“Where the hell is everyone?”
Eliza stood in the doorway of the Charity Ward, a single book between two bookends, reluctant to let the double doors swing shut behind her. Ordinarily, Eliza Thornberg was the first one to raise both hands on the roller coaster, smile back at the man sitting by himself in the smoky after-hours bar or even, borrow a car in an unfamiliar city to surprise a friend at home in a part of the country as far from where she was raised as cornbread is to shortbread. Hearing only a single muted dinging sound of an elevator down one of the empty corridors she walked, following her friend Dorothy, Eliza was feeling more eight than eighteen years old. Standing alone, embraced by the soft rubber edges of the doors, her eyes struggled to adjust to the anemic light that coated the walls and floors of the ward.
There were lights, hidden behind dusty sconces running along the top edge of the walls, their glow spreading tentacles of light up and across the ceilings. The slowly turning fans threw shards of dull illumination back towards her, imbuing the room with a sense of motion and activity. Trouble was, there was no motion or activity in the room.
In her application to Sarah Lawrence College, Eliza Thornberg described herself as, ‘a girl who, despite having the good fortune to be born in a wealthy and powerful family, was always ready for the new and un-expected experiences in life.’ During her personal interview with the Dean of Admissions, when asked what she thought would make her an asset to the school, she said, ‘I enjoy un-covering the unusual, the darker side of life, the parts of the world that most people of my age would avoid, taking risks to see and explore everything the world has to offer. Even the dangerous things.’ The look on the Dean’s face was recounted with glee for months afterwards. Well aware of her strong academic record, her parents accused her of faking her surprise when the acceptance letter arrived. Eliza was not faking.
Eliza felt a pulling on her very expensive v neck cardigan, as a bloom of goosebumps grew high enough to catch on the soft fabric. Looking around she saw a large open room, wider than it was deep. To her right was a grey metal desk and a file cabinet. On the wall, next to the file cabinet, was a row of ten open file holders. All but three were empty. In the three were clipboards holding patient charts. There was a gooseneck lamp on the desk, throwing a stretched oval of yellow light across the desk blotter. The blotter itself had a large calendar taking up its entire surface. The days of the month were numbered in large blue-lined squares, one month per page, which could be torn out and thrown away whenever the days ended. She saw ‘August’ in block lettering along the top edge of the blotter. This struck Eliza as odd, there still being eight days remaining in July. Odder yet was the red circle around the blue square that marked August 11th
The sound of Dorothy’s voice made Eliza jump. For a moment, her eyes remained submerged in the deep pool of yellowish light on the nurses’ desk. Suddenly disoriented, she took a step backwards, caught one heel and began to fall. She felt herself held, steadied by a strong, yet gentle grip on her arm. Feeling herself fall, she remained focused on the desk and it’s lamp and it’s calendar, seemingly the only steady point in her suddenly uncertain location. She heard a voice. It was not coming from the far end of the room where she could see her friend standing next to a low bed. The voice, a woman’s voice, came from just behind her.
“Easy now, Eliza. She needs you. Your friendship will make the difference between young Dorothy Gale merely surviving this summer away from school and coming to understand that, if she chooses correctly, a full and satisfying life awaits her. But only if you are there for her.”
Eliza Thornberg recovered her balance and whirled around, only to see the darkness in the corners, where the light was too timid to reach.
“You probably do not remember me, Miss…”
“Mrs. Mrs Almira Gulch.”
“‘Mrs.’ …beg your pardon.”
Gareth Herlihy projected his best ‘confident smile’. It was his only defense against feeling out of his social class. He leaned forward from the leather sofa that Edward had guided him to, immediately upon his entry into the library. Almira stood by the French doors.
“…but we met several years ago in Lawrence. It was in the winter of 1911 and,”
“I recall, Captain. What can I do for you?”
Almira looked directly at the policeman.
“Well, I’m following up on an investigation into the death of a Union organizer and a young man who also worked for the union. Her name was Annie LoPizzo and his was Robert Maclachlan.”
