by Professor Q
We are men of Pinkerton's, Nate, and we never sleep...(UNFINISHED)
|This time, the body was missing its heart.
James McKenna, called Jimmy by just about everyone but his old-fashioned mother, knelt next to the victim and collected a vial of blood, trying like always to ignore the bile bubbling in his throat. It had never gone away, this reaction to the sight of human remains, though Jimmy thought he'd managed to control it well enough over the years. Given the state of the body, taking an electromagnetic print off the blood might just be the only thing left that could accurately identify the victim. Hell, he couldn’t even tell if it was a man or a woman. If this case were like the others, the victim would be a Negro, but until he got the scan even that was just a guess.
“What a mess,” Nate drawled, coming up behind Jimmy and staring down at the remains of the murderer’s latest victim. “Souvenir?” Nathaniel Price, Jimmy’s partner, had a hand-rolled cigarette between his lips, and it bobbed in time to the man’s words, ash floating down to land on Jimmy’s woolen pants.
Standing, Jimmy nodded. He was known as a man of words, but sometimes too many words were an insult. “Heart this time, Nate.” He moved to brush the ash from his pants. “Could you put that thing out? You might contaminate the scene.” That wasn't precisely true, not with the cause of death so apparent. It was clear who the murderer had been--a beast called the Tourist because of his penchant for removing a single organ, or souvenir, from an otherwise eviscerated body--and Jimmy had already collected a sample for victim identification, so a little ash wouldn’t hurt anything. But that didn’t mean Nate should go around smoking all over it.
Nate shrugged and put the cigarette out on the metal contraption tied to his right hand. Really, an audichronicler was used to record the human voice, but the Virginian thought nothing of using its casing for another purpose. “By God, Jimmy, aren’t you such a stickler for the rules? We already know we need to scan this one to even know who the victim is, what does it matter?”
“Because we are men of Pinkerton’s and we don’t need anything else for the mob to use against us. Have you forgotten which side of the war we were on, Nate?” Jimmy was a tall man, thin and pale, with dark hair and even darker eyes. Unlike many, he chose to keep himself clean-shaven, not wanting to bother with the effort to keep whiskers perfectly trimmed. Firmly abolitionist, he stayed away from cotton clothing and never smoked tobacco if he could help it.
Nate was not so encumbered. “You forget, sir, that my family fought for the Confederacy,” he joked, twirling his butterscotch-yellow mustache about one leather-gloved finger. Perpetually dressed in finery, he was every bit the fop Jimmy wasn’t, but his blue eyes missed nothing and beneath the finery was a body of great athleticism. “I was disowned for joining this organization, if you recall.”
“But join this organization you did, Nate, and that comes with certain strictures. You may be well liked in Chicago for your politics, and tolerated here in New York, but in Washington you are despised. And we are Federal men, which is bad enough. Best not to do anything to draw attention to yourself. Plus, if you break it, I'm the one who's going to have to take hours out of my day to fix it.” Plopping his bowler onto his head, Jimmy sighed. “President Hayes will want to hear of this. You head over to the local precinct and have this blood scanned; I’ll send a telegram to Washington. We’ll meet back at the Occidental.”
Nate nodded. “Boys!” he called, bringing over a gamut of young men, also employees of Pinkerton’s, whose job it was to clean up and catalog each crime scene. Their temporary headquarters, out of the Occidental hotel in the Bowery, would not appreciate the arrival of yet another pulverized dead body, but the President was paying so well to have this thing solved that they wouldn’t moan much. Hayes wanted this Tourist business out of his hair; not that Jimmy could blame him. Them West Virginia boys down at the railways were certainly causing a lot of problems and the President needed federal soldiers from New York to help put it down. If these killings caused riots, the governor wouldn’t authorize the troop dispersal and that might cause all new problems. So in came Pinkerton’s, willing and able to solve any crime—for the right price.
Jimmy tipped his hat in farewell and set off down the street, mind’s eye unable to keep from picturing the latest mutilated body and what it could mean for the case. So far, they’d all been Negroes, but there was nothing else to connect them: not age, gender, or occupation. Absolutely nothing. Hate crime was the most likely scenario, given the mutilation of each of the victims, but each murder was so carefully executed that it was clearly the work of a sociopath. And there was the matter of the souvenirs. Everything about this case pointed in two different, and mutually exclusive, directions. Nothing fit together, except that someone was going to exceptional lengths to remain uncaught.
They’d interviewed everyone related to the previous victims, but no one seemed to know anything. None of them were engaged in suspicious behavior, or involved with the crowds usually to be found in this sort of case. No one seemed to know a damn thing. What’s more, all of their tools were nearly useless; by the time they could get to the scene, there were so many electro-fields to follow that it was impossible to find the pulse specific to the murderer amongst all the interference. Hell, it was to the point that Jimmy was almost half glad someone else had gotten murdered, if only because it was one more chance to get the information they needed.
“Mr. McKenna, good afternoon! What can I do for you?” Without realizing, Jimmy had made his way down ten blocks—not that they were very large—to the telegraph office. Pinkerton’s made use of aethographs for long distance messaging, but they could be slow and cumbersome to operate, so Jimmy preferred to just use the telegraph and be done with it. The constant updates to the White House and its lemonade-sipping denizens were nothing more than a nuisance, and Jimmy would just as soon get them over with and on to the business of solving his crime.
