Search

Chapter Four: Brooklyn

After receiving terrible news, a drunken Watson Sr severely beats three men and winds up in jail.


August, 1922


A flurry of motion preceded Watson Sr’s drunken, lumbering gait to Ophelia Eufalla’s hospital room. Upon seeing him, everyone scattered so as to not run afoul of his path. He rushed as well as he could, wobbling and weaving the whole way, through the labyrinth of corridors, dressed as an unkempt fisherman and smelling like a dead sea urchin because his water-tight, suspendered bibs, cable-knit sweater, wool cap, and tall rubber boots were all covered in smelly, fishy viscera.


The nurses watched Watson Sr with wide-eyed concern as he made his way past their station. But they did not address him, they were too afraid. They just kind of froze in what they were doing like deer frozen in the headlights. Even blind drunk, Watson Sr knew where he was going. All of his children had been born in the same room on the same floor and had been delivered by the same doctor, so he was well-known to the hospital staff who were keen to his various moods.


A few months prior Watson Sr had caused a stir when he was found passed out in a puddle of his own vomit on the tile outside Ophelia Eufalla’s exam room. An orderly had tried to awaken and remove him, but no sooner had the poor man gotten Watson Sr to his feet, then the angry drunk had clamped his hands around the orderly’s neck, and a violent scuffle had ensued. It ended a few minutes later when Watson Sr broke the orderly’s jaw. The very next day, the injured orderly had been punitively discharged.


It was then that the hospital staff became fully aware of what rumors had hinted at for years. Watson Sr was indeed the single largest benefactor that the hospital had ever had. From that time forward, no one dared to interfere with him for any reason. The hospital staff members simply ducked their heads and tried not to meet his eyes, no matter how drunk and disorderly he was. However, even on the rare occasions when Watson Sr did show up sober, his disposition was tonic and dominant, and caused an uneasy feeling in those who were assigned to deal with him.


However, only Ophelia Eufalla’s aged doctor could remember her unpleasant husband ever showing up sober, and that was only when his first few children were born, then never again. On this unfortunate day, Watson Sr’s steps were wildly unsteady, and the putrid smells of whiskey and fish guts fouled the air around him. The nurses and orderlies observed his progress from around corners and behind desks, but the corridor had cleared before him as if he carried plague in his fine leather satchel.


When Watson Sr finally arrived at the open door of Ophelia Eufalla’s room, she had long since given birth. She was well-adjusted, and both she and the baby were swaddled in brand-new, soft, white, cotton gowns. Just as it had been in his dreamy imagination, Ophelia Eufalla held his newest baby to her breast and looked up at him with eyes that were full of immense joy. What had been missing from his dream was that the corners of Ophelia Eufalla’s mouth would be mildly, but distinctly turned down in an unmistakable frown.


Concerned, Watson Sr staggered drunkenly to her bedside and looked down at his final child. Years of constant trying had left Ophelia Eufalla exhausted and holding not the son that Watson Sr had dreamt of, but a dark-haired, rosy-cheeked little girl. Instantly, Watson Sr felt as though his knees might buckle. A torrent of emotions overtook his senses. Involuntarily, he stumbled backwards before regaining his balance and focusing his bleary eyes on the cherubic little face. His thoughts and emotions were hopelessly tangled.


“Her name is Amelia Iris. Amelia Iris Watson,” Ophelia Eufalla stated in a quiet voice.


She handed him the infant, and Watson Sr held her close to his chest, seeing but not seeing, feeling but not feeling. He wanted the floor to open up and swallow him, but it would not. He cursed his luck. He had only ever wanted sons. The railroad industry demanded sons, strong sons. On the outside, his seven good sons were everything they were supposed to be, but they were far from perfect, and his last two children were completely unsuitable to the railroads.


His empire was done, and there was no reason to push forward any longer. Watson Sr’s thoughts were muddled by the blistering chill of disappointment, but one thought was clear: It was all so unfair. The railroads deserved better, as did his dreams of an industrial dynasty that would last forever, but none of that mattered anymore. They were rich enough. And his little Amelia Iris would have the best of it: a life worthy of a genie’s wishes, and no one could ever take that from her. And maybe that was enough to make it all worthwhile. Let history and fate render their harsh verdicts, Watson Sr decided, his mind a thunderclap. He had won. By any account rendered by anyone, he had won.


Tears slipped from Watson Sr’s eyes as he contemplated everything he felt while Ophelia Eufalla watched him in open-mouthed astonishment. She had mentally prepared herself for almost anything, except what she saw. In the decades they had been together, she had never seen him cry. It was then that Amelia Iris hiccupped loudly, and then smiled. Watson Sr belched loudly in response, and the wet sound delighted the baby. Her dark eyes twinkled, and she made a happy cooing sound as she reached for her father’s misshapen mouth. Ophelia Eufalla crinkled her nose in disapproval but decided to let it go.


Watson Sr then sat down on the edge of the bed, careful not to jounce the baby, and gazed adoringly at Ophelia Eufalla. A look of silent understanding passed between them. Amelia Iris was not only their ninth child, but their last. It was an unspoken truth, and they both felt their hearts break a little in the silence. At that moment, a young doctor walked in. It was not Ophelia Eufalla’s aged obstetrician, but a young pediatrician who was a stranger to Watson Sr. The young doctor cleared his throat impatiently.


