Copyright 2012 by Lia Matera.
Champawat originally appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (September/October 2012). It may not be reproduced or distributed for commercial or non-commercial use.
Ella jerked awake. Her forehead, pressed against the train window, was cold with sweat. For two days, she'd been having the same nightmare. She was lying on the snow-dusted sidewalk, looking up at the Kingstons' windows. She kept trying to shout to them, to defy them with her survival. They were sure she'd finish dying before the wagon came. Why sit listening for the clatter of horseshoes? Even on their street of fine rowhouses, it might be dawn before the sheet-wrapped bodies were collected. The wagons filled faster every night, more and more of them rattling out of Washington to mass graves in Virginia. There were no coffins left and no plots in the cemeteries. Funerals, like all public gatherings, were banned by order of the mayor. They'd furled Ella into bed linens from the mending pile, hadn't they? She was only a servant, after all.
For six hundred miles, Ella tried to stop reliving that night. She tried to focus on the scenery—forest and flatland glittering under frost, Pittsburgh, Akron, Cleveland spiked with girders of new buildings. But on every platform of every train station, some paper boy, cotton mask over his nose and mouth, waved the latest edition. Two hundred newly dead in one city, a thousand in the next, then four thousand, five thousand. The Philadelphia Inquirer screamed 50,000 Sick of Spanish Flu, 12,000 Perish.
Now the train was pulling into Chicago, where Ella would transfer to another terminal. People around her were getting up and gathering their things. But she had only what she wore, a travelling suit and coat from Mrs. Kingston's tallboy, and the contents of her pockets. So she stayed in her seat, watching the station's bricks and arches come into view.
She noticed three men standing on the frozen mud beside the tracks. They were a few steps from a platform that eventually disappeared into the terminal tunnel. They were well-dressed and hatless, puffs of breath visible as they talked. When her window passed closer to them, she felt a shiver of paranoia. They stood with chests out and heads high, every gesture self-pleased and full of swagger. In her experience, when men looked like they owned the whole world, they had badges and guns to justify it. Were these law men? She twisted in her seat, looking for—and seeing, she thought—the bulge of shoulder holsters under their jackets. Was railroad security preparing to come aboard? They'd been rousting draft-dodgers and Reds since the war began. And Ella had no papers. The Kingstons had burned her things in case sickness clung to them.
She'd gone to them two years ago with little enough—a few dresses and books, her precious letters from Nicky. But she'd left with nothing. Nothing of her own but guilt: she'd brought home the flu that killed them all. Muriel Kingston, only six years old. Eight-year old John. Baby Annie. The cook, the maid—kind women who risked their health to nurse her after she survived that night outside.
Her hand slid into the pocket of her—that is, Mrs. Kingston's—suit jacket. She'd needed money to get back home, to rent a small apartment there and recover in body if not in spirit. Her fingers closed over the cold facets of diamonds and rubies, the smooth gold of their settings. It wasn't as if Mrs. Kingston would ever wear her jewelry again.
That wouldn't matter to the police. If Ella couldn't show identification, they'd search her. Every day headlines screamed that Bolsheviks from Russia were here to foment revolution. Not long ago, a girl Ella's age—just nineteen—was pulled from a Chicago train, her carpetbag filled with dynamite. Aliens under suspicion were put straight onto boats "home" even if, like Ella, they'd arrived as babes in arms. And if she gave a false (not foreign-sounding) surname, her pocketful of rings and brooches might mean years at hard labor. Who'd believe they rightfully belonged to a young woman without protectors or even luggage?
She grabbed her coat from the seat beside her and hurried toward the back. She kept her eyes on the windows, on the three men at platform's end. The train was moving at a crawl now. She was able to keep pace, keep watching, by pushing through one compartment after another.
The train came to a full stop as she reached the last passenger car. Dodging the elbows of people straightening their hats and cotton masks, she took a window seat. She angled for a better look at the men outside. There was a glint of nickel on the lapel of the tallest. He was ginger-haired and broad-shouldered. When he turned to point to the back of the train, she saw he wore a large six-pointed star. A U.S. Marshal.
Ella felt as if the flu, having noticed her edging toward health, suddenly yanked her back. Her face went hot, her stomach jumped, it was a struggle to breathe. The marshal waved toward the front of the train. The other men nodded, one climbing to the platform while the other started over muddy sleet to the mail cars.
Seeing the aisle was clear now, she hurried to a tiny bathroom. She closed the door and leaned against it. Whatever or whomever the marshals were looking for, if they searched her, she was ruined. Hands shaking, she spread toilet tissue in the small sink and emptied her pocket into it. She broke one hairpin and twisted another prying open gold prongs. She released two large diamonds and an emerald from their settings. Other pieces were smaller and more common—teardrop ruby earrings, a fire opal stick-pin, pearl studs. She pulled a thread in the hem of her (or rather, Mrs. Kingston's) blouse and worked the gems and jewelry into it. Her hands shook as she pulled the tissue around the larger more distinctive settings. Then, ignoring a sign asking people not to flush while in the station, she sent the small bundle through the Hopper toilet's opening to the tracks. When her foot came off the lever, she heard footsteps stop at the other side of the door.
She froze, feeling hunted. She remembered stories Nicky used to love. When he was in his early teens and she was a little girl, he spent hours telling her about tigers. Newspapers then were full of articles about man-eaters, how they stalked villagers by following from a distance of ten or twenty feet, blending invisibly into the jungle. Their huge feet, Nicky said, were as silent as clouds across the sky.
When she opened the door, she found herself face to face with the marshal who'd gestured his men to go forward and back. His ginger hair was exactly the shade of tiger fur. He blocked the aisle between her and the seat where (she realized) she'd left her coat.
She drew herself to her full height, such as it was, striving for the look of chilly indignation Mrs. Kingston used to wear in public. But it was a challenge even to appear calm. U.S. Marshals were the enforcement arm of the Justice Department, the anti-sedition police who rounded up aliens like Ella, draft dodgers like Nicky, and anarchists like their friends.
This one wasn't wearing his star anymore. And there was no bulge, nor anything in the way he held his arm, to hint at a holstered gun. Did he hand it off to his deputies before boarding? To pretend he was a passenger?
"Sorry to disturb you," he said. "I hope you're well? There've been quite a few cases of the flu between Washington and Chicago."
"Are you a doctor?"
"No, just… a good Samaritan, if you need one, Miss. Are you getting off here, waiting for a porter to help with your luggage?"
"No." She realized her tickets—nearly ninety dollars worth—were in her coat. Had he seen them there, had he looked through her pockets? She'd have to be careful not to lie (but not to name a town, either) if he asked her destination.
"If you're catching the transfer train to Grand Central or North Western, it's been delayed. A porter just told me. They've left the dining car open for anyone who wants to wait here."
"I see." Mrs. Kingston's tone would have ordered him to step aside, but Ella couldn't duplicate it. She wasn't in the habit of being obeyed.
The man was giving her an appraising look instead of letting her pass. It was bolder than the looks men gave Mrs. K. Was it so apparent, even in clothes taken from a rich woman's tallboy, that Ella was rabble?
"Say, though, I know you, don't I?" The marshal smiled, showing good teeth and a single dimple. "Did you board in Washington?"
She thought again of the tickets in her coat pocket. "You, too?" If he said yes, perhaps she'd see a tic or squint and know it when he lied again.
"Actually, I think I saw you walking past a friend's house there." He gave her another head-to-toe look. "Or rather, the little girl who lives there saw the children who were with you. I don't remember their names, but I heard about them in some detail—prowess at jump rope, if they'd tried ice cream inside of cones yet. That sort of thing. My friend's daughter is at the age where she thinks whatever interests her must interest everyone."
"Maybe we're all that age," Ella said.
The man laughed. "Yes, I am proving it at the moment, aren't I? You were with a girl Mary's size and a boy a little older, I think. I was more taken up in watching their… sister, are you?" He showed his dimple again.
If she didn't know he was a marshal, she might believe he'd seen her walking with Muriel and John. Anyone might have spotted them on their frequent meanders to Rock Creek or the zoo.
But that wouldn't include a marshal from Chicago. Her stomach knotted around the fact. What did it mean?
"Children and dogs always notice each other, whatever else is going on," Ella managed. She'd never again get dragged across a street by John or laugh at Muriel's excited chatter. She'd never again pry baby Annie's sticky fingers from her hair.
"Do you know my friends, the Palmers, on R Street?" he asked. Ella tried not to show her shock. The Kingstons lived a block from them. "They have a sweet girl, Mary. Well, a wild girl," he spoke it like a compliment, "but I don't doubt she'll be sweet someday."
Ella knew little Mary Palmer, all right. She'd done all she could, in timing the children's outings, to make sure Muriel didn't befriend the pie-faced daughter of the Alien Property Custodian. She hated the man who, with the war as his excuse, robbed immigrants of their factories and patents, handing them to political cronies.
"I'm sorry," she said, "I don't know anyone on that street."
How did he come to bring up R Street at all? It couldn't be a coincidence, and it might be a disaster.
The marshal didn't move. He seemed to expect more. In a panic to say anything, she added, "I'm at school, I don't get out much."
"School in the District?"
Perhaps if she wasn't cornered, she could think. Mrs. K would never have let a strange man trap her in the aisle of a train. But Ella didn't know how to get past him without answering.
She nearly said Howard University because she'd strolled its campus once. Her olive skin and thick head of curls, some escaping the coil at her neckline, might let her pass for mixed race. But Mrs. Kingston's expensive suit might not. It seemed less risky, in this finery, to say, "Georgetown."
A hint of smugness on the marshal's face made her realize she'd admitted to living, not just boarding a train, in Washington.
"Really? And what do you study?"
Would he quiz her to see if she was lying? Just in case, she said, "American history."
Her studies were buttressed (sometimes corrected) at the Anarchist Hall. It was the immigrants' social club and night school. They'd seen plays about the labor movement, the Constitution, abolition. They'd heard speakers like Luigi Galleani, Emma Goldman, Margaret Sanger. They'd discussed books and philosophy, they'd laughed and eaten and sung union songs. These days, though, it was as dangerous to wish for utopia as it was to call for insurrection. First the Hall was torched by vigilantes. (That's when Nicky insisted she find a job far away.) Then the war started, and so did the arrests and deportations.
"American history? Good college for it," he said.
"Yes." Ella had read that Georgetown charged $600 tuition. That was more than she would ever earn in a year.
She jittered to step past this man, but she forced herself to stillness. There's a tiger in India, Nicky once told her, in a place called Champawat. It will track villagers for mile after mile. Invisible in the jungle, barely rustling the leaves. Taking its time, only ten or twenty feet away, waiting to pounce. Unless a person runs. Tigers are like alley cats that way, Ella. You've seen how a cat will just watch a mouse… until it tries to get away. Then instinct makes it chase. And kill.
"History," the man repeated. "Yes, that's grand. You know who Mitchell Palmer is, then, my friend on R Street? He works for President Wilson, though not where the President first intended. He was first asked to be Secretary of War. Turned that down, though."
What did it mean that he kept bringing up Palmer and R Street? Even if it was true this marshal had noticed her walking past, he'd have seen a girl in a cheap, usually mud-spattered, suit. On Sundays, Palmer's neighbors might stroll to display the family in full regalia. But no one dressed as Ella was now, no rich woman like Mrs. K, ever staggered home from the river with a jar full of pollywogs and a sleeping child on piggyback.
No, he was trying to get confirmation that Ella lived there. That she was the person he was on this train to find.
Had a relative of Mrs. Kingston's noticed the missing jewelry? Sent the police to check the train station, to see if any servant purchased a ticket?
If so, why not just ask Ella for identification, why not just detain and search her? His pretense was terrifying her.
