of the smokers; he was a young man from her parish who used to take up the collection at the 9 o’clock Sunday children’s mass, self-importantly extending a wicker basket on a long pole down every pew. He recognized Olive, as well, and started clapping a hand repeatedly against his wide-open mouth in a silent war whoop, or else he was stifling a yawn. Then he winked. Olive turned her face abruptly, and quickened her pace, scrambling up a steep hill.
Where it levelled off at the pine-clad summit stood three green campaign tents stenciled U.S. ARMY SANTIAGO CUBA in white paint. Olive and Helen were dispatched to one of them, where a short and thickset woman with gray, thinning air, looked them up and down, just once, then nodded and went rummaging through a steamer trunk. Eventually she pulled out their costumes. Olive was tickled by hers: scuffed black boots, gray sack dress, white pinafore and sunbonnet. Helen was considerably less pleased; the boots surely wouldn’t fit properly, she could tell just by looking at them; her skirt was pilly; high-buttoned blouses chafed her neck, she’d get prickly heat, and—she was required to wear a bonnet, this bonnet, with its hideous stiff brim and back ruffle? Surely there was a mistake. “Why on earth would Mr. Horsely want me to wear something that covered my hair? It’s so bright you’d think he’d want it to show.”
The old woman, who was chewing gum (or could it be tobacco? Olive wondered) smiled impersonally and said, “Whyn’t you go take that up yourself with the mister? I just do what I’m told, lady. They told me a bonnet, I gave you a bonnet.” She turned to Olive. “While your mother is arguing with the boss, you can change, there, behind that screen.”
“Arguing!” Helen raised a protesting hand. “Who said anything about arguing?” She snatched her dress, shawl, and bonnet from where they lay draped across the woman’s two extended arms, snatched her boots from the ground, and stepped peremptorily behind a changing screen.
When mother and daughter presented themselves at the portable log cabin where their scenes in the picture were to be photographed, Olive more than half expected that Helen would express to Mr. Horsely her grievance against the matronly bonnet, but she didn’t. Instead, she affected the same tweety-voiced coquetry around him that Olive, to her mortification, had seen Helen affect often around their eighteen-year-old next-door neighbor King Touey whenever he lifted barbells or exercised with Indian clubs in their mutual backyard. “You both look splendid!” said Horsely. Helen put a hand to her chest, stilling her heart, then she blushed, the big phony, and thanked him. Horsely asked them both to stand aside for a moment, and a few of the Indians were called forward to shoot arrows into the cabin. “A couple more in the door, if you don’t mind,” said Horsely. “That’s fine!” A man in coveralls excused himself as he walked in front of Olive carrying in each fist a large metal pot filled with silvery granulated powder. She watched him set them down inside the cabin. With an elbow, he broke a pane or two of glass in each window. “If everybody’s ready then,” said Horsely, “let’s get started!”
A bowlegged, bearded actor wearing a cotton singlet and canvas trousers appeared and stood patiently by while another man daubed glue on the end of a feathered shaft that was only four or five inches long. He then affixed it to the actor’s singlet, directly over his heart, and made sure it stuck out straight. Then the actor got down on the ground and lay on his back with his arms flung out. Somebody else came and laid a flintlock rifle and a coonskin cap on the ground nearby. Horsely rubbed his chin and pointed. “I think the rifle fell another foot or so in that direction. Do you remember, Art?” The actor, Art Isley, sat up and looked around. “Yeah, it fell over there more.” When the rifle was rearranged, Art lay back down on the ground and resumed playing dead. “All right,” said Horsely turning to Helen and Olive. “Before you ladies got here, your dear husband and father was cut down by the fatal arrow of a red savage, as you can see. Now, Helen, with your cabin on fire”—the pots inside had been ignited and foamy white smoke was billowing through the broken windows and open door —“you and Olive come racing outside. Helen, you throw up your arms in distress and then run directly to your beloved husband and fall to your knees. Olive, you stop right about…here…and point your musket…that way, over in that direction, and squeeze the trigger. That’s all, just squeeze.”
“Is it safe?” said Helen. “Don’t you think that I should fire the gun? She’s just a little girl.”
“But that’s the point!” said Horsely. “She’s a pioneer girl with gumption!”
“Well, didn’t pioneer wives have gumption, too?” Helen couldn’t quite keep the vexation and disappointment from her voice—but she tried!
“Of course they did, but your first thought is for your husband! You see?”
Helen obviously didn’t, but nodded despite her difference of opinion. “Very well. But will Olive be able to shoot such a thing without hurting herself?”
“All make-believe, Helen, all make-believe.” Horsely grabbed up the musket from a property trunk behind the camera. “It weighs hardly anything at all and fires only a big cloud of white smoke, that’s all. White smoke. Oh, and since there’s no actual recoil, Olive, could you act like there is? Jerk back just a little bit as soon as you’ve pulled the trigger.”
“Yes, sir!” said Olive, eager and already reaching for the musket.
“Excellent. Now, ladies, you step on into the cabin and shut the door. And try not to breathe too much of that smoke, it might give you a nasty cough. You’ll hear me say action and then, Helen, you fling open the door, stop for a moment, throw up your arms and run to your dead husband. As soon as she does, Olive, you step out. Okay? Places!”
“David? But where are the Indians?”
“They’re not in this shot, Helen. Just pretend they’re all gathered out there beyond the camera—but don’t look at the camera. Let’s go, everyone, before all the chemicals are used up!”
When they went inside the cabin, it was so filled with smoke that Olive couldn’t see her mother standing only two feet away; she could hear her, though, complaining about her boots. “I knew they’d pinch.”
“Action!” called David Horsely.
“I don’t think I’d ever been more surprised by anything in my life!” said Olive, straight out of the blue, as she rubbed her hair dry with a dish towel she’d found in the kitchen drawer. Bill Harrigan straddled one of the benches at the table trying to smoke a cigarette, but the paper was too damp in his fingers and the tube was falling apart. He seemed both amused and abashed, and was drenched to the bone. With his employees’ added muscle power, he’d managed to close and seal the roof; the production studio was still covered by sodden cardboard, some of it floating, and by drop cloths with puddles of water collected in the folds. A couple of stock boys had lugged in mops and buckets and, with their shoes off and their trousers rolled up, were doing their best now to swab the floor. Outside it had turned black as night. The electrical storm raged and blew. Bill gave up on his cigarette and, with a grunt, tossed it into the milk-glass bowl.
“You were surprised,” he said. “Imagine how I felt! It’s always worked perfectly before.”
“No, no,” said Olive, handing him the towel so he could dry his hands and face. “I was thinking about that day we met. Bill Harrigan to the rescue!”
After blotting his forehead, cheeks, and neck, he looked at Olive and grinned. “Well. Yeah.” He laughed. “But see it from my perspective.”
“Oh, I do. I did.”
“I’m riding my bicycle along the canal when suddenly—all this smoke starts blowing my way. Anyone would’ve investigated.”
Her grin was growing wider; seeing it, he matched his to hers. “I saw a house on fire, Olive—I couldn’t just stop and take stock.”
“Naturally not.” And he hadn’t—Bill Harrigan hadn’t taken even momentary stock; instinctually heroic, he’d pedaled furiously through the gnarly brush and burst into the clearing just as Helen Ince stepped from the cabin and threw up her arms; by the time Olive emerged, moments later, the front wheel of Harrigan’s bicycle already had run over the supine actor Art Isley, and Harrigan himself was sailing over the handlebars, hurtling straight at Helen Ince, whose arm waving that second time was a performance categorically more authentic than the one she’d performed at her cue. To Olive’s regret, Helen lurched sideways and so avoided direct collision. When Bill hit the ground, hard, Olive reflexively squeezed the musket’s trigger. And it did have a recoil, potent enough that she was flung backwards and a shoulder painfully struck the log wall. What a debacle! Suddenly dozens of people, including all of the Indians, had gathered outside the cabin, and the only two there who didn’t find Bill Harrigan’s misunderstanding completely hilarious were Art Isley, who came away with a cracked rib, and Helen Ince, who immediately classified Bill Harrigan as an imbecile and seemed to think he’d deliberately tried to ruin the dream she’d always had of being in a motion picture. Besides, she thought bicycles were vulgar and that anyone who rode them looked awkward and ridiculous.
“It’s a funny thing,” Bill was saying now. He’d wrung out the towel and draped it over the sink. “At the very moment I ran over that poor fella, I saw David’s camera and knew what I’d done. But the funnier thing, Olive, the funnier thing is, when I was flying through the air hoping I wouldn’t break my neck, it came to me in a flash, like it does in the New Testament when somebody’s converted—in a flash I knew I had to build a camera just like that.”
“Only better.” She tweaked his elbow.
He smiled. “Exactly. One just like David’s, only better. I was never interested in the movies before then—I think I may’ve looked at one of those single-viewer machines and that’s it. But all of a sudden, Olive, I thought—I’m going to do this! I’m going to make pictures!”