“Never a good afternoon when there’s another body, Jed,” Jimmy replied to the jolly-cheeked and whiskered fellow sitting at the telegraph machine, sweeping his hat from his head like any proper gentleman should. “I’m sure the newspaper men have been at it all morning. I’ve got a telegraph to send to the Washington office.”
Jedediah Smith nodded soberly, smile disappearing instantly, though his brown eyes continued to twinkle. “I figured as much, Jim, and I’ve got it already set up for you. Figured it would look like the ten others you’ve sent all saying the exact same thing. Another body, stop. New Souvenir, stop. Investigating latest victim, will send aethogram with latest finds, stop.”
Jimmy almost laughed at the joke, but decided against doing so. It was one thing to allow jokes at one’s expense—no one should be so inflexible as to prevent others from having a laugh—but true gentlemen did not join in on the coarse humor of others. Leastwise, not men of Pinkerton’s, who had a duty to justice and the law. He did smile, though, so as not to offend his intrepid telegraph man. “Add that the souvenir is the heart this time, Jed, and that should do for the message. Hopefully, we get some sort of lead from this. It would help if the damn newspapers didn’t get here faster than we can. Can’t get a damned pulse reading worth nothin’.”
“You know the boys,” Jed said, shrugging. “The crime is worth more to them than the solving of it. Once it’s done, they’ve got to go looking for another story. They’ll be no friends to you, Jim. Anyway, I’ll add this to your account. Your agency can pony up when this is all done and over with. Give my greetings to Nate when next you see him.”
“Will do. Good day, Jed.” Jimmy clapped his bowler back atop his head and stepped out into the dusty New York streets, eager as always to move on to the next step in the investigation. Dealing with the press and the President were nothing but a waste of time, no matter that Nate seemed to think the newspaper boys should be courted as informants. Like as not, they’d clamp up and claim some sort of privilege that wasn’t actually there. Jimmy didn’t trust the newsmen farther than he could spit. They’d only hinder what was an otherwise disastrous investigation.
Now that there was a new body, however, and another set of clues to follow, Jimmy could get to work again doing what it was that the Pinkerton agency did. He wasn’t much for disguises and acting, so undercover work didn’t suit, but he certainly felt as if he were a more than capable investigator, and Nate was certainly a more than capable strong arm to have at one’s back. So, then, why was it that the clues, the paths, and the codes seemed unwilling to speak to him now? Ten bodies, and he was no closer to solving the crime than if the first had just been cleared from the cobblestones. It was not a feeling he was used to. Or liked.
Eventually, Jimmy reached the hotel-turned-headquarters in which he and Nate had set up shop for the duration of their investigation, and stepped inside, eager for a drink and a discussion with his partner. The Occidental hotel had been there for as long as anyone could remember, and longer. Located in the Bowery, from which George Washington had watched in glee as the Brits turned tail and ran after the American Revolution, it had witnessed everything from the earliest days of the nation through to the opening of the YMCA just four years past. It was a place full of dirty streets and even dirtier politicians, where street gangs enforced whatever sort of peace was to be had when violence kept it.
But there had been no murders there. At least, none by the Tourist. And that made it one of the safest neighborhoods in New York, at least as far as Jimmy was concerned. The last thing he wanted to do was to wake up one morning and find out that someone had been murdered on his very doorstep. Something like that and the crowd would undoubtedly turn on them, he and Nate, and they’d be strung up like stuck pigs, lynched for the crime of being federal men investigating a state crime.
“Ah, Jimmy, I was wondering where you had got off to. I expected you back well before me.” Nate sat in the common room of the hotel, a glass of brandy on the table before him, stripped down to nothing but his waistcoat and shirtsleeves. It was far more informal than Jimmy was accustomed to from his Southern gentlemen partner, but nothing out of line from Nate’s character. The Virginian had never been one for societal norms for which he saw no purpose; a habit that had ended in him leaving the South forever to join Pinkerton’s in Chicago.
“Jed sends his greetings. I’m sorry, I was in my thoughts—“ Here Nate interjected an amused, “As usual.” “And must have walked slower than I intended. Very funny, Nate.” Jimmy accepted a glass of brandy and sat next to his partner. “So, what’s the news?”
“Woman. Negro, aged 18. Her name was Eugenie Butcher, and she was a shop girl for a local grocer. As I understand it, she was grabbed on her way to a delivery to a house in the Silk Stocking, where we found the body. The police already had a description. Seems she was the grocer’s half-sister, if you catch my meaning, and he was worried that she might cause trouble.”
Jimmy sighed. Twelve years since the Civil War, fourteen since the Proclamation, and nothing had happened to even put a dent in the racism that ran rampant through the nation. It was almost worse in the North, where hardly anyone had seen a Negro until the war had ended and a small trickle of them had made their way up from their plantation prisons. “Well then, I guess we begin by canvassing the houses in that area and see what we can come up with. Someone had to have heard something.”
“Yes, but are they going to be willing to talk, Jim? A group of Negroes getting murdered is no news to those people. As long as the Tourist sticks with murdering our black brethren, there are no complaints from the white population. We should talk to the men and women in the neighborhood this woman lived in. There are only two black centers in this area of town; someone there has to know something.”
