Slant yellow rays poured onto the bed where Charles Tyson Yerkes lay asleep on his back, sweatily covered with a white silk nightshirt. The bedstead glinted in the light. This bed was a gold one that had belonged to Leopold, the King of the Belgians. The mattress was not stuffed with girls' pubic hair, despite the stories circulating the Board of Trade of Yerkes' numerous conquests. Yerkes kept ten lawyers on his payroll at a salary of one hundred thousand dollars a year just to keep the women quiet, the stock traders said among themselves. Only the heat, not pangs of conscience, disturbed Yerkes' sleep, however. A hand stitched, Irish linen sheet lay bunched over the gold foot of the bed. Yerkes had kicked it off in his fitful slumber. The thought never occurred to Yerkes to strip himself naked and to sleep that way for ventilation. For all his womanizing, he had grown up in Philadelphia. There were things one did not do.
Twice he had gotten up during the night to mop his brow with cool water from a ewer in the corner of the bedroom. The maid slipped in and had silently deposited the newspaper on the night stand. Yerkes stirred as the sun reached his eyelid. He opened his handsome, bluish-gray eyes. Little dots of light danced on the frescoed ceiling. Reflections of his Italian marble pool down in the courtyard. For some seconds, Yerkes' eyes followed one of the bobbing lights as it played across the belly of a cupid. Then a dark, ill-defined sensation pinched at Yerkes' chest. For a moment Yerkes clutched at his nightshirt, fearing some heart attack, which this was, after a fashion. The lights danced and twinkled above his head. They reminded Yerkes of—stars. That was it! The stars. Yerkes and the stars had become well acquainted during his months in the Pennsylvania penitentiary.
Yerkes felt a shudder as memories of months in a cold cell crowded back into his mind. Only the stars. It was lucky that there were such things as stars or a man could go mad. Really. He could. Yerkes had looked out his one square window and had counted those stars over and over. He had invented his own set of constellations. The Embezzler was one constellation which Yerkes had called after himself. The Nagging Wife was another he had invented in honor of Lilian. He thought of Lilian. She had stayed with him, but she never forgave what his scandal had done to their social standing or the prospects for their sons. He had left her soon after his release. Could he really have forgotten the other Yerkes constellations? How things changed. At the time those names seemed burned into Yerkes' memory. Why shouldn't they have been? He had nothing else to hold on to. But now he felt that he had let the stars down. . .His friends in time of need. Lights bobbed on the ceiling, straying like will-o'-the- wisps to Cupid's ear and Venus' thigh. He held up one hand in front of his face to block out the light. Five little crescent cuticles smiled at him. His hand, as always, was freshly manicured. The nails were buffed. He reached over and picked up the Tribune. Nothing today in Dunne's column about him. He sighed. The words of yesterday's column rang in Yerkes' ear, for Dunne's column had a definite voice. Grating, Irish.
everything these days! But why should I celebrate the Chicago
fire?" said Dunne's column.
"We've had many other misfortunes and they're not celebrated. Why don't we have a band out and illuminated streetcars to commemorate the day that Yerkuss come to Chicago? And there's cholera. What's the matter with cholera? Why don't we have an epidemic day, with floats showing distinguished citizens in convulsions and a procession of hearses. . ."
"Disgusting!" Yerkes muttered aloud. Dunne's column specialized in poor taste. Yerkuss, indeed!
Yerkes roughly turned the pages back to the day's headlines. There it was. The Yerkes Telescope story. The World's Biggest Telescope Will Be Unveiled at Three This Afternoon in Manufactures. Yerkes tingled with warm anticipation. His mustache twitched. He would attend with his new wife, although he could think of several other young women about town. . .It was going to be a very busy day.
Yerkes folded the paper in half and was ready to place it back on the night table when he saw the other thing.
Gems of King Leopold of the Belgians
to be Unveiled This Afternoon in
the Jewelry Building.
