Sunday, June 21, 2009

Chapter 28 - The Mail Must Go Through

Nearly a month had passed since I began following the old Leatherman, and I had failed to get any closer to him. I stood at a distance and watched him eat with dozens of families. Each had its own ritual for his arrival. Each fed him with a differing amounts of attention or indifference. I met boys who followed him to his rock shelter and watched him, and sat with him, and I had heard tales of other boys who kicked apart his teepee of drying firewood, and upset his drying tin cans, as boys will, and of mothers who ordered those boys to return to those rock shelters and make them as orderly as they had found them. I heard theories about murder, robbery, adultery, religion, magic, the devil and about God himself. None of these I believed, but all I absorbed to with great interest.

I traveled with him through Connecticut, down the length of the shoreline of Long Island Sound, and then turning North, with him, into New York state. We walked near or through Norwalk, New Canaan, and Wilton, then West into Purdy Station, a stop on the Harlem Railroad. Then through Kensico, Croton Falls, Doansville and through Peeksill, Yorktown and Scrub Oak Plains. Our last stop in New York was a rock shelter high on a hill in the Saw Mill Valley. In Connecticut we passed through Balls's Pond, New Fairfield, New Milford, Bridgewater, Roxbury, Waterbury and Watertown. We zigged and zagged North and South, until I sat, watching him prepare an evening fire in a cave overlooking the Housatonic near Waterbury.

I have not moved closer than one hundred yards from where he sleeps, for I have found on nights when I have tried to, I've awakened in the morning and he is gone.

What lie would I tell McDonough? How could I explain that the Old Leatherman was like a watchful, wily and frightened wild animal, never admitting me into a circle close enough to engage him.

Of course, I'd tell him McDonough that I was slowly winning the Leatherman's confidence, and that given enough time, maybe another circuit with him, or two, he'd be mine.

McDonough would never believe me.

This day I followed him through the lightly populated center of a small town called Thomaston. On the map it sat between Plymouth and Watertown like a piece of apple pie with a good thick crust.

He headed onto the porch of an inn called "The Quiet House" and sat at a table. I entered the inn and took a plate of stew and a mug of beer across the street, promising to return the tableware.

I watched the Leatherman wait. lifelessly staring at the wall of a feed store as a woman in a starched white apron served him a meal that was larger than any I had seen him eat so far.

As he ate, a chambermaid came out and began hanging bedsheets on a clothesline strong across the porch. It's the kind of clothesline that New England women on a strict schedule used on a rainy day when the soaking would otherwise foul their plan for the week.

With two sheets up, she stopped hanging and went back inside. Now the Leatherman no longer faced the feed store wall, but instead sat looking at the two large sheets that completely obliterated his view of the narrow alley.

From out of the stable came a thin man in a suit and bowler, carrying what looked like a cigar box attached to the top of a surveyor's tripod. In a moment I knew it was a photograph machine. They called them cameras, and the man was a photographer. He had a young assistant who set the camera atop the tripod.

I once viewed a photographer take a view of Middletown from the hill in front of the Insane Asylum. And there were three photographers at the hanging in Sing Sing, each with a demeanor more serious than the hangman himself.

They didn't want the Leatherman to see their preparations. He sat unawares as I ate and watched them scamper to balance the wooden box on the sticks.

The man with the bowler was now joined by another boy in shortpants and cap. The three worked together to spread the legs of the tripod, then they fastened the box to the a plate on the legs with as set of screw clamps. With the camera upright, the boys ran off to a carriage and returned with a large piece of dark canvas and what looked like a thin trough on a pole of about four feet - the flashpan.

At the same time, the photographer paced off the distance between the camera and the porch where the Leatherman sat, and then spent several minutes adjusting a bellows that held the boxy camera together. It looked something like my melodeon. Then he spent several minutes more glancing up into the sky, taking the measure of his own shadow, and making an adjustment to the gleaming gears and levers at the front of the camera.

With the camera at the ready, he carried a keg from the carriage to the camera and carefully measure a load of powder into the flash pan, which he ordered one of the boys to hold carefully at arms length. Then he crawled beneath the canvas, which had been draped over the back of the camera, and bent over so that his head was at a level of the camera. He fidget under there for a minute or two and the boy with the flash pan began to show signs of strain holding the pan at arm's length.

The photographer now ran to the sheet and stuck a collar pin in it, and ran back to hide beneath the sheet.

"Can't focus on a plain white sheet," he shouted at the steadfast, but fading boy.

Then he shouted "NOW." And from above, the other boy dropped the sheet and the alley was filled with a flash that was as bright as a sheet of lightning at midnight. From my vantage I could see that the boy had fallen from the porch roof, grasping his eyes, and the Leatherman, who was caught completely by surprise, managed to grab his things, and in the process upturned the table he was sitting at, and was stumbling out of the alley, leaning on the feed store wall. I stayed only long enough to see the photographer pull something from the back of the camera, and run quickly to the darkness of the horse barn.

I followed the Leatherman as he lurched, more quickly than I had seen him move in all the weeks that I followed him. And he moved with a rapidity that belied his sense of direction. For he didn't stumble once, but six or eight times, in the time it took him to make it to the edge of town. He tripped in ruts. He stopped shortly as a dog ran running in front of him, and he fell over an imaginary dog while the real one had already taken flight and was now safe in the shadows beneath a large house at the end of the main street.

With Abe in tow I didn't catch up wth the Leatherman until we had reached the foothills above a wooden bridge that crossed a tributary of the Housatonic, at the shalllows. A well-used ridge road ran close by a rock overhang beneath which the Leatherman hung deeply in the shadows. He did not build a fire this night. I'm not quite sure that he slept. I know that I did.

The Leatherman's face was now, for the first time I must believe, frozen in time, and recorded for history. Some folks don't like photography, or because they believe it steals a minute of your life. Having witnessed the "taking" of this portrait, I was now convinced that it was, at the very least, a frightening experience.

I wished never to have my portrait taken, nor hoped the Leatherman would have to suffer the indignity of another such surprise.

The next morning I woke to the sound of the Leatherman moving out of his camp and off down the hillside. It was the squeaking of his clothes, a fearsome rustling, like a hundred saddles of the calvary, that put me awake. I sat up and saw the movement at my feet. It was a snake, a copperhead as thick as the handle of a bullwhip. I considered this as cruel run of bad luck and in one of those momentary flashes that strike you at just the wrong time, I realized how practical a thick leather suit of clothes can be in this Yankee wilderness.

I couldn’t believe my dumb luck. Faced with another copperhead. They must like the smell of my pomade.

I was frozen, but the snake was awake and moving up the side of my leg toward my torso, where my arm now quaked unsteadily an awkward position of support for my cantilevered upper body.

It was a moment of great decision when I decided that I was as quick as the Leatherman and could reach down and grab the snake with the same kind of bold stroke.

I was not as quick as my copperheaded bed mate and when I reached, probably with a some slight hesitation, he struck me in the wrist and I screamed for all I was worth.

I didn't feel lightheaded as I shook him off my arm and began to run down the hill, stumbling on the exposed noses of boulders, and in the thick brambles, but I knew I was lightheaded when I saw the Leatherman turning back on his trail and heading for me.

"I've been bit by a copperhead," I shouted. "I'm dying. Save me."

His stony face may have registered some concern, but if it did I did not see it as clouds seemed to fill my head and I fell at his feet.

I awoke and asked the woman attending me the day. For I was a veteran at losing days to unconsciousness.

It was two days after the one on which I had been bitten. Another gap in my history. I passed out, then woke again.

I was in an unfamiliar room, in an unfamiliar bed, with an unfamiliar woman sleeping in a chair beside me. I ached all over, but my arm, in particular throbbed like it had detached, skewered, boiled and then reattached to my poor aching body. I tried to move, but couldn't.

I grunted and the woman beside me stirred. She opened her eyes groggily, and when she saw that I was staring at her, she started and yelped.

"Don't move," she shouted at me, standing abruptly.

"Don't worry," I mumbled.

"Doctor," she yelled. "He's awake, agin."

"So he is," I heard the voice before I saw the face. The voice was as kindly and calm and reassuring as the face was not. He had red eyes, a three-days growth of beard, baggage for an overseas trip under his eyes and breath like a sulfur pit.

"I told you you wouldn't die," he smiled and revealed a mouth full of teeth as grey as headstones, and spaces were several had been kicked over.

I remembered no promises about living or dying made to me.

I opened my mouth to talk, but he hushed me.

"Don't use up your energy before you've had some nourishment. Nellie, bring him some scrambled eggs, and a cup of milk. I think he's going to be fine,” and he smiled his horrible smile again.

