Chapter 23

The second week of January 1912 brought season-appropriate cold. This return to normalcy, at least as far as the thermometers were concerned, was welcomed by the mill owners. The striking workers, unsurprised at yet another element of their world turning against them, took it all in stride. Trash barrels, roughly cut to allow a warming fire, were stationed on the corners of each block along Canal Street, like cavalry forts strung across the undeveloped territories of the early American West. In a pale imitation of the recent Christmas season, these fires offered actual warmth, as opposed to a premise to request donations. The cheerful displays of a Santa Claus standing next to a pretend cookpot hung over a fake fire was transformed into rusted steel drums full of real fire and men and women in patched clothing standing guard over their livelihood. The plummeting temperatures and rising winds tempted management to hope for an early surrender. The same cold wind whistled through the picket lines that stood at the entrances to each mill, built in place with all the determination of any desperate military commander.

“They may speak six kinds of mongrel English and treat their children like pawns in a city park chess game, but I assure you gentlemen, the winter will convince the workers to listen to our demands and return to work.”

Frederick Prendergast III spoke with a confidence that served to remind him that he was indeed, the right man for the job. Smiling at the men around the conference table, he could picture himself seated among them. He was certain it wouldn’t be long before he was also sitting, rather than standing, listening to some underling trying to make bad news sound like good fortune.

“You also told us they’d never organize. That the workforce, being mostly women, you said, they would put providing for their squalling brats and layabout husbands ahead of something as abstract and uncertain as a labor strike. You need to end this quickly, Prendergast, the press is getting out of hand. Just last night I read a story in the Boston Herald about the strike and they quoted someone referring to this as ‘The Bread and Roses Strike’! That is not good for business. Thank God it was buried on page 6. I called a friend on the editorial board of the paper and reminded him that this was an illegal work action incited by foreign anarchists.  And now, there’s this business of shipping their children off to relatives! Get this strike shut down or you’ll be joining them out on Canal St.”

Frederick looked at the faces of the ten Directors for signs of support or, failing that, at least a sign of a dissenting opinion to the hardline taken by Barry Williboughy. As the newest member of the Essex Company’s Board of Directors, he’d been Frederick’s nemesis from the first meeting. In the warm, well-lit room, Frederick was dismayed to realize that Barry Willoughby was reflecting the will, perhaps un-consciously, of the majority of the Board. The simple fact of the matter was that he had no allies and that ending the strike was his only hope, if he was to continue his rise through the ranks of the Essex Company.

“Gentleman, I have everything under control. Even as we speak, I have the police on their way to pick up the man responsible for the tragic and totally un-necessary death of a union organizer. I will release a statement to the…”

“Enough, Prendergast! The tawdry details are your concern. What we require of you is to get our workers off the street and back at the machines. Spare us the human interest stories. Get our mills running!”

Frederick Prendergast smiled, nodded his head and left the boardroom without another word. Returning to his office, he stood in front of his secretary’s desk and stared at her until she said,

“Yes sir? What is it I can do?”

“Get that goddamn incompetent flatfoot Herlihy and tell him to get over here right now. Then send someone out to find that idiot Maclachlan and tell him to get his sorry ass in here from whatever dive or whorehouse he’s holed up in!”

Frederick knew that he could count on Sergeant Herlihy.  He was not very bright but very loyal and ambitious to a fault. Robbie Maclachlan was another matter entirely. The red-headed enforcer had a bully’s heart, a very sharp mind and not the slightest hint of a sense of loyalty. He realized that he should have been quit of the man, after he botched the last job he sent him on; visit the union hall late at night and put some fear into the union rep. Frederick thanked his lucky stars that Herlihy was nearby and able to keep a lid on the mess Maclachlan made of it. He decided that he’d fire him as soon as he could find him.

Lizabeth Addams waited for the office door to slam. To her mind, she executed her duties to the greatest degree by waiting for the Chief Operating Officer of the Essex Company to have the final word. Only then would she proceed to execute his directives. She was quite aware that her boss was under a great deal of pressure and she was willing to do anything to help him succeed. She felt she owed that much to her unborn child.