"I'm a rude lout, though, to keep you standing." He backed up to let her pass.
Her hand went of its own accord to her skirt, to the spot where the tucked-in hem of her blouse was threaded with the stolen jewels. She held them tight against herself while she skimmed past him. She found her wrapover and sat in that row by the window. She pulled the coat to the middle space and turned away to show she was done conversing.
To her chagrin, the man sank into the aisle seat. "Pardon me for saying so, but you look a bit peaked. Would you like some water? I can send a porter to get some."
She shook her head.
"You're not wearing a mask like so many on the train. You've had the flu already, I guess? Perhaps recently? It's left you pale."
"I'm all right," she said.
"Please don't misunderstand me. I don't mean that you look— Only that after so long a train ride... But let me not remove one foot from my mouth to insert the other. I've had the flu myself. It got hold of me in Philly," he said, "the week it took five thousand there. Did you lose anyone to it?"
She thought again of her fellow servants, of the children. She'd used Cook's money to pay the wagon men to take away their bodies. Then she'd left Mrs. K alone in the house, bleeding through her tear ducts, her face the color of old liver. Ella had tried to make her comfortable. She'd done all she could to keep it from her, about Muriel and John and baby Annie. But when the dying woman realized the truth, there'd been no helping her.
Ella said, "Everyone's lost somebody, I think."
"It's not easy to survive these days, is it, between the war and the flu," he said. "And a hard time after, if you do."
Why didn't this marshal pounce: search her, interrogate her, take her away? Why did he stalk her with conversation?
To change the subject to something else, anything else, she said, "Why did your friend turn down being Secretary of War?"
"Well, he's a Quaker. Not fully a pacifist—they call him the Fighting Quaker. He's in favor of this war because it was thrust upon us. But he feared his faith could complicate initiating another. And the day may come when we have to strike first. So he took a different post."
She nodded, unsure what to reply.
"I'm a Quaker as well," he said. "We're supposed to be Catholics, we Irish. But my mother was a Friend, and she took pity on the besotted fellow who became my dad."
"Did the draft board assign you to a farm camp? That's where they send Quakers, isn't it?"
"On the contrary, most Friends who object are shipped straight to the battlefield. Ordered to carry stretchers if we won't carry guns. But not all of us object. I didn't get called, but I'd have gone. I don't believe in shirking. It only leaves the dirty work to others."
She thought of Nicky in a hovel in Mexico because he refused to kill poor men like himself to settle rich men's quarrels.
The marshal watched her carefully. "I believe in this war—the Germans saw to that."
"What about your Quaker beliefs?"
"Our convictions are individual, not institutional—there's no high church to tell us what to do. We find our own ways to stay firm in our four tenets, and we leave it at that." He flushed a little.
"I see." She made herself smile. While he was talking, she was spared the effort. "What are the tenets?"
He looked surprised by her interest. "Simplicity, equality, tolerance, peace. But again, it's different when war's forced on you. When there's no peace without a fight."
Nicky had said to her, before he left for Mexico, "It's not just me who doesn't understand this war, Ella. There's no one on Earth who can find the bone under the skin. It's senseless grudges by men who'll never win treasure enough to satisfy them. They send their countrymen to spill innocent blood, including their own, and get nothing in return." He'd been gone almost two years and still the carnage continued, and still no one understood why.
"And any day," the marshal said, "we'll learn we've done it. Won the war and brought the peace. Armistice any day now, they say. There's a rumor it might be tonight. But lately, there's always a rumor."
"No peace without a fight," Ella repeated. "Do you Quakers introduce paradox into all four tenets? Your friend is the Fighting Quaker? Do you also have Klansman Quakers?"
"Never that." He flashed a smile that seemed different from those previous. Because he'd shaken her close to showing her true feelings? "And Mitchell Palmer, well, however a person may judge his views on war, he's kept to the tenets. Served three terms in Congress, working for an end to child labor, a tariff system to protect the poorest workers. That's why I helped put him in office. I worked on his first campaign and ran the next two."
Ella squirmed in her seat. She had the sense this was, for him, turning into a real conversation. Was that to her benefit, or did it merely protract this ordeal?
"I first heard Palmer speak when I was at Penn. Years ago, studying history, like yourself." His tone softened and so did his smile. If she didn't know he was a marshal, she'd think he was flirting. "He was a determined young progressive. And I found we spoke the same language. Right down to the rare 'thee' and 'thou' if we aren't careful."
Could it be he really knew Palmer? Was it possible he had seen her walking past? It wouldn't change the fact that he'd removed his nickel star. Or that he seemed intent on coaxing her to offer… what? An admission she'd lived on R Street? Why not confront her with it, pat her down if he was after Mrs. Kingston's jewels?
She heard the door at the other end of the car slide open. The marshal twisted toward the aisle to glance over his shoulder.
While his attention was elsewhere, she looked him over. He was an attractive man, square-shouldered and lean at the waist. His profile under the thick ginger hair, clipped short along the sides and combed straight on top, showed a strong brow and firm jaw. She noticed too, though it was silly to do so, that he smelled of bay rum aftershave. When he turned back, his eyes widened from a squint. She looked away, but not before she caught his pleasure at having found himself examined.
"It wasn't the porter," he said. "If you're waiting for one."
She shook her head to show she wasn't.
"If you're thinking of whiling away some time inside the terminal, you ought to walk through the train. Leave it where the platform's enclosed. Even a mild November night in Chicago is enough to make someone from Washington weep. But perhaps you grew up in a raw climate? Where is it you go home to now?"
Had he searched her coat pockets and seen her tickets?
"Oh, I don't mind the cold," she said. Mrs. Kingston would have raised her brows and pinched her lips to show she found the question impertinent. But Ella's features weren't trained to it.
"And so Georgetown's on break already, then? Earlier than usual, isn't it?"
"The flu." She was on comfortable footing here, at least. "The mayor outlawed public meetings, and so the schools have closed."
"Ah yes, of course," he said. "But if they keep you longer into the summer to compensate, you may dislike the heat and mosquitoes. Or do you go home to worse?"
"It was wise of them to do it, I think."
If he was here to find her, he'd know her destination from her ticket. So why did he keep asking where she lived? In case someone came to meet her train and take her on by car?
Beyond the marshal and across the aisle, windows framed a sky shingled with wet clouds. The last traces of daylight were fading over acres of ground covered in curved and crossing tracks. In the distance, a canal was overspread with a rust-streaked railroad bridge. She watched a train flash across it while others moved slowly alongside the narrow waterway. She struggled to say something about it, or to find another innocuous topic, but the words wouldn't come.
"Your history classes?" The marshal shifted so his knees touched her coat on the seat between them. She saw that his pale blue eyes were made intense by dark rings around the iris. "Have they influenced your view of this war?" His brows were raised attentively, as if he were sincerely interested in her answer.
Ella felt herself go cold. The Sedition Act made criticizing the war a crime punishable by $10,000 and twenty years in prison. Enforcement was literal and draconian. She'd read about a film maker sentenced to ten years at hard labor for a harsh portrayal of the British in his movie about the Revolutionary War. They were our allies now, and it was sedition to defame them (or the President) in any context. It wasn't possible, these days, to be careful enough.
"I agree with you," she said. "Sometimes peace has to be won."
"And your professors concur?"
"Of course. Why wouldn't they?"
"I understand that some at Georgetown, Harvard and Yale too, draw supposed contrasts between our laws and our constitution."
"Really?" This turn of conversation seemed very bad to her. Sounding her out about the war and now the Sedition Act?
"They talk of starting a civil liberties league. To challenge the Alien and Sedition Acts, the Anarchist Exclusion Act." He watched her unblinkingly. "Deportations under the Immigration Act."
"I didn't know that."
She couldn't make sense of this. She felt sure he was looking for her in particular—why else would he keep bringing up R Street? She'd supposed it had to do with the stolen jewels. But he'd have no reason to care about the politics of a thief, would he?
She heard the blood roar in her ears. Had she done something to make a marshal suspect her of sedition? Every alien knew someone who'd been dragged onto a boat. If the government bothered with hearings at all, they were closed-door, one immigration officer and no translator.
She was glad the marshal was speaking again. She couldn't have constructed a coherent sentence.
"Civil liberties," he said. "I don't begrudge lawyers and courts their roles. But except in extreme cases, I say leave the law to those who write it." He paused for her reply. When none came, he added, "And if they overstep, then vote for different men. Better that than putting it in the pockets of appointees with grudges and personal stakes. Or do you take the opposite view?"
She managed a, "No."
"Having run Palmer's political campaigns, that's my orientation. But your professors, they influence the next generation of voters. We Democrats need them on our side. That's why I asked."
She smiled as if flattered he'd posed the question.
"And forming a civil liberties league…" He leaned closer. "It implies people get dragged away just for thinking the wrong thoughts. But you've never been made to feel shy, have you, about expressing a view in the classroom?"
If she didn't know he was a marshal, if she hadn't seen him still wearing his star, would she be goaded into arguing? Would she be fool enough to let her true opinions slip?
"You have to weigh the extent to which a tool serves the common good," he went on. Determined to draw Ella out? "The Sedition Act may pull in a few it shouldn't. But the courts can sort that out. And in times of war, you have to judge value by percentages, don't you think? Weigh the inconvenience to a few against the harm to innocents? Like the servant who lost her hands opening a package bomb meant for a senator. They say it was built from a manual, bought for twenty-five cents mail order."
Ella felt a cold sweat glue stray curls to her hairline. Luigi Galleani's newspaper sold tracts full of threats and bluster. It was his style of rhetoric, but no one at the Hall took it seriously. When Galleani lectured, he was fiery but he stayed inside the law. Mr. Shelstein, who booked their speakers, insisted on it. Then the laws changed. Galleani's paper was shut down along with a hundred others. Like Emma Goldman and Eugene Debs, Galleani was in prison now.
Was the marshal looking for an admission that Ella knew him? Did he mean to learn where she was going in case she was joining a conspiracy there?
But no one in Washington knew Ella once called herself an Anarchist. She'd never even mentioned Nicky.
Nicky. Had he come back now that the war was ending? Had the marshals been following him? Maybe he'd gone looking for Ella at the Kingstons'?
She barely mastered the impulse to grab her coat and lurch over the marshal's knees into the aisle. She could bear anything but that. Anything but Nicky arrested, lost to her.
A tiger has to chase you if you try to get away from it, Ella. Nicky had been breathless, his eyes bright. It will stalk you patiently for hours and hours if you don't run. But the second you do, it has to come after you. It's like a machine, and you've pulled a lever. It has to chase you because that's how a tiger is. He'd been poring over newspaper accounts of the Champawat tiger. It had eaten 430 humans by then, and hunters were willing to try anything. They heard about this village where people wear masks on the backs of their heads. Because if a tiger sees your face, it doesn't understand you're running away. It knows humans don't run backwards. And if it doesn't know you're running, maybe you can get someplace safe. He'd said it solemnly, and she could see him imagining it all. She remembered the cut on his chin—he hadn't been shaving long, hadn't been good at it yet. Even at that age, she'd wanted to kiss it. Even then, she'd been in love with him. That's how you get away from a tiger, Ella. And she'd nodded as if there were tigers all over Seattle.
She forced herself to rest her head against the seatback, to try to overcome her panic. As long as this marshal was still stalking her, not yet detaining her, she had a chance. She turned toward him and mustered a smile. She didn't know yet how to get away, but she could show a false face in the meantime. Fool him into thinking she wouldn't run.
"I'm told there's a luncheonette inside the terminal. Do you know it?" She managed a slight laugh. "I don't believe I can face the dining car again. Every meal is smothered in gravy and stinks of canned peas."
"Why yes, I know the luncheonette." She could see his puzzlement. See him making new calculations.