That could conflict with his event. What were the Board of Managers thinking? People who could be admiring the Yerkes telescope could be siphoned off to this other show! Yerkes thumbed to the page where the Belgian king's jewelry was described. Not until four in the afternoon. People could make both events. Just then Yerkes' eye fixed upon the center piece of the collection of King Leopold's jewels. A huge whip encrusted with diamonds: great, fat diamonds. Yerkes sat bolt upright in the bed. He really had to hand it to that Leopold! Wealth, power, and beauty all in one tidy object. Yes. He stroked his luxuriant silver mustaches. If he could get away from his own event, he meant to see King Leopold's whip.
"Someone to see you,
sir," said the maid, peeking around the door.
Yerkes growled "This had better be important. "Who is it?" The maid giggled, but withdrew her head. These new servants were not properly trained. There could be. . .complications. . .if maids let everyone in. This was one of his lady friends, no doubt. He got out of bed and slipped on an ornate Chinese silk robe. Yerkes had the light stride of the trained dancer as stepped into the parlor.
A huge man's back crammed into a gray frock coat stood framed against the bright, bay window. Splashing sounds came from the yard below. A floor board creaked as Yerkes stepped into the room and the visitor turned to face him.
"A lovely, fresh morning,
sir!" exclaimed the man who sported a walrus mustache and
dark, bushy eyebrows.
The bearlike man filled his lungs and expanded his barrel chest until the buttons on his plaid vest seemed perilously close to shooting off in Yerkes' direction. Expelling the air loudly, the man patted the two sides of his chest. The man extended his meat hook hand to Yerkes.
"John Coughlin's, me name, Sir. Alderman of the dear old Nineteenth Ward, y'see."
An alderman. Of course, Yerkes knew very well who Bathhouse John was. In fact, he had already made a couple of timely payments to this man when there were street franchises coming up for a vote. The two men continued the fiction of their first meeting.
"Misther Yerkes, I wish to offer most sincerely congratulations of on yer telescope and said that to say I plan to attend the
unveiling later at the Fair." Bathhouse John beamed.
Yerkes nodded and beamed affably, as he sat down in a white wicker chair. While Bathhouse John collected his thoughts, Yerkes beat the fingers of his hands together and smiled warmly.
"I seen in the papers," said Bathhouse John, "That the hootchy-cootchy college on the Midway believes in corporeal punishment for childer."
Yerkes spread his hands. He was only donating a telescope, not setting policy over at the college.
Bathhouse John continued, "I had me own set of hoistings when I was a kid and I swore if ever a man laid hands on a child of mine, I'd introduce myself to him by means of a pickax." Yerkes interrupted that he never agreed to corporal punishment. It was no business of his what the professors. . ! The Bath put up a hand and interrupted. "I was just thinking, though, about the time one of the Christian brothers made a tour of the Christian duty class with a coupling pin. After that, don't you know, the school became orderly."
"Well, anyhow, I don't believe in beaning the kids," said Yerkes, surprised that he now had an opinion.
"Neither do I, Misther
Yerkes, neither do I. If a lad don't want to go to school I say
let him stay away. Faith, there's too much education these days.
There's twenty-odd men in this country that can write poetry to
one that can drive a car or hoop a barrel!" Bathhouse John
Yerkes wished the man would get to the point so that he could get to his accustomed leisurely bath. "It's just this, sir," drawled the man in the accents of Bridgeport. "Good workers who train fast is always in short supply. I have a nephew that has fallen on some hard times and I wonder if you might be having an opening on one of your street railway lines. The lad's a quick study. Bill Ryan is the boy's name. . ." Yerkes assured Coughlin that he did indeed need a good man as a switchman.
"Rest assured that I will have a job for young Ryan. I think we have such an opening and I will notify my manager," beamed Yerkes pleasantly back at Coughlin. What trivia! A man in Yerkes' position was constantly being besieged with requests for jobs. Still, he knew better than to offend this one. Yerkes smiled warmly and looked at Coughlin's bluff exterior. Coughlin raised his eyebrows in response and beamed at Yerkes. No, even though he looks as dumb as an ox, this ruffian could damage a man. Shake the hand, Yerkes reminded himself, as he ushered Coughlin to the front door
"And any time you need anything else, Mister Coughlin, just let me know." Such words came easily. Anything to grease the rails. Yerkes closed the door after the huge man, turned and bounded up the grand staircase. He felt ready for a bath. The soothing thought of the diamond-encrusted whip of King Leopold of the Belgians came back to Yerkes. He would like to get his hand on that thing and mount it over the door as a warning to bothersome people like the one who just left! He walked into his private bath and slammed the double French doors so loudly that the etched glass panes rattled.