***

Almira Ristani and Sterling Gulch walked along Route 110 as it followed the southward path of the Merrimack River. They walked down the middle of the road for two reasons: it was still early on a Sunday morning and traffic was nonexistent and with the sun rising to a cloudless day, it was the more ice-free part of the road surface. The decision to walk the 13 miles to Lowell, Massachusetts stemmed from their desire to find a train station less crowded with soldiers and newly deputized police. A mill town in its own right, Lowell had not yet caught the union fever. Their plan was simple: walk to Lowell, board a southbound train and pay a visit to Sterling’s parents in Providence, Rhode Island. They would have appreciated their plan more (but, of course, regretted not following it), had they tried to depart from the Lawrence railroad station instead. Even on a Sunday morning, the station had more soldiers than baggage porters. In part, this over-abundance of civil authority was the un-intended by-product of a union strategy. All workers with families, (which is to say, most workers), put their young children on trains to go and stay with relatives or union sympathizers out-of-state, well out of harm’s way. This, of course, did not fail to make an impression on the Essex Company and local officials. Within a day of the beginning of this exodus, City officials announced a new travel ban: anyone under the age of 21 traveling by train, must be accompanied by at least two adults.

‘A proper family, traveling on holiday, would surely include the nanny. And in these modern times, it’s very often the case that both parents cannot travel together. This new Travel Rule is for the safety of the children of Lawrence.  They are, after all, the first concern of the Essex Company. And, as the father of two children. I might add that certainly any loving parent will surely see the wisdom of such a regulation on travel.’ Frederick Prendergast was happy to provide a statement for publication by the Lawrence Gazette.

The winter-cold air added a certain extra character to sound itself, as the two young people walked and the signs of civilization faded back into the ‘grow-where-growing-is-possible nature of the New England countryside. Gradually, with each step over the cold asphalt pavement, the man-made sounds of machinery and motor vehicles were replaced by the life-sounds of the woods, meadows and the Merrimack River, that followed the two young people as they walked. At points along the way, the blue waters seemed shy, hiding behind groves of aspen trees and long mounds of blueberry bushes, coming out briefly wherever smaller streams dashed under road bridges for a reunion with the larger river. Crows remained the only evidence of a bird population, all other species long since taken wing for warmer climes. Of course there were still the red-tailed hawks and the giant-winged turkey buzzards, graceful predators floating high over the land, slow patient circles waiting for death to provide for them. By noon, the two covered most of the distance to their destination. The countryside began to show signs of man, as stone walls appeared to grow in the woods, running in rounded lines over the hilly terrain. Increasingly, green checkerboard squares were visible across the blue ribbon of the Merrimack, their guide and only constant companion.

They spoke very little since leaving Lawrence. There grew a connection between the young man and the young(er) woman that allowed any focus of interest by one to be immediately known by the other. A slight shifting of eyes was the equivalent of several declarative sentences (followed inevitability by questions and qualification) between people married for years. Increasingly, they were attuned to each other, to such an extent that any change in the rhythm of breathing or focus of the eyes was immediately noted. In fact, they almost always noticed the same things. Nevertheless, two people are still two separate lifes. There can never be complete similarity. That they were a couple, a man and a woman, allowed for the greatest degree of congruence, of a common outlook on the world. The complementarity of a young couple in love is a thing of wonder. It’s a ‘magic’ so remarkable that reasonable and mature people usually are blind to their sharing.

Annie LoPizzo’s funeral was quiet and it was sad, but it was not a small affair. It was very much the opposite of what she would have described, were she still alive. But, that very observation is at the heart of the truism that, ‘funerals are for the living and not the dead’.