Watson Sr was not accustomed to being interrupted, much less subjected to another man’s impatience, but he tried to hold his temper. Ophelia Eufalla reached for the baby, and Watson Sr reluctantly let her go. He then rose to face the doctor. Watson Sr was nearly a foot taller than the doctor, and three times as thick in the body. The young doctor gulped as he looked up into Watson Sr’s scarred face and black eyes.


Soulless eyes, he thought, but he tried to recover and not show that his knees shook ever so slightly. He was not used to feeling intimidated, especially within the safe confines of the hospital, and inwardly he chastised himself for feeling even a little bit afraid. Then, with little preamble, except to state his full name and specific title in a clipped tone, the young doctor told the Watsons what he had come to say: the new baby had a weak heart. She had been born with a condition that was congenital and irreversible. Amelia Iris would never see twenty.


For a moment, Watson Sr stood in crisis, frozen at the intersection of too many emotions. The walls of the room disintegrated before his blurred gaze and then everything fell away into a confused jumble of bent and folded perpendicular planes. The blood boiled his veins, and his hands reflexively clenched into fists. His reddened range of vision reduced down to a swinging stethoscope and the firmly set jaw of the young doctor. Then Watson Sr drew back and punched him in the face with all his might.


“Husband, no!” Ophelia Eufalla screamed.


But it was too late. Watson Sr was past caring about anything, even his beloved wife. The young doctor lay on the ground, but Watson Sr was not finished with him. His nose had exploded in a fountain of blood, and he had fallen hard to his butt on the floor. But Watson Sr was not done. He attacked the young doctor again, lunging towards the fallen man with outstretched hands and grabbing his neck as if he meant to squeeze the young doctor’s soul from his body. Finally, in the zenith of his paroxysm of rage, Watson Sr hauled the young doctor off the ground and slammed his shaken body into the wall so hard the whole room shook.


The young doctor coughed and sputtered until Watson Sr’s fist crashed into his face once more. It was a terrific blow, and the skin of the young doctor’s face popped open to reveal a bloody mask laid over parched white bone. Then, Watson Sr held the poor man’s limp body against the wall with a vice-like grip around his neck. But, there was no struggle left in the body Watson Sr held to the wall, so he released the young doctor who fell to the floor in a bloody, white-coated heap of inert limbs.


Ophelia Eufalla sat up in the bed, her jaw hanging open, but she could not utter a word. She could only hold the swaddled infant to her breast and watch in disbelief as the terrible scene unfolded before her. In his crazed delirium, Watson Sr grabbed the young doctor’s stethoscope and brutally pulled its brass tentacles from round his neck. Then, without a word, nor even a single glance towards Ophelia Eufalla and his newborn baby, Watson Sr stormed out of the room in a great fury of righteous thunder.


Everyone who knew enough to know anything took cover as soon as Watson Sr reappeared. He looked to be a great, dark, stinking thundercloud as he rumbled down the hall, looking for a reason to beat someone else until they were a nothing more than a bloody stain on the gypsum wallboard of the hospital corridor. Lost in a red fog, he stormed through the halls swinging the stolen stethoscope like an Australian bolo while the whole building seemed to quake around him.


Nurses and doctors and patients screamed and hid behind desks and doors and chairs as Watson Sr stalked ferociously past them. Carefully stacked piles of charts, overlarge beakers full of pens, coffee cups, gurneys with patients on them, and carts heavily laden with trays of old food flew into the air and came crashing down around him as he made his way towards the exit. All anyone could do was duck and hide and wait. No one dared to stop him. They just watched helplessly as he stormed out of the hospital swiveling the stolen stethoscope like a weapon.


Outside the hospital doors, Arnold stood by the red Studebaker limousine, smoking a cigarette, and chatting amiably with the cabbies who waited along the cobblestone pavers for a fare. Watson Sr emerged from the entrance and tossed the stethoscope to the cobbles before spotting his driver. He could not help but glower at Arnold, even though he was secretly relieved that the driver had not left for the taxidermist as he should have done.


Watson Sr knew that the police would soon be on their way, so he hurriedly jumped in the passenger compartment, and signaled to Arnold to step on it. Once they had put several city blocks between themselves and the hospital melee, Arnold pulled the limousine into a deserted alleyway. As soon as the vehicle drew to a stop, Arnold turned round on the bench, and looked at Watson Sr in alarm. His face was screwed into a concerned question mark, but he could not find the words to question his employer as harshly as he would like, and so he stayed silent. All he knew was that he had heard a clattering cacophony as Watson Sr had exited the hospital, but he had no idea what had happened, or where they were going, and it would stay that way unless Watson Sr chose to say more.


“Bushwick, Brooklyn,” Watson Sr signed without further elucidation. “Brewer’s Row, and hurry.”