“All before you even hit the ground.”
“Well. Let’s say the idea was planted before I hit the ground.” He shook his head and laughed again. “I must’ve looked like the biggest fool.”
“Your mother has never forgiven me.”
“I wouldn’t lose sleep over it. And I don’t know why she’d hold a grudge —she got to be in the silly picture.” (Called The Plainsman’s Posse, it was released in June 1907, with both Helen’s and Olive’s names included in the credits. A few stills from the production, none featuring either of the Inces, have appeared in different histories of the early motion picture industry, but the film itself has not survived.)
“She called me a goose,” said Bill, sprinkling tobacco into a dry cigarette paper.
He rolled it, and was licking it sealed when Olive said, “I probably did too.”
“Oh, you did not.” He struck a match and held it burning while he said, “You were the sweetest thing. You came right over and asked me I’d hurt myself.” He lit his cigarette and shook out the match. “You were still holding the musket.”
“Of course you were! You were adorable.”
Now that they were reminiscing about their first conversation, Olive realized she’d rather they were not, so it was perfect timing when one of the stock boys leaned through the open kitchen doorway at that moment to say that he and Kenny had got rid of all the tarps and cardboard and mopped up, was there anything else Bill wanted them to do? Another boy—Kenny—hovered behind him, peeking in at Olive, and peeking avidly despite her hair being wet and limp. “No,” said Bill, “thanks a million, Bob. And thanks, Kenny!” He waved to the boy ogling Olive. “Is everybody else gone home, do you know?”
“I think Bud Bleach and Al Coffey are in the lab,” said Bob.
“Okay. Good. Well, you boys head on out of here yourselves, and thanks again. And be careful walking home. Umbrellas are in the—”
“Got ’em already, Mr. H. Have a good evening. You too, miss.”
“Thank you,” said Olive. As soon as the boys left, and to Olive’s general discomfort, Bill Harrigan went straight back to what he’d been talking about before he was interrupted. “You still had that musket in your hand. I’d picked myself up and was laughing at my own idiocy, and you—”
“Bill? Excuse me. You wouldn’t happen to have any women’s clothing around here, would you? I’d love to get out of these wet things.”
“I’m sure we can find you something, if you don’t mind looking like a character in a movie. I should change into something dry myself.”
“Yes,” said Olive with an indelicate nod toward his privates, “you should.”
“I will. But I was remembering what you’d—”
“Bill? Those clothes?”
“Of course,” said Bill. He looked at Olive for a long, significant moment, then nodded, and said again, “Of course. Follow me.”
She did, and that was, as was Olive’s intention, the end of it; they never finished talking about the day in 1907 when she ran impulsively over to Bill after he’d crashed his bicycle and landed in a twisted heap. Once he’d forced himself to stop laughing, Bill asked her name and how old she was. Olive May Ince. Eleven, turning 12 in September. “I’m Bill Harrigan,” he said. “Twenty one, turning 22—well, not till next January. Olive,” he said, “you’re a funny looking kid, but you’re sweet. Let’s get married in ten years. What do you say?”
David Horsely and several other men from the crew arrived at that moment to see whether or not the Centaur Motion Picture Company was facing a ruinous lawsuit; simultaneously, Helen came and tugged Olive away by her wrist. But in all of that tumult, even so Olive Ince had managed to nod to Bill Harrigan and whisper, “All right.”
When she thought about it later, and ever afterwards, she couldn’t imagine why she’d said it. Marry him? He was old, tall but tubby, and had just made an utter fool of himself. And how dare he call her funny looking! She was sick and tired of people saying she was pretty, but—funny looking? What was he, blind? Many, many nights she pounded her pillow, recollecting her slight nod, her breathy “All right.”
She’d imagined—she’d hoped!—that Bill Harrigan would forget about his smart aleck proposal and her impetuous consent, but no, he never did. Every time he saw Olive after that—and until he relocated to Hollywood, California in 1912 to work for the Horsely brothers, Bill saw her quite often—he’d find, and obviously still was finding, some way to remind her of, and tease her about, their “engagement.”
Not that Olive was keeping track, but—in 22 months, she knew, it would be ten years.
In a fresh uniform, Charlie Gillick sat mopishly on the porch glider and fanned his face with a motorist’s gatefold map of New Jersey. Slanting rain gusted along West Fifth Street; older trees creaked, younger ones bent, and leafage shook violently, rattling like coins in a canister. Water poured in a solid curtain off the scalloped porch awning. Whenever Charlie saw the blurry headlamps of an automobile moving down his street, he got up and stood at the railing and watched it till it chuffed past. For at least the fiftieth time since that morning he wished he hadn’t lost his watch in the fire station melee; he could always go back in the house and look at the glass-boxed mantel clock in the front parlor, but he didn’t want to risk provoking another conversation with either his mother or father. Instead of their being proud that Sheriff Kinkaid had selected Charlie to be his official driver while he was in Bayonne for the duration of the strike, instead of their being interested in what Charlie had done all day (attended a raucous meeting of strikers at Mydosch Hall; gone inside the Standard plant to the General Manager’s office; seen the Sheriff knock out a Wobbly cold, just for sneering), his parents seemed as bewildered and vexed by him as they’d been whenever he came home from school with torn trousers or poor grades. Oh Charlie, Charlie, what’s to become of you?
The screen door clicked open. Without looking, Charlie knew it was his mother by the wafting scent of talcum powder. She bathed each afternoon at five in the summer. “Your father and I are having a dish of ice cream, would you care to join us?”
“Thank you, but no. I probably should stay out here, I said I’d be on the porch. What time is it?” Charlie asked. As soon as the words left his mouth, he realized his mistake.
“Where’s the watch your brother gave you?”
“I left it upstairs.”
“Well, what’s the point of that?”
He shrugged. “I was afraid—I might lose it.”
“Like you’ve lost everything else nice that anybody’s ever given you.” (He expected her to mention that stupid box kite from his tenth birthday again, but she didn’t.) With the door still propped open against her hip, Mrs. Gillick, Lorraine Gillick (nee Langtree) glanced over a shoulder and back into the house. “It’s almost ha’ past seven. When did his nibs say that he’d be here?”
His mother stepped out to the porch, letting the screen slap closed behind her. In recent years she’d grown stout, with expanded bosoms that seemed almost aggressive in their new enormity; they embarrassed Charlie, acutely, and gave him the fidgets whenever they came, or swung, too near. (His father, he’d noticed, seemed to have the same reaction.) Compounding Charlie’s dilemma, she almost always chose to wear, as she’d chosen to wear this evening, a blindingly white blouse above her customary long black skirt. Regarding the rain storm, she moved her head from side to side unhappily. “The man is going to make you drive him to Deal Beach in this weather?”
“It’s important. I told you before, he has to meet with the Governor.”
”The Governor,” she said as if saying “the janitor.” It had turned out, much to Charlie’s surprise, that his father, the Bayonne City Attorney, was not politically affiliated with Governor Fielder; when, an hour ago at dinner, Charlie had expressed that surprise, Mr. Gillick narrowed his eyes while dabbing a napkin at his greasy lips. (Roast of pork, and on such a hot day!) “If you’d been paying attention at the supper table for the last few years, you might’ve known that.” And how could Charlie defend himself? He rarely, if ever, paid attention when conversations turned to politics; his two older brothers loved nothing better than to talk about that stuff with the old man whenever they came over with their families, but Charlie found it tedious, and hard to follow—so many names, so many offices (elective and appointive), so many clubs, so many road and bridge “projects,” so many feuds. Who could keep track?
“Is this him now?”
Charlie rose from the glider and looked toward the street. “I think so.” A Packard slowed and pulled to the curb. “Yes, that’s him.” He turned to his mother and she was passing him an umbrella—where’d that come from? “I don’t know how late I’ll be.”
“We’ll wait up.”
“There’s no sense in your doing that, Mom.”
“Go,” she said and waved back to the man waving to them both from the car. In the estimation of Charlie’s parents, Sheriff Kinkaid was all right, but just all right, and only because he’d been Johnny Gillick’s roommate at law school. “You be very careful driving that machine, Charles. And watch your braking.”
He jammed the roadmap behind his wide uniform belt, put up the umbrella, and ran down the porch steps, almost slipping on the last one, then through the crashing rain and out to the sidewalk. The Sheriff had slid over on the Packard’s front seat for Charlie to take the wheel. As he opened the driver’s door, Charlie looked back to his house; his mother remained on the porch while his father’s scowling face was visible now between vaporous white curtains at a downstairs window. Charlie furled the umbrella and got in.
“Have you had your supper?”
“Yes, sir, have you?”
Patting his stomach with both hands, the Sheriff gave a satisfied grunt. “Then we’re ready for the evening ahead.”
“Yes, sir. Sir, I’m not certain exactly how—could you let me know the most direct route?” He was grinning and feeling that he was blushing. But at least he’d stammered only once.