"We found you on the steps of the post office," it was another voice, and then another face that came into view. "I'm Chauncey Hotchkiss," it said, extending a hand that was slapped away by the doctor. "The Postmaster of Forestville."

I opened my mouth to ask a question, and the doctor covered it.

"And some beef bullion," he called through an open door.

"You've been bitten by a snake," he reassured me, as if I didn't know.

We don't want you to move. You'll spread the poison through your system."

At that point the nurse came in with the eggs and broth and I ate and drank greedily.

"Let me show you," the doctor said, obviously proud of pulling me from the brink of death. "Copperheads usually don't have enough poison top make a grown man but a bit sick. But he got you right in a vein that spread the poison through you right quick."

He began to unwrap what I supposed was a thick padding of bandages, but when he finished the unveiling in such quick order, I realized the padding was not bandages, but my arm, which was as swollen as a dead possum lying in the sun.

I tried to move it, but found it was useless.

"You are a headstrong boy," the doctor scolded. "You won't be moving that arm for weeks, if you don't lose it."

His last phrase, which must have been unintentional by the look on his face, shocked me as much as a bucket of spring water upended on me would've.

I didn't have to ask him more, only look at the round ugly sore where the snake struck. The flesh had sloughed off in a perfect circle, leaving a red, open, weeping sore. The rest of the arm looked like it had been decorated by a careless painter. Purple red and blue in blotches closest to the wound, and yellow, pink and blotches of frightening white up the length of the arm. It was so large and misshapen that I imagined it belonged to someone else.

"It looks better today," the nurse chirped happily.

"I think so too," Hotchkiss agreed.

I couldn't imagine.

They left me then to languish. The soup, milk and eggs had given a boost to my senses and I began to remember what landed me here. The pursuit of the Leatherman, the snake, the snakebite, and my headlong tumble down the hillside.

I also had some slight recall of faces hovering over mine, and nighttime conversations, but none of these was clear enough for me to make any sense of them.

I slept again and was awakened by the nurse, who carried a tray of minced food, and was accompanied by Hotchkiss.

"The doctor says you can start eating some solid foods as long as you don't overdo it, and you eat slowly," the nurse instructed.

With the help of Hotchkiss they lifted me in the bed, not without a rather sharp and steady pain that emanated from my arm and then spread through the rest of my body. It seemed to lift me forcefully from myself. When I was upright and ready to eat, the nurse mopped my brow, which was wet from the strain, and encouraged me to help myself.

I ignored my visitors and ate steadily, not wanting to discourage the nurse who might grab the tray away early. I ate until there was not a crumb of food on my tray. I hadn't yet spoken a word, and they did not speak to me. Only watched me finish the food. The nurse took the tray with a motherly grin and left me alone in the room with Hotchkiss.

He watched me for a moment before speaking.

"So you have a curiosity about the Leatherman, too," he began.

I tested my throat and croaked a "Pardon?"

"I say, you have followed the Leatherman?"

I looked at him as if to ask what it was about my appearance that would have allowed him to come to that conclusion.

"When we found you, you were on the steps of my Post Office. In Forestville. Your donkey was tied to the post, and you were lying unconscious on the ground. We didn't know who you were. We didn't know where you came from. We didn't know what happened to you until we found this note pinned to your vest."

He unballed a wrinkled piece of paper. A piece of paper from my own journal and held it up so I could see. In a careful, but cribbed hand were lettered the words SNAKE BITE. They were made from letters about an inch high and doubled and bolded by running a pencil over and over the letters.

"So we called the doctor, and you've here for almost four days, unconscious," he smiled the smile of a snake-oil salesman.

"Where's here?" I asked, my voice as jagged as a horse shoe rasp.

"Above the post-office."

"Where are my things?" I asked.

"Your mule is at the livery stable. Delisle has him. He's in good hands. Your belongs are in my office downstairs."

"What do you know about the Leatherman?" I asked.

"My research shows that he travels through Connecticut and New York, and travels about ten miles a day. He makes a great loop so that he visits the same town about once a month."

"How did you find these things out?"

"I followed him."

I didn't believe him.

"Coincidentally, I sold my story to the Hartford Courant just after you arrived, see."

He held up another piece of paper for me to read. This was the front page of the Hartford Daily Courant and it contained a woodcut of the Leatherman with a piece of bread lifted to his mouth. It was the scene on the porch of the Quiet House.

The headline read "THE OLD LEATHER MAN - The Strange Life of An Old Man Entirely Clad in Leather - ROAMING THE STATE FOR 2 YEARS - Living in Huts, Harming Nothing and Refusing Gifts of Charity."

Now, I would not be the only one interested in pursuing the leather clad wanderer.

Under the picture the story began:

"Above is the picture of a man whose peculiarities make him an object of curiosity and wonder to a large number of people in this state, and some in New York. For 2 years past he has come and gone over the same route, visiting each place with a regularity and preciseness which would lead one to suppose that he was traveling on an exact schedule of time laid out by him, and from which he must never vary."

The story went on to describe the Leatherman and his route. A route which I had very recently discovered the hard way. In fact, the story recounted the places and names of the people who had fed him when I followed, and only those names, no other. The details of his journey recounted in the newspaper were very similar to those that I had taken note of in my journal. If his regularity is such as was recounted by the story, the similarity is of no note.

The story continued by relating the history of Mr. Hotchkiss, whom it said, had a lifetime curiosity about the old man, and who fed him when he stopped in Forestvillle. Mr. Hotchkis "discovered" the route of the Leatherman's circuit through correspondence with people in towns along his route, and by speaking with people in Bristol and Southington. Using this epistulary method, Hotchkiss was able to pinpoint the old tramp's arrival and departure from the very towns I had visited.

Finally, the story gave the Leatherman a name, Zachariah Bouvelliat. A man in Bristol is said to have spoken to the Leatherman in French and discovered that he is wandering to due penance for some sin long forgotten.

"Some prodigious research," I said to Hotchkiss, who stood over my bed proudly grinning. "How did you manage to guess where he went from here when you never followed him."

"Deduction, my son," Hotchkiss said.

"And you corresponded with all of these people?"

"Why, yes," he said with some hesitation.

"And yet, this newspaper account mentions nothing about the Leatherman's dog."

"The Leatherman's dog?"

"Of course. You know, the mutt he adopted and carries under his coat in the rain from Harlem Station to Croton Falls," I answered.

"Oh that dog," Hotchkis replied weakly.

"It's the only object of his affection," I laughed.

"Of course it is. The Leatherman's dog. Many people have written to me about it."

"People from?"

"Why, uh Croton Falls, and Harlem Station, of course."

"Amazing how the dog returns to Harlem Station," I reflected.

"Quite a journey for a dog," he replied.

"And by way of Manhattan," I said, with as much seriousness as I could summon.


"You hadn't heard," I asked, incredulous.

"I'm afraid that part of the story didn't make it to me.”

"Well, in Croton Falls, the Leatherman drops the dog at the train station and the conductor lets the dog travel in baggage all the way into Manhattan. And in Manhattan, another conductor brings him to Croton Falls where he lives the month with a Civil War widow," I explained.

"Amazing isn't it," Hotchkiss said, beginning to pace.

"The most amazing thing is the way he melts like a frost in June when he sees that dog. He doesn't react to anybody, or anything else, but when he sees that dog he's like a child. Dog hopping and barking and wagging his tail, and Leatherman grinning like an idiot."

"What's his name?"

"Well, as you can guess, the Leatherman doesn't call him anything in public. He just kind of clucks his tongue, but one of the old gaffers who talk to him in French says he calls him Perry. The conductors call him Harlem. And the old Civil War widow calls him Jeff Davis."

As I finished my tale, Hotchkiss could barely be contained. He was a mess of fidgets, hand wringing, knuckle popping, head scratching and paces and pirouettes.

"You'll excuse me," he apologized. "I've got to go. The mail. The mail just won't wait."

I waited, and it took a few days, but my hunch played out. Three days later I took the Hartford Courant from the nurse, and saw the story. It was billed as a new item, and a continuation of the weird tale of the Leatherman.

"THE LEATHERMAN'S DOG," the headline read. "Perry the Terrier, Leatherman's One Friend."

¬ "He's a fraud," I said aloud.

"Who?" the nurse asked.

"You're a fraud," I said to Hotchkiss when he entered the room with the newpaper rolled uner his arm. "You didn't do any research, you read my notes and made up that story about the Leatherman."

"I did plenty of research, and I may have glanced at your notes, but they were incomplete," he stammered.

"There's no Leatherman's dog," I smiled.