"I don't want you to feel obliged," she said. "But... if you mean to take your supper, too? I'd enjoy…" She couldn't quite make herself say she'd enjoy his company.
"Certainly." His face relaxed. "Yes, I'd be glad to join you."
He stood and extended a hand to help her up. He looked smug, flattered. The mask on the back of her head seemed to be fooling him.
Putting herself on the arm of a marshal was one of the hardest things Ella had ever done. As he walked her through the train's mustard and burgundy cars, she saw two men outside following along. She recognized them as the other marshals. They were looking through the windows to see where their boss led.
How could she have thought this was about Mrs. Kingston's jewelry? She was barely five feet tall—it wouldn't take three armed men to arrest a small and ailing thief. But a "radical"? Someone who'd seen Galleani speak, who knew a draft dodger in Mexico? These days, a connection to any Anarchist was seen as "intended to provoke, incite, or encourage resistance to the United States." Did they think Ella was travelling with dynamite? (Hadn't the marshal asked if she had baggage? Hadn't he sent someone to the luggage car?) Conversation with a thief would yield less than a search would. But an "innocent" chat with an Anarchist could lead to information about accomplices.
She wanted to laugh in the marshal's face. What was it he saw when he looked at her? She'd grown up with harmless dreamers, not bombers. Orphaned at 15, she'd gone to work in the shirt factories. For the last two years she'd been a servant, wiping little fingers and changing diapers. The most seditious thing she'd ever done was pine in loneliness for a pacifist. And Nicky didn't go Mexico to plot violence, he went there to reject it.
The marshal murmured something about not getting separated in the busy station. He put his hand firmly over hers where it lay on his arm. She felt herself go hot with anxiety. She looked away as if blushing at his touch.
It was crowded in the chill, high-ceilinged terminal. People worried about catching the flu, but not everyone could avoid travelling. Instead nearly all wore white cotton masks. Ella saw the marshal check over his shoulder, scanning the crowd. He shook his head almost imperceptibly. Telling his men not yet?
Weariness threatened to cut the legs out from under her. What was it about tigers that made them keep stalking? How did they decide one moment was better than another to pounce? Why should the beasts, looking out from seamless jungle, choose one spot on the villager's path over another?
The marshal clung tightly to her hand on his arm as they passed paper boys waving extras, kiosks stacked with baseball souvenirs and postal cards, fiddlers playing After You've Gone. Breaks in the crowd showed a luncheonette to their left. When its doors opened, Ella smelled the lemon and grease of fried fish. Occasional words rose above the patrons' din—"armistice" and "surrender" were like frequent toots of a horn.
The luncheonette was too close. She couldn't get away between here and there, not with two other marshals behind her. And inside it, the line moved quickly as people chose their courses and slid their trays along a rail. A meal there would delay things only briefly.
She stopped walking, forcing the marshal to stop, too. Around them, harried travelers parted and passed like river water around a rock.
"May I ask you something?" Her voice was teary—she couldn't help it. But though she spoke at a near whisper, she saw he listened for every word. "You've been inquiring about Georgetown? Is it because you can tell I'm not…? That I don't go to college?" She felt herself blush deeply. She hoped he'd believe it was because she regretted the deception.
"Is that so?" he said.
She angled to face him, though he still kept her fingers clamped to his arm. She put her free hand on his lapel and fancied she could feel the indentations where his badge had pieced the fabric. "I could see you knew it. The way you asked about my professors' views."
"No, I was just… interested to hear them." He looked confused.
"I shouldn't have lied." She meant it: A marshal would see lying as running. It would trigger the same impulse in him as in a tiger. She'd been wrong to think a friendly manner was enough. She understood now that only the truth would do. Only the truth would fool this man into thinking she was coming toward him. Or she wouldn't have one hand pinioned to his arm now. "It's just that… I wish I were a student," she said. That was the truth, all right. "I wish it but it's far above my means. I was a servant to a rich woman. She gave me these clothes before the flu took her. Because she'd burned mine. I was the first in the house to get sick, you see. And in case the disease was on my clothes… None of us wanted the children to catch it."
"Ah," he said. "That's who you lost, then?"
"Yes. Three children. Children I loved dearly—more than I knew." That was a fact, too. "And others in the household. Servants who were my friends. And so now I'm forced to go home. I had a job in a shirt factory there, and I suppose they'll take me back." She detested the false sympathy in his eyes. He knew all of this already, she was sure of it. "And so if you'd rather not join me… You were thinking I'm of a higher social class than I truly am."
Suspicion crackled across his face. But when he glanced again at the other marshals, it was to shake his head slightly.
"It's my pleasure to dine with you," he said, "whether or not you're a schoolgirl."
She brushed away a few tears of stress. "Thank you," she said. "If you're sure. But… I don't suppose you know of someplace else we could eat? Just a week ago I was in bed with fever. And the stink of fish from the luncheonette doesn't agree with me. If there's anyplace nearby?"
"Why yes, I know a spot, Miss—" He leaned so close they were nearly forehead to forehead. She could smell cinnamon gum on his breath. "What's your name, then?"
She tilted her face so her lips were close to his, closer than was decent. The hairs stood up on her neck, but she smiled. "Antonella Gualtieri."
She could see on his face that he knew it. That was good; he'd expect to get more honesty from her in the course of a long meal.
"Well, Miss Gualtieri, I'm Matthias Killy. There's a good little place just a block from here. Let me offer you dinner there," he said. "I hope you'll be warm enough walking to it? I don't know if you care for spirits, but you look as if you could do with a hot toddy."
She nodded. Let him hope he'd loosen her tongue with alcohol.
The marshal's face, still close to hers, seemed particularly sharp against the blur of movement behind him. He looked well pleased. He was clever and handsome, and it seemed to be bringing dividends. And if it didn't, he had two armed men to back him up. That's how marshals are.
Ella spotted a group of soldiers in tattered uniforms. Some were limping, others were bandaged or scarred. As they pushed close, she pretended to be jostled. The marshal let go of her hand on his arm and put it on her waist to steady her. She felt her loathing for him like insects crawling up her back.
As if she didn't see the soldiers edging by, she stepped into their path. A boy around her age had been moving awkwardly, leaning on a stick. Ella made sure to hook his foot with hers so that he fell, crying out from the pain to his leg wound. Gushing sincere apologies for hurting him, she turned as if to help. The marshal shunted her aside to get a grip on the soldier and bring him to his feet. Ella took a step back, letting others bend to assist.
She turned to a white-masked couple. "It's armistice!" She spoke in a husky whisper, as if overcome. She didn't want the marshal to hear. "The soldiers say so. The war's ended!"
Their eyes went round. The man pulled down his mask as if one salvation meant every salvation.
Ella could feel the marshal searching for her, and she turned to catch his eye and smile at him.
"Armistice?" a man near her repeated. His voice had the deep blare of a tuba.
Others crowded closer, and Ella heard the word posed again as a question and then as an answer. The marshal finished helping the lame soldier to one foot. He saw that Ella was a few people away from him now, but he didn't seem anxious. The mask on the back of her head was fooling him, it seemed. And he was distracted: around them, the word 'armistice' flew from lip to lip, changing in tone from doubtful to certain. A man shouted it. Another whistled.
Ella joined in when some began to cheer. "Armistice!" ricocheted back from other parts of the terminal. People were screaming it, laughing it. They'd been praying to hear it, expecting the news at any moment. Strangers embraced. A cotton mask fell to Ella's feet as a couples shed them to kiss.
She was farther from the marshal now, but waved to show she was keeping track of him, staying close while he found the soldier's walking stick. He looked hopeful, wanting as much as anyone to believe the war was over. She grinned as merrily as a person would if it were real news. She put out her hand as if to reach for his, but as she did, she opened a path for people to step in between them.
When they cut off the marshal's view of her, she bent to pick up the white mask. Near it was a man's tweed cap, flung into the air but not caught. She jerked it on and held the mask up over her mouth. She took another step backward, shedding her coat and letting it fall to be trampled. She couldn't use the ticket in the pocket, anyway. The marshals would look for her on that train.
From a distance of fifteen or twenty feet, she saw the marshal's panicked face. His head turned from side to side as he searched for her in a crowd gone delirious. His eyes slid over her, in her hat and mask. She hurried toward the exits, hoping he'd keep looking for the wrapover she no longer wore. He raised his hand and pointed to the row of doors. Not, Ella thought, because he saw her near them. It was because his men would get there sooner than he did.
But not before Ella slipped through.
The man onstage finally quelled the shouts of Strike! Strike! Strike! Ella, standing on a bench against the back wall, watched him wave today's Seattle Star. She'd seen the headline, Under Which Flag? The general strike was, the paper warned, "a test of YOUR Americanism."
The speaker slapped the front page. "Oh, he's a fine one, our Mayor Ole Hanson. Says any man uses the word 'workers' is quoting Lenin. But Ole didn't mind the word so much when he courted the working man's vote, did he? Then, he was a friend of the workers. Grand things he said about us then. Is there a union hall he didn't come to, a pancake breakfast that he missed? But votes are votes, and money's money. And what they saved by cutting our pay all through the war? By breaking their promises to us after? It gave 'em plenty extra to stuff into politicians' pockets. Case you wonder what's that bulge in Ole's pants. No, it ain't that!" There was a roar of laughter. "It's the raise they swore to give you."
Ella looked over the sea of caps and rough jackets. A hundred and ten unions had voted aye to strike. Over a hundred thousand workers went out tomorrow.
"We'd get ours, they said, when the war ends. But Armistice was in November, and by my calendar now it's February. And that money they promised? They're giving it to the Minute Men of Seattle and the American Protective League. Thugs to round up union men. Jails from Ellensburg to Walla Walla filled with our boys—three months inside now, some of them, and no charges. And the Star asks us, which flag? Us?" He tossed the paper down, made a face like it had filth on it. "And see what else it says, there over the headline? Mayor Hanson to Deputize 10,000. Pictures every day of marshals boarding trains to come here. Because our strike, they tell us, was organized by Leon Trotsky himself." He waved his arm. "Well, I don't see Leon in here anyplace, do you, boys?"
The room roared with laughter. Someone shouted, "Where are you, Leon?"
"Maybe he's in one of our kitchens? Twenty-one labor halls ready to serve thirty thousand meals a day. Or maybe Leon's out collecting donations from bakers and grocers and butchers and dairymen? Maybe he's loading trucks with chickens and vegetables, or getting ready to deliver milk and diapers, or shining up his car to use as a free taxi tomorrow."
Ella's cheer was lost in the din. She'd worn out the soles of her boots, going to shops and farms and warehouses and garages to get those commitments. And as long as the general strike lasted, she'd be on her feet, cooking and serving at the union halls.
She'd had few moments of perfect happiness in her life. But she knew, as she walked out into a soft wall of drizzle, that this was one of them.
The streets of Pioneer Square were a carnival of covered carts selling hot dogs and roasted chestnuts. Two fiddlers, keeping dry under an awning, played a lively version of Oh How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning. As she neared the King Street Station, the fiddles warred with a frenetic banjo and a woman's brassy rendition of How You Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm? The streetlights were just coming on when Ella wiped the wet glass of a shop window to see a fringed sheath, barely below the knee. Imagining herself in it, she didn't notice her friend Mario behind her.
"Mannagia! Antoné'!" When she turned, he kissed both her cheeks.
"Am I late?" she asked him. "I'm sorry. I didn't know which train to meet. I thought probably the next one—"
"Macchè late, no no. I walk around little bit, I come back. No trouble. You good girl, let me stay with you." More kisses on the cheek, then he held her at arm's length, grinning.