“Completely true, but we still have to canvas the neighborhood, if only to let them know that they are not immune because of their wealth and…skin color.” His lips twisted with distaste. “But you’re right, Nate, so we will sweep the Negro neighborhoods as well. Harlem is only a bit of walking from the Upper East Side, and then we can head down to the Tenderloin if we have to. It's just...” Jimmy knocked back the rest of his brandy and winced at the burning it left trailing down his throat. "It's just that they haven't exactly been willing to talk, either. Every time we head into a Negro center, the doors slam faster than they do anywhere else. At least our light-skinned brethren agree to speak, however condescending and disregarding they are."
Nate pressed his thumb and forefinger into his eyes, a sure sign that he was dealing with the mired circumstances in which they found themselves. One could always tell when Nate was thinking. "Yes, but we've got to try. They're just scared. I would be, too, if someone were tearing my people to shreds and no one seemed able to catch him. Someone will step forward. If not, we begin the waiting game again. So." Looking up, Nate took a deep breath and nodded emphatically. "We get started now. Can we hire a damned cab for the day? I have no urge to ruin my shoes walking everywhere and I’ve already walked the entire distance from Madison and 69th.”
Jimmy rolled his eyes, but smiled despite himself. “Yes, if we can get a cabbie to go into the red light district. The anti-vice laws…”
“Don’t effect a couple of Pinkerton’s agents conducting an investigation and, thus, have no bearing on us, Jim.” Nate stood, pulling on his coat and gloves. “Come on, then, let’s get going. We’re running out of daylight and I wouldn’t mind getting a bite of lunch while we’re somewhere that bothers to serve decent food.”
The Upper East Side, called the Silk Stocking district, was home to every rich merchant and entrepreneur that Manhattan could hold. Ladies in pastel walking dresses popped into and out of shops, and drank tea together in any number of quaint cafes, while their men stuck ears into aethoreceivers and mouths into transmitters. The apartment buildings and cramped quarters ubiquitous to the rest of the city disappeared here, giving way to sprawling mansions and gilded townhouses.
It was at one such townhouse that their cab stopped, issuing forth a bellow of steam as the gears came screeching to a halt. The cabbie pulled at the brake and stopped the vehicle, hopping from his seat to unlatch the door and shovel more coal into the furnace at the back. Horses had gone west with the gold seekers, leaving behind mechanical wonders and steam-belching beasts to conduct the people of the cities about town. For his part, Jimmy loved it. Chicago still relied on El-trains and horse-drawn carriages, Second City in more than just name, following the fire six years prior. New York was first in all things, and Jimmy couldn’t help but be awed by it.
Nate, from the South that still relied on Northern technology to keep up, was less than thrilled and more than OK with the advances to be had in the Midwest. He paid the cabbie, tipped his hat, and headed straight for the house in front of them without a word. Jimmy grinned at the man, unable to help himself, and thanked him for his services before catching up with his partner. “So, Nate, whose house is this?”
“Horatio Moody,” Nate replied, not needing to explain further. Moody had made his fortune in the now illegal field of Mecha-Human installation. It was rumored that he was slowly going bankrupt now that his industry was no more, but from the look of his house, Jimmy couldn’t even begin to see how that could possibly be true. Not only was it directly on 5th avenue, with a perfect view of Central Park, but the Met was scarcely two streets over. Moody had been one of the principle figures involved with the opening of that museum, which was not the action of a man concerned with money.
And he owned half the newspapers in town.
“Wonderful,” Jimmy muttered by way of reply, before he reached up to knock. “But why here?”
Nate stared at him, eyes rueful. “For all your investigatory skill, Jimmy, you really are too much by the book. Horatio Moody knows everything, sees everything, and owns all the newspapers around here. And he prides himself on always being at the center of it all, even if he hasn’t been mayor since before the War. You may hate the newspapermen, but they are bound to know something, and if they know something, you can bet Moody does. Coming here means we don’t have to waste the rest of the day canvassing this whole damned neighborhood again. I would have come here before, but I know how you feel about the man, and so wanted to exhaust all other possibilities before bringing you to see him. OK?”
“Yes,” Jimmy muttered. He didn’t want to ask for information from this man whose knowledge came at the expense of destroying their crime scenes. Nate knew very well how Jimmy felt about the journalism field and its rabid denizens, and yet he had still come here, to this place, for an interview. They should be canvassing the neighborhood, asking everyone who might have seen anything instead of putting themselves in this situation, at the mercy of a newspaper baron. Anyone else, anything else, even if they could solve everything with this one interview, was better than placing themselves in this man’s debt.
But there were ten bodies and, if they couldn’t solve this case, there would be ten more, so Jimmy swallowed his hatred and removed his hat from his head as the door swung open.
A Negro man stood there, tall and dignified in what was most definitely a butler’s outfit, staring impassively out at them. “What can I do for you, gentlemen?” His voice was deep, resonant and very cultivated. He was probably educated, which spoke well of his employer. Likely that was exactly the sort of impression that Horatio Moody meant to give: a benevolent entrepreneur, a philanthropist for the less fortunate. Jimmy thought it was unlikely to be genuine, given the genesis of Moody’s fortune, but he supposed it didn’t really much matter to the man standing before them.
“Good afternoon, sir, I am Nathaniel Price and this is my partner, James McKenna. We are investigators from Pinkerton’s in Chicago, investigating a series of murders throughout Manhattan. Is Mr. Moody at home?”
