Monday, April 13, 2009
Chapter Twenty Two - Bring Me the Leatherman
Six months. We were opened six month before the sheriff showed up. And McDonough was ready.
"Jack, fetch me Flynn, now," McDonough whispered to me as he spotted the sheriff and his men entering the stage door.
I ran past the men, who smelled of whiskey and sweat. They saw me, and would likely have stopped me, but I was mighty quick. I heard one yell, "The kid" as the door slammed behind me. I was turning the corner at the end of the alley before the door even began to open again.
I was never to Flynn's office before, but I knew where it was. He had the entire front of the second floor over Pearl's, the men's clothier. His offices faced Main Street, and though I never met the man, I knew his flaming red hair, his flamboyant handlebar moustache, and his cigar, which never seemed new. I knew all this because when he thought or spoke he paced in front of those windows. I remember standing across the wide Main Street in front of the Belle Tavern, just watching as this great man paced and shouted, paced and thought. I feared for the man that sat opposite him when he spoke. On that day I saw him, he was not happy.
I didn't know what mood he'd be in today, but McDonough was adamant, even in his whispered offer. I ran into Flynn's office breathless.
His clerk looked like he was about to chase me away.
"McDonough needs Mr. Flynn right away," I pleaded.
"Mr. Flynn is busy. Get lost," the clerk was back at his work and didn't even look up as he spoke to me.
I stepped up to his desk and cleared my throat. He didn't move his pencil from the paper.
"I said, M. McDonough has asked that Mr. Lynn come down to the Palace right away."
"And I said get lost."
"Listen, you little puking bastard. Mr. McDonough pays Mr. Flynn good money to represent him. He pays him that money when all Flynn does is to strut back and forth in those Main Street windows," as my argument commenced the volume of my voice increased proportionately. "Now if you don't move your skinny rump off that chair and walk in there and inform Mr. Flynn that he's wanted, I'm going to climb over this desk, push your face into the ash bin and do it myself."
Though the clerk's face grew noticeably redder as I spoke, he stared at me unblinkingly, almost if his eyes were lidless, like a frog’s, until the last fleck of my spittle rested on his lapel.
"Get lost you little beggar before I call the polieeee..."
Truth is, I didn't allow him to finish his sentence. Truth is, his face drained of all the color it which had risen to his cheeks when I stepped onto his desk and he saw my mucky boots soiling the neat legal papers theree. And I'm not lying when I write that he screamed, loudly, rather girlishly in my opinion, as I pushed his oak chair over with a loud commotion and began to drag him toward the ash bin by his collar.
By the time Flynn got to me, with a firm hand on my shoulder, shaking to stir me from my trance of anger, I already pulled the clerks's stiff starched collar and suspenders completely off. When I finally realized that Flynn was counseling me to leave the frightened clerk alone, I dropped the clerk to the floor, where he lay motionless for the entire length of my short conversation with Flynn.
"I couldn't help but teach your clerk a lesson," I explained.
"I heard everything," Flynn said. "Where’s McDonough?"
"The Palace," I answered.
He grabbed my arm as an indication that we should go and until we moved onto Main Street he didn't ask me another question.
"What's the trouble?" Flynn asked.
"The sheriff's inside, probably trying to close the place down again," I shouted through my lack of breath.
"We'll see about that," Flynn said as he picked up speed and strode ahead of me.
I had to run to keep up.
We arrived to the sight of McDonough and the sheriff on stage, surrounded by dancers. The sheriff and his men had their guns drawn, and McDonough was back behind a stage model of the three Egyptian pyramids. We weren't sure whether the audience knew that this real-life drama was part of the show, or not, because every time McDonough, or the sheriff spoke, the audience reacted appropriately.
"You aren't going to close this place again," McDonough shouted, his blood peppering his cheeks with blotches of red.
The audience applauded wildly.
"This is an indecent show," the sheriff shouted back.
The audience again applauded wildly.
"And I'm closing it down," the sheriff continued.
Suddenly the hall was filled with hisses and boos. The sheriff, looking dismayed, waved his gun toward the audience and brought about the silence he desired.
"Just because you've got a gun and some hired goons, I refuse to let you interrupt the fine entertainment I assemble for the good people of this town."
Wild applause again. McDonough smiled and took a slight, almost humble, bow.
Now Flynn stepped in.
“Do you have a complaint,” he asked the sheriff.
“Indecent display,” the sheriff replied.
Once again the audience broke into applause.
“I’m putting McDonough under arrest,” the sheriff concluded.
Booes and hisses again.
“Not without a sworn warrant,” Flynn shot back. “See the judge, and then come back.”
The sheriff took a step forward, stoked his unruly moustache, and then hesitated. He turned to his men.
“Okay boys, let’s go,” he said. The crowd stood and cheered.
“But we’ll be back,” he shouted over the applause.
McDonough hissed at the orchestra leader, made some wild motions with his arms, and the curtain fell heavily between us and the audience.
“Better find another way to make audiences happy,” Flynn warned as he strode away.
Two days later, McDonough called me into his office.
“Jack, look at this,” he insisted, pointing at a Penny Press story with the headline, “Old Leatherman a Cuckolded Husband: Wife Murdered By Lover.”
McDonough proceeded to read the story to me.
It was about a tanner from Greenwich whose name was LeClerc. LeClerk’s wife Violette abandoned her husband for a new lover, Guillaume Blanchette.