“We’re just heading down to the shore.”
“Yes, sir, I know.”
“You’ve never driven there before?”
“I’ve never been there before!” To mitigate, or at least to attempt to mitigate his mortifying lack of worldliness, Charlie quickly added, “Whenever I’ve wanted a swim in the ocean, I’ve taken an excursion boat to Rye Beach.” “Whenever.” Precisely twice.
“I see. Well—is that a map you’ve brought, there?” The Sheriff pointed to the gatefold behind Charlie’s belt.
“Yes, sir.” His mother, Charlie could see, was still standing on the front porch, no doubt wondering why they hadn’t driven off yet.
“Whyn’t you have a look at it, then? Should take you no time to figure out a route.”
“Or you could just give me directions as we go.”
“I could. But why don’t you just use your map?”
“Yes, sir, but I don’t want you to be late for your meeting with the Governor.”
“This is more important.”
“What is, sir?”
“The map, Charlie, look at the map.” He stretched his legs and slumped down, folded his hands contentedly, and closed his eyes. “In the meantime, I’ll digest my meal.”
It wasn’t hard to determine a route; in fact it was simple: Charlie just found Deal Beach and worked his way by fingertip back to Bayonne, following a sinuous red line; there weren’t all that many roads going to shore towns. Five minutes later he released the foot-brake and the gears meshed. “We’re off,” said Charlie. The Sheriff seemed to have dozed, a good thing since Charlie stalled the car three times before they’d even reached Jersey City. He didn’t own a machine himself and rarely drove. When he was 18, his brother Tommy had loaned him his new Plymouth to motor around the county park, but he’d let a rear tire go off the gravel track and got the car stuck in a ravine; his family still teased him about it, unkindly, and as recently as last weekend.
“Are we there yet?” said the Sheriff, rousing himself.
Charlie laughed. “Communipaw Avenue, sir.”
“Boy, this rain.”
“Well, at least there won’t be any more riots tonight at the Hook.”
“I suspect you’re right. But still our boys managed to set three more fires late this afternoon.”
“After we left?”
“Oh yes. The mayor called to tell me all about it five minutes before I picked you up. Oil soaked lumber in the naphtha yard.”
“Inside the plant? How’d they manage that?”
“Where there’s a will, Charlie, there’s usually a way. And especially when there’s anger involved.”
“And they sure were angry today, weren’t they? At Mydosch Hall.”
“They were indeed.”
There must have been a thousand men, easily, packed inside the stifling and cavernous social hall on Twenty-first and Avenue F, with several hundred more loitering outside—all of them shaking fists and pumping arms, and hollering grievances in what sounded to Charlie Gillick’s ear like a dozen different languages. Pandemonium, it was pandemonium, the atmosphere dangerous and unpredictable, till the Sheriff, tossing off his jacket, climbed on the long zinc bar and bellowed for everyone’s attention. At last the men settled down, and then, with his extemporized speech translated into Polish by the strikers’ attorney, a man named Supinski, Kinkaid had talked non-stop for twenty-five minutes; he was a friend of labor, he was a friend of theirs, he wanted only to help them to help themselves. In the end, the strikers grudgingly agreed to appoint a small delegation to go with the silver-tongued Sheriff (and Charlie!) to confer inside the plant with the superintendent and the general manager—two cold fish who’d flatly blamed professional agitators for the “disruption,” and refused to treat with the workers until after they’d all returned peaceably to their jobs…
The Sheriff noticed Charlie clenching his hands tighter around the steering wheel now and squinting hard through the torrents of rain that broke across the windscreen, then peering even harder through the momentary swath that the wiper cleared—he squinted and peered intently, urgently, and then hesitated, and glanced over at the roadmap lying between them on the seat. “No,” said the Sheriff calmly, his left hand moving to cover the map, “you’re doing just fine. Keep going straight here.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“How are you feeling tonight, Charlie?”
“Feeling? I’m fine, sir.”
“I mean, you were beaten to a bloody pulp this morning.” He gestured vaguely at the half-dozen sticking plasters on Charlie’s face and neck.
“Not so bloody, sir. I am a little sore, I’ll admit, but—well, I can understand why they did it.”
The Sheriff twisted around in his seat, and when Charlie glanced at his face it was unclear to him whether Kinkaid was surprised or annoyed, or both. “Oh yes?”
“Well…yes. Captain Freel.” Under his breath Charlie called himself stupid.
“Captain Freel what? What about Captain Freel.”
“Well…he started firing into the crowd. That’s when that boy. Was killed.”
“I know all about it. But are you thinking Captain Freel shouldn’t have used his weapon? Weren’t you all being threatened? You were ungodly outnumbered.”
“Yes, sir, that’s true—and they did shoot the captain’s horse. But.”
“Nothing, sir. I just was saying that I—could understand why they’d want to beat up all us coppers.”
“Put yourself in their shoes, did you?”
Charlie felt the Sheriff’s question might be a trap; he was a lawyer, after all, like Charlie’s father and brothers, and Charlie had fallen into a lot of lawyers’ traps at his supper table over the years. “I don’t know if that’s exactly what I did,” he finally said, hedging as he’d learned to do. “I don’t know if I put myself in their shoes. But to get back to your original question, sir, I’m feeling fine, thank you.”
“Just a little bit sore.”
The Sheriff nodded and turned back around in his seat, stretched out his legs out and closed his eyes again. A few minutes later, as they were creeping through Newark—the storm had increased in ferocity, if anything—Kinkaid, without opening his eyes, said, “Staranchak.”
“Staranchak. The boy that Captain Freel killed outside the fire station.”
“Oh. I didn’t know his name.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Charlie risked a glance over at the Sheriff, then looked back at the concrete road again just as the Packard skimmed, juttering, over a flooded stretch. The Sheriff’s mouth was set in a tight line, the ends turned down.
“I feel terrible for his parents. I can’t imagine what—”
“I like you, son, but don’t be an ignoramus. Don’t ever be an ignoramus.”
“Now, I think it would be best if you concentrated on your driving.” The Sheriff sat up straight and pointedly looked at his wristwatch.
Charlie said, “Yes, sir,” and they didn’t exchange another word till they arrived, under continuing torrential rains, at Deal Beach around quarter of ten.
“Just continue down this road,” said the Sheriff, “and you’ll be making a left when I tell you.”
“I shouldn’t have said that before. I apologize.”
“No, I’m glad you did, sir. Honestly. You’re right. If you challenge the law, no matter who you are, or how old, you have to expect…there’ll be consequences.” In his mind’s eye, Charlie saw that gruff longshoreman-looking Wobbly smirk derisively while the Sheriff was reporting back to the strikers in Mydosch Hall, telling them about the Standard’s refusal to negotiate; the Wobbly turning where he stood so he could holler something, some crack, to the crowd behind him; the Sheriff clamping a left hand solidly on the Wobbly’s shoulder, spinning the guy around, then smashing him full in the face with his right fist. “We were outnumbered at the fire house,” continued Charlie, “we were being threatened—and that boy had no business being there in the first place. It wasn’t the captain’s fault.”
The Sheriff opened his mouth, but then shut it. When he opened it again, it was only to say, “Turn left here.”
“That ‘tot killed’ story?” said Bill Harrigan. “That was you?”
“It was my flat. It was Mary Margaret’s baby.”
“Olive! Oh honey, I’m so sorry! I saw the headline, but didn’t read any more than that. I’ve—”
“Been so busy. I know. You said.”
“I didn’t realize your sister was even married. When did that happen?”
“Year and a half ago, I guess.”
“Who’d she marry?”
Olive made a face. “Neil Cudhy from St. Andrew’s.”
“I thought he was going to be a priest.”
“Wouldn’t that have been nice? He flunked out.”
“Of the seminary? I didn’t know such a thing was possible.”
Olive flexed her brow, as if to say “Well, now you do,” then she picked up her beef sandwich and took a bite. Bill had slathered the bread with horseradish that burned her sinuses and left them tingling. But she was hungry—it was nearly eight o’clock; she oughtn’t still to be here, she ought to be home—and took a second bite.
“When is the—when’s the baby’s funeral?”
“Day after tomorrow.”
“I’d like to attend, if you wouldn’t mind.”
Olive shook her head—no, of course she wouldn’t mind, but while pleased, she also was taken aback by his kindness. Not that Bill Harrigan wasn’t ordinarily kind, it was just—he’d never seemed so entirely serious before, or so gravely solemn. “And this man, who did all the shooting. He was someone that you knew?”
Olive bethought herself of the crazy barber from Jersey City, and winced. “I met him just twice, at dances over Arlington Park. Oh Bill, he was just a funny little man, I felt sorry for him. But then clear out of the blue, out of a clear blue sky, he up and says he’s going to marry me! He tells me! At least you, you big goof, at least you asked!” She forced her laughter and glanced sidelong at Bill, expecting to find the usual wry expression he’d put into his features whenever Olive needled him. Instead, Bill was staring at her. His elbows were braced on his knees, his chin rested on his knuckles, and, with troubled eyes, he was staring intently.