I saw him raise his fist, and I saw it come down toward my swollen arm, but I don't remember the blow landing.

Night fell again.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Chapter 27 - The Leatherman's Journal, January 14, 1876

In September of 1856, Marie and I had been married for three months, yet we both lived separately in our parent's houses. By this time she let her aunt in on our secret, and Agetthe abandoned kitchen, hearth and bed so that our marriage would not go unconsummated. Where Agetthe disappeard to was never revealed, and I was wont to question lest our luck change, but her accomodating ease led me to believe that we had somehow infected her and she had found a love of her own.

Those stolen evenings with Marie were the finest times I have known on this earth. We lay with an early Autumn breeze rolling through the window. We were warmed only by each other, and we found it to be heat enough.
"We can't live like this forever, my love," I said stroking the brown ringlets on her head that seemed to curl naturally around my fingers. "I must be man enough to risk my fortune."

"I'm but a poor girl, Jules. And I for one would hate to lose a fortune for something as silly as love," she laughed.

I took her seriously.

"It isn't silly Marie. We are man and wife. We are adults and we continue to act like children," I said.

"It is only children who are truly happy," she said. " We have plenty of time to grow up."

With that she tangled me in the cool sheets and kissed me so that I was warmed like a slice of spring.

"Of course we must live up to our responsibilities," she reasoned. "But for now your duty is to love me."

Two days later I told my father.

"Fool," he scolded. "You don't know what you have thrown away."

"Father," I pleaded. "You don't know what I've gained."

"She won't be a part of this family," He insisted.

¬ "She will always be my wife."

"She will not live here," he shouted.

"But she will live with me," I replied calmly.

"You have made your choice my son?"

"Father. I love you. I will always love you, even when I am so angry with your stubborn nature that I could roll you into a tanning vat. But I love Marie, and I will always love her too. In a way that I can only call upon you to remember. I have made a choice, yes. But it is not between you and she. It is between fear and reason. Between childishness and growing up. I have chosen her, but I won't abandon her."

"When you married her, you orphaned yourself," he snapped.

I felt tears come to my eyes, and my father saw them as well, but he turned his back on me.

"I have not chosen, Father. You have. I love you," I told him as I left the room.

I joined Marie outside in the carriage and we drove to her home to tell her father. He was not nearly as angry at first as when Marie told him that I had been disinherited, then he flew into a rage. But after a few minutes of fury, the shouting stopped, and a few minutes after that he approached my carriage with a glass of strong wine in his hand.

"Let us drink to your marriage. And to love," he said, handing me the glass. We drank together, and he pulled me from the carriage and through his front door where we drank and celebrated our new family all night.

I went to work for him the next morning.

I begged him to let me start at the lowest position, but he would hear none of it. He wanted me to start at the top of his tiny ragbag company. He could think of no better wedding gift for his son-in-law.

"Make me what your father is," he demanded.

"Miserable?" I asked.

"Rich," he replied. "We are both merchants of skins, but he lives in a mansion while I live in a hovel."

It was true, they were in the same trade, yet this man dealt on such a small scale that he could not imagine how my father bought ship loads of skins from all over the world. From the Americas, from Africa. These things seemed simple to me, and all we needed was money. "I will go to the banks," I announced.

"The banks. No banks. They are thieves. I will not have their money."

"You could not have their money. They would not lend money to you because they don't know who you are. But they know me. They'll lend me plenty, and we'll pay them back easily the first shipload we take in."

It was a simple scheme to me. I performed the task many times for my father, but it took me weeks before I could dress Monsieur Brillard in a business suit of clothes, such as he had, and dragged him to the bank, where they made us a loan for a shipload of African hides in a matter of minutes.

"Is that how the rich get money?" he asked, stunned as we left the bank.

"The rich only use the money like the carpenter uses his tools, to make more things. The banks loan them money because they know the rich can handle these tools. You wouldn't let a banker build you a barn, would you?"

He shook his head.

"And you wouldn't let a carpenter have your money," I concluded.

He was even more amazed when the ship pulled into port with the skins, and we paid the shippers, then processed the skins and made twice the money back.

"Let's pay back the bank," he urged.

"Let's buy two boats full this time," I suggested. And after a week of deliberation he relented, and we had two shiploads of leather on the docks within a month, earning four times our original investment.

"Now we return the money to the bank?" he asked.

"We don't return it until they ask for it. You see, we have to pay the interest we promised if we return it today, or we return it at the end of the year. So we will keep using it to make more money."

And we did. We moved out of the house on poverty row, and purchased a large house on the Rue de Poivre. It had enough rooms to comfortably accommodate, Marie and I and her father and her aunt. Big enough so that some days we didn't even see one another. The new surroundings were easy for me to adjust to, but difficult for Marie and her family. They would not allow me to hire a cook or a chambermaid, and busied themselves keeping the surfaces of every table in the house spotless.

It was at this time that I heard from my father again. He wanted a meeting, and my heart quickened. He wanted me to bring Monsiuer Brillard along.

The meeting was set at my father's place of business, and when we entered the room we saw that my father had his foreman in attendance.

My father shook hands stiffly with Monsieur Brillard. My father's foreman, Guy Ste. Pierre, who had known me since I was a child, embraced me warmly. My father ignored me.

"Monsieur Brillard," my father began. "We have noticed that you no longer sell your skins to us for processing."

"That is correct," he acknowledged.

"And we have further understood that you have begun selling whole skins, of high quality, and finished goods, to merchants in the East of the country."

"This is true as well," Brillard said.

"As you know," my father continued. "Until now we have been the only company in Lyon who have sold high quality skins and finished products to Eastern merchants. But we welcome the competition. However, we feel that by working together we could conquer not only Eastern France, but many of the other countries in Europe as well."

Monsieur Brillard said nothing in response, but looked toward me. I said nothing as well.

"What I am offering," my father said, breaking the silence. "Is to buy your company from you for forty-five thousand francs."

"I do not own the building," Monsieur Brillard declared, somewhat surprised. "Only the skins."

"A business is composed of goods and customers," I interjected. "That is what my father proposes to buy from you."

My father smiled at Monsieur Brillard, but did not yet acknowledge my presence.

"My suggestion, sir," I continued. "Is to politely decline the offer. Though I can think of nothing more endearing than to be able to work together with my father, and my father-in-law. I do not think such a thing will come to pass. In addition, I can guarantee you that if my father is offering you forty-five thousand francs for this business, then it is indeed worth ninety thousand."

My father scowled. He paused a few moments to let the venom of his look sink in, and at this moment I allowed myself to wonder for the first time how I could continue to love a man who had so little forgiveness in his heart.

"This man, my son, my former son, would delude you Monsieur Brillard," my father coughed. "Right now, your business is worth something. In a few months, who knows? It could be worth pennies. It could be worth less than when you started."

Monsieur Brillard laughed, and I laughed inside.

"How could this be so, Monsieur?" Brillard asked. "I have sold eight shiploads of skins without the slightest effort. If I have bitten into your business at all, I am sorry. But I think I have not. There is room in Lyon, in France for two fine leather merchants. I have no fear of failure. After all, you have been the teacher for my partner."

"Pah. He has been in the business but a few years," my father's face was as cold as a day in January, but his eyes glowed like steel in the forge. "What does he know. What he doesn't, I won't tell you. But this, like any business, has its seasons. If you know not when the winter comes, you'll find yourself frozen."

With this he got up from his seat stiffly and crossed the room slowly. He could not let us think that we were driving him out. At the door he turned and faced us.

"When you are cold, I will throw you a blanket. But you'll have to go to the nunnery to get a scrap of bread."

He was gone.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Chapter 26 - A Snake for A Bed Companion

Seven days, and I knew that he knew I was here.

He didn't seem spooked by it, but it was clear he felt my presence. After the first day the following got easier. I stayed behind him because I learned quickly that his route was often erratic, and I needed to follow. I learned that the quickest path between two points was not necessarily his preference. He had all the time in the world, and efficiency of travel was not his greatest worry. Food was.

His meals are the factor that appered to influence his route more than anything else. The third day I followed the Leatherman, he walked seven miles down a road that dead-ended in a farm, only to walk the seven mile back out when he had finished his meal. That night he stayed in the same rock shelter he stayed in the night before, since his fourteen-mile journey had lasted a full day. His evening meal he begged at a railroad shack.

And I use “beg” in the loosest form for which the word can be used. He did not need to ask. He only needed to show up, and when he did, he was greeted by smiles and calls of welcome that he simply would not respond to. Yet the friendliness of his hosts never flagged.