Arnold nodded dumbly, then turned the wheel full around and laid his foot on the gas. He knew the place. It was a crossroads speakeasy in one of the worst parts of Brooklyn. He hated that Watson Sr made a habit of going there. He’d heard enough stories to know damn well enough to stay away, but he would not argue with Watson Sr. His employer paid him three times what he could make driving for anyone else, but the downside was significant, and sometimes perilous.


The red Studebaker limousine joined the late-day traffic, and soon enough the skyscrapers and bright lights of Manhattan began to fall away. The route Arnold had chosen took them across a long bridge to a derelict building in a slummy neighborhood where even the windows were painted black to hide what happened inside. Arnold gritted his teeth, but Watson Sr breathed his first sigh of relief since leaving the hospital. He knew no one would find him there.


Quickly, he reached into his fancy satchel and grabbed two large handfuls of loose bills, which he savagely stuffed into his pockets. He then laid the fancy satchel on the floorboards where it would be hidden by the thick shadows of the unlit street and exited the limo. Watson Sr entered the bar, piled onto a torn and dirty leather barstool, and pulled his massive girth up close to the untidy bar top. With no more ado, he pulled a large wad of cash from his pocket and laid it straight down on the bar.


The pile of wadded-up bills stayed underneath the flattened palm of his hand for a moment, hidden from everyone’s view except the barkeep whose green eyes grew so wide that they seemed to want to try and jump straight out of his head. Knowing he had the man’s absolute attention, Watson Sr growled as much as said: “Gimme a whiskey. Just leave the bottle. And beer. Cold, best you got. An’ keep em comin’, understand?”


For almost all the years of his life, Watson Sr had only been able to manage speech in what amounted to hissing sneers. It was all he could do since the corners of his lips had been cruelly stapled down by the scars that ran quick right down to the bone. However, the seasoned barkeep had served Watson Sr before. He understood much more than heard the meaning of Watson Sr’s ruinously smashed syllables.


Years of serving fall-down drunks had left the barkeep able to piece together an order from little more than a look and a nod. He gave a small smile, and while one hand reached under the bar for a glass, the fingers of the other tried to squirm their way across the bar to the squashed pile of money, but Watson Sr grabbed the barkeep’s wandering hand in one of his greater and more powerful ones. Watson Sr gave the man a lopsided grimace, released his hand, and pushed the money towards him. The crumpled bills disappeared behind the bar in a flash.


Almost as quickly, the barkeep produced Watson Sr’s favorite bootleg whiskey, which he kept hidden behind the bar lest his richest patron drop by. In a moment, a shot glass and an icy cold bottle of beer joined the brown liquor bottle in front of him. Watson Sr threw back three shots and chased the stiff liquor with a cold beer before slamming the shot glass down and breathing a profound sigh of relief. The day had been so chaotic, and he had been so caught up in such a tumult of emotions that he had not had a chance to properly untangle his thoughts, but it was finally time.


As the strong whiskey burned down his throat and on down to his stomach, he felt that he could finally take stock of the day. Watson Sr poured another shot from his bottle, but just as he was about to throw back the sharp liquor, he felt a hard tap on his shoulder. The shot was shimmied and boiled down his throat amidst a deep cough that left him breathless. Turning round on his bar stool, Watson Sr set bitter eyes on the disturber of his peace.


“Excusen’s me, sir. Would’n youse likes to buy some drinks for a truly honest, workin’ fella?” the stranger asked.


Watson Sr’s bright onyx eyes immediately took the measure of the man. His brow furrowed menacingly, and a deep scowl fell across his face. The man was poorly dressed in clothes that were little more than rags draped over his thin frame, and his brown eyes were sunken and dull. The man was obviously a drunk, and Watson Sr had no intention of extending him any charity.


With a gruff snort of dismissal, he turned back around on his worn bar stool, and threw back another shot of his brown bottle liquor. However, the thin, drunk stranger didn’t take the hint. He sidled up right next to Watson Sr and set his clenched fists on the bar top inches from Watson Sr’s bottles.


“Whatten th’ hell’s wrong, rich man? Youse too good to share th’ wealth?”


At this, Watson Sr turned on the drunk stranger, and laid his open switchblade against the man’s throat.


“Go,” Watson Sr growled.


The man put up his hands defensively, and his bloodshot brown eyes widened with fear. At the same moment, Watson Sr heard the fall of a heavy boot directly behind him. He did not hesitate. His switchblade slashed the air and found some small purchase in the neck of the thin drunk man. Then, in the next moment, strong, anonymous arms seized Watson Sr’s elbows from behind. Meanwhile, the thin drunk man crumpled to the floor as blood gushed from the wound. Desperately, he screamed, and blood spurted out from between his fingers.


The wound was too shallow to be mortal, but the man’s eyes rolled into the back of his head, and he fell forward to the dirty floor. But Watson Sr did not care. He was struggling against the man who had grabbed him from behind, and another large, boorish-looking man who had materialized from nowhere and started assaulting him from the front. The switchblade clattered forgotten to the floor, but the men ignored the fallen knife. Instead, they reached for his pockets.


But Watson Sr was ready. He knew what they were after. The moment he felt the tension of the man’s hold around his neck lighten just in the slightest, he put all his mighty strength into his feet, thrust his weight forward, and toppled the boorish-looking man in front of him. Startled and unable to hold such a powerful force, the man lost his grip on Watson Sr.