He’d put on dry clothes—a gray muslin shirt and dungarees, but no socks and no shoes. Olive was dressed now in a long, cloying white kimono, the roomy left sleeve folded back several times and hitched over her shoulder, leaving her sling arm free; apparently Bill and his troupe had made a 2-reeler the previous month called “Gunman’s Geisha” set in Japan but actually shot in Hoboken, at Elysium Field.
The two were ensconced in Bill’s basement living quarters, Olive on the wide divan, Bill on a high-backed ecclesiastical chair. There was a chiffonier in the corner, wet and dry sinks, a marble-top table, an ice box larger than the one in the company kitchen, a deep closet used as both a pantry and the place where Bill hung his shirts and trousers on wooden pegs, and a cook stove with two gas burners. A faded Turkish carpet covered the floor. Behind matching black-and-gold-lacquered tri-fold screens that divided the room, Olive supposed, was Bill’s bed. If she looked, she knew, she’d find it unmade. (They’d never, by the way. Or even kissed. She was a virgin, and so was he.) Outside, the electrical storm still blasted with fury, rain pelting and smearing the ground-level windows.
“What?” said Olive. She’d put down her sandwich on a plate. “What?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Why are you staring at me like that?”
“I’m sorry,” said Bill. “I was just—” He averted his face and pinched the bridge of his nose, high, between a thumb and first finger. Embarrassed, he shot to his feet. “I’m going to see if the fellas are ready yet to show us some film—be right back.”
He was on his way to the basement stairs, but stopped, hesitant.
“Why were you staring like that? What were you thinking?”
“Oh dammit, Olive, come on already! I was staring at your arm, in that sling, and thinking what if that idiot was a better shot?”
“He wasn’t,” said Olive. She felt touched, awkward, suddenly flush. He had a case on her, didn’t he—didn’t he? Despite all of his teasing, his playfulness, Bill Harrigan had a real case on her. Before now, Olive really hadn’t known; not really. He amazed her.
“Bill?” Surely he would understand why she was saying his name that way, that way now: interrogatively, softly. And surely, too, he would know to walk back over and kiss her. She wanted him to.
“Let me go talk to Bud and Al,” he said, “I’ll be back in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.” He pointed to his pantry. “There’s pound cake. Help yourself.”
Olive wondered if she’d ever amazed Bill Harrigan. She hoped so, and if so, she wondered when, and what for; what, exactly, had evinced his amazement.
While she passed on Bill’s pound cake (it was a typical bachelor’s cake-on-hand: rock-stale, speckled with mold, inedible), Olive did get up and wander around the place, snooping. As she’d suspected, Bill’s bed was concealed behind the Chinese screens, and the bedclothes were in disarray, but she was surprised to find, tossed on his bedside table along with several pieces of commercial mail and a package of Omars, three or four back issues of The Masses. Oh dear God, she hoped Bill Harrigan hadn’t become a radical out in California! One of the issues was folded open to an article bylined John Reed about the “plantation-style” labor practices of Standard Oil; illustrating it was a crayon cartoon by Art Young of a rail-thin John D. Rockefeller with stubby devil’s horns sprouted from his temples. All that Olive knew about John D. Rockefeller, besides the fact that he owned Standard Oil and its Tidewater subsidiary, was that his money had built the Bayonne Public Library on Thirty-first Street and Avenue C. But wait, no, that was Andrew Carnegie. So Olive guessed the only thing besides owning the Standard that she knew about Rockefeller, and she didn’t actually know it, she’d heard it said, was that he filled his pockets with shiny new dimes every morning to give to little children that he met. And perhaps to beggars, too, although he probably didn’t meet all that many of those.
In the midst of Olive’s musing, Bill returned, coming around one of the lacquered screens and startling her. He’d assumed his familiar wry expression again, but said nothing except, “Excuse me, Olive.” He reached down and brusquely pulled one of the sheets off his bed. Then: “Grab that for me, would you?” he asked her, pointing to a claw hammer that stuck out of the drawer in the bedside table. She did as he’d asked, then followed Bill and the dragged sheet back to the open living quarters, where Bud Bleach and Al Coffey had lugged in an enormous projection machine and set it down on Bill’s table.
A reel of film already had been attached to the top of the machine, and Al Coffey (changed out of his Kit Carson togs and dressed now in denim coveralls) was occupied winding the loose end of the film onto the take-up reel below, carefully fitting the border sprockets. There was a side crank with a wooden grip. A long cord bound in heavy fabric ran from the projector to the only electrical outlet, situated on a wall between two windows. To plug it in, Bud disconnected the pole lamp beside the divan. Immediately the room turned dim, almost murky. Earlier, when Bill told her that he wanted to show Olive what he’d filmed that day, she had feigned interest. Truth be told, and despite her brief appearance in one as a young girl, Olive Ince cared little for pictures; she preferred vaudeville and the legitimate theater, and in recent years had even developed a keen interest in the lives of show folk. Moving pictures left her cold.
Bill said now, “Hand me that hammer, Olive,” and when she did, he tacked up one corner of the sheet to the back wall, a foot or so above eye level. Then he pounded tacks into the remaining three corners. Stepping back, he regarded his work, and finding it satisfactory, he shrugged and tossed the hammer into a catch-all pail filled with old newspapers, a sketchbook, a slender Prince Albert tobacco tin, and several wadded up brown bags. “How’s it all look, Al?”
“I ran everything through the ’scope and it looks pretty good, boss. Maybe a little too much glare at times for the stuff we shot at the county park—”
Olive saw Bill give a short, dismissive gesture: obviously he wasn’t greatly concerned about the stuff they’d shot at the county park. “And the rest of it?”
“You’ll see for yourself, Mr. Harrigan, but you did good.”
Bud Bleach, who’d taken a seat on the divan and crossed one leg over the other, looked at Olive and said, “Friend Harrigan is a regular jockey with a camera, miss. He rides that thing.”
Olive suspected the man was being deliberately but safely off-color—the way he’d said jockey, the way he’d stressed rides, the way he’d winked at her—but if his intent had been to discomfit her and make her blush, he’d grossly misread her. She decided she didn’t much like Bud Bleach.
Bill came over, took Olive by her good arm and led her to the high-backed chair. She sat down and faced the tacked-up bed sheet. Bill hunkered next to her. “Olive, I believe you’ll find this of interest.”
“I’m sure.” She hadn’t meant to inject any tone—not sarcastic, not even subdued—but she must have anyway: behind her, both Coffey and Bleach chuckled. Bill laughed and gave her knee an amiable pat.
“Okay, okay. You’ll just have to put up with the cowboys and Indians bunk, the boys haven’t have time to edit anything, just print it, but—I’m talking about the other stuff. Well, you’ll see. Al? Ready?”
“Anytime you say, boss.”
“Then I’m saying.” He remained hunkered where he was, smiled at Olive again, and turned his face toward the sheet.
The lens on the projection machine lit up and glowed as soon as Al Coffey thumbed a toggle switch; an illuminated white square, flecked with squirming dust motes, appeared on the bed sheet. Smoothly, Al turned the side crank. A small, rectangular piece of slate, the kind that children used to write on in one-room schoolhouses, filled most of the projection area; on it, in chalk, was printed: “Redman’s Revenge,” then, below that, “Scene 9A,” and finally, today’s date:” 7/21/15.”
Now Al Coffey himself, wearing fringed buckskin and a gun belt and holster, was sitting cross-legged on the ground by a campfire; an enameled coffee pot was perched on one of the blackened round stones surrounding it. Al was smoking a long pipe. Olive recognized the rocky outcrop behind him; if you climbed it and stood at the top, you’d have an unobstructed view of the maritime traffic on Newark Bay and the cranes and wharves of Port Newark. But carefully framed as it was, the setting could pass well enough for the Western frontier. “We were just over beyond West 36th Street,” Bill whispered, and Olive barely nodded.
Abruptly, Frontiersman Al leapt to his feet and drew his six-gun. Then the screen went blinding white, another slate appeared, this one with only the scene number changed—“9B”—and now they were all watching a young Indian brave concealed behind a wide oak and raising a repeating rifle, drawing a bead, set to fire.
“Is that Dwight Lees in a wig?” said Olive.
“I’m not sure I know the boy’s name,” said Bill.
“Yeah, that’s Dwight,” said Al Coffey.
“He lives in my neighborhood,” said Olive. “I saw him just yesterday.” Indeed: after Charlie Gillick had clobbered the man who’d shot Olive and Mary Margaret, and indirectly caused the death of baby Tim, young Dwight Lees had held the villain prisoner at gunpoint. “He’s a stock boy at Steinke’s Hardware.”
“Well, this morning he was an Indian brave,” said Bill.