One woman who seemed to greet him with the kind of cold resignation she might reserve for a husband she did not love, proceeded to set him a table, with tablecloth, china and crystal, on her front lawn, after which she served him a full seven-course meal, and retired to her house only to play piano tunes through an open doorway for the old tramp until he had finished his meal.

He never seemed to finish all that was set before him, and he regularly carried food away with him, sometimes to finish while walking, and sometimes to eat for breakfast.

He walked slowly, but seemed to make about ten to fifteen miles a day. I had no accurate way to measure the distance, because his lines were never straight, and his roads, not main ones. But he was regular.

He slept, almost exclusively in rock shelters. Not caves exactly. Not caverns, but rooms built when boulder, or slabs of rock tilted into one another. There were plenty of these huge rocks, strewn about as if by some playful God. I asked McDonough for an explanation of their appearance once during our travels, and he offered me no explanation but a shrug of his hat, and a story about some Greek who was punished by the gods and made to roll a boulder for eternity.

When he rose, the Old Leatherman gathered wood for a fire, but did not build one. Instead he built the framework for one, and left it, presumably for his next visit. He dipped the tin can he used to brew coffee, or tea, or whatever it was he brewed, hanging upside down on a branch stuck into the ground. He did his housekeeping before he left for the road.

Once he started walking he rarely stopped until he reached his destination. That is, unless he spied the stub of a cigar, or the butt end of a cigarette lying anywhere near his path. These he relished, and plucked from the ground and stored in a small pouch he carried.

At his shelters in the evening, as the fire died away, he would dissembled these bits of tobacco and fill a homemade pipe, and smoke what he had found that day.

When he approached the house or store, or tavern where he would receive his next meal, he might knock on the door with the stick he carried, a seven foot rod of some hard wood topped with a natural globe. Then when the door was answered, the Leatherman would point to his mouth. It always worked. He would be eating within minutes.

On the eighth day following him we were headed straight for New Haven. The Leatherman spent the night in a shelter in the hills of Guiford. We had been walking the coast for four days.

I was relieved to be headed for a large town where I could stock up on supplies. I guessed that he avoided most cities of any consequence – New Haven, Bridgeport, Port Chester.

He sought his meals at the farmhouses and the outlying communities. And since he didn't require hardware or haberdashery, he felt no need to make it to the main throughfarses.

I was sure he couldn't detour around New Haven. It was a port city larger than Middletown. Rival to Hartford. And even if he passed through the less populated neighborhoods, he would finally have to pass by some sort of General Store where I could pick up some dried beef or fish. Truth be told, I expected to be able to buy fresh food each day, and I had already run through my store of dried biscuits and beef.

Now I was sure I would get some food.

But I was wrong to expect the Leatherman to follow the water route into New Haven. Though he stuck close to the Connecticut all the way to its mouth, and hung to the railway that followed the Long Island Sound coastline west, suddenly he pitched north when we reached East Haven.

And as I watched him from the distance finishing a huge meal provided by a large woman wrapped in a gingham apron large enough that I could have used for a tent, I realized that unless I found another approach, I would starve before I ever was able to speak a word to old man Leather.

That night I dreamed of a feast of turkey, ham and pork roast. Mounds of bread and mountains of sweet potatoes and turnips. I woke that morning with an inspiration. If the Leatherman could beg food, I could certainly buy it from these farmers. My money was as silent as he, but much more persuasive.

I followed him into the hills around Hamden the next morning, hungry and tired. Sleeping on the ground was not agreeing with me. Once we crossed the hills and descended to the valley that stretched out to the west, the road was straight, and wide, and ran between fields of corn and beans.

Toward noon we approached two farms, one nearly opposite the other. I determined that this was my opportunity to approach one of the farmhouses for food while the Leatherman ate at the other.

This time, my assumption proved true. At the gate to the farm on the right of the road, the Letherman turned down a path that led to a large white farm house. Already the farm children gathered around a porch table that was set with steaming bowls.

Satisfied that I would have at least an hour in which to gain my own victuals, I walked down the road for another few minutes and came to the path which led to the door of the other farm house. It was a white house, much the twin to the one that I just passed. Here there was no activity. In fact the house seemed quite empty.

I climbed the stairs to the front porch and knocked.

Knocked again.

"Hello," I called. No reply followed. I tried the back door with the same results. I scanned the fields behind the house, blue with bean plants filled with undersized fruit.

A large unpainted barn was set back a good distance from the house, and before giving up completely I decided to try my luck there. I pulled back the large sliding door and entered, closing the door behind me.

"Hello," I tried again. Again no voice responded but I heard a rustling deeper in the barn in one of the stalls.

As I turned to retrace my steps out of the barn I saw a figure silhouetted in the doorway.

"Hello," I said for what seemed to be the fifteenth time in as many minutes.

"Don't move," the figure said, in what was a scratchy female voice.

Only then did I realize that the figure had a rifle trained on me.

"Wait," I called. "I was just looking for somebody. I want to buy some food."

"And if no one was around you would've took it right on the hoof, now wouldn't you?" she asked.

"You've got me wrong. I'm a writer for a New York newspaper. I'm doing a story on the old Leatherman," I pleaded.

"Never met a newspaper writer, but I guess you could be just as big a crook as the next man. And I guess if I hadn't just seen old man Leather with my own eyes, I might have thought you was lying," she dropped the gun.

I began to walk toward her and she raised the gun again. I stopped.

"What's your name?" she asked.

"Jack Conroy."

"What's the name of your newspaper?"

For a moment I was stymied as I tried to remember the name I used when I lied to the boy in Middletown. Inconsistency was the downfall of every liar. But my memory failed me and I knew I hadn't lied yet in Hamden. I reminded myself to remember my lies if and when I was asked again.

"The Penny Press," I tried. I knew it was wrong as soon as I said it.

"Well, I don't read much so why don't you just walk out of this barn slow with me so I can see you, and see if you're packing any pencil and paper on that mule of yours."

This was going to be a problem, for altough I made some cryptic notes on a map, and traced an approximate route for my leatherclad friend, these would serve in no court as notes for a story on the tramp.

She expertly began to untie my packs from Abe, resting her rifle, still leveled at me, on the haunches of the old mule. She undid each pack, weaving her long thin arm through each of the packs in turn. I was experiencing a strange thrill thinking that her bronzed arm, covered with a soft blonde down, was coursing through my undergarments.

Finally she found my pencil, and map, and a package of personal material.

"Okay," she said finally lowering the rifle. "So you're a writer. What harm you want to bring to that poor old soul."

"No harm," I said. Sidling my way over to her to see just what had been the key to my survival.

She held a packet of letters from Lizzy and was looking at them closely trying to decipher their close feminine script.

"What you writing about him. That he's a killer. That he grabs small children," she was shaking the package of letters at me angrily.

"I'm just trying to see where he goes. What he does," I explained.

"What business of anybody's is it?" she protested. "So he walks around New Haven and begs a sandwich now and again. Live and let live."

She was exhibiting a sense of ownership for the old tramp that I was to discover was not unusual for those people who spared him a monthly meal. There was first of all the common misconception that his wanderings rarely took him further than the hills at any town's city limits. And more than once I would hear someone refer to him as "my Leatherman" or "our Leatherman." No one wanted him, and everyone did.

Intentional or no, this old beggar had worked out a way to get a regular meal, win the affection of the common people, and somehow maintain his own personal mystery.

I explained to her that I believed he wandered much further from New Haven than she could imagine. I told her how I myself had followed him from Middletown. And I told her that I had once I had seen him by the Hudson in New York state.

"I don't believe you," she said. "Lot's of people see him round here all the time."

"Fact is, ma'am. If you check, you'll probably find out that they see him, surely, but they see him on the same day each month. That's when he passes here, isn't it."

"'Bout one a month," she agreed.



"By tonight he'll be five miles away," I assured her.

"You too?" she asked.

"Me too."


"Famished. Old man leather eats better than I do.”
"That's right," she agreed. "He's feed-baggin now down the Patten's house. He'll sit for about an hour. I've got time to fix you a lunch."

"I appreciate it, surely, Miss...?"

"Dailey. I'm sorry. Nancy Dailey. You can call me Nancy. Most everyone else does."

"Nancy. I can pay. My paper pays my expenses."

"What's a piece of cheese, and a slab of ham cost?"

"Why in the city, in Manhattan, it's a nickel if it's nothing," I elaborated on my lie.

"Go on. What fool'd pay a nickel for a sandwich when he could make one himself."

"Why in the city, it's considered a pleasure to go to a restaurant and have someone else make the food and serve it to you. Of course they charge you money to do it," I explained.

"Sounds like an awful waste to me, neighbor."