Furthermore it was described how Blanchette had abandoned the woman and headed for the port of Boston town. Violette took to the road to follow him.
LeClerc followed their trail, learning that his wife underwent some of the terrible abuses of the road, and that she finally caught up to Blanchette in the small town of Terryville, adjacent to Plainville in Connecticut. Here the two stayed at a small boarding house for a few days.
One morning when the couple did not rise for breakfast, the landlady visited their room to determine if they left the premises without settling their debts. She found Violette LeClerc on the bed with a dagger plunged through her heart.
That afternoon, Simon LeClerc arrived at the boarding house to be told that his wife was murdered.
LeClerc went mad at the news and pursued the murderer after putting his wife to rest in a small family plot donated to him by a Terryville resident.
According to an anonymous source in Terryville, LeClerc never caught his wife's murderer. The murderer is said to have put to sea on a clipper headed for the Azores.
LeClerc returned to Terryville where he is said to have worked for some time as a plumber, often exhibiting signs of his mental instability. Town folk said he spoke to himself loudly, or he refused to speak for weeks at a time. After several weeks he began to wear rags and scraps, although he was making a good working wage, and staying in a lean-to shack in the wooded hills near town.
At some point, no one in the town can remember exactly when, the man began to appear only in leather, and then to disappear, only to return at regular intervals.
It can be assumed that it was during this period that LeClerc, known only as the Leatherman to those outside of Terryville, began to wander from town to town throughout Connecticut.
During this time he also ceased speaking to anyone, begging meals from farmwives and splitting wood for pennies.
His hunt for his wife's murderer is said to have taken place nearly twenty years ago, and to this day, the lonely Leatherman can be seen wandering the hills still searching for the man who murdered his wife.
“Sell story, eh Jack?” McDonough asked.
Well, I knew for sure that this reporter had written his report from the comfort of his desk. I saw old man Leather as far away from Terryville as the Hudson River put him, and the story of the murder sounded chancy even to naive reader like me.
"Jack," McDonough said. "I know just the act to save our theatre."
I didn't now the theatre was in trouble. In fact, I knew it was not in trouble. But somehow this seed of disaster had impregnated a troubled mind, and now we needed an act to pull us from desperation.
I didn't ask. But he told me.
"We'll get him," McDonough said shaking the Middletown Herald in my face.
I knew full well who "he" was, but I refused to get excited about a ridiculous, perhaps even cruel, proposition.
"You with me Jack?" McDonough asked. "We'll get Simon LeClerc. We'll get the Leatherman."
"What do you mean, get, McDonough? Stalk him like Barnum's hunters stalk lions and apes? Capture him with a net? Display him in a cage?" I asked, sparing him no sarcasm.
"What I mean is we go after him. I don't know. Talk to him. Pay him. Convince him to come and live here. We'll take care of him. Give him all he could ever want to eat. A bed to lie in."
¬ "He doesn't speak." I nodded.
"He doesn't sp..... He won't have to speak. I'll tell the story. We'll create vignettes of his life. He'll just have to walk on the stage, and walk off. Just like he does now. Only he'll get paid." McDonough's enthusiasm was growing, but was hardly contagious.
"Suppose he doesn't want to get paid. Doesn't want the food, or bed," I asked.
"Jack, what man doesn't want security. Hell, we'll get him a woman. What man doesn't want a woman. We'll get him all right." McDonough punctuated his enthusiasm with a sharp clap of the hands. "We'll get him all right."
"You know him, don't you?" he asked me.
"Know him? No."
"I mean you've seen him, haven't you?"
"Yes, everybody has."
"But everybody doesn't work for me, you're going, Jack," McDonough said, clapping me on the back.
"No I'm not."
"I said I'm not going," I glared at him with an authority beyond my years.
"All right," he agreed amiably. "I can understand your reluctance."
I was flabbergasted at my ability to dissuade McDonough from what I thought was a powerfully bad idea. I knew he had grown to trust me more, but I didn't realize that he had grown to respect my opinion.
"I realize you might be afraid to approach him. It is rumored that he's murdered some children," McDonough said triumphantly. "But I believe those are only rumors."
I knew his game. I knew what he wanted me to say. But I would not say it. I would not tell him I was not afraid. I would not say that I was only concerned for the Old Leatherman's welfare. He knew all this. I stood my ground. I stood silent.
"Do you know where James Burke lives?" he asked me.
I told him I did.
"He's the one who worked for Barnum in China. Is he not."
McDonough was taking another tack and I willed myself not to respond to this one either. McDonough, himself was beginning to feel a bit of the frustration.
"He did some scouting for Barnum," I said cooly.
"Do you think he'd take four hundred dollars to capture the Leatherman and bring him back here?" McDonough asked.
"I think he'd laugh in your face," I sassed.
"Well, then, Jack. Why don't you fetch him here for me and see if he’s game.
McDonough turned and strode up the wide corridor that lead to the theatre lobby. I surprised myself by thinking that he was incredibly graceful for a man of his size.
I left for Burke’s room.
James Burke was drunk. He was polluted and stank of alcohol the way a tavern's floor does. His eyes were rheumy and yellow where read lines didn't blot the whites. At first he didn't answer the door when I knocked. I heard a grunt from within and tried the latch. I found him sprawled on his bead in a stained and tattered union suit. His hair looked as if it was the product of a stick of dynamite, instead of a comb.
"Who're you?" he muttered, staring at me with unfocused eyes.
"Jack Conroy, you James Burke?" I asked.