The man stood for a moment, impassive, evaluating their request. He seemed almost as if he wished to speak, the words dancing just on the tip of his tongue, threatening to spill out and into the world. Instead, he nodded. “Mr. Moody is at lunch," he replied. "If you will follow me, I will let him know that you two are here.” Standing aside, the butler allowed both men to enter the house, leading them into a drawing room that might have actually given Versailles a run for its money. Indicating that they were to sit, the man bowed and left them to wait while he alerted his employer to their presence.
Suffocating amongst what he deemed ridiculous splendor, Jimmy reached into his waistcoat pocket for his goggles and toyed with them, taking comfort in their mechanical simplicity. Officially called Veracity Ascertainment Spectacles, but dubbed Truth Seers by just about everyone in the agency, they were one of Pinkerton's greatest assets. When worn, they allowed the viewer to watch the electromagnetic field of a person. As a person spoke, their electromagnetic field (sometimes referred to as an aura by the supposed psychics wandering about these days) wavered. If they were telling the truth, it expanded and, conversely, it contracted if they had engaged in a lie. Every other agent carried such goggles, and they were always paired with an agent who wore an audichronicler, which recorded sounds by etching them onto a very small strip of metal. When played back at sufficient speeds, the sounds resolved themselves into whatever had been recorded. Nate wore the device strapped to his right hand and was actually quite gifted in its use despite his annoying propensity to stub his cigarettes upon its casing.
There came a laugh from the hall, that sounded as if whoever had emitted it had just heard the funniest thing they'd ever had the privilege to hear. Jimmy closed his eyes and steeled himself for what was to come, slipping on the goggles as he did so. They were common enough in the city, full of coal smoke as it was, that his wearing them indoors would appear only slightly odd. Next to him, Nate unwound and stood, graceful as always. Jimmy always seemed to come across as an ungainly colt when beside his partner, all legs, arms, and graceless lurching, despite a very concerted effort to carry himself with ease.
Jimmy tried not to let his distaste show as Horatio Moody trundled his way into his own receiving room. The former mayor and mecha-slaver did not appear to have lost any of his fortune since he'd been forced to shut down his operation, especially if girth were any consideration. He had an expansive smile to go with his expansive waistline, and had dressed himself in all the latest fashions from Saville Row. The rich always did want to emulate the fashions from Europe, as if to prove that they were somehow in a different class of people and not to be confused with the average folk. Why they did so, when there were perfectly adequate American clothiers who would benefit far more from their business, Jimmy could never understand.
"Gentlemen, gentlemen, how may I help you? Caesar here," Horatio gestured toward his butler, "was just telling me that you two fine young men are the Pinkerton boys runnin' the Tourist investigation. Horrible, just horrible all this business of mutilatin' poor Negroes who never done nothin' but try to help themselves. I heard the latest was just a young girl."
Jimmy looked over at Nate, lips pursed. How had he heard that? They'd only just found out themselves, after the lab had scanned her blood. The electromagnetic field around each person was unique, as unique to them as a finger print or as a snowflake was from other snowflakes. No one else had the same field, or returned quite the same results. As such, every one, from the poorest Irish immigrant to the mightiest of the so-called industry men, was scanned at birth and had their electro-field tagged. No one--no one--was left untagged. Not even former slaves, who often had the procedure done well into their adult lives. "Yes," he replied finally. "A young shop girl."
Horatio shook his head as if that were the saddest news he'd heard all day, but his electro-field showed nothing but disinterest. "Well, I suppose you two are here to ask if I have any information. And I'm sorry to say, boys, that you have traveled all the way here for nothing. Aside from pictures of each of the victims and their identities, the boys haven't turned up anything that might be helpful to you. Everything they know, you know, as they've largely been interviewing the same sorts of people. I will instruct them to turn over any such information as they possess, however, should anything of value turn up."
Jimmy struggled not to clench his jaw. Horatio Moody's aura had not tightened much, slick politician that he was, but it had tightened enough for Jimmy to know that every word that had just come out of his mouth was a lie. Typical newspaper man, lying, cheating sumbitches that they were. They made his blood boil. It was moments like this that allowed Jimmy to understand why Nate and so many others had turned to boxing as a means of negating stress and anger. If it weren't so damnably improper, he'd consider taking it up himself. Ah, but at least he had his machines, his tinkerings to play with, the precision and the exactitude of their creation serving to calm him in moments of great distress. Would that he had one now...it would make for a handy missile.
Seeing that Jimmy was disinclined to speak, Nate smiled and shook Moody's hand. "Thank you for your time, Mr. Moody, and for your cooperation. We are located at the Occidental in the Bowery, should anything come up. Now, I dare say we shall bid you a good day and leave you to your business."
"Of course, boys, of course. I'm just sorry I couldn't help you more." Lie. "I will be certain to tell you everything the boys find out." Lie. "These murders are horrendous and must be stopped." Lie. Jimmy clenched his fists and stuffed his bowler onto his had perhaps more firmly than he intended to do so, and tightened his jacket about his lean frame. Horatio shook his hand and Jimmy struggled to keep the gesture firm and polite, forcing a small smile to soften his quietly handsome face. Then Caesar was leading them out of the house and Jimmy was removing the goggles.
"Let me guess," Nate said, hailing the cab that was smoking its way up the street. The cabbie stopped and unlocked the cabin door before running to the back of the contraption to shovel more coal into its burner. First Nate and then Jimmy climbed up and shut the door behind them. "He was lying. You looked ready to launch yourself at him, so I was pretty sure."