As the melee escalated, two other men took the opportunity to jump behind the bar and steal the sum of money that the barkeep had just hidden. But the barkeep was wary and undistracted by the fight. Instantly, a mace had appeared in his hand. The first man he encountered went down like a pile of toppled bricks, his forehead split clean open. The second man merely smiled about his competitor’s misfortune and pulled a long knife from his sleeve.


As the barkeep struggled with the men behind the bar, Watson Sr let his fists fly freely and pummeled his attackers. The bones in their faces shattered like glass, their rib cages were beaten to pulp, and when they tried to curl up and defend themselves by covering their heads with their hands, Watson Sr showed no mercy. His fists flew like the blades of a windmill, and his heavy rubber galoshes kicked the fallen men hard in the back, the ribs, the legs; anywhere his boots could land and cause more damage.


Meantime, the barkeep had broken the second man’s long blade in half with a sound blow from his mace, but the man had not given up the fight. He still challenged the barkeep with the long shard of his broken knife. The man’s eyes glittered with greed as he spied the pile of bills the barkeep had stashed behind a case of beer bottles, but the barkeep kept his body in front of the money and motioned with his free hand for the man to attack. He was eager to split the second man’s skull as efficiently as he had done the first.


In the midst of the fight, the bar had descended into chaos. Some of the patrons watched, dazed and shocked by the spectacle. Others cheered and egged on the participants to keep fighting. Still others reached beyond the width of the bar top to grab whatever bottles their searching fingers could reach. Then the sound of a loud, shrill whistle broke the spell of chaos. Immediately, the bar patrons scattered, bottles broke, and a force of uniformed police officers descended on the raucous scene.


Watson Sr had barely registered the sound of the whistles, so intent was he on beating the life out of his attackers. When he did look up, the first thing he saw was an officer directly in front of him. A heavy wooden baton descended and hit Watson Sr squarely on the crown of the head. The resulting crack echoed hollowly in his head like a shot in a cave. Luminescent bursts of color blossomed before his open eyes, and Watson Sr staggered backwards, although he remained on his feet.


Instinctively, he swung wildly at those closest to him before another stunning blow from a baton fell. Then, there was another blow and another until the police officers forced Watson Sr’s unwilling bulk to the ground. But they were not done with him. As he writhed blankly on the floor, insensible to anything, the jarring blows continued to land everywhere on his body.


Through hazed eyelids, he discerned black-booted feet, and smartly pressed blue trouser cuffs at the bottoms of several pairs of uniformed legs. Watson Sr felt a plenitude of hands on his arms, dragging his bulk off the floor. His arms were then twisted hard behind his back, and he heard as much as felt the click of the handcuffs clamping down around his wrists. Watson Sr then made his way out of the bar, half-pushed and half-dragged by a half-dozen police officers to the idling police wagon.


As he was brutally pushed and shoved into the open back of the police wagon, he found his massive self crowded onto a crude wooden bench beside four other wasted-looking men in handcuffs. Each man wore dark bruises on his face, and each man stared dejectedly at the rude floorboards. All except Watson Sr. His eyes were fixed with hawk-like intensity on the limousine where Arnold still sat, calmly speaking with a police officer.


He knew then. It was his special favorite limousine. That was his mistake. The limited-edition, wine red Studebaker limousine had led the police straight to his hidden watering hole. Now, two other patrol cars were parked in front of and behind his red Studebaker while he sat helpless in the adjacent police wagon, which had been pulled in to block the limousine from leaving.


At that moment, Watson Sr realized that it was no accident that the police officers had shown up when they did. His eyes widened grimly. They had surely been looking for his red Studebaker and they had found it, as well as a dozen more reasons to arrest him. Through the open cage bars, Watson Sr watched anxiously as the police officer continued to question Arnold.


However, even with his quick ears, he could only catch out a few words of the pointed conversation. The rumbling of the wagon’s engine, the quaking of the old floorboards, and the pounding in his head were the only sounds Watson Sr could hear clearly. There was nothing for him to do except hope that the police officer let Arnold go without searching the back of the limousine.


His stomach knotted painfully at the thought of a police officer finding the book safe hidden away in his fancy satchel. It was this thought in his mind when the police officers finally loaded the last man into the back of the wagon, and the door slammed home. Then, the wagon pulled on to the street in a grey, exhaust-clouded, puttering magnificence, leaving the scene behind. The last thing Watson Sr saw before the police wagon turned the corner was another police officer approaching the back of the limousine.


Watson Sr’s eyes grew large, and his stomach again twisted painfully. He felt the sharply acidic taste of bile rise in his throat. He tried to swallow it back, but the acute anxiety mixed with the large quantities of alcohol was too much for even his stout constitution. He vomited then, and continued to vomit for several agonizing minutes, making a foul mess all over the rough, splintery planks that constituted the floor of the police wagon. His unlucky companions tried to squirm away, or even lift their feet out of the mess, but there was no room to shift about in the crowded wagon.