“And wearing his class ring.”
“I’ll be damned,” said Bud Bleach, “he is! Good eye, there, miss!”
Bill clutched at a clump of side hair and pulled. “He’s wearing his class ring!”
“Ah,” said Al Coffey, cranking, cranking, “nobody’s gonna notice.”
“Yeah, but Olive’s a special kind of girl—isn’t that what you’ve been telling us every day, boss?”
“Oh, shut up,” said Bill, and even in the dimness, Olive could tell he was blushing.
On the bed sheet, Dwight Lees in wig, war paint, and leather pants (but no shirt) fired his rifle. A puff of white smoke bloomed from the muzzle.
And so it went, more of the same, for the next three or four minutes—Indian braves in loin cloths and moccasins racing through the woods, all clumped together like a track team; Al firing his pistol from behind a lichen-covered boulder (Olive knew exactly where that was), and then being conked on the head by a couple of war clubs; Bud Bleach as the Grand Sachem gesturing ominously toward Al after he was dragged into the Indian camp and flung down at Bud’s bare and bunioned feet. From time to time Bill Harrigan would grunt with satisfaction (those shaking leaves looked like silver coins—that was providential!), or draw a sharp breath at something that displeased him—a butterfly hovering around Bud’s feathered headdress, glare dancing along a knife blade, a Hershey bar wrapper wheeling and bouncing in a little breeze, snagging on a teepee stake. But finally, and well beyond the point when Olive’s attention had flagged into catalepsy, Bill said, “Here we come now,” and the scripted hokum was superseded, after a moment or two of shivering white light, by a surging mass of cloth caps, cheap derbies, and dark jackets, an automobile tumbled over onto its side, and a high, white-washed fortress wall. “That’s looking east down Twenty-second Street,” said Bill. “We managed to get the camera up three flights to the roof.”
“Who managed?” said Al Coffey.
“You were at the Standard?” said Olive, leaning forward. “What were you doing there?”
“At first I thought I knew—some Hearst boys hired us to shoot newsreel after the cops busted their camera—but now I’m not sure I’m going to sell it to them.”
“But why not?”
Bill clapped his hands together; he was standing directly behind Olive now, and she jumped. “Are you seeing this? Holy—!”
The strikers who’d been milling in the street practically shoulder-to-shoulder all broke and ran suddenly, while armed men, none of them in company uniforms, came pouring out of the Standard works by a side entrance. “Strikebreakers,” said Bill. “Mercenaries.” The smoke from the barrels of their rifles and sidearms was less foamy-white and pictorial than what spurted from Bill Harrigan’s property guns, and it drifted, gauzy, disappearing rapidly, rather than billowed.
“Bill, you could’ve got yourselves killed!”
“Can say that again, miss,” said Bud Bleach; he’d stood up from the divan and was standing now beside the projector for a closer look while Al kept cranking, his speed and rhythm unvarying. “One of the company guards on the parapet spotted us and started firing. The lousy shit! Please excuse the language.”
All told, there was about a minute and a half of good, in-focus documentary footage of that morning’s street riot outside the Standard wall; Olive realized she was involuntarily gasping every few moments, whenever she’d isolate an incident in the fray—a club connecting with a skull, a woman clutching her shoulder and then staggering, a workingman feinting with a pitchfork till he was piled on, overtaken, and went down on the cobblestones underneath five or six burly, pummeling mercenaries.
Then, again, the screen went blinding white.
“That all of it?” said Bill.
“There’s some footage at the very end of the reel,” said Al Coffey, still cranking. “This here is when we had to get off the roof quick!”
“They were really pouring it on us, miss,” said Bud Bleach. “I heard one of their rounds go by my head like a bumblebee.” He held forefinger over thumb, separated by an inch. “This goddamn close. Please excuse the language.”
Olive turned her head to check on Bill; he was rubbing his chin. He looked far away. She returned her attention to the blank screen, waiting.
“It’s not a lot, boss,” said Al. “Just what you shot from that front porch. Thirty seconds maybe.”
“That’s all right,” said Bill. He put a hand on Olive’s shoulder. “I set up the camera again when we got downstairs and caught one of the strikebreakers being chased. But then we had to vamoose—a couple of city cops saw us, and if it hadn’t been for the crowd, they would’ve got us and wrecked our camera.”
“How could they do that? Bill, they couldn’t do that! It’s your property.”
She didn’t look, she wouldn’t look, and she hoped she was wrong, but Olive felt almost certain that Bill Harrigan was smiling thinly, sardonically, amused by her naiveté. Whenever he did that, made her feel young and artless, Olive wanted to slap Bill’s face. She never had, and she didn’t now, but she wished she could it take back, what she’d just said, because—because it was so artless and naïve. Hadn’t Bill already told her the cops had damaged the movie camera belonging to the Hearst reporters?
Bill said, “Oh yes, that’s good!” and she realized the picture footage had resumed: chased by a handful of strikers armed with bats, pipe, and at least one pistol, a tall, brawny man in a gray-tone shirt and dark whipcord trousers was fleeing on a diagonal, sprinting away from the Standard—splashing through ditch water, arms flailing, and then clambering up a tall, cone-shaped hill of black cinders. Instantly, something was…familiar… very familiar about the man, his thick mop of pale hair, those broad shoulders, the way his shirt strained across them and across his bulging upper arms; but she couldn’t see his face. He started burrowing into the cinder heap, flinging cloudy handfuls behind him, digging like a dog. Finally, he glanced over a shoulder, to see how close behind his pursuers were.
That’s when Olive stood up and clapped a hand over her mouth.
The last several feet of film whipped off the projector’s feed reel and fluttered noisily—tack-tack-tack-tack—on the take-up reel; when Al Coffey flicked down the toggle, the machine’s lamp went dark.
“Olive?” Bill walked around in front of her, inclined his head, looked worriedly at her wide-open eyes. “What’s the matter?”
She pointed at the bed sheet. “That was…that man in the cinders, that was King Touey!”
“The bastard!” Swinging her chin over a shoulder, glancing at Bud Bleach, and feeling immensely self-satisfied, Olive added, “Please excuse the language.”
Because Li’l Andiron’s Hollier was an open model and it was raining buckets with no sign of letting up, they drove out, around eleven o’clock, in a Studebaker E.M.T. wagon that a yeggman called “Shovel Jaw” Steve Bankston had borrowed from his father-in-law without bothering to ask permission; Li’l Andiron lent Bankston a slicker to run over to Cottage Street, crank up the machine, and then motor it back to the “hideout,” what everybody in the gang was calling the ramshackle Irons house on Orient Street, much to King Touey’s derision.
There were five of them going to Pearl Bergoff’s mansion at Ninth Street and the Hudson Boulevard, and before they left for the job, they’d all convened in Mrs. Iron’s well-lit reading room on the first floor; Mrs. Irons, complaining of eye-strain, had gone upstairs to bed an hour ago. Li’l Andiron dragged in a slat-sided peach crate full of guns. “Make your selections, gentlemen.”
“Me too?” said King.
“I considered that,” said Li’l Andiron, “and yeah, you too. I’m going to trust you.”
“Big mistake, Andy,” said King helping himself to a chancy-looking Colt with a chunk of wood missing from the grip.
“I’m sure you’ve been told this many times before, but honest to God? You’re a fucking asshole.” Li’l Andiron then doled out ammunition to everyone from a burlap clothespin sack with a color picture on one side of a plump Negro washerwoman wearing a polka-dot kerchief. “And I expect to get it all back,” said Li’l Andiron. “No shooting, for crine out loud.”
King Touey, who’d been a sneering naysayer all afternoon and evening as Li’l Andiron carefully laid out the plan, once again made a florid production of shaking his head and rolling his eyes. “And you think the General is just gonna open his safe without a fight?” King puffed disgustedly. “Dream on, Andy, dream on.”
“We don’t need him to open any safe,” said Li’l Andiron, beyond the limit of his patience but exercising testy restraint. “Your ears got wax in ’em or something?”
“No wax in my ears, pal. I heard all about the ‘Filipino houseboy.’” He looked around at the other men in the room; besides Joe Bloodgood and “Shovel Jaw” Steve Bankston, there was Dim Rasmussen and John Funk; during his boxing career, King Touey had sparred often with Dim, and he knew John Funk since Funk used to be Dim’s manager. He’d never met Bankston before today and gathered he was from somewhere in Essex County. When King had everyone’s eyes upon him, he said, contemptuously and from the side of his mouth, “Filipino houseboy! You’re hanging this whole thing on a Filipino houseboy?” To the others again: “He’s hanging this entire business on a Filipino houseboy.”
Li’l Andiron’s pale face was growing red. He snatched up a slip of paper from the piecrust table and waved it back and forth. “I’m hanging the whole thing on this, asshole! This!”
“And what’s that? A bunch of numbers.”
“It’s the combination to Bergoff’s safe, how many times I need to tell you?”