Captain Gareth Herlihy’s voice grew louder, in no small part to counter his eroding self-confidence. A richly appointed library in what could only be called a small mansion in the better part of the capital city of Rhode Island was not his preferred environment. He thought with a grimace how his job would be so much simpler and more enjoyable if they would just let him deal with the lowlifes, minor criminals and run-of-the-mill drunks. Instead, less than a week earlier, he found himself summoned to the office of Frederick Prendergast, the CEO of the Essex Company. Without bothering with the social niceties, clearly they were seen by his host as necessary only with social or professional equals, Frederick launched into a somewhat frenetic rant.
“Listen to me Herlihy and listen closely. The goddamn union is getting out of hand…again! After five years of getting along with the union leaders, they went and let in some new blood and they’re desperate to keep ’em happy with their ‘power of collective bargaining’ bullshit. What a joke. They give us what we want and we let them put on a show of organizing and demonstrating and then make like they’ve wrestled some benefit from the management. But there’s a couple of new people on the board and they don’t know how the game is played. The press is out of control, so we can’t count on them. There’s a movement to demonstrate for the American Way and make sure everyone knows that all these strikes are coming from foreigners out to steal our liberties and create anarchy. The people I answer to believe that that will be enough to get our heel back on the neck of these troublemakers.
Personally, I’m not convinced that it will be anything more than a temporary fix. I need something stronger. I need you to find the vicious killer of the beloved Annie LoPizzo and the hard-working Robert Maclachlan, both viciously killed in the course of a peaceful demonstration. And the only person of interest that isn’t dead or been beaten into innocence is that little girl who was sitting in the street with the dead striker and that kid, who showed up not that much before all the labor trouble. They’re the only viable leads left. I have contacts in the other mill towns and we know they headed south to Rhode Island the day after the funeral for the LoPizzo woman. Go find them and get us some useful information. We need to nip this union growth in the bud and there’s nothing like a murder trial to get the average worker’s mind off the day-to-day routine. Don’t let me down!”
“I remember you quite well. You were a Sargent then.”
He realized, with the feeling of a person sitting in a boat without oars watching the dock move away, that somehow he was at a severe disadvantage with this young woman. He had advanced in his career because he had a talent for projecting his emotion purely by the tone and volume of his voice. He’d discovered early in his career that in a situation where he needed to exert his will on another, the words he employed were almost totally superfluous. In the world of the petty criminal, hopeless drunk and momentarily lawless citizen, Gareth Herlihy was a very effective law enforcement officer. He became Captain on the strength of his personality in the context of the weakness of the people he was charged with keeping in line.
Herlihy felt uncomfortable with the decidedly serene confidence of the young woman. Most people, of any age, when informed that the police were interested in what they might know about a crime, usually became uncomfortable, un-easy. There seemed to be something in law-abiding people who made them feel uncomfortable when they became the subject of interest to the police. That was very much not the case this Friday afternoon with the rather young woman, a girl, really. She did not seem defensive at all. Worse, her attitude showed a tendency to challenge his very right to be asking questions. Not only was the little girl, (at least someone reading his file notes that described her as being 22 years old, 5′ 3″ and approximately 100 lbs would picture a girl) but those notes did not address the face of this young woman and they did nothing to prepare a person for the way she had of looking at a person.
Now, sitting in a room that probably cost more to furnish than he spent to buy his small house on the outskirts of Lawrence, Captain Gareth Herlihy felt insecure. With a silent laugh of horror, he thought, ‘this is how my suspects must feel, after they realize that I got ’em in my jailhouse and they don’t leave unless I let ’em leave’.
Captain Herlihy did what he did best when feeling the need to re-establish control of a situation, he raised his voice, ‘blustered’ might be a reasonable, although un-charitable characterization.