Cissie Ford showed up at Vina Fields' sporting house, late as usual. She hung her head as she walked by Madame Vina, carrying in her first load of apples. Cissie would now make two of Vina in size, yet she shuffled by Vina like an awkward puppy.
"Cissie. . .Cissie! How often have I told you . . .!"
Vina started to chide the girl about her habits, but she stopped short. Cissie was wearing finery that Vina had not seen before. A gold bracelet and a new silk dress. Where is all that coming from? Vina wanted to ask Cissie, but she dared not. The girl's mother had died, leaving her more or less penniless. Vina had promised to keep an eye on Cissie. The mother, Vina's friend, had come up north together with her. But this girl was so. . .large. Bigger than a man. Big as truck horse. She was outside the scheme of things. Vina had seen Cissie teased by girls and boys alike. She had learned to hit. She took to carrying a razor. And she had retreated somewhere deep into herself that Vina could not reach. Cissie seemed to carry on monologues with herself in an undertone. Vina could hear her now, mumbling something as she grunted to pick up a large crate of cheese. Cissie butted up against Minnie, trying to turn around with the cheese crate. Minnie yelped like a frightened pup and then both of them began to giggle. Their shoulders quaked. Vina was called by the cook to oversee some eggs that appeared to be spoiled. She left off worrying about Cissie and went to see.
Cissie was still shaking with laughter when Minnie told her about the jewels. "I was just thinking, Cissie. Those King of Belgium jewels at the World's Fair might be an easy snatch."
Cissie started at the word snatch. Vina did not know that she now plied the trade of strong- arm robber. She looked around and saw that Vina had gone. "Why do you say that?" Minnie explained slowly and patiently to Cissie that there were times between the rounds of the night watchman when an agile person might be able to steal the jewels. Through a skylight. Minnie had worked in a circus traveling across the South. She had been an acrobat. This was true. Cissie recalled Minnie's entertaining them all by walking on her hands.
Cissie bit her lip. "I don't do no big stuff, Minnie. Ain't worth the risk."
Minnie picked up the newspaper. She spelled out the words that told about the king of the Belgians. "Says here that he is in the midst of pacifying the tribes of Dahomey, Cissie. You know what 'pacifying' means? Killing us Negroes. Says here he lops off the ears of those poor Negroes, Cissie! He cuts off their hands if they don't run that rubber sap fast enough to please him."
"He does?" Cissie asked, round-eyed. Minnie was clever and she knew how to get Cissie's feelings aroused.
"Well, not King Leopold, personally. He has overseers, like. . .Simon Legree." Cissie could see that Simon Legree. There was little Topsy and Uncle Tom and Legree standing over them. "Just like Simon Legree, Cissie," insisted Minnie. A fog swirled about Cissie's head as Minnie told her tale. Cissie could see her old granny and uncles and somebody coming up behind them with a big diamond-studded whip. He began to strike them.
"Minnie, you want to go with me to that Jewelry Building, so's we can size up the skylights and whatnot?" Minnie replied in a casual and off-hand manner that she would be pleased to. Didn't have much else to do that day.
Clifton W. Wooldridge had been assigned to keep an eye upon the Jewelry Building for the opening of the Belgian king's display. The disguise which Wooldridge had chosen for the occasion was low key. The Traveling Salesman. He wore the natty, tailored suit with stiff celluloid collar and too-shiny shoes that people recognized as the traveling drummer. Theodore Dreiser was to immortalize the type in the character of Druet in his Sister Carrie. A few business cards peeped from Wooldridge's jacket pocket. He puffed on a Havana cigar. When he would meet up with a genuine salesman in the crowd (recognizable by said suit and shiny shoes), Wooldridge would slap the man on the back in a hearty way and ask him what he thought about the market in pork futures. Or did the fellow think that Yerkes' mattress was stuffed with pubic hair. . .har, har!