She served up several slices of thick ham, marbled and trimmed with fat as white and smooth as satin. She cut a wedge from a homemade cheddar, and sliced four apples into quarters. With this she delivered a whole loaf of dark brown bread with a thick crust, and a pitcher of cool water.

I ate without speaking. And when I finished, I offered to pay again.

"This ain't no restaurant," she laughed. "No need to pay here. Want some dessert?"

She brought a huge rice pudding from the pantry, and though the sides were crusted as if it had been a part of a meal the night before, the center was soft and moist and delicious.

"You live here by yourself?" I asked.

"Used to be me and my husband, but he went off West to find us a homestead and never came back. I got a daughter. She’s down the road at the Patten's watching the Leatherman eat. They like to leave pennies for him on the fence post. They say if he takes yours, you'll have good luck for a month."

I guessed that she could not be more than thirty years old, but I reckoned now that she might be much younger, and that the years working the field, and the sun had put an age into her that wasn't her own.

"Ever been kissed?" she asked abruptly.

"Yes, why, yes. Of course, " I assured her.

"Don't look like you had. Ever been with a woman?" she asked with a keener directness.

I confessed that I had, with some reluctance, for I suddenly realized where she was leading.

"I watch my cow and bull, and I get lonely. Sorry if I’m plain spoken, but I learned early on if you don’t say what you mean, you don’t get what you want. Don't think the worse for me Jack, but once a woman's been married, the strong box is opened. When I was a kid, I didn't know what I was missing. Now I do. Would you come to my bedroom?"

She was a handsome woman, beneath the man's hat and the work clothes. I could not see her form, but she was not padded, merely muscular. Her face had a plain beauty that I hadn't noticed before beneath the smudges of dirt and the knots and tendrils of sweaty hair that hung on her neck and forehead.

I found myself attracted to Nancy Dailey, and my poker was reacting.

"I know I'm direct, but if you're off following old man Leather, I got no recourse but to be direct," she apologized. "So will you take me to bed."

"Yes," I said, surprising myself.

She disappeared into the bedroom where, over the nextt en minutes I heard the splashing of water, and the wail of drawers being pulled and pushed, and when she came to the doorway, she was a different woman. She wore a thin white shift that revealed a modest bosom, and generous spread of hip. Her hair had been pulled back into a pony tail that seemed to pull the skin on her face over high cheekbones. When she smiled, I noticed for the first time that her eyes were blue.

"The bed is ready, there's a basin in the yard," she instructed. And I went to make myself clean.

When I returned I found her already beneath the sheets of an overstuffed featherbed. As rugged and functional as her kitchen was, this bedroom was soft. And the woman who waited here, bare pink shoulders peeking like a bookmark from beneath the sheets bore no resemblance to the woman who stood and aimed a rifle at me minutes before.

I disrobed quickly to join her beneath the sheets.

No sooner was I with her then I found our mouths joined and our tongues entwined. She was consuming me like a starving woman. I put my lips to her breasts and after a deep breath she began to talk.

"I haven't had a man since my husband left. He was meaner than a cat with a broken tail. He didn't know how to treat a woman."

Now she rolled me over and climbed on top of me. She nibbled at my earlobes and shoulders, ran a tongue down my sternum and teased my navel. Suddenly she had my poker in her mouth and my body went rigid with the sensation.

"Relax, Jack. This will take but a minute."

And a short minute it seemed as fuse after fuse was ignited and burnt from my loins to my brain. I felt myself finishing when the sensation stopped and I was face to face with her again.

"I'm as sweet a dessert as you'll get," she said, pulling my breath from me with another deep kiss, and then she slid into a sitting position with her skutch in my face.

"Taste and see," she said.

And I did. And she was. And just when I felt her moving to a rhythm my own tongue was clicking out she moved again, and I was on top of her, and in her, and we were rolling to the same rhythm until, in a chorus of grunts, shrieks and moans, we lost ourselves in each other at the same time.

When we were done she was out of bed before I could hold her tight against me again.

"Got work to do," she said slipping out of her shift, and into the work clothes that I had first seen her in. "If you don't get out of that bed, you'll lose track of old man Leather."

She pointed out the window that faced the road. Through the billowing curtains I saw the shuffling figure of the Leatherman headed back up the road that he had so recently come down.

She was in the kitchen a piece of the ham in her hand when I came into the room shirtless and bootless.

"I'd like to get to know you better," I said as pulled my shirt on.

"You already know me better than my husband did," she smiled.

"I'm sorry, you know what I mean. I'd like to see you at some other time," I said awkwardly.

"Follow old man Leather and you'll see me in a month," she said.

What I really wanted to say was that I wanted to see her again and again. That I didn't want her to see anyone in my absence. That I thought we could learn to love one another. But I couldn't say that because I couldn't find the words.

My boots were on and I stumbled to the door.

"I'll be back," I said. "Don't forget me."

She walked toward me with the same smile on her face. She stopped inches from me, put a sack in my hand, that I later found was filled with cheese and cured meat, then she leaned over and kissed me again in a way that made me feel as if I was filling the entire room. That I was growing so large that I would never be able to leave.

"I won't forget you, Jack," she purred. "Long as you don't forget me."

I left her standing on her porch waving. She didn't wave long. Just long enough to make for a functional good-bye. When I turned to look again, she was gone.

I followed the Leatherman about five miles south, mostly along a populated road where, as luck would have it, I was more than able to pick up supplies. I bought a sack of onions, a sack of potatoes, some bread and bacon, and oats for Abe. The road was so straight, I was able to buy all of this and load it on my mule before the Leatherman got out of sight.

That night he ate at a farm beneath Mount Carmel then headed for the hills as usual. The road up was steep but negotiable all the way to the summit with Abe.

Each night I was attempting to camp a bit closer to the old man without spooking him. I still wanted to make my approach to him as cautious as possible, because he was as skittish as a cockroach.

I bedded down on a patch of moss that made a natural mattress between two flat oval boulders that leaned against each other. I saw the Leatherman step down into another of his rock shelters, his head bobbing as he took the rough steps down, and was asleep.

The Leatherman stood above me in bright light. It felt like a dream to have this creature, who I had been observing so closely, yet from a distance, suddenly hovering over me. He had one leg on each side of me, snug against each arm. They were secure, and couldn't have been moved if I wanted to move them. I had to rub some of the sleep from my eyes.

He stared down at me with a frightening countenance. I tried a smile.
He didn't move a muscle.

I smiled again, and suddenly he flew into action. He reached down quickly, I closed my eyes and turned my head waiting for a blow to my face. When none came I opened them again, and saw that the Leatherman had drawn a snake, thick ugly and brown, from the crook where my head lay against my pack. He had the beast by the tail and with a single swing he dashed its brains against a nearby tree. I was frozen with fear.

I couldn't move. That snake was inches from my head when I was asleep. What if there were more. I looked at the Leatherman's face pleadingly. He looked back at me completely absent of expression, then lifted his leg over me and walked away.

Then I heard the Leatherman readying to leave, and I knew that if I delayed too long I would miss him. All at once I had the feeling that he had been waiting for me this morning, that he wanted me to follow him, that he wanted me as companion on the trail. But despite his desires, he was ready to go now, and I wasn't.

I hopped up quickly, moving rapidly from beneath my blankets to be sure that there were no snakes in residence. When I made my rapid survey I knocked my boot against the same tree that the Leatherman had used to knock the snake senseless, and put them on. I bundled my belongings together quickly, but not without taking a moment to examine the lifeless copperhead that lay like a broken rope next to the cold cinder of my fire. At his thickest he was about four inches around. A bite from him in the right location might have caused me great discomfort, and at least weeks of sickness. At worst I would never wake.

By the time I had Abe packed, the Leatherman was out of sight, but the road was straight for a quarter of a mile at the bottom of the mountain, and I found him moving South toward the Sound once again.

Chapter 25 - The Leatherman's Journal - November 4, 1875

Our wedding was a secret. We were married in the small town of Ste. Lucie. Neither Marie's father, nor my father knew. We were married amongst strangers. Strangers for attendents. Strangers for witnesses. And a sleepy-eyed priest with two hundred francs in his pocket performed the ceremony.

Once we were married, I do not recall how we reasoned that we should keep our marriage a secret. But we came to decide that we would reveal our bond slowly to our families so that they could accept the facts of our marriage. We were naïve to believe they would accept us as a couple.

We made it back to Lyon by nightfall. Marie's aunt was waiting at the door. Smiling as usual. I believe that she knew.

No one waited for me, but the house burned bright when I arrived. It was always so. A light was kept burning by the servants for the last person to extinguish when he arrived.