He wasn't much taller than Ella, a wiry bandy-legged man whose hairline had receded farther since she'd last seen him, a few years ago. As a child, she'd adored Mario because he was one of the men who brought Nicky, then eleven, to town. She knew Nicky and Mario parted ways in Mexico. Nicky wrote to her a while after he got there, to say Mario and others were already going home. A worldwide revolution was starting—they wouldn't sit on its sidelines. But Nicky said the point and burden of pacifism was to defend peace, not to find a better war.
Well, Mario would sing a different song now. Seattle's general strike would be the first of dozens, maybe hundreds, across America. It would change everything, and do it without violence. Unions would be too strong to break and too beloved to lie about.
In the glitter of shop lights, she saw nostalgic tears in Mario's eyes. "Sei fatta più bella, Antoné', sai? You more beautiful." He was as swarthy and beetle-browed as ever, and the origin of his nickname, Nasone, or big-nose, was just as clear.
"No one came with you?" She'd been nursing a small hope that Nicky would be on the train.
"Nessuno." No one. "Troppo da temere. Sai com' è."
Other Anarchists were too afraid to come? The government had stepped up deportations and arrests, she knew that. The entire leadership of the I.W.W. was in prison, five to twenty-five years at hard labor. Eugene Debs got ten years, Emma Goldman two.
"But you mayor he calls in goons to bust open the heads, and I do nothing? No no. Me and Sacco, we been go all over, back east. Organize the strikes, or give a little bit more muscles, eh? You see the magazine say three thousand strike last year? This year, more." He stopped to look her up and down again. "Ma, Antonella, maybe you marry somebody rich? You looking like a girl on top a wedding cake. Look what a dress."
"I made it," she said. "Cheaper than you think." She knew better than to tell him about the jewels she'd taken. He'd want money for the cause, and she wasn't sure what he'd do with it. People were so desperate lately, so furious. They needed Seattle to remind them to hope. "Have you seen Nicky? Any of you? Talked to him?"
"Nicolino mio, no. I know somebody sees him, maybe October, maybe November. In Mexico. Nicky says he's going right away, Washington, D.C. Looking for you, Antoné'."
"Not October. He wouldn't have come before Armistice."
Mario shrugged. "Why not? People they know is close. Week, two weeks, before? What's a difference?"
A week before Armistice, the marshals had stopped her in Chicago. Ella felt a little sick. Worried again that they'd arrested Nicky at the Kingstons'. That they'd come after her as (to their minds) a fellow Red. "You haven't heard from him since? Would you know it if he… if he got picked up?"
"You no worry." Mario patted her cheek. "Nicky, he's a smart boy. Eleven years old, already he's work two years in the coal mine. Me and that crazy Wobblie—you remember him, no front teeth and the red hair?—we grab him, dirty like a dog, no parents, gonna get himself shot in the strike. We put him on the soap box, this town, that town. He tells everybody. Breaker boys they don't never see the day, they sitting twelve, fourteen hours pick the rocks from the coal. The chutes they overflowing, the boys they bury alive. People they no believe me, I tell them. But Nicky, he makes them cry. What a boy, eh? Already then, he's a man. Don't forget—Nicky, he good to take care himself. You no worry 'bout Nicky, Antoné'."
"But no one knows where he is?" Her world contracted to Mario's face while up the block, the banjo player and singer went into The Bells are Ringing for Me and My Gal.
"You lonesome, bella mia? Always together, you and Nicolino." He crossed his fingers to demonstrate. "But now you got a new boyfriend? You no make such a pretty dress for nobody?"
She laughed away the question. "So I've got an attic apartment," she told him, "small but all to myself. I'll show you where it is. Then you can come and go."
They pushed through hundreds, maybe thousands, of people listening to music, buying street food, speaking in excited bursts about the strike. The Star claimed the populace shivered in terror of being without streetlights and transport, without food and necessities. But people here knew the unions wouldn't let them suffer. The mood was festive, full of anticipation and optimism.
The streetcars, though, were jammed full. Not just with celebrants. The drivers walked off tomorrow, and people were rushing their errands. A throng waited at the first stop they approached, so they backtracked to an earlier one, and then to a third. Even there, it was a while before a trolley didn't fill before she and Mario reached the door.
They were finally just steps from boarding when Ella heard muttering behind her. A man, a lumberjack judging from the slivers in his cap, spat out, "That Teamster." Someone else said, "Union voted nay—no friend of ours."
Ella blinked tiny points of moisture from her lashes. She looked through the drizzle till she spotted a young man under a streetlamp. He wore a shabby Navy uniform. It was taking months to get the hundreds of thousands of soldiers back from Europe. Skinny men in dirty blues or khaki flooded the streets of Seattle in December, streamed in steadily in January, and were more than a trickle even now.
"Ought to go teach the skunk a lesson," someone else said. "Hear him at the strike vote? Says Hanson'll wait till the sympathy strikers go back, then he'll brag he whupped us. It'll hurt unions all 'round the country." The crowd at the trolley stop rippled with threats and angry laughter.
"Never heard of the Teamsters. Won't be around long if it's full of cowards. I'm I.W.W. Let's go show him what it takes to make a union last."
"Leave him be." Ella put out her arm to stop him. "It's is a new day. Don't start it with blood on the street."
The Wobblie looked at her hand touching his sleeve. For a second she thought he'd bat it off. But Mario said to him, "Soldier boy, he gonna get it, you no worry. You see he's got a goon follows him?"
The Teamster was at the end of the block, where it met an alley famous for its Shanghai tunnels. A few steps behind him, entering a circle of lamplight as the other stepped from it, was the goon.
He was hatless, his hair glowing muted orange in the stippled beam. It was Marshal Killy. Ella was sure of it. The wide shoulders, the square head, the tiger-fur shade of ginger.
The marshal was here. Close enough that if he turned, he'd spot her.
Ella had seen the photos in The Star every day, marshals boarding trains west. She'd heard Ole Hanson brag he had hundreds of them coming. She'd even worried one might be Killy. Worried but then reminded herself she had a new name now and false papers.
With the instinct people show when being watched, the marshal turned toward her. She shifted to hide her face, then jostled her way up the streetcar steps. Had he seen her? Recognized her? There was no seat available, and the aisle was packed, but she elbowed her way to the back window. By now, he'd be following the Teamster into the alley.
But it wasn't so: he hadn't moved, except to face the trolley. He seemed to be looking right at Ella now. Fog made it impossible to be sure of eye contact, but she felt it like a lightning strike.
She told herself it didn't matter—he couldn't recognize her from this distance (though she recognized him). Her hair was different now, and he wouldn't be looking for her here. He'd assume she was some other girl. It meant nothing, it was just coincidence that he stood motionless, watching. And in any case, he'd have to hurry away or he'd lose the Teamster.
She was relieved when the streetcar started to move. As it arced out into the street, she shifted to look through a side window. She hoped to see Killy's back as he retreated. But no, he was closer now. Close enough that she made out his scowl. She tried to persuade herself he couldn't see her as well as she could see him, not with the trolley picking up speed. But then he bolted toward it.
When he reached it, he began pounding the side with a flat hand.
Another time, the driver might have stopped. People were friendly here. But the car was full, and a crowd waited for the next.
Within seconds, Killy had to sprint to keep up. His knocking became insistent and closed-fisted. Ella watched the driver list left in his seat for a better look in the long side mirror. She craned for his view, causing a seated passenger to mutter and shift. She saw Killy pull a big nickel star from his pocket and wave it.
So she'd been right. Not paranoid that night in Chicago. And now the tiger had found her again.
Someone said, "A marshal wants on."
Ella hoped the driver supported his union's aye to strike. She called out, "Ole Hanson's got a nerve, bringing these law men here to bust our heads."
"I don't see any marshal out there." The driver doubled their speed.
Ella heard the chatter around her, speculation about what had just happened. Mario had pushed his way to her side, and she spoke to him in rusty Italian. "I know that marshal." Saying it made seem it more real. "The trolley takes too long at the stops—there's no chance he won't catch up. I think I have to— If I get off, can you get off, too? Stay back so it doesn't look like we're together? If he leads me someplace, follow us. Will you? And then… then lure him away, in some other direction? Give me time to… Or… or I suppose knock him out if you absolutely have to?"
"Certo," Mario murmured. "Posso pur' amazzarlo."
"No!" She'd have no man's death on her hands. And wouldn't Ole Hanson love to see a marshal murdered here? The mayor probably hoped the week would start with blood and riot. He certainly didn't want the strike viewed as a benevolence, rippling across America to change it for the better. "I just need enough time to get far enough away. That's all."
Mario grinned to show (she hoped) that he was joking.
At the next stop, she got off, then threaded through the crowd waiting to board. She didn't look over her shoulder to check for Mario. She knew he'd be there someplace.
She began walking toward the previous stop. At first only strangers came toward her. They were hunched into thick work jackets as the drizzle intensified. Then she saw a man running.
She stopped, leaving it to the marshal to close the distance. If he was winded, maybe he'd be less careful. Less likely to notice Mario melting into a shadow or a group. And anyway, she couldn't persuade her legs to take her closer to the tiger.
Killy was upon her before she finished the thought. Without a word, he grabbed both her arms, pinning them to her sides.
"Have I committed a crime?" She tried to pull free. "Did I read the wrong newspaper or criticize that politician you work for?"
It was disconcerting to stare up him, to compare his face to the image her mind summoned sometimes, late at night when fears came over her. She'd forgotten details after three months. She remembered the pale brows and broad forehead, the slight flattening of his nose, the hint of a dimple on one side. But she'd recalled only the pale blue of his eyes, not the near-black outer rings, as daunting as bull's-eyes. She'd wrongly thought his lips were thin and unpleasant when actually they were rather full. And though he was a head taller than she, and broad-shouldered, he didn't actually tower like a menacing beast.
"It is a crime, you know, to lie to a U.S. Marshal." He was bumped against her as people hurried past on both sides, rushing for the departing trolley.
"And is it a crime to lie to someone who doesn't tell you he's a marshal? Besides, I admitted I was no schoolgirl."
"Yes, and then pulled a grand stunt to escape."
"I slipped away from a stranger who showed too much interest."
"Feared I was a masher, did you?" He showed his dimple, but it was no warm smile. "Is it not more traditional to refuse dinner with a man you find annoying? Or do you generally accept invitations, and then create an uproar and disappear?" He gave her a little shake.
"I didn't create the uproar," she lied. "I just… took advantage of it."
"But you're done pretending you don't know I'm a marshal?"
"Are you done pretending you just like to chat about politics?"
"Oh that's no pretense, more's the pity. As to the rest, my girl… I supposed it would be simpler to talk to you without the star on my lapel."
"What did you want?"
"I wanted you, Miss Gualtieri. But you guessed as much."
Only knowing Mario was close gave her the courage to ask, "Why?"
"I thought we were done pretending." But it seemed a question.
She looked down. Whichever way she went in answering—keeping in mind either the jewels or Nicky—she might guess wrong and offer him a new suspicion.
"You're asking do I know the reason? I don't," she said. "But you're not in Seattle to find me? You're a strike-breaker for Mayor Hanson, I suppose."
"Lord, no. I told you in Chicago, my candidate, Mitchell Palmer, is a good progressive. Worked hard for the ten-hour workday when he was in the House, and I'm sorry we didn't win the fight. Blame the Senate, but never mind that. I work for no mayor." A short laugh. "And whatever you may think, it would be no favor to Hanson to turn strikers into martyrs. On the contrary. If we can prevent vigilantes from—"
"Then why were you following that Teamster?"
"Beck, you mean? Help keep the hotheads off him. He believes your strike will backfire. A view he'll be defending with his fists, I think."
"If he voted nay, he deserves the trouble."