For a moment, the deepening gloom of the approaching evening seeping into the dark wood panelling of the library triggered his memory of the last time he spoke to this very strange girl. It was after the funeral for Annie LoPizzo, 5 years before. The memory was cast in a feeling of discomfit, a feeling made all the more foreboding by its seeming in-appropriateness. Then, as now, the circumstances of their meeting was not a happy social occasion, but it was not, by any stretch of the imagination an overtly adversarial or negative meeting. He was uncomfortable then too. There was something to this girl who for no reason he could imagine, made him think of a wolf. Wolves, at least when viewed from a distance, have the appearance of large domestic dogs. It was only when they got up close that the differences became un-ignorable, and first and foremost (of this difference) was in how the animal regarded man. Most dogs have a way of looking up at a man who went a long way to supporting the saying that they were ‘Man’s best friend’. Not so with the wolf. Dogs seemed to like, even look up to men. The way that a wolf regarded a man, even in a non-confrontational situation, showed that they recognized a fellow killer. This girl had that look. Not anything outwardly aggressive or threatening, there was simply a recognition of the capacity for evil in people. More than that, there was nothing in her that implied that this capacity for evil was shocking or to be feared. Wolves did not reel in horror at what a hunter might do, they recognized violence as a natural part of their world. Neither good nor bad. It made Herlihy, who was very familiar with the fallen side of human nature, hesitate. Although he was not a denizen of this dark part of the world, she clearly could see and walk among the wolves.
“And your husband, Mr Gulch?
“He is away in Europe. Fighting.”
“Oh, I see. I shall be brief then. I’m doing a follow-up investigation into the two deaths that day. Do you recall anything of that day, the day of the demonstration?”
“You mean the Bread and Roses Strike?”
The young woman smiled to herself and Herlihy was taken with a sense that he was watching a person looking through a scrapbook. It was such a strong impression that, for a second, he could almost make out images reflected in her eyes.
“Other than my friend being murdered? No. I don’t recall anything more than that.”
“And Robert Maclachlan did you know him very well?”
“I did not know him at all.”
“I don’t believe you are being truthful with me, Mrs. Gulch.”
“And I don’t believe that I care what you think, Captain Herlihy.”
“The citizens of Lawrence want to know what really happened that day and it is my sworn duty to pursue the matter. There are people and, …organizations in Lawrence who have an investment not only in the city but it’s people and they will not cease in their efforts until those responsible are brought to account.”
The police captain stood. The library door opened and Edward stood, silhouetted in the skewed rectangle of light. He had Herlihy’s overcoat and hat in hand.
“Be that as it may, I have nothing to add to your investigation, Captain.”
Almira turned to look out onto the gardens, now a darkscape with glimmers of morning in the blooms closest to the door.
“I spoke to your Sister Aloysius at the school where you have begun teaching, I try to be as thorough in my work as possible. She speaks quite highly of you. Not only of your teaching skills, but also of your volunteer work with some of the …less fortunate workers in the mills. It would be a shame if your efforts contributed to a repeat of history. I will wish you a good evening and my best wishes for your husband’s safe return from the war. For now, good evening, Mrs. Gulch.”
1918 Arras, France
The dream is the same dream I’ve had since landing at Saint Nazaire, a near lifetime ago. It’s always the same and always different, in the way of recurring dreams where the differences are as interesting as the dream itself. The recurring part, the part that makes it ‘that dream’ is how it begins. I hear Almira calling to me from across a field. I don’ see her because I’m not in that field, I’m working on something. In a blacksmith shop, complete with an anvil and bellows and a forge. From where I stand, I feel the heat from the forge but alternately there is a blast of frigid air that stabs my face. There are shoes hanging from the ceiling, all sorts of shoes.
Hearing the tone of Almira’s voice change from greeting to alarm, I put down the hammer and walk out the door. The blacksmith shop is clearly in a town, there is a sense of vehicles and people passing in the street outside the windows, but when I step out from the shop, I’m standing on a hill. I hear Almira’s voice again, sounding increasingly urgent. Her voice comes from a wooded hilly area in what otherwise appears to be wide open prairie lands. At this point, the differences in each dream usually appears. Sometimes she’s facing me, more and more, she’s turned away. She always appears to be holding something in her arms. But, no matter what, she is backing away from something in the woods and mostly she sounds like she’s trying to warn me of danger. But increasingly, I come out of the dream with a sense that she’s crying out for me to help her. Sometimes there are other people in the dream, but they’re all people who are looking to Almira for help. Very often the dream ends with the sound of thunder, but of late, the sound is stretching out into a longer, more personal sound, a howling, like wolves howling in a winter’s forest,
Usually, on nights of the dream, I wake to the nurse who stands next to my bed and touches my forehead with a white cloth. There is no rise of daylight and there’s no sense of the approaching of night. I lie in a single bed with an army green (which is really a brown-without-ambition) blanket and stare at the lights in the ceiling. The only thing that provides me with a sense of reliability is when the nurse appears. It’s the reverse of fading into sleep and dreams. Like a summer sunrise, I sense a lightness, becoming more and more a shape, a whiteness that descends down from the gray over-hanging sky and, drawing closer, resolves into a face, her blue eyes first and then the hair…. like quiet thunder on a cloudless day, her voice turns into words, her words reach into my mind. I assume that I am on some drug, because I always remember that I forget to ask what her name is and where we are, content to stare into her face, framed in a blonde halo.