I sat by a window and let the flames burn for a marriage unconsummated. I sat until the sun rose and put to shame all the tiny flames that burned.

I wish to God that we had run. I wish now that we had worried only of ourselves.

It was our secrecy that was our undoing.

It was our separation that abetted the plotting.

In the end, it was my foolish fear that killed Marie.

Author's apology

It's been three weeks since I posted a chapter, but a bout with the flu knocked me off course the first week, and pure procrastination kicked in after that. There will be two more chapters up by midnight, and hopefully I'll be back on course.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Chapter Twenty Four - Jack Conroy, Detective

On the day that I finally left town, I did so with much fanfare. I was sleeping off an evening of penny poker and beer not nearly so dear. My head seemed as stuffy as the room, and it rang like church bell for the funeral of a bishop. So the knock on the door, no matter how enthusiastic, no matter how important,t was not welcome.

"Go 'way," I croaked.

"Jack, get up. The Leatherman's on Indian Hill and he's heading to the river," it was the voice of Jim Burke, the livery boy.

I rose to my feet quickly with his words but regretted my sudden elevation and had to make my way to my knees and the chamber pot where I emptied my stomach of the night's excesses.

"Jack, do you hear me?" he asked excitedly.

"I hear you Jim. Pack the mule, I'll be down in a few minutes," I shouted before erupting again.

I heard his boots fly down the hall before I passed out on the braided rug by my bed.
I'm not sure how much time passed before I awoke again, now to a flood of water directed at my face from the ceramic water which was a mismatch for the basin in the room. It was McDonough's voice.

"Get up, Jack. You'll miss him," it was McDonough. His face was cloudy, but I could read his anger and anxiety through the fog.

"I'm getting McDonough, give me room," I answered, attempting to get to my feet, but flopping on my mattress.

"I know I shouldn't have trusted you to be responsible enough to be prepared for this moment, McDonough huffed as he pulled my shirt over my head, and replaced it with another. I felt him jerk my trousers on, snapping the suspenders hard for effect. And as he paused to mop his brow, Jacqueline, one of the girls from the theatre approached, fastened a mug of steaming coffee to my fist and pulled a comb through my hair.

"Just let me go, McDonough. I don't need to be gussied up to chase a smelly old tramp. I'm going down the road, not up on stage," I protested.

"That's only what you think, my boy. Half the town is waiting to see the great bounty hunter off on his trip," he announced loudly to small gathering in my tiny room.
"You've got to look the part, so that while you're away hunting the beast, they'll have the correct picture of a great American hero planted in their heads."

"I'm not a great American hero," I protested again.

"You will be by the time I get finished with you," he said.

Jacqueline attacked me with a fist of pomade, and urged me to drink the black brew. I obliged and burnt the skin off the roof of my mouth in the process. In a matter of minutes they had me in boots, waistcoat, string tie, bowler, and greatcoat. I was carrying a bullwhip large enough to drive a sulfur team out of the great desert.

"I've got to spew," I announced, and headed back for the chamber pot as they were marching me out the door.

"Swallow hard, Jack. You're a hero," McDonough said as he spun me around and marched me through the rooming house and out onto the street.

Though "half the town" had been the kind of exaggeration McDonough was famous for, there was indeed a crowd of about fifty people, mostly children, older men and a few young women, huddled around my mule. I worked my way through the crowd and inspected the mule that Jim had packed for me. Before this, I had imagined pictures of me riding out of town, explorer's hat pulled low over my eyes, surveying the horizon for sign of old man Leather, and pulling my collar high against the wind.

Instead, I found I packed so many provisions that the mule would have to struggle with them. I would become the burden that destroyed him if I climbed on. As to searching the horizon, the morning sun was still very bright, and my eyes were barely able to adjust to the glare. I found myself wiping tears from my cheek every time I looked to the East.

The crowd parted easily when I led the mule out to the street and Southeast, into the hills that hung over the Connecticut.

McDonough pounded me on the shoulder and pressed a small canvas sack into my palm, which I was later to find, contained six twenty-dollar gold pieces. He walked to the edge of the crowd with me, six or eight steps, and turned to embrace me. It was a stage performance. And with much to do, he reached behind his great torso, and pulled, from somewhere, a great gleaming Colt pistol.

I had never before shot a pistol. Had no idea about their operation, except to know that they could cause devastating destruction. I stepped back, reluctant at first to accept the dubious gift, and then took it timidly, to the delight of the crowd who broke into applause. McDonough was a master showman.

I was surprised by the weight of the piece. I doubted that I could hold it steadily at arms length. And fearful of touching the wrong lever, I decided that I would wait to explore it's operation until I was clearly out of sight, and far enough away not to embarrass myself, or do damage to anybody else.

`"Go with God," McDonough said in his best stage delivery. "But come back with the Leatherman."

Once again the crowd applauded. I wondered if McDonough ever did anything that was not a measured attempt to generate applause.

I felt like spewing, and not much like talking, and so my oral recitation at parting was brief.

"I'll see you soon, McDonough," I shook his hand and walked to the edge of town before turning. My head pounded like a gandy dancer's hammer.

Within an hour I made my way over the first set of hills that rose above the river to the south of Middletown. I passed, at a distance, and with a surprising longing, the fancy set of brick buildings that made up the Insane Asylum. I saw a crew working the field, and felt sure that I could recognize some of my workmates in the distance. I saw Pierson, definitely. His rigid stance and his authoritative gait marked him as a brutal force of nature.

The road skirted the foot of the higher hills behind the hospital, on the river side. It was a well-maintained road that ran about sixty yards above the Saybrook-to-Hartford railroad tracks.

Within three hours of my departure from Middletown I caught up with the Leatherman. I saw him, by chance, walking along the railbed below me. His pace was steady, but slow, and for the first time I began to think about how I was to track him, how I would approach him, and eventually how I would communicate McDonough's offer to him.

He looked like a big brown animal lumbering through the forest. I knew that he knew that I was watching, and for this reason, I could not slow, because he would know that I was tracking him.

I decided to keep my pace and to stop several miles down the road, hoping that he did not detour somewhere along the way. With the river on his left, and the road on his right, and a steep hill above that, and with now house or barn between, I was sure my assumption about his moves were correct.

I waited for over an hour without a sign of the tramp. Though I covered just over two miles, I was certain that even at his slow pace he would reach me soon. I waited another forty minutes and knew that I was mistaken. He had turned off the rail bed somewhere along the way. I turned the mule around and headed back along the path.

Both sides of the road were a hopeless tangle of wild rose, and raspberry prickers. They seemed impassable to me. And the dropoff on the river side, and the steep rise on the opposite did not seem to me to make inviting travel. I moved quickly back up the road all the way to the place where I had last seen the Leatherman, and upon reaching that point realized that I must turn again and make a more thorough examination of the brambles that I had so recently passed.

I retraced my footsteps, slowly this time, examining each thicket for a sign of footpath or broken branch. I wondered what the Indian trackers, who were celebrated in the newspapers, looked for when they were tracking man or animal. I didn't move forward until I checked each side of the road for sign of human passage.

I surprised myself when I found the path. And once I saw it, it looked as wide and obvious as a coachway.

It was, in truth, a narrow path that led beneath two large overhanging hemlock branches, and between a cleft in a large grey boulder that sparkled with the feldspar so readily found in the area. The dirt in the cleft was tamped down by many passages, and a well-defined forest trail led up the steep face of the hill. There was no sign of the Leatherman.

I took a few step in, pulling the mule behind.

"C'mon mule," I coaxed. And when that didn't work I shouted.

The mule wouldn't move, and when he wouldn't I tried desperately to remember his name Jimmy had told me and now I couldn't recall it. Chester? Charley? It was a man's name, I was sure. And a fairly common one. Jake? Johnny? Clyde? Bob? Jeb? Andy? He wasn't responding to anything when I remembered.

"Abe, now. Up you go," I called.

And up he went, a short distance. I yelled and pulled again, but the path was steep, Abe was reluctant, and the moss and lichen fell beneath his hooves and thwarted his footing at every step. I looked up the and realized how impossible my task was.

I remembered that there was a small community of farmers and fishermen who lived on the hills that hung behind the asylum. Sometimes we'd see them pass as we worked the field. We always called to them but they rarely answered. They only responded by clucking their horse to carry the wagon further and faster.

It was about supper time now and I wondered if the Leatherman would be moving toward one of those houses to beg a meal.

With an almost greater difficulty than I had pulling him up the slope, I backed Abe down, backwards through the cleft and to the road. He whinnied and screamed the entire length of our journey.

We backtracked several miles, but within the hour we were once again on the west side of the hill, on a road, headed for the river community.