The other arrested men could do naught but cough and groan and roll their eyes, but Watson Sr had no care for them. His throat burned from thirst, and vile vomit spittle dripped down from his chin, but there was no water available to quench the agony. With his arms still confined behind him, there was not even a way for him to wipe his dirty face. The only relief was in the cool night air that poured in from between the cage bars. It alone soothed the rancid taste that burned his mouth.


No one in the wagon spoke during the ride to the police station. A couple of the other drunks vomited as well, overcome by the smell that clung to the boards and the soles of their shoes. The police wagon lurched with every bump it hit in the road, jostling the men together like old sacks of smelly laundry. Each time Watson Sr felt the prisoners on either side of him bunch uncomfortably close, he did his best to jab them in the ribs with his elbows and reclaim his space. Watson Sr hated the press of the others almost as much as he hated being handcuffed and on his way to jail.


It was not long before the police wagon arrived at the station, and the prisoners were marched in single-file, and booked. After his picture was taken and the handcuffs were removed, Watson Sr was ordered to strip. He thought about telling the police officers to go fuck themselves, but he felt confident that his pinstriped brigade of lawyers would arrive soon to get him out. Still, he was worried, for while his companions were herded into a single, large holding cell, Watson Sr was taken into the bowels of the jail.


Four guards were detailed to escort him to his cell, and when the steel door opened, Watson Sr could scarcely believe his eyes. There was nothing. There was no bed, no clock, no blankets, not even a proper toilet. There were only four concrete walls, and a bucket in the corner. Without a word, the guards pushed him into the cell, and slammed the heavy steel door. Not wanting to take any chances, the four guards pushed him all at once, so that he fell forward and skidded across the cold concrete floor on his hands and knees.


In a flash, Watson Sr was back on his feet, ready to fight the guards, but they were already safely behind the thick steel door. The room was freezing cold, and he sat down on his bare bottom, and pulled his knees up close under his chin. A single light encased in steel mesh illuminated the space, and he could see that he was covered in bruises, and his palms and knees were scraped and bleeding. Outside the door, he could hear the guards talking. Then, the small trap door that was fitted in the door of his cell opened, and he saw the lower half of a stern face.


“Lights out!” the disembodied jaw said through the small opening, and his only light immediately extinguished, leaving him cold, hungry, shivering, and completely alone. His head pounded, and he could feel an oozing gash in his hairline where the skin had split, but not the bone. Watson Sr did not think of the men he had almost beaten to death. As he had waited in the police wagon, he had seen two men carried out of the bar on stretchers. Their faces had been uncovered, so he supposed that they were still alive. If not, he would stand trial for murder.


His fingers itched for his fancy leather satchel, and he wished he could draw its comforting solidity close to his chest, just as he had always done. But, even if he had his satchel, the secret it contained, the purple genie, could no longer help him, it could only hurt him. Watson Sr shivered violently and lay down in a fetal position with only his thick mat of body hair to keep him warm. Sleep was a broken affair and, as was his habit, he awoke before dawn.


The glaring light at the top of his cell remained stubbornly dark, and he knew he would have to wait for the morning guards to illuminate his cage. His headache was better, but his stomach growled loudly. After what felt like an eternity, the light in his cell blazed to life. Watson Sr could hear scuffling sounds outside of his cell, as well as the low voices of the guards with their large rings of jingling keys.


The small trap door opened, and a steel tray appeared. He rose and grabbed the meager offering. A cup of oatmeal, an apple, and a small cup of water was all there was. Voraciously, he devoured the small meal, and then pushed the empty tray back through the opening. Quickly, it disappeared, and then the trap door shut again.


For the balance of the day, Watson Sr sat absorbed in silence with only the muffled sounds of the prison to keep him company. He wondered how long they could hold him with no word from his lawyers. And then he wondered whether the young doctor or the bar patrons he had beaten had died. If they had, he might be locked away, naked and alone, for a very long time.


Dinner came and went much the same as breakfast and did little to satisfy his hunger. A couple hours later, the darkness came again, but Watson Sr could not roll over and sleep. He rocked back and forth and thought. It was all there was to do in the darkness. In his abject state, the only relief he found was in being alone. He knew he would not be able to stand sharing a cell with another prisoner. There was no doubt in his mind that he would kill anyone who dared to try to call his space their own.


Regardless of his circumstances, there was an order to the world, and he would uphold it. The world had changed, Watson Sr knew, but he was a stoic relic of the old regime. As an impoverished youth, he would have never thought to mix his lowly self in amongst members of the upper class, and he felt that he had earned the same courtesy from the new world.


In his mind, to do otherwise was just not the correct way of doing things. And if the denizens of the new world could not understand the astute wisdom he displayed in all his actions, then he knew he was better off alone. But the new world rolled on regardless, and it made no room for him. In fact, the new world hated Watson Sr and all those who were like him.


Because rather than trying to adapt to all the changes, he and his ilk chose to hate the new world right back. If there was a way to destroy all the progress of the new world and bring the old world back, Watson Sr knew he would. He would kill to do it; whoever, wherever, but the utter unfairness of it all was that even such cruel fortitude was not enough to change anything.