"That may be—what's idealism without the occasional pyrrhic victory? But it doesn't make him wrong. You'll have a hundred and ten thousand striking, two-thirds in solidarity and not for their own sakes. With no quarrel of their own, they'll soon go back to work. And to the world it will look—"
"We've heard it all before. It'll look weak, and that only hurts the movement, and so there'll never be another general strike. And so forth. And you may wish it, but it's not so. This is just the beginning. Do you think idealists are babes in the woods? I'll wager we've led harder lives than the likes of you."
"The likes of me, eh?"
"What do you want?" Ella tried to calm down, to remember that her object was simple: to end up on a quieter street so Mario could distract Killy. (But he'd offered to kill the marshal. Did she truly trust him not to?)
"All right then, I'll put my cards on the table." The marshal glanced over her shoulder. Had he spotted Mario? "I was sent to fetch you from that train. Got a personal call from Mitchell Palmer because it involved a neighbor of his, John Kingston. Yes, your employer. Kingston arrived at a mass grave in Virginia—shrouded, as if the flu killed him. But he wasn't gone, he was just— Well, there the details grow fuzzy. In need, let's say, of clarifying."
"Mr. Kingston?" She couldn't hide her shock. "I thought he must have died."
"But not at home? You never saw him sick?"
"No." There was danger here in the particulars. But it was accurate to say, "He never telephoned. Didn't check if the children were— I thought certainly he was dead."
"As I said, some points needed clarifying. We contacted Union Station. Found you'd bought a ticket using your own name."
"You went looking for his servants? What 'points' could we—I—clarify? Mr. Kingston can't think I had anything to do with… well, whatever happened to keep him away."
"What he thinks, is someone else's concern." His tone worried Ella. "I was there to learn what you had to say."
"Why didn't you just ask me? Immediately ask me?"
"By the time I knew you were the one to question, you'd lied to me. That concoction about Georgetown. I found it interesting. And," he showed the dimple, "I had no objection to dinner."
She recalled her terror, her confusion, all alone that night in Chicago. How close she'd come to being robbed, perhaps worse, before finding a pawn shop and getting money for a room. Because this marshal had no objection to dinner?
"You think I'm stupid because I'm young and female," she said. "But I saw the two men outside with you. Three marshals to question one girl?" She could see she'd surprised him. "Why should it take—?"
"You ask this, after having eluded us?" Was that a hint of admiration on his face? "But reassure me, then. You don't know how it came to be, your employer carried away for dead?"
"The last time I saw Mr. Kingston's face," she said, "he was ordering me put out for the death wagon."
"Put out still living?"
"He thought I'd die before it came." She was gratified by the flash of dismay on his face. "But I didn't. Cook found me in the morning. She said Mrs. K banished her husband to his club. In case the sickness got on him, from helping carry me down. She didn't want the flu spreading to the children."
"She sent her husband away at the height of a pandemic? You didn't find that… cold?"
"Everything about the Kingstons was 'cold.'" She would leave it at that. "But when the baby got sick, the maid phoned Mr. K's club. He hadn't shown up. The next day, when the older children… I'd been told Mr. K kept a girl. In an apartment close by." She shifted as more people walked past, their gesticulations too close to her face. "I called the front desk there but it was too late at night. I got no answer."
"Kingston kept a girl? Young, like yourself?"
"You're asking was I—?" She tried to pull away. "So what if Mr. K came back? Why should I know anything about it? I was a servant, not a… a… Why question me?"
Kingston must have noticed the missing jewelry. His entire family dead, and still he'd noticed. His wife had boxes full, and Ella left most of it untouched. But the rich were like dragons, fierce in their instinct to protect treasure.
"Is he angry I didn't leave a note? To say when the children died? The wagon men keep lists, don't they? Which bodies are taken from which houses?"
Killy said nothing.
"Why did he set the police after me? Just please say it and stop stalking me." Her voice cracked with frustration.
"Yes! Yes. It's like Champawat. Where a tiger followed villagers for miles to—"
"I remember. Accounts of it filled the papers. A dozen years ago, was it?" He glanced over her shoulder again, his eyes narrowing. "She was a tigress, though, I think. Not a male."
Ella tried again to squirm out of his grip.
"There was another story like it, turn of the century. It caught my fancy when I was a schoolboy. Did you ever hear of Tsavo?"
He kept looking beyond her. Had he spotted Mario?
"No. What does it have to do with—?"
"If you like stories of hunter and hunted. It's about two man-eaters."
He was playing with her. Dragging this out. Did he know what she and Mario had planned?
"Maneless lions, this pair. Males who hunted together, even drove prey toward each other. Males of the species don't do that, you know. They're solitary, uncooperative. But these even shared a lair full of human bones."
"And did they pinion their prey, too? To exasperate and demoralize it?"
"In a way." He smiled as he loosened his grip on her shoulders. "The British were certainly demoralized. Trying to build a railroad bridge over the Tsavo river, in Africa. They laid hundreds of miles of line—useless to them if they couldn't get the bridge done. But the beasts kept pulling workers from their tents, dragging them off. Raiding the camp hospital as if it were a pantry. The railway tried everything. Deep thorn fences. But these lions, unlike others, were willing to crawl through. They tried enormous bonfires, but they were a unique pair, no fear of fire. The railroad even brought in a tribe of fierce hunters. But they soon ran away, convinced the lions were devils."
"Please," Ella begged. "Whatever you need from me—"
"The workers abandoned the camp—what else could they do? They went on strike, you might say." He showed his dimple again. "Finally the British sent in a crack shot, a young lieutenant colonel. He hired the best game hunter on the continent to help him. And they set off—"
"Are you arresting me? Or just toying with me before you devour me?"
His laugh was low and chilly. "The game hunter, for all his prowess, was eaten alive. But the colonel soldiered on. Every night he positioned himself in a tree to wait. It was weeks before he got off a clean shot at the first lion. Hit it, all right, but it didn't fall. It vanished."
The first lion vanished. In this twisted allegory, was Ella the first lion? And Mario the second? Or was the marshal talking about Nicky?
She felt as if she'd scream from the stress. Surely the marshal hadn't boarded her train in Chicago just to ask what she knew about Kingston. Whatever her employer told Palmer, it couldn't possibly involve her. She'd been delirious with flu when Mr. K left R Street. No, if Palmer phoned a marshal, it was either about the stolen jewels or about Nicky. But which?
Killy leaned closer to Ella, his eyes just inches from hers. "The wounded lion didn't die. He waited till the dead of night, then came back. The colonel shot it again. And again, it retreated. Then came back. Shot again. And a third time. And again. And again. Varying intervals between attacks so they'd come as a surprise."
Was he warning her not to run? Telling her he'd never stop finding her?
"In the end," he said, "it took five enormous bullets—firepower made to bring down charging elephants."
"Let me go," she said. "I've told you what I know about Mr. Kingston, which is nothing. He wasn't there when I was brought back in. I never saw him again."
"But the second lion," Killy continued, "was even worse. For weeks, the colonel tracked him. And all the while, the rail line sat useless without a bridge over the river. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
She held her breath. She didn't understand. He seemed to think he was telling her something, but what?
"The colonel put five bullets into that beast, too, one after another. But like the first man-eater, it didn't fall. It kept charging him, up there in his tree, as if he were throwing pebbles. He pumped in another three, reloading at a speed he prayed would save his life. Even so the lion died ravaging the tree limb just beneath his feet."
"Is there a moral?" She could barely get the words out.
"I don't know if I'd call it that. But it's hard to know exactly who's stalking whom." He glanced past her again. "It's a matter of your perspective. Don't you think so? We talked last time about the Sedition Act. It's a common belief here, with the unions, that the government uses the law to hunt their members. Along with aliens, Anarchists—"
"Of course it does! The entire leadership of the I.W.W. is in prison. I can't count how many people I know myself, put in jail or onto boats. Or beaten with impunity by vigilantes. You don't deny there are lynchings almost every day. Yet Congress won't outlaw them. The President praises the Ku Klux Klan. So whatever you're driving at, with this story of yours? If it's meant as a parable, you're the lions."
He shook his head. "Have you a notion how many bombs we've intercepted? And worse, not intercepted? Packages mailed to judges and senators and bureaucrats… as if these men open their own mail. You were a servant once. Would you fancy living without your two hands, your face a mass of scars? Does anyone but a beast place a bomb in an armory or a church, where it might kill anybody unlucky enough to pass by? Where you have a law, yes, the enforcement may be flawed. Its provisions may be too broad. But at least its intent is to offer security. To keep people safe. A bomb, though? It may as well be a man-eater. It comes at person in that way. Suddenly. Without measure or remorse."
"You think that's not true of law men? My mother was killed when a sheriff named McRae deputized anyone he could find, anyone with malice and a gun, to meet a ferry boat of union women and men. Going to parade and sing for the shingle-weavers. Eleven solid minutes they fired into a docked boat. And the strikers at Ludlow? The National Guard shot them while they slept. Torched their tents—wives and children burned alive. Those aren't the actions of beasts? Why not? Because they had uniforms and not tiger's stripes? Because they had badges?"
Around them, the drizzle made passersby seem indistinct. As if they mattered not at all. As if only this mattered, only deciding who was the hunter and who the man-eater.
The marshal drew a long breath. "You worked at a shirt factory before you went to the Kingstons," he said. "You had no other references? Why should they choose a factory girl to care for their children?"
"I— I'd taken care of children before." This turn of conversation startled her. She tried to gather her wits. Was there a trick inside the question? Certainly Mr. K hadn't taken Palmer into his confidence on this. "Children in our tenement."
"You should tell me the truth." Killy's hands slid down her arms. He took both her hands in his. It shocked her. She had the strange fancy he wasn't baiting a trap but rather offering a lifeline. When she didn't reply, he said, "All right, then, how about this. At the Kingstons', why did you call for the wagon? It was an expense for you, wasn't it? And you were going anyway. Why not simply walk away?"
"I couldn't do that. Abandon little Muriel and John to the mice? And Cook and Maid, who were so kind to me? To think of them with flies— No. I had Cook's coins. It wouldn't have been right to leave her there and use them for… for myself."
Her confusion twisted deeper. One minute, the marshal seemed to be talking about Nicky. About enforcing the law, as if there were no difference between draft dodgers and bombers. The next, he was asking again about the Kingstons. About money. As if he had Mrs. K's jewels in mind.
If only she knew which crime he suspected. Which pitfalls she should avoid.
Somewhere close by, she knew, Mario was watching them. What would he make of this? She and a marshal quibbling back and forth like drunks at a speakeasy. And the marshal holding her hands? (What did she herself make of it?) Would Mario suppose she was offering Killy information?
Her stomach knotted.
Killy stared down at her as if reading a book in her eyes.
"You should let me go," she said. "I've hurt no one. I cared for all of them, all who got sick after me. I tried my best to keep them alive. Cook and Maid were my friends. And I loved the children. It's true I didn't stop to think how it would be for Mr. K. To come home and find no trace of them, no note. But I… I just couldn't stay longer."
"After two years there, you leave without a reference? And no means of support?"
So it was the jewels, then. Ella stood very still. She felt the danger as if it breathed down her neck. The marshal had Kingston's word that the gems were missing. She'd left no address or request for wages from the estate. And she'd lied to someone she knew was a law man. They'd need no more than that to convict her. She'd get years in prison, or at best, deportation to a country she'd left as an infant. A country where she knew no one. Where girls like her starved or sold their bodies on the street.
She suddenly understood what Killy was trying to draw from her. But did he consider it a defense? Or was he just looking for a reason to feel disgust? Justification for what he knew she'd find in prison?
"You think you've guessed it," she said. "Why I didn't stay to collect a reference. Well, you're right. Yes, I was just a factory girl. And no, Mr. K would never have hired me if I hadn't… Well, he called it an 'accommodation.' You'll say I should have stayed at the factory, I'm sure, to preserve my precious honor. But my lungs were already hot with cotton dust. My honor would have left me begging in an alley, one more coughing girl."