A narrow road lead through thick woods to a row of old houses that lined a narrow valley. Behind all the houses, sheer cliffs hung catching the rays of sunlight that were pushing their last fingers through the thick green growth. The fields these people worked stretched back to the head of the road I had entered to get into the valley, and the other end of the road seemed to drop down the hill leading to the river.

As I made my way up the path I saw women at work in washtubs, and children running dogs through cleared yards. I saw one man hauling a yoke with two full buckets from a stream that ran behind his house. A dog broke across the road ahead of Abe, with a young boy following. He stopped when he saw me.

"Who're you?" he asked.

"My name's Jack.”

"What'cha want?"

"I'm looking for somebody that might be around here," I answered my interrogator.

"You the sheriff?"

I laughed in reply to this question.

"No, I don't carry a badge. I'm just looking for an old man who might have walked through here," I explained.

"Plenty of coots around here," he said straightforwardly. "Which one you want. I'll fetch him for a penny."

"Well, I don't know his name rightly. But I call him old man Leather because he dre..."

"You mean Cartwright's bum?" he asked.

"Cartwright's bum?" I asked right back.

"Yeah. Old tramp comes once a month and bums a supper off of old man Cartwright. Cartwright's blind and he don't know what a mess this old bum looks like. But somehow, the bum lets him know when he's here. He don't talk, you know. And Cartwright feeds him for free."

"That's my man," I smiled.

"He's at Cartwright's all right," the boy said.

"Where's that?" I asked.

He directed me down into what was the deepest point of this hidden valley in the Middletown hills. There was a rudely constructed house and barn, with a corral filled with noisy spotted hogs. In the front of the house, where most people would have a yard, this man had planted a small patch of corn where the sun most brightly penetrated this shadowed valley.

There was a small clearing and a plank table. Sitting there in front of a large platter of what I could see was steaming corn on the cob, bread and a roasted meat of some kind was the old Leatherman, and another man I took to be Cartwright.

Both of them moved amongst the platters in a strange rhythm. Cartwright reached and grabbed confidently for a man without sight. The Leatherman ate in silence, but occasionally moved a crust, or cob within the blind man's reach.

I stood at a distance besides a large boulder that had altered the path of the narrow dirt road. Out of sight of the clearing. I knew I could not let the Leatherman see me twice in a day, or I'd surely alarm him into avoiding me whenever I was spotted.

I watched for a moment more then pulled Abe back around and headed up the road again wondering what my next move would be.

I was startled out of my ruminations by the boy who had directed me to the house in the first place.

"Find him?" he asked.


"Well, you going to arrest him?" he asked again.

"I'm not the sheriff. I thought I told you that," I answered.

"Well, my pa told me never to believe anyone right off," he declared. "Said it would get me in trouble in the long run."

"Well, he's probably right. But I'm not going to harm you. I've got one more question before I leave. Where's the Leatherman stay at night after he stops at Cartwrights.?”

The boy looked at me for a full minute before he began to answer again.

"You're asking a lot of questions for someone who's not the sheriff," he shot back.

It was at this moment that I began devising the story that I would tell to each person I questioned about the Leatherman.

I was discovering, at this moment. what was to become more clear as the days crawled by. Though most people saw the Leatherman as a tramp, or a beggar, he seemed to carry a halo of benevolence. Many people believed the Leatherman carried good luck. These people saw their lives grow strong and happy over the many years that he had passed, and so, they were out to protect that luck from anything that might interrupt it.

Others saw him as some kind of mystery. Because he was silent, and without a story, they felt free to wrap him in tales of their own invention. And even though some of those stories were bloody and murderous, they treated him with care, because, as you know, people love to scare themselves, and they love a good outlaw tale. Others saw him as a means of working out penance, or doing a good Christain deed. The meal they passed him, or the blanket they lent him were the means by which their souls would make it to heaven.

And so all of them, whatever their reason, needed to protect the Leatherman from any harm that might befall him. And that harm included me.

"I'm a writer from a New York paper. I'm following him to tell his story," I said to the boy.

He looked at me again. He was protecting the old Leatherman like he'd protect any of his chums. Out of pure loyalty.

"Which paper?" he asked.

"The New York Daily Channel," I answered without blinking.

"Well, why would a New York paper be so interested in some old tramp?"

"Human interest," I guessed. "Human interest," I asserted.

Thoroughly convinced of my innocent intentions, my young friend directed me to a rock shelter not twenty yards from the back wall of Cartwright's cabin. There was no way I could get there easily now, and I asked the youngster if there was another route. Finding none, I decided to move back down the road and camp by the edge of the field, then at daybreak, walk back and try to make an upward approach to his rocky home, as I had done outside of Singsing.

I made camp, and tethered Abe in some brush.

I dropped my gear and, I lit off for the hills behind the small community. I moved off the road about halfway down its length to the houses. The going was difficult and after a few hundred yards my arms were filled with the scratches and bites one would expect crossing such uninviting territory.
I was moving roughly north when the sun tipped below the horizon, but I found an incline headed East, toward the river, and started an ascent.

I found a path close enough to the edge of the rocky outcrop below from which I could spot the houses when they came into view, but not too close so that a misstep would spell my ruin.

As I approached the small settlement, I slowed down until I picked Cartwright's house out from the others.

A bright fire was burning in a pit in the front yard and Cartwright sat close to the flames. If he was sighted I would have guessed that he was staring into the campfire. Beside him the Leatherman sat. If either spoke, I wouldn't know it. They hardly moved at all.

The only motion was the Leatherman's arm as he moved a pipe back and forth from his mouth, and the slow rising cloud of tobacco smoke that drifted from his head, in a pillar, through the halo of the campfire, to where the smoke disappeared in the darkness.

They sat like this for hours. I dozed, and awoke, and still they sat.

I slept as the fire burned out, and the Leatherman and Cartwright left their spots to bed for the night. I woke to utter darkness below, the sky lit brilliantly with a dense packing of stars, and a whispered song.

I couldn't make out the words, but I now knew that the Leatherman had a voice.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Chapter 23 - THE LEATHERMAN'S JOURNAL – October 14, 1875

At the Fisher Farm
today my emotions overtook me.

I approached the farm from over the hills in Middlefield. I saw some activity in the small grass plot in front of the large house. The house sat close to the edge of the wide stage road called Washington Street since, I am told, thought I don’t ask, General Washington marched his troops down the wide corridor. A path off the road led to a shelter I had on the mountain that looked, to the West, over Meriden.

As I approached, I saw that the husband was back from the fields, the grown children, four boys, as well, and the wife, and some of the other hands stood in a group talking, or lolled on the porch that skirted the front and side of the house.

For a moment I thought they were waiting for me, and I was prepared to turn away, and rely on what I carried away from breakfast in my pack instead of facing the crowd. And as I thought this, I saw all attention was focused upon me, and slowly the crowd dispersed, leaving only the husband and wife, another woman, and a child. As I moved closer, I peered from under the brim of my hat and saw someone I recognized.

I knew her name was Emma, and I had not seen her for many years, though the exact number of years is cloudy in my thoughts. She was a negro servant when I knew her, in her teens, moving into womanhood, and was treated as a member of the family in the Fisher household. One of her jobs was to feed me.

I grew to love her, in a fashion. For she never served me without speaking to me, without stopping a one-sided conversation, from the time she set the food down, until the time I mopped the last bit of gravy from my plate. After which she would always wrap me a thick sandwich made from bread heels and meat scraps.

She spoke with irreverence, and in this she reminded me of my Marie. No thought to age, class, or status. She spoke her mind. Told me I was dirty. She told me once that I stank, and so from that point, before each visit, I soaked in a creek when the weather was warm. She told me all about the family that she lived with, and she told me the gossip of the house, the town, the state, and the country.

Mrs. Fisher taught her to read, and so she kept up on events by reading the newspapers, and kept up on the gossip by keeping her sharp ears open, and her mouth closed, except when she was with me. I believed I was the only one she spoke to this way, because she knew I would not reveal a single secret.

She told me of her ambitions. She told me how she would love to study inside Wesleyan's walls, but feared that she would never have the chance. She told me she wanted a family, because she missed her own. They lived in a town called Oakley, in a place she only referred to as the South.

And she told me that she understood how I felt to be someone wandering on the outskirts of a society that was not mine to call my own, for she felt the same way.

And finally, she told me when she was leaving, to be married to a young farmer named Sanders. And she wept copiously. As I did walking away from the Fisher farm that last time I saw her.

Here was Emma standing, waiting, hands resting on hips cocked to the left. A huge grin illuminating the face of this girl with a woman's figure. And before her, a child, skin a lustrous cocoa, hair raven, and beaming the way her mother beamed. I felt my eyes must be lying to me.