"Every word was a lie. He doesn't want these murders to stop. He doesn't even care that people are being murdered. It's good press. I wouldn't be surprised if the Tourist murders are keeping him in finery these days, now that the cad can't shove machinery into human beings and sell them for premium prices." Jimmy growled, unable to keep his anger from his face and his twitching muscles. He'd heard tales of zombies, living humans ritually murdered and brought back to life through voodoo to be mindless slaves to a priest or priestess, and, to a certain extent, Mecha-Slavery was similar. But, in the case of a Mecha-Slave, every moment was torture. They felt their hunger, their exhaustion, their bodies shutting down around them, with only the mechanical components of their brain keeping them alive. Worse, the majority of Mecha-Slaves had been awake throughout the entire process of mechanization, feeling every cut and hammer and screw as they were commissioned. Most died during the installation, or a few days after. They were considered the lucky ones. And the man who'd just lied to Jimmy had made his millions, had become a paragon of New York society, based upon such suffering.
Realizing that he was squeezing his goggles hard enough to bend them out of shape, Jimmy took a deep breath and tried to gain some sense of control over himself. True gentleman did not act this way, he told himself, and you'll get nothing done wasting your time with pointless anger. He repeated this mantra over and over in his head and breathed deeply until the anger dissipated and he was once more himself. "But it's no more than what we've gotten from everyone else so far. You were right; we have to go to Harlem. That's the only place we're going to find someone who'll be willing to talk. Provided they're not scared into silence."
Nate nodded. "But first," he said, grin lighting up a face that God had personally put work into, "let's get some lunch while we're somewhere that serves halfway decent food. If I am forced to eat another bowl of our proprietress' fish stew, I think I might turn you in as the Tourist just so I can go back to Chicago for a meal."
Jimmy laughed, his first all day, and shouted for the cabbie to take them someplace with decent food. Nate was right; investigating always went better with food in the stomach. Until, of course, they found another body and it all came spilling out again.
Harlem was not a beautiful part of town. Originally a Dutch settlement, it had only officially been made a part of New York a few years earlier. Since the War, a steady trickle of former slaves had made their way to the area, slowly but surely replacing the Jews and the Italians that had once dominated the area. Though nowhere near predominantly black, it still served as one of the larger Negro communities in the entire city. These days, it was a ramshackle mix of old, rotting cottages and newly constructed row houses. The skeletal remains of the old El train--decommissioned almost a decade ago--served as a shack city for the poorest of the poor, where small children huddled amongst their own filth, and women worked in squalor. As Jimmy passed them, the dark pits of their eyes seemed to bore into him, shining with dull rage and exhaustion, a patina of bone-deep sorrow glistening along their filthy limbs and in the tatters of whatever clothing they possessed.
They would never talk to him, even if one of their own had been murdered. Instead, they would mourn in silence and file the rage into the back of their mind until such a point that it burst out into the world once more. Jimmy could only hope that violence was not met with violence when that finally happened.
"I hate being here," Nate muttered. "All of this...it's the fault of people like my family. We owned them and now we just can't get used to the idea that they're our equal. And so we force them to live--if you can call it living--here, in this...this. It's subhuman, Jimmy. And they keep trying despite it all...keep trying to get us to see them as equal. And we keep reminding them that we don't. It's horrid."
Jimmy looked over at his partner. If they were back at the hotel, he might have reached out to pat him on the back, but such affection between men in a public setting was improper. And Nate probably wouldn't appreciate it, in any case. The Southerner did not like it when someone acknowledged his more emotional outbursts. "We're going to solve this, Nate. I know it isn't much, but you and I...we don't feel that way about them. We'll do what we can. It won't be enough, but it's all we can do. The rest is up to everyone else."
Nate nodded and shoved his hands into the pockets of his coat. "I suppose. I'm glad I got out of there, Jimmy. I couldn't have borne to see it destroyed in the War...but I also couldn't bear to see what it had become. Cutting off the thumbs of slaves who dared to become literate? Treating Negro women like...like sexual toys, there for the taking. My own father did it, you know. I'm sure I have a half-sibling or two out there. And I would never treat her like Eugenie Butcher's brother did. She would be my sister in all ways."
Staring down at the ruined and cracked cobblestones of the street, Jimmy hid a smile. For all his posturing as a care free bachelor, a rebel amongst rebels, Nate had a soft heart. It was why they were such good friends. "I know, Nate."
Sensing some of Jimmy's sympathy, Nate straightened and squared his shoulders. "So. Where to first? I'm assuming we're sticking away from the rusted and rotted El track?"
Jimmy nodded, frowning. "I don't want to just leave them. They need help. But I don't think any one of them would actually talk to us. We need to get into the working sections of town. Where commerce goes, so too goes the understanding. So let's get head a couple of blocks north, and get to where the shops are. Someone up there has to be willing to talk to us. I hope."
Nate sighed. "Well, then. Off we go."
The two men walked in silence, heads down and hands in pockets despite the heat. Jimmy could sense Nate's discomfiture at having revealed so much about his own feelings, and thus spared him any idle conversation that was to be had as they headed further into Harlem and toward the black sector of town. As they walked, Jimmy could sense people peaking out of windows and hiding behind closed doors. More than once, he heard a woman call for her children to come inside, followed by the latching of a lock. The Jews and the Italians nodded or smiled, but it was not for them that he and Nate had come. And everyone else seemed unwilling to talk.