She felt hot tears spill down her cold cheeks. It was misty out here, though, and she kept her face still. Maybe he wouldn't notice.
"I don't judge you."
"Your Quaker tenets, I suppose?" She saw him wince, as if the words hurt him.
"To be clear: you left the Kingstons' that morning… to avoid a similar bargain? What he might ask in exchange for a letter and a ticket home?"
He became a blur to her in the lamplight and mist. She couldn't pretend she wasn't crying now.
"Can't you let me walk away?" she said. "You weren't sent to Seattle to find me. You're here for the strike. You don't have to say you saw me."
Would this sound to him like an admission that she took the jewels? Nothing she'd said before described a crime. But this, begging for mercy, told a different story.
She tried to steady herself. To remember what was at stake. Mario was watching this display. That wound things more tightly. If she could persuade the marshal, if he let her go, it would save his own scalp. And if Mario suspected betrayal? She might have to find a way to save her own.
"Many times I've thought back on our conversation in Chicago," Killy said.
He gripped her hands more tightly. She sensed something delicate and complicated was going on. If she could only understand it, maybe this would end here, after all.
"I'd have liked to buy you dinner then," he continued. "And I'm of two minds what to do now, in all honesty. Given that I've wished more than once..."
She stared up at him, stunned. "You're not…? Are you inviting me—?"
"I believe I am."
She could feel the warmth from his face, he'd bent so close.
It was absurd and horrible. If she accepted the invitation, walked with him away from the crowd, Mario would be right behind.
She looked over her shoulder, wishing she could spot him. If only she could shake her head—do something—to keep him back.
But there was no sign of him in the ebb and flow around the trolley. Except for people bustling to or from it, there was only one man, leaning against a building. He was smoking, his face was turned so he appeared to be looking across the street. But he wasn't, she could see him watching her in the glow of his cigarette.
Another law men. She could spot them a mile away. And so could Killy, no doubt.
The second lion. If she said no to the marshal, he had only to beckon.
She caught the scent of Killy's bay rum, felt the warmth of his fingers laced with hers. She tried to summon a smile. She couldn't at first.
Then she said, "I know a place we could go. A café on Elliott Bay, near Pike Place Market."
The streets were dark and narrow there.
Marshals were a common sight on trains now. At each transfer, Ella saw a pair board and walk through the cars. Sometimes they ordered porters to load mail or even luggage onto government trucks. Occasionally they asked passengers for identification. (Ella had false papers, but wasn't asked to show them.) Passengers sighed patiently, knowing it was no use objecting to delays. There was no mystery about the cause. In the eight months since Ella's last trip, there had been wave after wave of bombings, including one in her old neighborhood. A. Mitchell Palmer was Wilson's Attorney General now, and he'd been targeted twice. In April, a package bomb was intercepted before reaching him. In June—just seven weeks ago—a hand-carried parcel of dynamite blew the façade from his fine rowhouse. Newspapers blamed Anarchists, of course. Ella didn't know if she believed it. She didn't trust a word she read, especially after Seattle.
When Mario picked her up at the last stop in Virginia, not ten miles from Union Station, Seattle was the first thing they discussed. He was in a 1914 Oakland, a roomy if battered car. Even before he bragged about it—only five years old, a bargain for someone like him who could fix anything—he said, "Be', Antonella, che bellezza, Seattle. Everybody still happy, eh, from the strike? È vero?"
"Happy during the strike—you saw that." He'd seen more than Ella, in fact—she'd been too afraid of running into Marshal Killy again. But no one, not even a shut-in, could have missed the crowds singing, strangers hugging, people calling each other brother and sister. "Not after. You saw the papers?"
"Giornali—lying all a time. Wilson, he shuts down the giornali don't lie."
"We laughed about it at first." Headlines crowed that workers broke like spoiled children under Mayor Hanson's rod. They went slinking back to their jobs after just a few days, defying union bosses who'd steal food from their tables. "Why would people believe propaganda instead of their own eyes?"
But the papers kept insisting it was so, and Ole Hanson lectured all across the country, bragging that he'd broken labor's back. The elation in Seattle soon faded, replaced by a sense of futility. There had been no more general strikes, not anywhere.
Ella couldn't stand to think about it anymore.
She changed the subject. "Why can't Nicky meet us at your new place?"
"I don't have this house when I talk to Nicolino, bella. For you, we find. Close where Nicolino says. We stay just for now, leave it after."
"You did all this for me?"
"Antoné, we happy to do. Little break for us. Someplace police they no come all a time, 'What you know about this, what you know about that?'"
On the phone, Mario said he'd found an abandoned farmhouse. It belonged to a soldier who didn't make it back from the war. It was private, at the end of a dirt lane half overgrown with hedges. But its old-fashioned gaslights still worked, and it had furniture. "Little dirty, not so bad. Maybe a few mouse." Some of the old faces would be there, he'd promised, glad to lie low after weeks of roustings over the bombs. The Saccos got questioned in Stroughton, Coacci in Cohasset, Salsedo in Brooklyn.
"Do I have to go to the Westfields', though, to see Nicky?" she asked. Mario couldn't fob her off now, claiming a faulty phone connection. "Why would he be going there? He can't have an invitation to their party. I've seen their DuPont Circle house—it's five stories tall. Imagine what their country house is like."
"I don't know, Antonelluccia mia." Mario's voice, as ever, was kind, gentle. But Ella felt wary—she knew after Seattle that there was another side to him. "Nicky, he no calls again. I know only what I say you already. He tells me, 'You see my Antonella, you send her this party. I want to see my Antonella again.'"
"He didn't know I'd left D.C.?"
"He says, 'I gonna be at this party. Want to see my bella.' More than this, 'Nellucia, I don't know."
"But this farmhouse you found? You said it's only fifteen miles from the party? Maybe we could get him to come there."
"He calls again, we tell him. Just two minutes we talking, me and Nicolí. Cost too much, the long distance. Operator she wants more money, he no has it, I no have. But is okay, you no want to go. He's calling again, someday. We got your new address now, we tell him, eh?" He cast her a reproachful look.
She'd moved from her attic apartment after seeing the marshal in Seattle. She hadn't told her friends in common with Mario. It had disgusted her, what he did to Killy that night. It was her own fault, she'd asked him to help. And maybe he'd saved her, she wasn't sure. But for weeks she couldn't get it out of her thoughts. Even now it cost her sleepless nights.
Then last week she ran into someone who told her Mario was urgently asking for her. She shuddered to think that her half hour with Killy might have cost her this chance to see Nicky again.
"I just don't know, Mario. How can this possibly work? Me sneaking in? People know who their servants are, I won't fool them."
"Antoné', you nervous, you no do it. But you wanna do, we got Assunta Valdinoci with us. Remember, the dressmaker? Carlo sister? She makes you the maid suit, the apron. You gonna look just right. They got lots extra servants, no? Big party like that?"
"But why would Nicky be there?"
"Sacco says maybe he delivers the booze."
"We could watch for him on the road then, couldn't we? Where it meets the driveway?" She ran her fingers through her chin-length tangles, damp from humidity and dirty from travel.
"You want to take a chance, I wait with you. Wait together, eh?" He picked up speed on the dirt and gravel of the country lane. "But if already he's inside, Antoné? Maybe 'nother servant? From the road, you no gonna see him."
"I'm supposed to walk in… just walk in?"
"Sacco, he used to be a baker. Him and his wife, Rosina, they make for you the dolci. We find you nice tray, like the rich people using. You carry inside, you gonna look fine. You English, perfetto. You know how the servants they act, how they talk. Maybe that's why Nicky says this. Send Antonella. Only she can do such a thing, eh?" He patted her knee. "You see Nicky there, you bring to us. We want to see again our Nicolino. 'Nother reason we do this, see Nicky. Then we have a party, too. Not so fancy like the rich people." He smiled. "But could be a wedding, eh bella?"
Ella couldn't shake the feeling, though, that there was something Mario wasn't mentioning.
Whatever it was, it still nagged at her in the morning, as she climbed into the ill-fitting maid's outfit Assunta Valdinoci made for her. Assunta seemed very upset, and everyone tip-toed around her. No one offered to tell Ella why. They'd been marvelously kind to her last night. Sensing her frayed nerves? They'd kept Assunta away from her, and just as well. She had enough on her mind.
She couldn't seem to pull air from the wet heat as she walked the long driveway to the Westfields' pillared porch. She carried a metal tray, as big as an occasional table, with a huge domed top to keep the gnats off Rosina's pastries. A voice in her head kept screaming turn around, go back. She visualized Mario's car, beside the road in the shade of a giant willow.
She made it up the steps, past pillars worthy of a temple. She wasn't sure which way to turn on the wraparound porch. The two front doors, at least fifteen feet tall, were open. She knew she shouldn't go in this way, but she heard someone coming toward her, an imperious voice saying, "Fetch more ice." And so Ella slipped into an entryway as grand as a cathedral, with windows rising three stories. Her heart hammered in her ears as she skirted a few men in summer suits. She was thankful their eyes slid off her when they saw the uniform. She entered a room whose floor was polished to a brilliance that nearly left her snow-blind. A vast mirror reflected more men, standing near marble tables or sitting on striped silk chairs. It angled to frame a ceiling quadratura of gold rays through clouds in a turquoise sky. At the far end, three sets of French doors opened onto a broad circle of screened veranda.
She heard the tinkle of cutlery and tea cups outside, and threaded through more men in seersucker and light worsted. One of them was saying, "Hell's bells, we could probably write the platform for the next ten conventions right here and now. One, our soldiers are heroes. Two, we can't afford to become isolationist. Three, we support… what's the phrase… 'honest labor and progressive industry'? And put in something about lowering taxes in case voters realize they have to pay for roads if they want them. The platform's a waste of time. What we need to do is to stop these strikes and race riots."
It wasn't like any party chat she'd ever heard at the Kingstons'. Ella wasn't sure why that troubled her.
She stepped out onto the ballroom-sized veranda. Another twenty or thirty men sat or stood in clusters in the deep shade. Odd that there were no women here. It looked more like a meeting than a party.
Jasmine and sweet peas flanked wide stairs down to the lawn, adding a floral overlay to the tempting scent of food on silver carts. Ella saw eggs and sausages and grits and gravy in chafing dishes, platters of biscuits and rolls, rows of chilled goblets with a rainbow of juices, samovars of tea and coffee. The dazzle of sunlight made silhouettes of the men filling their plates.
"My money's on Harding," someone a few feet from her said. "They'll choose him for his ability—no, let's be fair and call it a gift—of doing absolutely nothing. But you know why we might lose to him?"
"Negligent press and dishonest opposition?"
Laughter. "When is that not true?"
Another said, "Don't take this wrong, Franklin. But we emptied the damn treasury over there in Europe, and what do we have to show for it?"
"We did win, old fellow."
Ella tensed. It was her former neighbor, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Roosevelt.
She turned her face away, didn't see who was replying, "—said it would help our industries. Instead it's nothing but strikes since armistice."
"—race riots," another said. "Charleston, Scranton, Philly, Macon, Baltimore. Washington last week, Chicago next. If they take a torch to New York—"
Ella struggled to keep hold of her heavy tray. Would Roosevelt spot her, recognize her? She and the children had occasionally encountered him strolling. He'd always given them nickels for ice cream.
A high-pitched voice with drawn-out vowels reached her: "—make sure they know we'll keep the country safe." Another voice she'd heard on R Street. Attorney General Palmer.
How could this be? It was as if she'd walked into a dark fairy tale. She didn't dare look around. Would she see John Kingston here, too? As she hurried on, face still averted, she heard Palmer add, "But you ought to mend your fences with Hearst, Al. Keep the papers behind us when we go after the Reds."