Sterling arrived, the morning of the demonstration, at Almira’s side, in the middle of Canal Street, even as Annie LoPizzo’s life was flowing out of her, tracing the cobblestones in scarlet. He knew better than to try to pull Almira away. Instead, he sat down in the street, facing her, his longer legs encircling Almira’s, which in turn cradled and protected Annie’s body. He remained on the ground, as the striking workers gathered around the three of them. His eyes held Almira’s much as his body protected her and he waited until the girl’s spirit could let go of her friend. Finally, Almira looked up and into Sterling’s eyes with longing, powerful, yet wholly undefined. He reached over, brushed a curtain of light brown hair from her face and held out his hand. They sat holding one and the other’s hands, their arms and legs intertwined, holding the world at bay. Eventually the police and the ambulance arrived. The siren on the ambulance wailed, not needing to scream so that the crowd would step aside, each member of the throng became pall bearers in a street funeral.

Sterling took Almira back to Annie’s apartment. He sat her on the couch and cleaned the blood from her face and hair, finally he wrapped her hands in a warm wet towel. Removing her blood-stained blouse, Sterling found a heavy flannel shirt from a bureau in the bedroom, he wrapped the girl in its soft embrace and sat holding her. The light from the windows retreated and the dark of night crept in as he sat cradling her head in his arms. She slept and he sat, until the rise of the sun the next morning.

The funeral service was held in St. Mary’s, the granite and fieldstone church on Haverhill Street, across from the Commons. The priest read from a book written by strangers and spoke of a woman that he believed he knew. The union sent a single representative to the Mass. In the course of the Mass people arrived, shadows on the central aisle their only usher. They showed up, one at a time, as a couple, in small groups of friends. By the time the Mass ended, the church was full and people stood, in silent groups out the doors, now held open by the crowd, down the stairs and across the street to the Commons. Almira and Sterling returned to the apartment and awaited the people and friends, near-relatives and those who’s lives had been touched by Annie LoPizzo. Some of them would loudly proclaim their remembrance of Annie LoPizzo and the close relationship that they had, others walked in and stood quietly, simply being there and, after a time, left to be replaced by others. The older women brought folding chairs and they sat wherever they found the space, in the apartment, out in the hallway, even into the living room of the apartment across the hall, it’s own door open, an offer of additional seating. The murmuring line of people grew. They came to visit where Annie lived as much as they came to visit Almira and Sterling. The two young people provided the human essence of what Annie represented to the people of Lawrence, a hope for the future. The two very young people received the visitors and accepted the condolences and remembrances. In the middle of the afternoon’s line, Sargent Herlihy appeared and stepped past Father Deljuidace (who was sitting in the hallway, just at the foot of the stairs to the second floor apartments). He walked into the apartment and stood in front of Almira, who was sitting on the brown sofa in the center of the room. Sterling rose from sitting next to her. Herlihy addressed Almira,

“I remember you. You’re the little girl at the Union Hall that night last month. And you…”

He turned his head slightly towards Sterling, and with an expression that didn’t even pretend to be one of sympathy, said,

“…you were there too.”

Sterling looked back at the policeman. Herlihy turned his full attention back to Almira, who stared into his eyes. Herlihy seemed to shiver and immediately looked away, clearly uncomfortable and only after Almira looked back down at the book on her lap, he continued,

“Well, don’t go no wheres, you two. With Miss LoPizzo’s death there are questions that need to be answered. Despite what you may think of me, I thought the world of Annie and I’m going to find out who fired that shot. If you hear anything, anything at all, you tell me. I know that you, laddybuck, you’re a regular at some of our city’s less respectable establishments, down to the river. If you hear anything, you let me know. Do I make myself clear?”

Silence hung in the air. Finally, Almira looked up at the policeman and said,

“We will. There’s nothing I want more than to find the person who shot my friend Annie.”

The police sergeant found himself feeling sorry if there was someone that this strange girl decided was the cause of the death of her friend. He suddenly wanted to be somewhere, anywhere else, his training forced him to remain where he was, increasingly ill-at-ease until finally he managed to nod and turning, gave the young man one last glare, left the apartment.