It was a pattern he'd noticed a lot of, over the years. Negroes preferred to remain silent when law enforcers were involved. Likely, it was a defense mechanism, designed to protect their own when the city police came sniffing around every so often. So rarely was crime against Negroes investigated that perhaps they believed it was just a set-up. A chance to trap them into admitting some crime, whether real or imagined, and thus satiate the white community's need to rid themselves of another troublesome Negro.
Whatever the reason, it made things incredibly difficult for Jimmy and Nate to get anything from anyone in the black community. Even when their own were being slaughtered.
It didn't help that so few of them had documented family. So often were slaves separated from their blood relations that blood had often ceased to mean anything to former slaves. They gathered families about themselves from their community, from their friends and companions. Mothers were often unrelated to their children, and fathers even more so. Brother and Sister had meanings far deeper than simply blood. Unfortunately, that meant that tracking down the victims' families had proved next-to-impossible. In some cases, especially with the males, Jimmy was sure that the victim hadn't had any family in the city at all. Often, a man would come to the city to find work and only send for his family when he could afford to keep them.
"Hey. Hey there! You dem Pinkerton boys I heard tell about?"
Jimmy looked up, turning around to see a raisin of a man hobbling his way from the front of a tailor's shop. All Jimmy could see was coal black eyes in sunburned and wrinkled black skin. The man had clearly broken his hip at some point during his tenure as a slave--for he was far too old to have been anything but--and leaned heavily on a cane, the old injury causing his right leg to twist horribly as he walked. "Sir?" Nate stepped forward first, closing the distance between them and saving the old man what was obviously a difficult journey. Jimmy followed, jolted from his shock by his friend's action. Someone was actually seeking them out? After all this time, someone was seeking them out?
"You gon' answer me, boys? Are you the Pinkerton boys I heard tell about, or are you too stupid to answer?" The man's voice was light, full of humor despite what Jimmy could only imagine was a horrific life. "Well, come on, are ya or aintcha?"
Jimmy looked at Nate and then nodded. "Yes, we're the Pinkerton agents. Who told you about us?"
"Oh, you ain't no secret, sirrah." The man grinned, revealing (rather improbably) a mouth full of white teeth, only two of which were missing. "You've been through all the Negro parts of town, askin' questions and gettin' no answers. Well, Caesar was by here earlier...you remember Caesar, dontcha? Works for that fat man Moody? Well, he came by to see me earlier. I'm his Uncle, see? Only family he's got left."
Nate nodded. "Yes. Yes, we remember Caesar. He came to see you? What for?"
Jimmy shook his head slightly. "Sir, why don't we get you back into your shop so you can sit down and tell us what you need to tell us? No need to keep you standing out here in all this heat."
"Oh yes, yes. Manners. My name's Jethro. Caesar, though we calls him Ezekiel ourselves, told me that y'all boys might want some help with your case." Jethro turned around and began to hobble back toward the tailor shop from which he had exited earlier. He seemed unable to speak while walking, instead giving his whole effort over to simply dragging one leg in front of another across first the cobblestones and then the dirt that served as sidewalk and street in this part of town. Jimmy watched him, a curious mix of elation and sympathy swarming within his chest. He couldn't believe that someone was actually stepping out to help him! He had never expected something like this, and especially not from the dour butler over at the Moody place. But seeing this man, understanding what it was like to suffer so, it ate at him fiercely.
"Jimmy, you all right?" Jimmy looked up to see Nate's blue gaze set squarely upon his friend. "Thinking about your father?" Jimmy frowned, and nodded. Owain McKenna had, like his son, fought in the Great War, but he had taken a minie ball to his hip, shattering the bone and sending fragments of it down into his right leg. They'd been forced to amputate, and Owain had come home a broken man. Jimmy had fashioned for him a moving steam chair, but nothing ever brought his father back. He'd died a few years after Jimmy left for Chicago, and taken a part of Jimmy with him. This man, no matter how different, brought back similar feelings.
"Lost someone in the War, did you, boy?" Jethro pushed his way into the tailor's shop and motioned for the agents to follow him. "'S how I hurt my hip. Ball lodged in the joint. They wanted to amputate, but I told 'em no. Lot's o' boys lost fathers. Lots o' fathers lost boys. It were a sad business, that war. Got m' freedom from it, though, and that were a good thing. But you're not here to talk 'bout the War, no yer not. Susie, say hi to these here Pinkerton boys! These are the ones Zeke wanted you to talk to."
A girl--woman, Jimmy amended in his head--stood behind the counter, hands weaving into and out of a shirt, needle flying faster than Jimmy's eye could follow. She looked up momentarily and Jimmy could see the telltale flash of bronze indicative of a decommissioned Mecha-Slave. "These the boys who are gonna find my husband?"
"Ma'am, did the Tourist kill your husband?" Jimmy reached into his pocket for a notepad. Even with the audichronicler, a pen and paper were sometimes an agent's best tools. "Why haven't you come before already?"
Susie shook her head, eyebrows knitting themselves from confusion. "Tourist? What Tourist? You mean that monster who's murdering innocent black folk and takin' their body parts?" Dropping the shirt onto the counter, she waved her hands as if to deny the Tourist's very existence. "No! No, no! My Elijah weren't taken by the Tourist, God bless those poor victims of his. He died of fever some months back. No, I'm talkin' about his body. Somebody stole my husband's body!"