Ella felt sick. Mario said this was a fancy party. He didn't tell her—presumably didn't know—that top Democrats would be here.
Why would Nicky come to an affair like this? Surely not to deliver whiskey. This was a dry state. Of course people drank anyway, as they surely would when Prohibition went national in January. But these particular men wouldn't break state law so conspicuously, would they?
These particular men… powerful, rich, leaders of the country's ruling party. She took a few deep breaths. This would be a tempting target for a bomber.
She pushed the thought away. Nicky would never do such a thing, he'd never plot to kill. He was a pacifist, that's why he'd gone to Mexico.
At some distance from the breakfast-laden tables, Ella spotted a rolling cart that was bare. She set the tray down on it and turned to walk out onto the lawn. She'd make a circuit of the house, peer through windows looking for Nicky. Then she'd go back to Mario's car. Explain about her neighbors being here. Maybe she and Mario could keep watch, spot Nicky arriving or leaving?
Then she heard Palmer say, "Ah, Killy, there you are."
She stopped moving.
She hadn't believed the marshal, not really, when he claimed to be Palmer's campaign manager. She'd thought it a ploy to make her talk politics. On the train west, he kept pressing her to run afoul of the Sedition Act. And in Seattle, from some obscure motive, he insisted they shared some goals. But she'd assumed he was manipulating her.
Now here he was at Palmer's side. Here he was, in the same place as Ella for a third time. How was it possible? Had he followed her? Had someone, knowing her history with him, purposely put her in his line of sight again?
Only Mario knew about Killy.
Mario, who'd asked her to come across country—lured her, really—to this party. Who'd dressed her up as a maid and sent her in with a tray of sweets.
Did he want Killy to spot her? Why should he? As a distraction? So something else would go unnoticed?
She felt as if she'd gone mad. Mario would never purposely send her into a den of men who might recognize her, arrest her. Why should he? He'd been friends with her mamma, he'd known Ella most of her life. So what if he thought her naïve? He thought that about Nicky, too.
Last night Mario said Nicky was a fool to stay so long in Mexico. What he get for his sweat and fleas? Utopia? Macchè—he get nothing. Sacco agreed. You enemies they no hear you, they no fear you. But it didn't change their fondness for Nicky. Or for her. Did it?
Hadn't Sacco and Rosina baked her these sweets? They'd gorged on them last night, leaving just enough for her to carry here today. To be another prop for her, along with Assunta Valdinoci's maid's uniform.
Ella turned back to the tray. In that moment, Killy wasn't forgotten, exactly. But another thought overwhelmed her.
This morning, the covered platter was waiting on the back seat of Mario's Oakland. On the drive, Mario told her more than once to wait until she was inside to expose the dolci. If they drew gnats and flies, he said, it would make her conspicuous. So she hadn't actually seen these cannoli and cantucci, these millefoglie and slices of baba. Now, her hand shook as she took the handle and prepared to lift off the dome.
Her world contracted, she saw nothing but the sheen of silver, heard nothing but the roaring in her ears. Had Mario and the others sent her here with a bomb?
She didn't notice the footsteps behind her. Nor the shocked exhalation that put a scent of coffee into the air beside her.
Then someone grabbed her arm and spun her. And there he was. Marshal Killy. Again. She wanted to scream from panic. Again. Marshal Killy again.
He said, "You had someone with you there, in Seattle?"
"No." She could barely shake a word out.
"There to break my head."
"No, I… ran away when he… when he came."
"Ran away and left me to him? That's your story?" Killy pulled her farther from the cart, farther from the group enjoying breakfast.
Pressed against the house, she stared up at the marshal. He was a handsome man—this time it came as no surprise. She watched emotions flicker over his broad face, and wondered what he saw as he looked at her. Did her confusion show? Her suspicion?
"You ran away," he prompted.
"Yes." She tried not to see it again in her mind. The marshal's head on the cobblestones, his blood filling spaces between the pavers. She'd shrieked at Mario, then knelt to put herself between him and Killy so he wouldn't bring the metal pipe down again. She'd feigned sickness that night. She'd found Mario another place to stay. For the rest of the strike, she'd avoided him.
But Mario knew she'd go anywhere on anybody's say so to see Nicky.
"I ran," she said, "but then I went back." She had indeed ventured there later, keeping out of sight. "To be sure you weren't dying. But you were gone."
"And I suppose you looked all over for me, eh? And yet strangely, the next day, when I stopped throwing up and seeing double, I found no one who'd spotted you. They expected you at a union hall kitchen, but you didn't show up. It took a few days to find your apartment—wise of you to change names. But you'd cleared out of it. Well done, my girl. For I'd have arrested you then."
"You'd have arrested me that night, I think."
"As big a fool as I am? I don't know that I would have. But never mind that now. What are you doing here?"
She made a sweeping motion to indicate her uniform.
"Ah. Shall I ask the Westfields if you're truly their servant?" He grabbed her arm as if to pull her inside.
"No. Please. I'm filling in for someone, that's all. They can't generally tell us girls apart, unless one's a Negro. They'll fire my friend. And I… honestly, I mean no harm to anyone."
"And yet I've a new scar behind my ear from our last encounter."
"I saw all the blood on the street where you were. I would never have wished that on you."
"Miss Gualtieri—or whatever you call yourself now—I've yet to find it in my best interests to believe you."
"I know. But…" She forced herself to stand as tall as she could pull herself. "But you're always on the verge of arresting me. It colors everything I say to you—how could it not?"
"Well, perhaps you've a point." His words were mild, but he looked furious, his face reddening, a vein throbbing in his temple. He took a deep breath. "My my. What a dance it's been. How smooth your every step."
"It's not what I wanted."
"Nor I." He pulled her farther still from the groups on the veranda. "Shall we put our cards on the table, then, at last? You know why I came after you. Don't you?"
Immediately she saw the jewels in her mind's eye. "You think I'll confess to something now? To save you the trouble of dancing?"
"Oh, I wouldn't call it a trouble. At least, not here, where I'm in no danger of another crack on the head." His smile was almost sweet. "You're an interesting girl, I'll say that. But you'll tell me the truth today."
She looked past Killy, at the tray glinting on the cart by the porch rail. Beyond it, the lawn was the color of pippins. A rose-trimmed path ended at a pond as bright as a mirror. Beside its boathouse, tethered skiffs floated like confetti.
It was fully hitting her: Whatever else happened with the marshal, she wouldn't see Nicky here. Maybe she'd never see him again.
"A boy I grew up with," she said. "He was the reason I ran from you, in Chicago. I thought he must have been looking for me at the Kingstons. That he'd gotten into trouble there, and so you came after me. To make me say something or do something to make things worse for him." She heard herself say it but couldn't make herself believe it. "Is that true?"
He stood very still. Then he nodded.
Their eyes held for a moment.
There was hearty laughter at the other end of the veranda. As if she'd stepped into some bizarre play.
"Because he was a draft dodger? Was that it? Or did you think him guilty of worse? And me, too?"
"Are you guilty of worse?" He squinted down at her. "Are you a Galleanist?"
"No. Or… not in the way you mean it."
"In what way, then? You know they tried twice to kill my friend, Mitchell Palmer?"
"I heard that someone bombed his home. I… I was sorry. It must have frightened the girls who work in those houses, up and down R Street."
"Carlo Valdinoci," he said. "That's the bomber's name. Do you know him?"
Carlo? Whose sister Assunta sewed the uniform Ella wore now?
"No, I— I don't believe you."
Carlo had come to the Hall with Mario and Galleani a few times. He was film star handsome, a natty dresser with fine wavy hair. He used to flatter Ella by asking her to dance when old Mr. Shelstein played the piano. As if she were old enough, pretty enough, to catch Carlo's sparkling eye.
"We haven't made it public," Killy said. "But it was Valdinoci, all right. He tripped, I suppose, carrying the bomb up the porch steps. Or it would have killed everyone inside. Little Mary. Mitchell's wife, Roberta. We found Valdinoci's torso, in a striped shirt and bow tie, on the roof across the street." His grip on her tightened as her knees went weak.
"Carlo? No. I never would have thought... That's not how he was when… Things were different when Nicky and I— When we were growing up, it wasn't like this. We called ourselves Anarchists, all of us, but it meant free-thinkers. Utopians." How could Carlo have done such a thing? How could he have changed so much? "Even Galleani… he was just… just another man who came to lecture. I never thought he wanted— Emma Goldman came, too. Eugene Debs. Bertrand Russell. Intellectuals, syndicalists. Exercising free speech while they still had it. It wasn't illegal yet to hear speeches from pacifists, Socialists, even—"
"And you think it's a good thing, to protect the speech of men like Galleani, who advocate violence?"
"But he didn't. Not out loud to us there, not that I ever heard. He advocated new ideas, yes. And resistance to bad ones." She talked over him when he interrupted. "And don't you advocate violence? Don't you deputize vigilantes when it suits you, knowing that they'll murder strikers? Don't you turn a blind eye and let them lynch Negroes?"
"'Let them?' Do you know how many times I've gone to investigate— It's that no one will speak up, speak to us. They're too afraid of—"
"I hate violence." The words burst from her. "It's an infection, like the flu. And you're the ones who spread it. You Democrats." She waved toward the other end of the veranda. There was a commotion as men rose from Adirondack chairs, as they stubbed out cigarettes and set cups onto saucers, clapped backs and laughed at one another's jokes. "With all your money, your influence. What example do you set? War, Jim Crow, false charges, strike-breaking. And you blame us? Blame the tail for the actions of the tiger? It's all the same beast, but you, all of you in power—"
"I repeat my question," Killy said. "Are you a Galleanist?"
"No." Ella shook her head. "If Galleani preaches violence now, then no. But you'd make the Attorney General our President? You know what he has in mind. He'll raid tens of thousands of people who've done no—"
"He will not. You think you understand what it is to be a pacifist? But a Quaker like Palmer, like me, does not? Do you know why I'm a marshal? Because the first time I ever met one, he called himself a peace officer. We're raised to revere peace. It's peace we're after when we—"
"Maybe it used to be that way. As it used to be something different, to be an Anarchist."
The sound of imperious orders and Yes, ma'ams drifted to them from inside the house.
"Tell me why you're here," he said. "What are you doing?"
"Hoping to see Nicky. They told me he'd come. Do you know what became of him? You must know."
"Come here? Who told you that?" He squinted, leaned closer.
"I'll answer your question if you answer mine."
"Answer your—? Why should I believe you? You'd be a fool to show up where you don't belong, where others know your face. Just to meet a man?"
"But I didn't know this would be… whatever it is. A meeting? I didn't know who'd be here. I thought it was just a party. But it doesn't matter. Because, yes. I'd risk anything to see Nicky again."
"Well, that you will not, my girl. If your Nicky is Nicola Mancusa. We arrested him November last."
"Oh, no. No."
"He did go looking for you." A wry smile. "In fact, it was through his efforts that your employer, Mrs. Kingston, survived."
"What? Mrs. Kingston lived? I don't believe it. She looked far beyond help." She took a ragged breath. "I left her for dead."
"It was a near thing, I gather."
"But Nicky saved her?"
"With cold baths, yes. Then Kingston came home and found them."
"And the great hypocrite would rather have seen his wife a corpse," Ella said, "than bathing in front of another man?"
Killy didn't reply.
Nicky must have understood the danger in staying to help Mrs. K—a ragged man alone with a rich woman? But he'd tended to her anyway, he'd done it to save a stranger. He was still the boy Ella grew up with, still the man she loved.
"Kingston claimed he'd taken some jewelry," Killy said. "It wasn't found on him. He might have hidden it, or handed it off to someone."
Ella stopped breathing.
"But Mrs. Kingston contradicted her husband. And as the baubles were hers... That aspect came to nothing."
