“I tell you the past is a bucket of ashes.”
— Carl Sandburg
EPISODE ONE: Heroine, Hero & Villain
(Posted on May 28, 2013)
At first Olive remained vigilant and took sensible precautions. After experiencing something like that—after that monkey face she’d met just twice, neither time a proper date, suddenly demanded, not asked, mind you, demanded, her hand in holy matrimony, she most certainly did. I love you, Olive, marry me tomorrow! And all the rest of it. The big cake had some crust! And when Olive, naturally, said, “Go on, get lost, you must be off your nut,” he threatened to hang a bust in her teeth and swore he’d get even, see if he didn’t. “You’ll be sorry, Miss High and Mighty Olive Ince!” Well, of course, following a melodrama like that, any young girl with brains would look both ways henceforward and hook the occasional glance over a shoulder, stay on the alert, and Olive Ince was a young girl with more than her fair share of brains. On those evenings when she worked late, she would ask a boy clerk, but never the same boy twice in a row, she didn’t want any of them getting ideas, to please escort her home, and she keyed the lock and slotted the chain as soon as she closed her door.
EPISODE TWO: Cat of Ashes
(Posted on August 3, 2013)
In the midst of the sortie that morning, day two of the labor situation over at the Standard works, King Touey had managed to get separated from his own and was now in serious jeopardy. Howling in half a dozen languages, none of them English, angry strikers had knocked him down on a track spur of the Jersey Central, beside an isolated caboose. Someone grabbed his rifle, then they’d all landed kicks to the side of his head and cauliflowered his fucking ear! While he’d rolled and scrambled under the caboose, then jumped to his feet on the other side and taken off running, he hadn’t looked where he was going, in which direction, and blundered into a swamp at the end of East Twenty-Second Street. Now he was sliding on a steep decline of coarse, nicking cinders, unwilling, his arms flailing. He splashed to his calves into a ditch used for drawing off waste oil. He felt like he was standing in mucilage.
EPISODE THREE, Part One: Harrigan, That’s Him
(Posted on September 29, 2013)
At about the time King Touey was following the Cat of Ashes across West First Street, a motorized ambulance—a white-painted Model T Ford with an elongated chassis—was headed uptown on the east side of Bayonne, rolling on pneumatic tires that by a miracle had not been slashed back at the Hook. The windscreen was shattered. A side-mounted bell had been crushed at the waist, and the canopy of painted canvas stretched over the back shell was pitted with bullet holes.
Between Thirtieth and Thirty-First streets, the ambulance turned precipitately left across Avenue E, almost tipping. It bounced over the high curb, shot across the block pavement and braked, shuddering, on a green behind the City Hospital and Dispensary. The driver took a deep fortifying breath before twisting half-way around in his seat to glare at the two policemen. Both sat dazed on the floor behind him with their shoulders braced against slats. The older cop was a captain named Daniel Freel. The younger one, homely and weak-chinned and with a red knot swelling above his right eyebrow, was patrolman Charles Gillick—Charlie! He leaned forward and managed a pallid smile. “God bless you, sir.”
EPISODE THREE, Part Two: Harrigan, That’s Him
(Posted on November 2, 2013)
When Olive Ince emerged from her sister’s bedroom, she was amazed to see how many visitors had showed up for baby Tim’s wake in just the last fifteen, twenty minutes. In addition to her mother and Aunt Dotty, at least a dozen people were gathered now in the darkened little parlor (the roller blinds had been drawn), all of them dripping with sweat, fluttering palm fans, and praying the rosary. “…forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not…” Except for the stout but handsome Father Foye, who’d planted himself boldly like a top-of-the-bill vaudevillian in front of the tiny casket, blocking it from view, everyone was an older woman Olive had known since childhood. Mrs. Meatro, Mrs. Mahon, Miss Cuff, Mrs. Rounds, Mrs. Laudermilch, Mrs. Sharkey, Miss Toomey and her great friend and live-in companion Miss Garlick…
EPISODE FOUR: Li’l Andiron
(Posted on December 10, 2013)
Liz Landrigran rotated the hand crank, twice, briskly, on the longcase wall telephone mounted to the left of her bedroom door; she’d had it moved upstairs shortly after her husband had passed, an aesthetic decision she later had come to regret. Tapping her foot—oh, hurry up!—she looked nervously over a shoulder and down the hall to the back stairs. Though just barely, she could hear the pair of them talking in the kitchen, then Our Patsy laughed and Liz breathed a little easier. Come on, you ninny, she thought, and then impatiently turned the crank another two times.