It never really occurred to him that he had no reason to hate progress. It had filled his iron coffers to the very brim of what an imagination could harbor. Even the inevitable crumbling of his doomed empire could not squelch his wealth, his terribly fabulous fortune. But his arguments with the new world had stopped being about money long before.


Money he had, and would continue to have, but he could never change the fact that in the old world he idealized, he had been a pauper. He was only a rich man in the new world, but he could never go back in time and be one in the old world. In his mind, the turning of the world into a smaller, faster, mechanized world could only be understood as the end of something full of imperious virtue.


It was something he thought about often as the long days turned into even longer nights. Still, there was no word about his fate. For the first time in his life, Watson Sr began to feel pangs of regret and thought about the consequences of his actions. He knew that if any of the men he had beaten died, then he would be charged with murder. Perhaps they were battling for life and that was why he had not heard anything? It was hard not to wonder in the cold dark of his barren cell.


But still, Watson Sr knew he was not sorry for having beaten them, regardless of the consequences. It had felt good to him in the moment, and they deserved it. To him, the victims were no different than any of the vagrants he had killed in his youth. But, this time the circumstances were very different, even he had to admit. This time he had been caught. Everyone knew it was him who had beaten those men until they stopped moving.


There was no doubt that a trial would be swift, and justice would serve only the victims. What would become of him if he was convicted of as many as three counts of murder? Money would only buy him so much leniency. He looked around at the walls of his cell and wondered if he might spend the rest of his life in such a place. And all that time alone, because he was far too dangerous to be mixed in with other prisoners. Or, maybe, they would hang him, and that would be the end of his story.


Watson Sr could almost picture the scaffold, the noose, and himself with a black bag over his head. But what would become of Ophelia Eufalla if that were to happen? He chewed his teeth pensively as he pictured her being comforted by their sons at his execution. Or would he lose her long before the gavel of justice finally fell? He knew that she was not strong enough to endure the spectacle of a trial, or the disgrace that would accompany it.


However, Watson Sr did not worry as much about his seven strong, golden sons. He had already lost all of them to the new world, the despicably perishable new world of new men. They all were likable men, suited to the new world, and completely different from him. They bent to the pressures of the new age like stalks of wheat while he alone remained unchanged. And he would continue to do so, even if the aeons continued to spin their ire unceasingly against him, even if he ended up at the end of a rope, even if he lost all.


He had always kept his code simple and true. He kept no friends, and few acquaintances. He trusted no one and was kind to no one. He had never even had calling cards made up, even though the other members of society considered this to be irrefutable proof of his unrepentant barbarism. But he didn’t care what they thought. Watson Sr never felt bad for anything he did, as long as it furthered his own agenda. And to him bending to the expectations of others, be they high or low, went against the very grain of who he was.


He had raised his good sons to be just as self-reliant as him, just as bold and practical, but none of them could ever choke down his ideas about ethics being absurd and morals being for the weak. It was difficult for him to tolerate, and more difficult to reconcile his thoughts around. He did not want them to be weak, but he also did not want them to experience the world as he had when he was young. Instead, he wanted to keep them far away from it, especially since he had never found any advantage in being poor and abused.


Therefore, he had made a point to send each of his seven good sons to seven different Ivy League universities, hoping to gain the greatest and loftiest advantages for both them, and the empire he had founded. His three eldest sons had already graduated and come back home to run the P & W Railroad Co. The four behind them spent their summers working for the business before returning to school. In spite of himself, he was so proud. The names of the schools all inspired a feeling of awe in Watson Sr: Dartmouth, Harvard, Brown, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, and Cornell.


They sounded like places where unlettered giants like himself would never be welcome, regardless of how much wealth they possessed. They sounded like the kinds of places who would guard the embattled ideals of the old world. They sounded like places that would house only geniuses. And, in his mind, such geniuses would not help but be able to see that the old world was a better world because of its harshness, and that the new world made everything too easy, too accessible.


Prior to purchasing their admissions, Watson Sr had believed that these schools would be the strongest of gatekeepers for the traditional stratification of all things. But, in this, Watson Sr was terribly wrong. Far from protecting the cruel mechanics of the tougher old world, they were nothing but an esteemed assembly line for churning out new men for the new world.


And, in turn, each of his seven sons came back thinking and talking and acting exactly same way. They had become so much less like him and so much more like the other despicable new men who crowded his board room that Watson Sr could not help but be astonished. Then, and even worse, it became apparent that now they cared more about ethics and morals than Watson Sr had ever thought possible.


In fact, when they weren’t laughing and chatting amongst themselves, moral and correct action were all that seemed to concern them. It was like they no longer belonged to him, and Watson Sr could not help but feel aghast at these changes. In his mind, the new ideals his sons espoused were not concerns that were meant for the hard world of railroads and industry. After all, industry was not meant to elevate; it was meant to grind weakness to dust and shape from it something stronger, something that would last.


Over time, Watson Sr could not avoid the fact that their elite educations had formed his sons into strangers and, in the future would only serve to continue to suffocate him from their company. Even though they would never say as much, deep in his heart, he knew that they no longer regarded him as a tempestuous, wrathful god, but rather as a dangerous relic from backward times. The heartbreaking truth of the matter was that they were new men for the new world: the world of cars, but not of trains.