As I got closer, I knew my eyes were telling the truth. It was not a vision. This was Emma, my Emma, and what must be her daughter.

"Why old man," I heard her laugh. "In all these years you never learned to walk any faster. Aren't you glad to see your Emma."

I don't know if I smiled. My heart smiled. My soul smiled. My face could do nothing but follow, but I forgot what a smile could feel like, and so I was not sure what contortion my face had taken upon itself to perform.

"Well, look here," she laughed again. "You learned something, didn't you? You're smiling."

I turned my face to the earth, ashamed at the betrayal of my own vows, but I had to admit, sinfully it seemed, that I felt more joy in this moment than I had felt in many years.

When I reached the small knot of people, Mr. and Mrs. Fisher backed off, leaving me looking at the earth, and at the feet of Emma. As if she had glided there on a sheet of ice, the little girl slid into my view. She looked up at a face that I knew contained the lie of a grimace.

"Old man leather," she said, pointing.

"I tell her about you all the time," Emma said.

I looked up furtively, not wanting the secrets of my soul to be discovered. She was smiling, gently, with an understanding that didn't need explanation.

"She's almost four. Her name's Alice."

"Alice Sanders," the girl corrected.

I knelt, and put my pack and stick on the ground and reached out slowly toward Alice. I was unsure of myself. I had not reached out for another person in a longer time than I had smiled last. She seemed timid at my faltering reach. But when I placed my hands on her shoulders, though my fingers trembled under the weight of years of abandoned emotion. She relaxed, and seemed to spread her confidence through my fingers.

She smiled a smile I will never forget. It came quickly, from nowhere, like a swallow on the hunt, and it was as broad as the rivers I couldn't cross, and it carried the warmth of the summer sun, though there were gaps where her small children's teeth had fallen victim to a piece of taffy, or an apple. She smiled, and looked at me with a child's innocent coyness. And I thought of my meals with Emma, and I thought of Marie. And I pulled the child to me and held her tight, and wept as I heard the lighter than air laughter escape from her perfect mouth. And I wept like a man who had lost his mother.

The little girl pulled away, and I let her run. I folded my face into my hands and tried to hide my sorrow from those few who had gathered. I felt a hand on my shoulder, and having gained my composure, I looked up to see Emma smiling back at me.

"It's all right," she said. "It'll be all right."

With this reassurance, I almost fled. It is the course I have learned to take. No longer a predator in life. I was now scavenger, and sometimes prey. It meant that I could not show vulnerability. Could not afford to expose any weaknesses to those who might see them as excuses for abandoning their kind treatment of me. I knew that to survive I had to run when threatened. I was compelled to run.

But at this moment. The first such moment in many years, I knew I did not have to run, did not want to run, and in the end, would not run. I would stand and share these small emotions with this woman who shared her’s with me so many times, and share with these people who shared their labors, and the food from the table with me for so many years.

Emma took me by the arm and led me toward the porch. Mrs. Fisher hurried ahead. And Alice ran ahead with Mr. Fisher. Emma spoke softly to me, but she could not resist speaking.

"Any man with a life as hard as your own deserves to weep a river of tears. I've wept them myself, I know. A lot has happened since we met last. Mr. Sanders, my husband, Ernest, has taken a job with the New Haven railroad. We own a piece of land near Bridgeport. And I've learned to read."

She spoke to me thus, through my meal, and for the hour it took for me to reach the hill that lead up to the Insane Asylum. And we both wept when we parted again.

Chapter Twenty One, addendum

(Last week I neglected to add the final two pages to chapter Twenty One. These are the missing pages.)

Burke lay his head back on an uncased pillow, piping dark with the sweat from his head. His eyes closed, and I stood and watched for a minute, thinking that he might have fallen asleep again. I scraped my soles on the gritty floor, and he stirred again.

"You still here?" he asked.

"Do you still track people for Barnum?" I asked.

"Fish for freaks?" he laughed a laugh which avalanched into a phlegmy cough. "Barum fired me months ago when I made a set of Siamese twins pregnant on the trip back from the Ukraine. I told him they'd be an even bigger attraction. He made me bring them back to their country. I sailed for Europe, but I sold them to a circus in Milan. The Circus de Santo Paulo."

He laughed again.

"How do you track people, people like that?"

"Freaks. Sideshow freaks, kid. Don't be afraid to call them what they are. They know what they are. Freaks of nature," with this his head fell with a greasy flop to his pillow again. This last pronouncement seemed to drain him of the last of his energy.

I waited to see if he would raise his head again of his own volition, and when he did not, I opened my mouth once more.

"How do you convince them to come with you?" I asked.

He looked up, as he did before, and I was sure he was going to ask again if I was still here, but he grunted and gave me a look that begged the same answer.

"Money brings lots of them. Promise of money. Most of these freaks are poor. Stone poor. So money gets them most of the time. Money in their own pockets, or money in the pockets of starving parents. They give up these kids because they know they'd never make it in their own world. They take their money and buy some chickens, or a cow, or a plot of land, and make life better for the rest of the little wogs. Everybody's happy."

I looked at him hard, not saying a word, but he knew he hadn't given me a complete answer. And for a moment, his head swung on his neck like a cowbird on the end of a cattail, I thought he would drop to the pillow once more to evade a response.

"The rest we take. If they're good. A live, two-headed animal, or some extremely small dwarve. We take them. We always leave the money. Hell, with Barnum, the money's never a problem, but sometimes the owner just won't give up what rightfully don't belong to him alone. 'Belongs to the world,' Mr. Barnum says. And I say he's right.

"So we take them in the name of the rest of the world. It's only fair. It's only right. Do you think that old dog-faced boy ought to be kept from the world? Course you don't. So we got the right to take them. We do. And, besides, we always leave the money."

This time I lost him to the pillow. His collapse sent a storm of dust motes through a shaft of sunlight that burned through the morning haze and lit the room in all its impoverished despair. I left.

McDonough won his case, and he seemed to sense this when I returned to give him the news that I would be leaving the next day to track down the Leatherman.

"Why leave?" he asked. "He'll show up in town someday soon, just follow him once he gets here.”

"What am I supposed to offer him? A salary. Clean bedding, food, what?" I asked.

McDonough outlined a plan of compensation that put my own to shame. He obviously envisioned the Leatherman as a big attraction for the theatre. He was prepared to offer him a salary of fifteen dollars a week, a room at the Riverview Hotel, and one meal a day in the hotel dining room, for as long as the engagement drew people.

"I know this won't be an easy job," McDonough advised. "So, you take as long as you like. Don't force him into anything. Make sure we meet his needs. Take as long as you like, but bring him back alive, Jack."

I wouldn't have it any other way," I insisted.

I spent the next two days puting together provisions for my tracking. I knew I'd be following old man Leather from town to town, and so the need for victuals each day was diminished. But I did buy myself a good mule, a sleeping role, a waxed canvas ground sheet, and an umbrella. It was early September, so I also bought a new woolen union suit, a thick wool parka, and two pairs of Levi Strauss dungarees.

This along with a knife, hatchet and cook set was all I needed. I
packed it in bags attached to my mule. Miverva was her name, and she was kept at the ready at a livery two doors down from the Palace. Word was out I wanted to know the first someone spotted old man Leather in or around town.

I settled in to wait.

And it was a waiting game. Though I hadn't been officially dismissed from the theatre staff, or from the cast of McDonough's shows, for that matter, I didn't turn up at the theatre every day. I stayed out of McDonough's way. I found a place on a bench in front of the sundries store that VanRediger owned on Main St. Though I knew old man Leather never passed this close to civilization, I also knew that the latest word of gossip, of any kind, was dropped as thoughtlessly and unkindly as a road apple at the crossroads in front of VanRedigers.

I held court with the old men, who told me tales of old man Leather from when they were youngsters, twenty years before. Though they were all past fourscore years, youth appeared in the haze of their memory as only twenty years distant.

They told me of his regularity. They told me his name, or I should say names: LeClerc, and Bonhomme, and Poitin, and Bourglay and Tournoir.

But they took the greatest joy in telling me of his crimes. Of the farmer's wives he had seduced, of the farm children he had abducted, and eventually eaten, of the farmhouses he had plundered, and of the farm animals that he is reputed to have rustled, killed, maimed and buggered, though not all four to any one animal.

I listened with a certain dispassionate interest, for I knew, that these men, like the reporter for The Middletown Herald, gathered all of their information by staying in one place, and awaiting for it to arrive on their doorstep like the mail. I knew the truth didn't arrive in the mail.

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.