Meanwhile, Wooldridge would gaze around at the crowd for the known faces of Chicago's yeggs, the jewel heisters. After a few rounds of the good old boy routine, Wooldridge was into his role. Occasionally he would get so into his role that he had to remind himself that he was just playing. The band stuck up The Columbian Ode out on the plaza.
As Wooldridge turned to see where the music was coming from, he spotted a head towering over the crowd near the entrance. Cissie Ford. Wooldridge bobbed up and down in the densely packed throng, but the face had vanished back out the door. Maybe she had seen him. He shoved his way toward the exit. Cissie and Minnie had noticed the bobbing detective and had ducked into a service pantry. They held the door open just a crack and waited until that detective lost himself in the crowd. Then they went back to the Jewelry Building to finish scouting it out. Wooldridge thought that he had caught a glimpse of Cissie going into Manufactures. He darted among the swell of the crowd at the main entrance. As his eyes adjusted from the bright sunlight, Wooldridge could see the stage set for for the telescope dedication.
Charles Yerkes sat amidst baronial splendor on an ornate carved throne borrowed from the university. Banks of azaleas ringed the stage. Ribbons festooned the telescope making it resemble some pagan phallic shrine. Mayor Carter Harrison sat next to Yerkes and other assorted dignitaries flanked the two men. None of these had quite as splendid a seat as the great benefactor himself, Yerkes noted pleasantly. Yerkes' wife sat down in the front row of the audience. She wore a mouse-gray linen dress. The odd thing about Yerkes' women was that they all started as ruddy, vivid girls. Something about the animal magnetism of the man drained the color out of them once they were his possessions. At that point he began to tire of them. The pattern was not new. Aileen Yerkes, once the belle of Philadelphia, sat demurely in her subdued clothes and stared up at the stage. Her expression bore a hint of boredom. A string quartet played Brahms, but the sound was lost in the cavernous hall, which could seat up to six thousand when the displays were not in place. Even with the displays, crowds numbering in the thousands were milling about and waiting for the telescope's dedication. Yerkes allowed the swell of the music to ease a touch of stage fright. He looked about the crowd for a friendly face to fix upon as he spoke. This had been known to help. His eyes found Emma Klimova's.
Emma had gotten the afternoon off from Madame Vina. She come early to get a good seat and had been watching Yerkes for some time, trying in a childish way to will him to look at her. Now she was amazed that he had. In their one previous meeting Emma had been fascinated by Yerkes' eyes. Now they stared straight at her. She was about three rows back in the crowd. Yerkes' eyes reminded Emma of the sparks flying from Mister Tesla's coil which she had just witnessed over in the Electricity Building. Looking so long at Emma caused Yerkes' eyes to take on a glazed stare. Emma felt uneasy. She looked down at the little blue handbag sitting on her lap. She shuddered ever so slightly and looked up. The ceremony was beginning.
Cissie and Minnie had managed
to wedge themselves into a back corner of the Manufactures
Building. They had given Wooldridge the slip. He ran puffing back
to the Jewelry Building nearly knocking down the entourage of his
sublime majesty the Rajah from India. Sweat poured over the
celluloid collar as Wooldridge craned his neck and continued his
search for other potential jewel thieves in the crowd. Wooldridge
continued to keep an eye on things as the ceremony began for the
King of the Belgians' jewels. Over in Manufactures, Charles
Yerkes pulled out a platinum pocket watch. Mayor Harrison had
just finished a windy tribute to Chicago, motherhood, Christopher
Columbus and the telescope and now, lamentably, it was Harper's
turn. Since Harper was an Old Testament scholar, this did not
bode well for Yerkes to make it for the Jewelry opening. Those
men did not know how to be brief!
The voice of William Rainey Harper, the august president of the University of Chicago on the Midway, intoned, "In the beginning. . ." Yerkes groaned quietly to himself and stealthily looked at the young woman in the crowd. Was she still looking at him? She was.
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Waking the Dead
Copyright © 1996 Gloria McMillan and Fly Neleth Press. All rights reserved.