Nate, audichronicler set to roll, leaned against the wall and crossed his arms. Jimmy could see the disappointment in his face, but he doubted the other two could. Someone had finally spoken to them, and it was about a graverobber. Probably some medical students needed some cadavers to chop up for their classes. Heinous, not to mention illegal, but not what they were investigating. They needed to find someone who was murdering Negroes for parts, not stealing already dead bodies for them. "Ma'am," Nate drawled, unable to keep the weariness from his voice. "I am very sorry that your husband's body is missing, but I'm afraid we can't look for him right now. Perhaps when we've found the Tour--"
"No! You don't understand, boys," Jethro jumped in now, slowly pushing himself from where he'd sat. "Hers isn't the only bodysnatchin' story from 'round these parts. Here, the Tenderloin, even the Bowery...all the poorer parts of town are missin' bodies. And they're all Negro bodies at that. I heard at least thirty diff'rent people missin' their loved ones' bodies. And, what's more, the las' one went missin' six months ago!"
Jimmy, who'd been standing by a window, staring out into the dirty streets, turned sharply. "Right about the time the first Tourist victim showed up. Nate...Nate, this might be the clue we're looking for."
Jethro laughed, a wheezing sort of sound that sounded more like the coughing of mechanicals than anything else. "Ezekiel thought you might want to know that. Seems the fat man found out a few days ago from one of them reporters what works for him. Planned on telling you in some spectacular fashion what would make him look better than you. Moody solves the crime, helps the hapless federal men who came in to solve the problem. Zeke hates that man. He wanted to tell you while you were there, but told me instead. Figured you'd come here eventually."
"You tell Zeke thank you from us when you see him," Jimmy said, his tongue tripping over itself in an effort to keep up with his excited thoughts. "Tell him he might have just given us the key to solving this thing." He turned to Nate, who was yanking his coat over his shoulders, his own frenzied movements causing the sleeves to twist. Jimmy knew how he felt; he'd slammed his hat onto his head so hard, he'd probably have to cut it off later. "If the two are connected...if the same people who were behind the graverobbing are behind the murders now..."
"We can scan the area for electro-fields," Nate finished. "I doubt the graveyards are as convoluted as the streets. There's a good chance we can pick up the field in common and find out where they lead. We'll have to rule out the graveyard attendant at each of the sites, but if there's one in common between all of them, we can assume those are our graverobbers."
Jimmy nodded, grinning in his excitement, before turning to Jethro and Susie. "Thank you so much for your assistance, Jethro, Susie. If there is anything we can do..."
Susie shook her head, the flash of copper beneath her hairline reminding Jimmy once again how much this woman had lost in her life. "Just tell me what happened to my husband's body. I doubt you can bring him back to be reburied, but if I can just know what those bastards did to him...it would give me whatever peace is to be had in this life."
"We will find out what happened to him, ma'am. Of that you can be assured." Nate tipped his had and bowed gallantly and the waist. He then turned to Jethro. "And we will stop these murders. You cannot know how much we appreciate your coming forward to help us, Jethro. And for Ezekiel taking the chance he took. You might have saved countless lives."
Jethro nodded from where he sat, hands atop his cane like some lord of old. Perhaps he was one. "It were no problem, boys. Don't like to hear about no one getting murdered, but I admit the murder of Negroes hits a little closer to home. The nearest graveyard is three blocks over. It's where Susie's husband went missing from, and I believe they've lost five more bodies. So, go on. I'd like to live to see you two solve this thing and I ain't getting any younger over here."
Nodding his head, Jimmy turned and pushed the door open, holding it for Nate as the southerner pushed his way out into the street. "So," Nate said, grinning. "Guess I was right about Harlem, then?"
Jimmy laughed, exuberance lightening his limbs so he flew instead of walked down the street. It was wonderful, this feeling of accomplishment, of roads and windows opened, a place to go and from which to investigate, a path before them where once there had been only a wall and miles of darkness. For the first time since the first body had showed up, mutilated and missing its brain, blood spattered all over the dirt sidewalk of the Tenderloin, Jimmy felt as though they had moved closer to solving this case. No longer did the specter of defeat loom over his head and over Nate's, threatening them with an ignominious return to Chicago, ten ghosts following in their wake.
It was the best he'd felt in months and, judging by the purpose with which Nate strode down the street beside him, it was the best his partner had felt, too. "Yeah," Jimmy replied. "You were right. Guess this means I owe you a dram or two of whiskey when we get back to Chicago."
Nate shook his head, lips twisted in distaste. "Absolutely not. I won't have you poisoning me with that Irish nonsense. I feel like it's going to burn away my throat and stomach if I drink too much of it. No, thank you. A few snifters of brandy is fine by me."
Jimmy chuckled. "Done, my thin-blooded English friend."
"How do we always seem to find the most dilapidated places in town?" Nate pulled his coat closer around his body, to better protect himself from the filth. The graveyard at which they'd arrived was clearly in disrepair, and it was easy to believe no one had noticed several bodies disappearing from their graves over a series of weeks. Most of the tombstones had been wood--the only thing its poor denizens could afford at their burial--and these had begun to rot as quickly as one could imagine untreated wood would rot. It looked almost as if these were the condemned, the criminals, those who'd lost their right to a burial in sanctioned ground. And the paths were rotted as well, the plants dead or dying, overgrown and ominous. This was no place for the respected dead.