“Says you it’s the combination.” King put both arms out straight and then lunged them, fractionally: What can you do about a moron like this? “Pearl Bergoff don’t let Filipino houseboys watch him open his safe—and I don’t care if he was supposed to be dusting! It’s the bunk.”
“It’s the combination, is what it is. Christ. You believe this turkey?” But the other men were all beginning to look at each other from the ends of their eyes, and to shuffle their feet, to stick their hands in their pockets; if this lasted much longer, the grab would collapse. “I’m telling you, this is the combination.” He looked at the piece of paper again, then passed it, almost ceremonially, to “Shovel Jaw” Steve.
“And I’m telling you, you’re being awful trusting. If this houseboy got the combination, whyn’t he just open the safe himself and be on his merry way?”
“Because he knew he’d get caught, that’s why. Jesus. He came to me, we made a deal, he gave his notice at Bergoff’s and sailed home a week ago. He’s flush and above suspicion.”
“How much you pay him for it?”
“Is that any of your business?”
“He’s flush, above suspicion, and you can’t get your midget hands on him when his ‘combination’ turns out to be a lot of hooey. As far as I’m concerned, I personally don’t like it.”
“That’s too damn bad. I coulda shot you, King. I probably should’ve. Instead, I give you this opportunity—”
“This golden opportunity.”
“Maybe King’s got a point,” said Dim Rasmussen. He dressed like a dandy: striped silk shirt with fresh collar and cuffs, a dark-orange jacket, charcoal trousers, and cloth-topped shoes. He spoiled the sophisticate effect, though, by keeping his derby on indoors. “I’m not saying he does, just maybe.”
His former manager nodded and shrugged.
If it hadn’t been for “Shovel Jaw” Steve (whose jaw, by the way, seemed perfectly normal to King Touey), the whole scheme might’ve been scrapped; but right at the point when even young Joe Bloodgood was frowning, inclining toward King’s point of view, “Shovel Jaw” took a step away from the wall where he’d been leaning and said, “The combination stinks, I blow the fucking safe. That’s my specialty, gentlemen, so if there’s no further objections, let’s do this thing. I don’t want to get home too late, my daughter’s getting her tonsils out in the morning.”
“Thank you, Steve. At least one of yiz monkeys don’t have a problem with splittin’ a hundred g’s six ways.”
Instantly, the advantage swung back to Li’l Andiron, who leered at King Touey, who in turn laughed brightly and said, “Well, if that’s the way it is.” He considered one further challenge—And how do you know there’s really a hundred g’s in the goddamn safe?—but it would’ve been pointless ball busting: Pearl Bergoff, “King of the Strikebreakers,” did actually keep a lot of lucre on hand. It said as much in a newspaper cutting that Li’l Andiron had waved around when he’d initially pitched the job to everyone late that afternoon. The story was several weeks old and had appeared in the Bayonne Times—about how nobly civic-minded Bergoff had become since making the city his permanent residence and converting to Catholicism at the behest of his wife. Specifically, the story reported how Bergoff had invited officers of the Red Cross to a luncheon in his opulent new home (3 stories, 16 rooms, gabled roof, front and side porches, garage, and plentiful shrubbery: all duly noted); after lunch, he brought everyone into his office, where he spun open the door to his steel safe and, to much applause from the guests, fetched out a twenty-five-thousand-dollar cash donation. The reporter had asked him wasn’t he nervous about keeping such a lot of money on the premises, and Bergoff had grinned, simply grinned while brushing back his sport jacket to reveal a Bisley revolver in a tooled-leather holster. That was how the article ended, with that gun and that grin and that gesture. King could confirm that the man indeed carried a side arm at all times; God knows, he’d been around the crude prick often enough to know it.
After a final review of the plan, Li’l Andiron gave everyone a black hood with eyeholes cut out, and at last they’d left the house. Except for Steve Bankston, who used the umbrella again, everyone was dripping wet, clothes sodden, by the time they scrambled into the E.M.T. wagon, King taking his seat in the back, sitting cramped between Joe Bloodgood and John Funk. “Shovel Jaw” Steve sat up front, and Dim Rasmussen drove. “That’s too bad about your daughter, Steve,” said John Funk. He was one of those men who always had an unlit cigar in his mouth; he’d taken it out to speak, now he put it back.
“They’ll give her a lot of ice cream, she’ll be fine.”
“Twelve. Almost thirteen.”
“You’ll be in for it pretty soon, then, Dad. Boys’ll be knocking down your front door.”
“Let ’em try.”
“Hey hey hey hey hey,” said King, “what is this, the Knights of Columbus? If you fellers don’t mind, maybe we should concentrate on what we’re doing.”
“You? Concentrate?” said Dim Rasmussen. “Since when’d you learn how to do that, King?”
“Fuck you. Fuck your face. And fuck the rotten teeth I knocked outta your stupid mouth.”
Everybody laughed, even King.
On lower Broadway the corner sewers had backed up, and crossing at Sixth Street, the E.M.T. floated for several seconds before its tires found traction again. There was a clap of thunder, a flash of lightning, and Joe Bloodgood muttered, “What a soak.”
“This is a bullshit job,” said King after a while. “If it wasn’t that he’d a shot me if I didn’t come along, I wouldna come. Andy Irons is a dimwit.”
“Shot you?” said John Funk after removing his cigar from his mouth again. “I’m surprised you still got all your fingers, the way you were givin’ him the needle.”
King smirked. “You know what? I think it’s a whole lot of stuff and nonsense. I don’t think Li’l Andiron ever bit off anybody’s fingers. It’s a load of crap. I was watching him before, and I don’t know if you guys noticed or not, but the little fuck keeps his lips together when he talks.”
“So what? Lot of people do,” said Dim Rasmussen. “I do.”
“Exactly! And you know why? Because you got no fucking teeth! Same as Andy!”
“You don’t know that he don’t,” said Joe Bloodgood.
“Yeah, and I don’t know that he does, either—cause he never shows ’em! I think it’s all bullshit. Biting off fingers. Bullshit!”
“Your gamble, King,” said John Funk. “Cause maybe he does, and maybe he did, like everybody says.”
“I thought,” said “Shovel Jaw” Steve, “that we were supposed to be concentrating on the job.”
“You concentrate on the job,” said King. “I’m telling you it’s stupid. It’s never gonna happen.”
“With that attitude, no,” said John Funk.
“And you’re all gonna get shot tryin’,” said King.
“Oh, but not you?” said “Shovel Jaw” Steve.
King didn’t reply: he pressed his fingertips to his eyebrows and closed his eyes.
“Stop the car, Dim.”
“Why?” Dim looked over at “Shovel Jaw” Steve, then right away glanced back to the street ahead; they were passing through the intersection at Avenue C. “What’s the matter?” He kept driving. The next north-south thoroughfare was the Hudson County Boulevard; he’d be taking a right-turn there, then just three more numbered streets, and they’d arrive at Pearl Bergoff’s house.
“King don’t like this job? He don’t have to do it. Four’s enough, we don’t need him. Pull over.”
“You really want me to?”
King had opened his eyes and, as a smirk broke wide across his face, he looked from Steve to Dim, Dim to Steve.
Beside him, a hammer cocked, and when King slightly turned his head, the long barrel of Joe Bloodgood’s revolver hovered three inches from King’s nose. “Keep driving, Dim,” said Bloodgood, “we do this as planned.”
“My sentiments exactly,” said King Touey, then he shut down his smirk and rubbed a hand slowly across his jaw.
Whenever the top bells on the long case telephone rang stridulously in the night—after Liz Landrigan had locked the front and back doors and closed up downstairs, done her toilette and changed into her nainsook chemise and a boudoir cap; after she’d gone and checked that there was no light seeping out from under Patsy’s bedroom door; after she’d knelt and said her prayers, then climbed into bed, and turned off her bedside lamp—whenever the house was entirely dark and quiet and that damnable telephone rang its bells, Liz clutched up inside with tingling cold dread; she had goose pimples.
When her mother had left Our Patsy alone to fend for himself, just abandoned the poor soul and ran off, out of state, with Jack Cure—the call to Liz had come around midnight from a worried neighbor who’d seen Patsy sitting alone on the porch rocker striking matches and tossing them over the rail into the rose bushes; whenever King had been arrested—twice for disorderly conduct, once for drunkenly smashing a plate window, once for beating a man with a barstool—she’d been notified by the police deep in the middle of the night. And when Michael passed away in Bayonne Hospital, Liz got the call just as she’d been falling asleep.