Later that night, Sterling woke, his arms empty (and slightly cold). He looked towards the door of the bedroom and, silhouetted in the light from the living room, he imagined he saw Almira. She seemed to be wearing Annie’s clothes, but they were darker than he recalled. Sleep, never quite leaving his eyes, succeeded in its eternal campaign to keep the sleeper in the bed by convincing Sterling that he was dreaming. As he drifted off, he thought he heard a night-soft voice,

‘Back to sleep, my love. We must be traveling tomorrow. Go back to sleep. We must hurry and get back to the road.”

Sterling thought/dreamt that he mumbled in response, 

“Yeah, Almira. I’ll take us from here. No one will ever hurt you like this again.”

With the sunrise, they gathered what little Almira had kept in Annie’s apartment. Having brought clothing only as needed, since the incident at the Union hall, she had nothing with which to carry her few possessions. They both looked around the apartment for something to use as luggage. Almira came into the bedroom with a small, brown wicker basket, with double hinged top and a folding handle. She smiled with a mix of resignation and hope. Sterling had his own canvas rucksack ready and they walked from the apartment. Just as they reached the sidewalk, Almira stopped suddenly and, without a word, ran back into the apartment. Minutes later she returned and lifting one of the top lids on the basket revealed her well-worn copy of ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ nestled in the few items of clothing.

Several hours later, the police knocked on the door to Annie’s now empty apartment. They questioned the occupants of the other 2 apartments in the building. No one could recall seeing either Sterling Gulch or Almira Ristani anywhere near the building in at least a week. They had trouble remembering what the two looked like or where they might be. The police were frustrated, as there was a killer on the loose and they had every reason to believe that Sterling Gulch or Almira Ristani would have been useful to them in their efforts.

Now, in the early afternoon, at a high point in the road, clear of the pine forest that followed them from the mid-point between Lawrence and Lowell, Sterling stopped and set his bag on the sandy dirt of the roadside,

“You’ve been quiet on our Sunday walk.”

Almira stood next to him, looking down at the river as it flowed past the city of Lowell, Massachusetts. The southern bank of the river lined with tall, dark-red brick textile mills, the town growing outward, away to the south.

“We’ve come a long way.”

The girl, her overcoat open to balance the warmth of the noonday sun and (a) 13 mile walk, rested her hip against his, leaning into him.

“Any regrets?”

Sterling looked down, Almira looked out towards the crisscross of iron girders of the bridge across the river. His hand found hers and he stood, comfortable with the feel of the girl at his side. He thought, ‘Although she’s leaning on me, if I suddenly stepped away, she would not fall. I’ve a feeling that I’ll come to both love and hate that about her.’

Instead of stepping away, Sterling pushed her, very slightly at the shoulder and was rewarded with the sound of her laughter,

“No, my love. My life is with you. The town we left? It’s just a place on a map. The people gave us what they could but even though I’ll never forget Annie, I need to find the place in the world that I was meant to be,”

Taking his hand, Almira placed it over her breast and continued,

“My mother once told me, ‘Almira, follow your heart and it will always lead you home.’ My heart has lead me to you. And you and I are here. My home is wherever we might be, whether it’s a shining city full of towers and wonders or a small farmhouse with the stars as neighbors, that is the only place I want to live.”

Sterling leaned inwards and kissed her. His right hand, still on her breast, began to find a will of its own, his fingers came alive and discovered an urgent need to explore their surroundings.

“I said we were home. I didn’t say we were in the bedroom!”

Almira laughed. The couple turned and walked towards the Lowell Train Station

***

“Sergeant Herlihy is here to see you, sir”

“Send him in.”

Frederick Prendergast enjoyed problems because he knew how to solve them. He knew how to solve problems, because he knew people. He’d always had the ability to size up a man and know what he wanted. Really wanted, not necessarily what they said out loud or stated or demanded, but what they really wanted. Early in life, Frederick realized that this kind of understanding made controlling that person almost too easy. Woman, on the other hand, he smiled to himself, were much simpler. All they wanted was to be wanted by someone who everyone admired and looked up to, and he was very good at appearing to be that. Perhaps too good, a frown tugging at his face, women did have an annoying way of not realizing when the game was over. Worse, they demanded that he continue making them feel like the most special woman (or girl) in the world and, worse even than that, sometimes they tried to do something about it.