The sound of a guard shouting “Lights Out!” broke through his reverie and Watson Sr was instantly plunged back into total darkness. The stench from his nearly-full refuse bucket brought him close to vomiting up the remains of his latest unpalatable meal, which sat like a rock at the base of his stomach. The refuse bucket had only been emptied twice since he had been locked away. It was a part of his punishment, he knew. That, and stripping away his clothes, and even the meaning of time.


And time drew out unendingly, punctuated only by meals, the emptying of his refuse bucket, and the daily routine of being subjected to either unrelenting, incandescent light or total darkness. When he put it all together, it occurred to him that he had been incarcerated for about a week, which meant that with every passing day his prospects for freedom grew more bleak.


And with that knowledge, he knew that it was time to consider what the dissolution of his empire might look like in practical terms. With the rise of the automobile, he had already encountered the idea that his empire might hugely be changed (or even gone) within a generation or two, but three potential murder charges would speed that up considerably. The sour smells of piss and shit from his refuse bucket filled his nostrils and made him feel as much as think about the end of everything.


Regardless of what happened to him, he knew his children would be fine. The trial would be expensive, but he could pay for ten trials without making a dent in the enormity of his wealth. His seven good sons would then be free to liquidate the company, sell their stock, and live lives of leisure, if they wanted. They could even change their names or live abroad to escape the infamy associated with what he had done.


Yes, his children would be fine, better than fine, and he drew comfort from the thought. Although not enough to quell the nausea that had been with him ever since he had been locked up with only a shit bucket for company. At the heart of his upset was the fact that he had spent the past few years hoping against hope that the tides would change, and the fortunes of his railroad concerns would rise again, but the birth of his final child had sealed his empire’s fate.


Cars were the future, the railroads were the past, and nothing could change that fact. His railroad empire would end regardless of whether or not he swung for murder. It was only a matter of time and circumstance. In a way, it would be fitting if he died along with his empire, he thought morbidly. Besides, there was really nothing left for him to do except to protect and care for his beloved Ophelia Eufalla. After all, she was the only thing in his life that he could not live without.


Until that moment, he had avoided thinking of his wife because he knew that should he be found guilty of murder, then the judge might as well charge his beautiful Ophelia Eufalla to climb the gallows right alongside him. A trial would destroy her. A conviction would destroy her. Every permutation of inevitable justice would spell her end along with his. She was far too sheltered and gentle and serene to survive such disgrace and infamy. His children could survive it, but Ophelia Eufalla never would.


She would wither under the weight of such despair until she disappeared. It was all becoming so clear to him. The genie, his choices, and his misspent wishes had left him clutching at ashes. Everything he truly cared for stood to be destroyed. Tears fell silently from his eyes and left wet trails down his dirty face. It was not just the verdict from his actions that he waited for, but the verdict from those things he had left undone, mostly regarding the useless genie bottle.


It was true that he had wisely not carried his satchel into the bar with him, but neither had he taken care to hide it. The last thing he saw before the police wagon had turned the corner was more officers approaching the red Studebaker limousine. There was no way to know if the purple genie had been found. It was unthinkable that some police officer might have found the genie’s vessel during a search of the vehicle, but his own unwillingness to rid himself of it while he had been at sea in Nova Scotia had brought the possibility into eerily close range of reality.


What would happen then? Watson Sr wondered. What would happen if he was called to serve a new master of the genie? He shivered when the words “new master” tumbled through his thoughts. It would be a fate worse than death. Better to hang, Watson Sr decided. But that destiny would destroy Ophelia Eufalla. Hope lay wasted on the ground beside him as he took up the weight of two differing fates that both spelled his doom.


And, as the night wore on, even more questions entered his mind: If the genie were held by a new master, would his fabulous wealth also be called into service? Was it possible that all his money, which nothing on earth could hope to deplete, would leave him and fill the coffers of another? If so, what would happen to his family, his sons? The destiny he had pictured for them suddenly crumbled under the weight of these questions.


And would his sons also be required to serve? They were part of him. Would they also be subjected to the whims of a new master of the purple genie? It tormented him that there was no way to know the answers to his questions. He just knew that they were questions that no mortal should ever have to answer. All he could do was wait and see. Just as he waited for word from his lawyers about his fate in legal terms, he would have to wait for the genie to summon him into service.


The only thing he knew for certain was that he had not yet felt the summons, and that it would be undeniable when it came. The voice of the purple genie was a shrieking torment that embattled the senses, and he could only imagine that it’s call to service would be just as terrible, if not more so. Depressed and uncertain, Watson Sr curled up on his side on the cold concrete and slept.


Uncharacteristically, he did not awaken when his single light blazed to life that morning. Instead, he wanted to stay in the world of dreams for as long as possible. It was not until the trap door opened for breakfast that he knew he could no longer cling to sleep. Watson Sr ate his bland breakfast listlessly and shoved the tray back through the trap door when he was finished. He expected it to slam shut and stay shut until dinner as it had each day since he had been imprisoned.