Tonight when the bells sounded (at 11:16, according to the radium-dial alarm clock) she’d been lying sleepless in bed for an hour, at least an hour, listening to the storm and berating herself for ever having committed adultery with Johnny Gillick (more accurately, he’d committed adultery while she’d fornicated; still more accurately, it wasn’t adultery, it was fellatio); berating herself and simultaneously trying to formulate the right words to break off their illicit relationship (“…always be friends…”) as well as trying to find the safest phrasing to use on Saturday afternoon to describe her mortal sins so that she wouldn’t swoon and pass out from utter humiliation in the confessional box (“…impure thoughts and deeds, three times,” possibly inserted murmurously between “uncharitable behavior, four times” and “wasted good food, twice”). Liz sprang away from her pillows and sat up in the bed, her right hand automatically clutching at her heart. Could she ignore it? Yes. No—she had her faults, she never said otherwise, but she wasn’t a coward, and besides, if she let the box go on ringing, Patsy would come down and answer it, and Liz certainly didn’t want that to happen. She put on the lamp, then stretched and grabbed her night robe from across the foot of the bed.
After she’d finally padded barefooted out into the hall and lifted the earpiece from the side prong, she was breathless and dizzy, fully bracing for calamitous news of some storm-related accident. But an accident involving whom? “Hello?” said Liz. She sounded hoarse.
“Liz, it’s Charlie. Charlie Gillick. Am I calling too late?”
“Charlie? Is something wrong? Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, just fine. Sorry if I put you on the anxious seat—did I?”
“You most certainly did.” With delicious relief, she slumped against the wall. “It’s after eleven o’clock.”
“I guess I didn’t realize. I apologize. You go on back to bed, Liz.”
“Well, that’s silly, I’m wide awake now. What’s so important you’re calling me at this time of night?”
“I uh—well, it’s not important. I just wanted to say thank you for being so terribly nice to me this afternoon. I shouldn’t have just come over like that.”
“No, of course you should’ve, I’m only glad I was home. Are you feeling all right?”
That provoked in Liz full-throated, delighted laughter. “Never better!” Oh Charlie, you goose. That afternoon, he’d ended up irking her, disappointing her, what with all of the self-deprecation, the self-loathing, the defeatism that he’d expressed while his head lay cradled on his folded arms at her kitchen table. Nothing she’d said to him could dispel his mood. Now he was her sweet, adorable Charlie again. “Never better,” indeed; Liz was quite certain a body doesn’t heal in twelve hours after a beating like the one taken today at the Hook.
“What’s all that noise?” she asked then.
“Oh, it’s just a bunch of state troopers playing cards in the kitchen. Nice guys. They invited me to sit in while I waited, but I’m pretty hopeless at poker. I can never keep track of anything, like you’re supposed to, and people always can tell when I have a good hand. Or a bad one for that matter.”
“I’m sure they can,” said Liz, then she asked, “Why are there state troopers in your kitchen?”
“Not my kitchen, I’m at the Governor’s summer house, in Deal.”
“Drove down here in the rain and everything!”
“I’m assuming that you mean you drove Gene Kinkaid there.”
“Yes, that’s what I mean. He’s conferring with the Governor. I hope they don’t take too much longer, though, I’m bushed.”
“You must be. Are you driving back tonight?”
“Unfortunately, yes. Be nice if the Governor offered to put us up, but I don’t think—”
“Is it still raining there?”
“Cats and dogs.”
“Well, you be extra careful driving back, ask somebody there for a cup of coffee.”
“Oh, there’s plenty of coffee. I’ve been drinking it all evening.”
“Have you met the Governor?”
“No, but his house is really nice. I saw his wife.”
“Liz? There was—there’s something else I called to tell you.”
That caused another pang deep pang in Liz’s stomach—but she wasn’t sure what kind. Was it a guilty pang; was she afraid Charlie had seen something today at the house…a glance, a secret smile, a glint of carnality…pass between her and Johnny Gillick? Did Charlie suspect their intrigue; was that the “something else” he’d call to tell her? Or was it an anxiety pang; was Liz afraid that Charlie was going to say something…amatory, something that quickly would embarrass the both of them. She’d long known he was sweet on her, but it would be awful, just horrible, if by telling her so now, by declaring his love after all of this time, he were to ruin what Liz, to herself only, referred to as their “special friendship.” Their chaste, static, and beautiful special friendship. “Oh?” she said. “Something else? And what is that, Charlie?”
“It’s…well, you know how I said I deserved what happened to me this morning because of what I did yesterday?”
“To the man who shot the Ince girls, you mean?”
“Yes! That I hit him too hard and…and because I did, what happened to me at the Hook today was kind of like a, like a punishment. But I just wanted to let you know that I don’t feel the same way anymore.”
“Well, that was quick!”
“I was an ignoramus.”
“You were, were you?”
Michael, don’t be an ignoramus.
“Yes. Yes, I was! I’m a policeman. That wop shot two women and caused a baby’s death—I had every right to hit him on the head, and as hard as I felt like. And what happened to me today, it had nothing to do with that. Nothing! I didn’t deserve any punishment.” Charlie paused, as if waiting for Liz to make some response; when she did not, he cleared his throat (in the background, the state troopers were laughing uproariously; one of them suddenly said the name Theda Bara), and told her, “That’s kind of why I called you so late. To say thank you and to tell you that. Since it’s been preying on my mind.”
“It has.” Deliberately making it a statement, not a question.
“Yes. And I was afraid you’d think…poorly of me. And that I was an ignoramus.”
“Charlie, I’d never think that. But can I ask you something? How’d it happen you came to think so—differently?”
“I guess I just kept mulling things over till…you know.”
“I see.” Like grabbing a cat by the scruff of its neck, Liz bunched the yoke of her night robe in her free hand. She released, and let her hand drop.
“Still here. Sorry.”
“You’re probably falling asleep on your feet. Why don’t I let you get back to bed?”
“One more minute. So…how are you and the Sheriff getting on?” If Charlie had been there in person instead of on the wire, he would’ve seen Liz Landrigan’s expression turn waspish. Nothing in her tone suggested as much, however.
` “We’re getting on great!”
“Glad to hear it.”
“He’s tough as nails.”
“Yes,” said Liz.
“But he’s also very fair.”
“Oh, is he?”
“Why would you say it like that? Of course, he is! He even told the strikers that he’s sympathetic to all their demands.”
“And did he tell the same thing to the Standard Oil people—do you happen to know?”
“Liz! He wouldn’t do that! He’s just trying to keep the peace.”
“I’m sure that’s true.”
“It is true!”
“Charlie, I’ve known Gene Kinkaid for a lot of years, and he has a number of very good qualities, but you need to remember something: he’s a politician.”
“He’s the Sheriff of Hudson County!”
“This month he is, yes. And three months ago he was in the House of Representatives. He’s a politician first and foremost, young man, and he’s in the business of telling people what they want to hear.”
“Don’t call me that.”
“‘Young man.’ You didn’t have to—stick that in there.”
“I meant nothing by it.”
“Charlie! Don’t be annoyed.”
“I’m not.” But she knew that he was, or at least that his feelings were hurt. “Well, I should be going. They said I could use the telephone here, but I don’t want to run up a huge bill.”
“I’m sure the Governor won’t mind. It was nice of you to call me.”
“I hope so.”
“It was! Don’t be like that—please? Good night, Charlie.”
“Oh Charlie—Charlie, wait!” Don’t, she told herself. Don’t say it. You don’t have to. It’s unnecessary. “Charlie?”
“If it makes you feel any better in retrospect, or less…reproached, you might like to know that Gene Kinkaid called my husband an ignoramus, too.” She pronged the earpiece before Charlie’s reply, if any. It could still make her bristle, all these many years later, remembering the evening Michael came home from a Labor Day picnic the local Democratic clubs had sponsored during Gene Kinkaid’s run for Congress; Liz hadn’t attended since she was pregnant (she’d been pregnant twice during their marriage, and had miscarried both times in the fourth month). As one of Kinkaid’s campaign managers, Michael had gone over the draft of his candidate’s speech earlier that morning and suggested strongly that he add a line or two criticizing—wittily, of course—the growing power of the Hague organization in Jersey City, an organization that quietly but unflaggingly opposed Gene Kinkaid’s nomination. But instead of adding a single-sentence swipe at Frank Hague, Kinkaid had added a full paragraph of praise. “Michael,” he’d said, “don’t be an ignoramus. Let everybody think you’re their friend, it makes it easier later to put an ax in their head.” Ax in their head! Liz was furious when she’d heard that Gene Kinkaid said such a thing, but she was especially livid that he’d chided Michael Landrigan in a roomful of other men. Michael being Michael just laughed it off, but later, upon reflection, he came to believe that Kinkaid was right. Let everyone think you’re their friend for as long as possible made for damn good politics. Maybe so, but even so Liz had never forgiven Gene Kinkaid.
Climbing back into her bed, with renewed volleys of thunder booming to the west, Liz felt still another pang in her midsection, but this time she knew at once what kind it was: fear—an egocentric fear that her special friend had found someone he admired more than he admired her, and what would that mean?
She pulled the sheet up to her chin, held it there in both fists, and gave a tired sigh.