"Because this is the Negro burial ground, my friend. And the Negro centers. And, of course, because we get to look at eviscerated human bodies whenever there's a new victim. It was bound to happen." Jimmy was uncomfortable, as well, but he didn't want to admit it. He'd been toying with the electro-scan device in his pocket for the entire walk, itching to get in and out as quickly as he could. This place was...it was damn near unholy in its disease. How could anyone be allowed to be buried here, with such little respect?
"Of course. Do we know where the supervisor is? If there is one in this hellish place." Nate grimaced as he stepped in a pile of rotted detritus. Some sort of animal, from the looks of it.
Jimmy shrugged. "I don't know, but I figure that he'd probably to be found in that shack over there. If not, we wander around for a while and see if we can't find Susie's husband's grave. Elijah, his name was?" At Nate's nod, he continued along the path, careful to pick his way amongst the broken and molded wooden planks that someone had decided made a proper path. "I feel like maybe we should have taken the time to go back to the hotel and get some boots."
Snorting, Nate shrugged. "Yes, well. We have no excuse to go back, since you insisted on dragging the scanner with you. Always have to prepare for every contingency does Mr. McKenna. Except the one where we walk through a half-rotted grave site, of course."
"Well, no. I didn't plan for a trek through this place. Do forgive me for not assuming people would disrespect the dead so much. Graverobbing is one thing...letting them lie in this sort of place is quite another, entirely. I shall endeavor to purchase you a new pair of shoes upon return to a proper shop."
"Please. The amount of money you send to your family every month, I doubt you'd have the funds to keep eating if the agency didn't cover you while you're on assignment." As the two reached their destination, Nate reached up to knock on the door of the shack. "I'll purchase new shoes myself. I needed them, anyway, after walking the length and breadth of this island."
"Who's there?" Came the call from inside, the voice thick with too much booze and too little time in the States. He couldn't have been off the boat from Ireland much longer than five years. "I don't have no bodies for you. This here's a graveyard. Might not look like it, but these bodies are in sanctified ground. Go back to your highfalutin' university and wait for one o' your sonovabitch professors to croak if you need a body."
Jimmy looked over at Nate, eyebrows raised. "Well, then. Guess we've come to the right place."
Nate nodded. "Sir, we are not here to take bodies. We work for the Pinkerton agency. We're investigating the body theft and the Tourist murders. Open the door so we can talk."
"Don't you lie to me. Them Pinkerton boys don't care none about no grave robbers. They got murders to solve."
Sighing in exasperation--he'd never been very good at dealing with people--Jimmy pulled out his identification. "Sir, we believe that these grave robbings are connected in some way to the Tourist murders. If you would just open your door, we could prove we are who we say we are and get all of this over with. We need to scan your graveyard. And it would help if we had some sunlight in which to do it."
A few moments of silence greeted the agents before a thumping at the door signaled that the graveyard attendant had unlocked it. Creaking on hinges dangerously close to rusting into nonexistence, the door swung open, revealing a crag-faced white man. "Prove it."
Jimmy held up his identification, which showed an unsmiling daguerreotype of himself, complete with a signature from Pinkerton and the agency's symbol. It had been Jimmy's idea for agents in the field to carry such a thing. There were enough vigilantes in the world, and the last thing the agency needed was blame for their actions. Enough people hated them just for existing. Hell, he wasn't even allowed to work in his home state; Ohio had banned Pinkerton a few years earlier. They really couldn't afford to fan the flames any further than they already did, just by existing. "My name is Jimmy McKenna. This is Nathaniel Price. We are investigating the Tourist murders."
"Seen your face in the paper, I have. Alright, I believe you." The man's face split in a grimace, revealing cantankerous brown-yellow teeth, cracked and pitted where they hadn't fallen out completely. He sported a red beard that was so snarled and twisted, and filled with so many food remnants, Jimmy was sure rats had probably infested it. His eyes were green, but bloodshot and yellowing from liver disease. A long-time drinker, then, and well on his way out of the world. "What do ye need from ol' Clancy, then?"
"Show us all the graves that were robbed, please. We need to scan them for leads." Jimmy should have shaken the man's hand, he knew that. It was only proper. But the thought of touching Clancy's unwashed, gnarled fingers filled him with disgust. No knowing what sickness lived there. "Please just take us, sir. We appreciate all your help."
"Uh, sure. Lemme get my lantern. Jus' in cast it gets dark out there while you're still here. And I gotta lock up the place, o' course. But if you'll just follow me, I'll take you right out."
"Thank you, sir." Nate stepped back, making sure that his feet were still firmly planted on one of the wooden planks that hadn't rotted to the point of nonexistence. He turned to Jimmy, then, focus brightening his eyes. "Clancy, how much foot traffic does your...graveyard get?"
The answer came from inside the darkness of the shack. "Not much, sirs. This here's the Negro burying ground. And only the ones what died of sickness, or had no family to speak of. One's the city put here just to get 'em off the streets. They're 'fraid burnin' 'em would sent the niggers to rioting."
Jimmy winced at the pejorative. "Not much interference, then," he whispered to Nate, who looked as disgusted by Clancy's language as Jimmy felt. It was hard to blame the supervisor for his language; there weren't many in the entire nation who would take exception to the use of such expressions. They were so pervasive, and the feelings of antipathy toward Africans so deep in all corners of America that one didn't even have to share such feelings to use the language. A number of people attached no more meaning to their linguistic choices than they did to what socks they wore on any given day.
TO BE CONTINUED