His secretary, Lizabeth Addams, stood in the doorway to his office, smiling into the room while his visitor remained in the outer office.

“Sergeant Herlihy,” she announced, with a smile that was at once an offer and a demand. Frederick stood up from his desk, walked to the windows that overlooked the city of Lawrence,

‘Come in Sergeant”

Lizabeth stared at her boss’s back and looked lost and then angry and walked back to her desk in the outer office, leaving the policeman to shut the office door himself.

“So it looks like things are beginning to quiet down, am I right, Sergeant?”

“For the most part, Mr Prendergast. The strikers are still on the street. They’re quite creative with their ideas of how to protest. They’re sending their children away to relatives out-of-state. Never seen that before.”

“We’ve never had the entire workforce walk out of our mills before either, have we Sergeant?”

“No, we haven’t. But now that the Mayor has the militia out in force on the streets, everything’s been peaceful and orderly.”

“I wouldn’t call having my goddamn mills shut down and not producing a single bolt of cloth ‘peaceful and orderly’!!”

Frederick turned to shout directly,

“…would you Sergeant?!!”

“No. Well no, but at least there’s no more vandalism or violence. We were really getting concerned, what with that Union woman getting herself killed. But with her funereal now over and done with, I think we can say we’re out of the woods on that.”

“You’ve arrested the Union leaders who are responsible, haven’t you?”

“Well, we’ve charged them with conspiracy. I don’t know how likely it is that a judge will convict them of murder, being how they were both in Boston on the day of the strike.”

“Don’t worry about them being convicted. We have them in custody and we have a good and well-behaved judge. All in all, I’d say that we’ve done a good job of minimizing the damages, one death and a few broken windows,”

“…two deaths,” Herlihy began to fidget in the green leather upholstered chair

“…what? What the hell are you talking about?”

“We found the body of a man, down off Water Street, half in the river. At first we thought he was just another drunk who had too much and drowned himself. They could smell the liquor from the street, so at first glance that seemed the case.”

But?” Frederick did not like the turn this Sergeant was causing his day to take.

“Well, the beat cop called it in and I got there just as they were dragging him up the river bank, feet first. God help me, ain’t never seen the likes and I pray I never will, but somebody took the poor bastard’s heart, cut it right out of his chest.”

Frederick stopped and stared,

“The only good thing was that he wasn’t nobody of any account. A low-life by the name of Robbie Maclachlan.”

“Goddamn it”

***

Dorothy Gale and Eliza Thornberg stood on the sidewalk that crossed from the Town Commons, ran along Cathedral Ave and ended in front of St. Mary’s Hospital. With the approach of evening, the decision was made to leave the convertible parked across from the library and walk the block to the hospital.

“I don’t care if Visitor’s Hours are over, about over, nearly over or no goddamn people allowed. I’m going in. Are you with me, or would you rather wait in the car?”

Eliza stared at her friend with the same sense of wonderment she felt when she took Dorothy on her first trip to Times Square. As then, she tried to reconcile the shy farm girl, quiet and as kind as anyone she’d ever met, with this determined and very angry young woman. The Dorothy Gale standing in front of her, in the gathering dusk in a small Kansas town was to the shy farm girl as Amelia Earhart was to Amy Semple McPherson. While Eliza Thornberg never lacked in self-confidence, there was something about her friend that made her worry.

“Yeah. I’m  going in there with you! Damn right, you couldn’t keep me out. Friends, right?”

After a slight, (really, it was just a second too long to allow even the illusion of that kinder girl), pause, Dorothy turned and walked up the granite steps.

“Well, it’s decided then! We’re off to see the woman.”

Eliza Thornberg half-sang, as much to the night air, as to her friend’s receding back.

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