EPISODE FIVE: The Sheriff Rides In
(Posted on March 8, 2014)
He’d thought about slugging the old lady, but Li’l Andiron would bite his fingers off. That was why the gimpy runt instilled such fear in men like King Touey who could have demolished him in a fair fight. Li’l Andiron had done it before, bitten off a guy’s fingers. At least that was the story. Nobody had actually seen it, but everyone knew somebody who had. He’d pried open a guy’s fist and chewed off all his fingers. So if King Touey took a whack now at Mrs. Irons, that son of a bitch would certainly maim him worse, since it was his mother. What if he chomped on both of King’s hands? Fuck that, he’d leave the cranky old bat alone. Besides, she was holding a gun on King. There was that, too.
EPISODE SIX: Bagatelle
(Posted on July 20, 2014)
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.
EPISODE SEVEN: Breaker Bergoff
(Posted on August 17, 2014)
“Patsy! Patsy Touey. She had him for preprimer, as I recall, and then again for the second grade.”
“Are you certain of that?” said Olive, peering at him with her head to one side.
“Well, it was twice, I know that much.” Bill cranked open one of the pivoting windows and stretched a hand through, to check on the rain; it was tapering off, at long last. They were still downstairs in his living quarters at the Cosmos Film Company building. “It could’ve been the first grade, preprimer and first grade.” He closed the window again and sat down.
EPISODE EIGHT: Sleepless Night
(Posted on July 6, 2015)
Despite having designed and built half a dozen automobiles as a young man in his backyard workshop, Bill Harrigan, since returning to Bayonne from Hollywood, California, owned and drove a factory-assembled machine, a bright-blue Dodge touring car, the 1914 model, and when Olive Ince had climbed inside of it for the first time yesterday outside of the stationary store and then seated herself plumb and comfortable on the upholstered front seat, Bill practically had effervesced over its four cylinders, its 3-speed gearshift, and its demountable mohair top, all of which, she presumed, meant the vehicle was something special and superior. But what most impressed Olive was its cigar lighter. Imagine such a thing! You pressed the porcelain knob, waited for about ten seconds, and out it popped with glowing-red coils! That was the jacks, and no mistake.
EPISODE NINE: Truth
(Posted on December 29, 2015)
Last evening, starting around nine o’clock and going on till just before midnight when the Standard got its searchlights finally hoisted into place and the generators working reliably, small gangs of dark-clad strikers had taken turns charging up the earth embankment that rose against the north wall of the refinery to ignite torches and sling them over the concrete stockade. They used the greenest branches they could find wrapped to a bulge with shirt cotton soaked in accelerant. A lumber shed caught fire, and the low fence around a regulating station, and so did gummy patches of crude in the refinery yard.
EPISODE TEN: Armored
(Posted on July 14, 2016)
In the distracting high excitement of having his brother back home again, Patsy Touey had let the soft-boiled eggs stand too long in the covered pot. He fretted now, frowning, not breathing, as he cracked and topped them both with the bowl edge of a coffee spoon. If they weren’t cooked right, if they weren’t proper Patsy Eggs, he would dump them both and start over. But seeing the yolks looked nice and runny and the whites like custards, he sighed in relief, then pulled out his chair and sat down at the kitchen table. The Cat of Ashes, still shaking his big gray head in pique, the red medallion swishing at his throat, jumped on Patsy’s lap and settled.
EPISODE ELEVEN: Lily of Labor
(Posted on July 14, 2016)
For the first time since late June the midday temperature in Bayonne was balmy, hovering around 75. Still, as Olive Ince approached one of the side doors in Bill Harrigan’s red-brick motion-picture studio, she felt uncomfortably warm—roasting!—in her funeral dress. She kept dabbing her forehead, temples, cheeks and neck with a limp, damp handkerchief.