Instead, a white-and-black striped uniform of coarse material was pushed through the trap door before it slammed shut. Watson Sr quickly put on the ill-fitting prison uniform and wondered why the guards had finally chosen to clothe him. His questions were answered an hour later when he heard the jingling of keys as they turned in the lock of the heavy steel door. The door opened for the first time since he had been locked away, and his lawyer breezed in.


The well-dressed lawyer looked around, taking in the conditions, and crinkled his nose at the smell. He turned to look daggers at the guard who promptly closed the door, leaving them alone together. Then, the lawyer lost no time in getting down to business. He told Watson Sr that the men he had beaten had all survived, but one just barely. He was to be released immediately but would need to pay outrageous sums to the city, the doctor, and the hospital in exchange for his freedom.


The amounts had already been negotiated, the lawyer explained with a self-satisfied smile. Watson Sr nodded, and the lawyer banged three times on the cell door. A guard immediately opened the door, handcuffed Watson Sr, and escorted the two men upstairs. Watson Sr sat in a hard wooden chair for a long time while he waited for his lawyer and the clerks to finish processing his release. Finally, his lawyer came back around the corner, and the guard who accompanied him unlocked the handcuffs. Watson Sr rubbed his sore wrists and looked questioningly at his lawyer.


“We’re all done here now, Mr. Watson. You’re a free man once again. Arnold is waiting outside with your car to drive you home. I apologize, sir, but you will have to leave the jail dressed as a prisoner. It seems that the clothes you came in with have been lost and cannot be provided to you,” said the lawyer.


Watson Sr nodded, shot the closest guard a dirty look, and walked down the corridor to the large maple and glass doors at the entrance of the police station. As they walked, his lawyer whispered, “I’m so sorry about this, sir. But thank you for not making a fuss. It was not right for them to lose your things, but I guess you know that they always find their little ways to take revenge on any man who takes a swing at a cop. Thank goodness it didn’t land, or they might’ve marched you out naked!”


At this, his lawyer laughed loudly, and clapped Watson Sr heartily on the back. Watson Sr did not respond. He could only think about how much he despised his new lawyer, even if he was the most expensive criminal attorney in New York. However, the man was only a small part of his large legal retinue. Even still, Watson Sr missed his old lawyer, Robert Young, who was worth all his new lawyers piled up in a heap and covered in gold coins.


After all, Robert Young had been a singularly able and ingenious fellow, and his genteel manners and quiet confidence always made Watson Sr feel at ease. And Robert Young would never have been so coarse as to crack jokes on the jailhouse steps, but Robert Young and his gentle understanding were gone, and all that was left to replace him were a bunch of expensive hucksters. Still, Watson Sr shook his lawyer’s hand as they parted ways, knowing it would do him no good to express his ire at the man’s crass manners. Besides, Arnold was waiting for him, standing at attention on the curbside next to the red Studebaker limousine.


Watson Sr could not have been happier to see his favorite shiny, red limousine glinting in the sun waiting for him. Even though it had become his favorite, until that moment he had never before looked at it without feeling a pang of desire for the vehicle he’d really wanted. But when he had presented the idea of a solid gold limousine with diamond-studded wheels to his engineers he had been told that the whole venture was “logistically unfeasible.” For a while, he had frowned and frumped and then finally settled on buying the red Studebaker.


With considered casualness, Watson Sr approached the limousine. His eyes darted about, checking for eavesdroppers hidden in bushes or behind cars, before he quickly signed, “Did they search the car?” It was an odd thing to ask, but Arnold was accustomed to oddness from his master. As he stepped around Watson Sr and opened the passenger compartment, being sure to not act any differently than if his employer wore a fitted tuxedo, and they were simply departing a gala, he said,


“No sir. They began to search it, but when they removed the burlap from the shark’s jaws, the smell was so rancid that they left off without searching the rest of the car. A lucky break, eh, sir?”


Inwardly, Arnold wondered why Watson Sr would be so concerned, but then he simply contented himself that it must be because of the empty whiskey bottle he found under the leather satchel, or maybe all the loose cash that he had fallen out of it when he had been putting the limousine back in order after their harrowing night in Brooklyn.


“To the Newport house,” Watson Sr signed before he ducked his head, and settled himself on the velvet seat. Arnold promptly shut the door, took his seat on the driver’s bench, and started the engine. Inside the compartment, Watson Sr spied his shark’s jaws, newly cleaned and affixed to a mahogany mount with a small brass plaque at the bottom which read:


Blue Shark

12 feet

Mr. Watson, Sr.

Nova Scotia


Watson Sr held up the mount, pleased with his new trophy. And, underneath the trophy, right where he had left it, lay his leather satchel, now zippered closed. Quickly, he opened it, not caring that loose bills fell indiscriminately on the seat and floorboards as he pulled out the book safe and saw that it still contained the vessel of the purple genie.


For the first time in over a week, Watson Sr took a deep breath, and thought, ‘Hell must have its favorites, too.’ As he held the satchel close to his chest and drank from the fine bottle of Tennessee whiskey Arnold had so thoughtfully provided, Watson Sr felt at ease for the first time in years. His mind was settled, and most importantly, he knew exactly what to do with the useless purple genie vessel; and his plan was perfect.

3 views