In the morning, come hell or high water, she was breaking off things with Johnny Gillick.
When the next thought came, and it was her last conscious thought before Liz drifted to sleep, it passed coolly but troublingly, through her mind: That’s the least I can do for my sweet boy Charlie.
King Touey was no deep thinker; reasoning, strategizing, and self-examination—of his behavior, his motives, the source of his blanket antagonism toward the world at large—were as rare in his brainwork as double yolks in a chicken egg. Rare but not unknown. And, in truth, he wasn’t a stupid man; his boxing, for example, had been as canny and shrewd as it had been annihilating and sure-footed. He’d done some carpentry as a boy (a tree house, a rabbit hutch, a soap-box racer, a ladder for his earliest second-story jobs), and done it all well, and he was good at card games, including canasta, whist, and bridge. (His sister Lizzie had patiently taught him those.) Despite going no further in school than the sixth grade, he was a competent reader; at the very least he’d glance through a newspaper nearly every day, and as he’d told the dubious Mrs. Irons, he often read novels to pass the time if not exactly for pleasure. But a deep thinker? No, and thus on those uncommon occasions when some pertinent abstraction or relevant metaphor flashed in King Touey’s sullen mind, our man took notice, as startled and perturbed by it as he would’ve been to wake up in the dark and discover a ghost floating at the foot of his bed.
Seven years ago, a month or two after his father had fallen from the roof he was shingling on Humphreys Avenue and broken his neck, King was bouncing a tennis ball mindlessly off his porch steps, bouncing and catching it, when he noticed, several yards away, near his mother’s beloved lilac shrub, a small grackle gorging savagely on the carcass of a much larger one: in that moment, King was infused with inexplicable shame. Inexplicable, that is, till he remembered being left alone briefly with his dead father after several men from the neighborhood—including Jack Cure, his mother’s lover, as it later turned out—had carried him home and laid him out in his bed. The men had all gone downstairs then, but King remained in his parent’s room studying the corpse, the horrible way its mouth hung open, and how the neck was twisted at an impossible angle. King felt nothing but revulsion, and then—rashly, numbly—he’d gripped hold of his father’s shoulder with one hand, his right, and rolled the body onto its side; with his left hand, he swiftly removed his father’s wallet from the back pocket of his corduroy trousers, filched out all but two dollars of the cash from the money fold, then put the wallet back and left the room. What he’d done that afternoon had never bothered him (at the time he’d owed a debt it would’ve been unwise to welsh on); he’d never even given it a second thought—till months later when he’d seen those two grackles on his front lawn, the dead one and the live one. Then it did bother him, but only for a few seconds. Then it never bothered him again. But for those few seconds he’d likened himself to the small grackle; he’d seen the parallel, recognized the metaphor.
In the late spring of 1912, King went into Manhattan, to an office building downtown near City Hall Park, for his job interview with Pearl Bergoff. On the walk back to the ferry he decided to take in the new Woolworth Building, which recently had opened. At 792 feet tall, the so-called “Cathedral of Commerce” was the largest habitable building in the world, and King felt like riding an elevator to the roof, having a good look-see. But he’d been so openly shocked by what he saw, by how small, how insignificant, everyone appeared down below on Park Place and Broadway that the color drained from his face. (Another sightseer standing close by was afraid King might’ve been experiencing vertigo, even nausea, and asked if he needed assistance. King, typically, had replied, “Mind your own business, dub, or I’ll throw you over the railing!”) Now, there was an abstraction, a metaphor, that stuck tenaciously: we’re all fucking ants, fucking fleas, and worth about as much in the grand scheme of things!
And then just last fall—October 1914—King had traveled to Chicago with Bergoff’s army to break a surface-car strike, a breeze of a job that took considerably less than a week to finish. After the two-dollar-a-day mercenaries had all been shipped back to New York City in box cars and coal tenders, King abruptly decided to make a side trip to Evanston before heading back east himself. Why Evanston? Because during his short time in Chicago he’d grown addicted to a particular milk-chocolate bar manufactured by a candy company in Evanston; since the ludicrously named “Brown Hen” bars weren’t available outside of Illinois, King had had a vague idea of showing up at the factory and buying a gross of them, two gross even, at a good discount. He’d take a bunch for himself, then sell off the rest to shitbird strikebreakers at the next job.
As it turned out, he made it to Evanston, but not to the candy company. En route there, a fat man wearing a buffalo-plaid suit and reeking of a floral cologne sat down beside King on the omnibus. Unable to restrain himself, King made a foolish wisecrack (sniffing the air he told the guy that he smelled like a rose bush), whereupon the fat man pulled out a sap and whacked King on the crown of his head. Next thing King knew he was waking up in a hospital ward with his skull wrapped in a white bandage. There, he got the Urge for one of the nurses, a Swedish girl with a short, straight nose, dimples, and round cheeks. But she misunderstood the nature of his interest (she didn’t speak great English), and upon his release, she took him home and introduced him to her parents as her fiancé. Well, fuck that shit, King beat it out of there quick, and having entirely forgotten about the Brown Hen candy bars by that time, he went on a toot that lasted ten days (one of those days and two of those nights he spent in a drunk tank) and culminated in a craps game that relieved him of all but two of the nearly three thousand dollars he’d earned nobling at the surface-car strike.
At last, he found himself in a tavern where he exchanged his last two singles for eight marbles and a crack at winning the hundred-dollar payout in a bagatelle tournament. The small tables, with inclined playfields studded with irregular rows and ranks of metal pegs, were set atop the bar, and you fired your marbles with a coiled-spring plunger. They bounced from peg to peg to peg till they eventually sank into holes with scores attached. King, who’d never played before, or even seen a table quite like it, was informed by the other players that it was a game of skill, but he wasn’t buying. Serendipity was more like it; idiot luck. And as he worked the plunger—sometimes pulling it all the way back, sometimes only half-way back, sometimes, even, just punching it with the heel of his hand—as he worked his plunger and followed the bouncing, caroming progress of each marble to its ultimate destination—Zero! Zero! 50! Zero!—King had a remarkably astute (and he knew it, too) insight not only about his character but about the nature of his entire existence, as well: he was like one of those fucking marbles! He was! But he was also like the fucking plunger, too. Shooting himself into crazy situations day after day and then bouncing off everything that he hit, just bouncing, rebounding, recoiling, ricocheting until—well, until he ended up either in the jackpot or the shit hole, usually the shit hole. But not that night in Evanston: his last marble, wobbling, wobbling, finally dropped into the 500-point bonus hole, and King collected his pot, taking the first train east the following morning, splurging on a Pullman.
Now, more than nine months later, as King and his four companions were pulling on black hoods in the Studebaker-E.M.T. wagon, John Funk, who just couldn’t leave the topic alone, casually suggested to Steve Bankston that he consider buying a present for his daughter after her tonsillectomy, a nice new doll, say, or a stereopticon, or even a game she could play while recuperating, Parcheesi, maybe, or Chinese checkers, and King Touey actually flinched, recalling that bagatelle table, that tavern tournament, that mystic insight. Jesus. Jesus Christ, he thought, crushing the hood in a fist, look at me, look where I am, look what I’m doing! This morning he was bored, bored with loafing around inside the Standard works, so what did he do—what did he impulsively do, as Liz would’ve put it? Gathered a bunch of syphilitic, alky louts and rampaged out of the stockade. Another bounce, another richochet, one more recoil. Suddenly he was being chased by a handful of murderous strikers and digging his way into a hill of cinders! Bounce! recoil! ricochet!—and then he was following Our Patsy’s mangy Cat of Ashes all around the city of Bayonne; Kull Road, Lord Avenue, Fifth Street, First Street. Caroming like a marble off a metal peg, then another peg, and another. Stealing dungarees from a clothesline, pulling shoes off a dead man’s feet, traipsing along Newark Bay, trudging up to the train station. A fucking marble, with as much intention. And now this, now here, now here he was about to break into a mansion and rob the runty son of a bitch that he worked for!
All because he was bored this morning.
All because he was a fucking marble.
“You coming, King?” said Joe Bloodgood; he was outside of the car already, standing in the pouring rain, sticking his hooded head back into the automobile.
This is bullshit, said King to himself, bullshit, and without thinking about it further, just feeling like it, he picked up his Colt and shot Joe Bloodgood, twice. John Funk, who’d exited the car on the opposite side and closed the door after him, gave a high-pitched scream, and then King shot him, too, firing through the window. Dim Rasmussen, still behind the wheel, froze with both hands on his black hood and the black hood covering only the top half of his face. “King?” he said, and King shot him as well, in the throat. “Shovel Jaw” Steve Bankston in the meantime had flung open the front passenger-side door and started running south on the Hudson County Boulevard. King rolled out of the wagon and ran after him for maybe ten feet, no more, then stopped and aimed and fired, and Bankston went down flailing in a big puddle.
Inside the Bergoff mansion, lights were coming on upstairs and down.