“Lieutenant Gulch, can you hear me?”
Now, I’m confused. I hear my name, but the person speaking is short, balding, wearing wire-rimmed glasses and is not a beautiful woman. I suppose the drugs don’t always work as well as they’re suppose to, so I tried to close my eyes.
“Lt Gulch, wake up! We need to move you. And your cooperation is really gonna make this go smoother.”
I decided that if I don’t open my eyes, then things will eventually go back to the way they’ve been since…. well, since I started having the same dream over and over and sometimes waking up to a beautiful nurse.
“Nope. Can’t do this to me, I need to get this ward up and transported outta here. As the cops in my neighborhood used to tell us, ‘you’re coming along with us, whether you want to or not’.”
Maybe it was the tone of his voice, which had none of the poetic cadence of speeches in dreams, so I opened my eyes again and stared at Capt Tribianni (according to the white on black name tag on his shirt pocket).
“Better! Lets start with the stupid questions and then I’ll tell you the plan and I can get on to the next soon-to-be-discharged patient.”
He pulled a metal chair from somewhere to his right and sat down, crossed his legs and stared at me,
“Come on! Gave you a clue there… say something and I won’t have to put a notation on your chart that will require less from you now but will cost you too much when you get home.”
The doctor raised his eyebrow, which provided the only hair that his forehead had until you got way back on his head or over his ears.
“OK, doc. Lets do the easy parts first. I’m leaving this place. That’s neither good nor bad until you tell me where I’m leaving to…”
“Fair enough. You’re leaving and heading home. The U S of A. Long boat ride, but from what I see on the chart here, you’ll survive the trip. You’ll have company, the War is over. You slept right through Armistice Day! Now that you passed the first test by not asking me any disturbing questions like ‘how soon can I re-join my outfit’, lets deal with the really tough subject…”
“How bad am I hurt?”
“Give the man a kewpie doll!”
“I’ll give it to you straight. You have all the parts that you came over here with, it’s just that some don’t work as well and others are a little damaged. You get to walk out of here and you can sign for your stuff, provided you’re left-handed. Your right hand is going to take some time to get back to being as useful as it was when you got off the boat. So, wait, don’t ask! I’ve given this talk 13 times today already.
“You’ve been down here in the Caverns in Arras for a month and a half. Mostly because of the damage the mustard gas did to your lungs, although the shattered right arm was also part of the reason. What makes you a lucky man is that down here we’re able to prevent the influenza from completing the job that the Germans started on you. You missed the worst of it. So we’ll get you thinking about moving around a little. Then, we’ll tell you to start moving around more. You’ll start to hate the head nurse, but he’s used to that, it tells him you’re getting better. Then, in about 3 weeks, we put you on a truck that will take you to a boat that will return you to your country. Then the real hard part begins.”
“No, that won’t be a problem for me. I have a wife who’s waiting for me.”
The doctor got up and, after tapping me lightly on the knee with the chart, walked to the end of the bed and hung it on a hook at the foot of the bed.
“One thing, doc. The blonde nurse, when does she come on duty? I want to say thanks for her help.”
“Don’t make me put a note in your chart, son. All the female nurses shipped out 2 months ago, their skills were more needed on the frontline hospitals, Frankly this place is a storage facility. Haven’t seen a woman in 6 weeks.”
He seemed to be watching my face more carefully than he should, given that I asked such a simple question.
“Oh. never mind. Must be mistaken.”
He nodded, more to himself, and walked away.