Had Mrs. K understood Nicky's sacrifice, then? Protected Ella for his sake? Nicky must have told her why he'd come to her house. Was this her way of thanking him for his care, for what it cost him?
"You know it was Galleani," Killy said.
Ella was still reeling. "Galleani?"
"Who ordered his followers to Mexico. To evade the draft."
"But Nicky didn't go there to follow anyone's orders. He went from conviction. The other Galleanists, if you call them that, came back after just a few months."
"Whatever his motive, draft evasion's a crime. We'd have brought charges if his English was better. As it was, we put him aboard a boat. Deported back to Italy."
Her sense of unreality grew. "But Nicky's not Italian."
"What? We could barely understand him. And we found no citizenship papers for him."
"He was born in Kentucky, taken to Arizona by other miners when his parents were killed. Then rescued from the strike at Ludlow. He came to us when he was eleven. My mother taught him Italian. Because we all spoke it, at the Hall. She called him Nicola but his name's Nicholas. And not Mancusa. That was her pronunciation of a name I don't remember. Mancowski, something like that."
"Well, I'll be damned," Killy said. "I suppose he thought he'd fare better in Italy than in prison." He scowled for a moment, obviously deep in thought. Then he shook himself out of it. "Who told you you'd find him here?"
She couldn't meet his eye. "Are you on the guest list?"
"Am I—? Of course. Despite your absurd notions about him, I mean to get Palmer the nomination next year." His tone was defensive. "You think you were sent here because of who'd recognize you?"
"Mr. Palmer, Mr. Roosevelt, you… I don't know. I don't know what to think." But she did know Mario used her love for Nicky to get her here.
"Where's the logic in it? We pull you in, you might give information against those who sent you."
If I lived long enough. "Yes."
She didn't dare look at the tray she'd brought.
Instead she looked at the men still on the veranda, smokers mostly, leaning along the porch rails. A voice drifted to her: "That room in Albany was the closest to college I ever came." His companion laughed and said, "You might have mentioned that a few dozen times, Al."
Al Smith, the governor of New York, wore a white linen suit that on him looked as elegant as a fish monger's apron. He, Roosevelt, Palmer… any might be President someday. And all were just a stone's throw from Mario's platter.
"They chose me because I can pass for a servant," she said. "Better than any of them." And how they'd pampered her last night. The pastries and fresh cream, the kisses on the cheek. Because they knew they'd never see her again?
"Come with me," the marshal said.
He jerked her toward the French doors. If he got her inside, either to question her or arrest her, someone might lift the tray's lid while they were gone. And if that triggered a bomb?
Ella might get away then, in the confusion. Mario wouldn't be waiting where the driveway met the road. But the dust and carnage would give her a chance to run.
Spots danced in front of her eyes, sweat dripped between her shoulder blades and down her back.
Saying anything now was the same as signing her own arrest warrant. So the enormity of her words nearly lodged them in her throat: "The tray," she said. "The one I was about to uncover. They gave it to me, to bring inside."
Killy reacted as if she'd slapped him. He turned to face it.
It was too big to pick up with one hand. He let go of her. He grabbed the tray without a backward glance.
She watched him dash down the veranda stairs with it, hurrying past the lush arbor and along the path to the pond.
It was no use leaving. With no car to take her away, she'd be picked up soon enough. And she had to know for sure. Mario, Sacco… would they truly have sacrificed her? She was afraid the answer was clear in the guest list.
Ella was a few paces behind Killy when he reached the dock. He set the tray down, then looked to the boathouse as if searching for something. Not for Ella. He nodded as if certain she'd be there.
"Ah," he said. He grabbed a pole hanging from a support.
The long stick had a crook at the end for pulling skiffs closer. He signaled for her to back up, then he hooked the handle of the tray's dome cover. He lifted it and set it aside.
Ella didn't know exactly what she was looking at, there on the tray. A bit of glass glinted on a pyramid of greasy looking tubes.
A second later, she heard popping, like firecrackers. Again using the stick, Killy pushed the tray into the pond.
Then he backed away to stand in front of Ella. His arm went up as if by instinct, shielding his face. Then he let it fall. For a moment he didn't move.
Ella ventured, "So was it—? Those little bursts. Only firecrackers?"
"Blasting caps. A vial was rigged to tip when the lid came off. What you heard were the caps underneath. Set off by acid."
"Blasting caps? Did they only mean to… to scare people?"
"No. The caps would have ignited the fuses. Dynamite fuses. Like the package bombs. That's why I brought it to the water... But those had one stick. This had nine, stacked four, three, two, the vial on top. Who gave it to you?"
The world seemed to dim. "Mario Buda."
"The man who wrote the bomb-making pamphlet?" He wheeled to face her. "Salute è in Voi? The one they sold in Galleani's newspaper?"
"No! That can't be Mario."
"He and some others. But Buda was the main— How could you know him, but not know this?"
"I remember the ad. In the Cronaca Sovversiva." 25 cents for the anonymous booklet. "Tiny ad. For that and other pamphlets. All of them full of bravado. Fish stories, I thought. Because the country was mad for war—the parades, the marches. It was like that, I supposed. The same lust for battle. But pushing through cracks in a philosophy where it didn't belong."
"So you didn't know Buda as a—?"
"No! No, of course not. I know him as… as a syndicalist. An organizer. I've seen him only twice in these last…" She could hardly stand. She was shaking, her head pounding.
"Was he in Seattle with you?"
"He came for the strike." The shame overwhelmed her. What he'd done to the marshal. Because of her.
"The reason we intercepted thirty of the package bombs last April? It was thanks to Ole Hanson. His aide opened one upside down. The acid dripped onto the desk instead of the caps. So we knew what the parcels looked like. And that they came from someone who disliked Seattle's mayor."
Ella gestured toward the veranda, not yet empty of partiers. "If I'd taken the lid off?"
"Porch and drawing room would be a smoking hole now. Everyone in them vaporized. Or torn to chunks."
For an instant, Ella saw it through Mario's eyes: The triumph. Bloody death to the leaders of a Party that brought years of war and injustice.
"They're wrong about us, you know," Killy's said, as if hearing her thoughts. "We're fools at times, but we mean well."
"I'd have said the same to you about Mario and the others, yesterday."
"Where are they now?"
"A farmhouse, ten or fifteen miles north. Abandoned. It belongs to a dead soldier."
The marshal would soon find it, she supposed. But would Mario and the others still be there?
A pair of men were coming toward them.
"Was that firecrackers?" one called out.
The other said, "You all right, young lady?"
They were nearly on the dock now. It took Ella a moment to blink them into focus. She recognized William McAdoo, the President's son-in-law, from newspaper photographs.
"Will you stay with her?" Killy asked. "I have to make an urgent call, but I can't have her left alone."
Ella caught her breath. What? Marshal Killy was walking away from her? Trusting strangers to keep her here? When she'd escaped from him twice already?
McAdoo was with Governor Smith, who slipped a hand under her elbow. "You ought to get out of this hot sun, honey."
Killy looked as if he meant to say something to her. But he didn't. He turned and ran toward the house.
The men walked her to a boathouse bench. Smith sat beside her. He said to McAdoo, "You go on back, Bill. Tell Roosevelt and Cox not to steal the nomination before I put in a good word for myself."
McAdoo laughed. He was handsome in the way of rich men, with their unworried smiles and uncrimped brows. "Fine way of saying it won't be me, next year in San Francisco. When you know it will."
Smith patted Ella's hand, on the bench between them. He was sweet-faced man with a soft smile. His jacket was almost as rumpled as his blond and white hair. He said, "I bet the Westfields will give you the rest of the day off if you're feeling punk. Even useless politicians can make do with only a swarm, and not an outright herd, of servants. Oh, now. Don't cry." He fumbled for a handkerchief, setting it on her knee. She looked down at it. An embroidered A and E flanked a larger S. "Can't be as bad as all that."
What would he think if he knew she'd nearly killed him?
It was a few minutes before she could speak. She managed to say, "Bless you for Triangle Shirt." He'd been on a committee to review the factory fire—146 girls burned alive behind locked doors. Those who appointed him wanted a hasty whitewash but he gave them a three-year inquisition. "I worked in a place like that."
Smith looked sad. "We're not done yet. Long road ahead. But look there, old McAdoo's come back."
"Say," McAdoo said. "That campaign manager of Palmer's? Sent me down with a message for you, missy."
She blotted her tears with Smith's handkerchief. Killy would return soon with reinforcements. She hoped their interrogation didn't leave her scarred. One of her neighbors had lost an eye. Another, all her teeth on one side.
"Asked if you remember Jim Corbett?"
"The big game hunter?" Smith said.
"That's the one," McAdoo said. "Dashing fellow, remember? Killed that man-eater in India."
"What about him?" Ella knew this must be important. Killy wouldn't send a man as august as the President's son-in-law, the former Secretary of the Treasury, to relay a mere afterthought.
"Said Corbett was always sorry the tiger got a last victim. A few minutes before Corbett shot the cur, it tore apart a girl about your age. That's what he told me." McAdoo laughed again. "I hope the story doesn't frighten you?"
"You were talking about… Champawat, is it? That's what he said. That he didn't know if he'd see you again later. So when I came to fetch Al—he says they want you at the house, Al—would I please mention this to you."
Smith said, "Funny way of flirting with a gal."
Flirting? Ella imagined Killy sitting opposite her in a restaurant. Imagined them discussing politics and history with pleasure and not with dread.
Smith rose. "So they miss me, do they, Bill?"
"How could they not, Al? It's been a good half hour since we heard how you worked at the Fulton Market, pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps and vast talents."
Smith laughed. Ella watched the men as if through a fog.
Killy didn't know if he'd see her again? He'd said this to McAdoo?
Corbett was always sorry the tiger got a last victim.
Ella stood shakily. She extended Smith's handkerchief. But he closed his hand around hers. "You keep it, dear."
For a few minutes, she stood watching Smith and McAdoo walk away.
On the other side of the pond, farmland rolled through the back acres of other rich Washingtonians' summer estates. Eventually the fields must meet dirt paths and narrow lanes. Not the road that brought her here. That would be roaring with cars soon—law men descending to pull the dynamite from the pond, to question the guests and servants. None were likely to remember Ella carrying the tray in.
Other cars would race to check abandoned farmhouses for miles around. But Mario and the rest would have left by now. Expecting trouble after what they hoped was a horrific explosion. An inestimable blow to the nation's ruling Party.
She didn't know how Killy would explain finding the bomb. She hoped it brought him satisfaction, but she knew it would fade. His friend the Attorney General would soon launch his raids. Palmer would bring an iron fist down on a Bolshevik revolution in America, a Red menace, that was chiefly in his own mind. Killy would see his Fighting Quaker bring unwarranted misery to tens of thousands. Then he would feel, perhaps, the way Ella did now.
She started toward the far side of the pond. Buzzing over the water, minute insects caught the sun like glitter. Farther on, rectangles of dirt lay fallow and hedges tumbled with yellow flowers.
Ella didn't know where she was going. Not home to retrieve the small comforts bought with Mrs. Kingston's gems. Killy might come looking for her there. He was grateful to her now: She could have let him pull her away from the bomb. She could have let it do its damage.
Later he might repent this favor.
It was bitterly hard to lose everything again. But she'd never meant to be a thief. She'd taken the jewelry thinking Mrs. Kingston had no more use for it. It would only trouble her to keep the proceeds now. She'd have to find another way.
It was worth it to know what Nicky had done. How like him, how brave, to put a sick woman's needs above his own. To risk all to help a stranger.
Mario told Ella she'd find Nicky again if she came here. And in a sense, she had.
By the time the Westfield estate was far behind her, her arm tingled from clutching Al Smith's handkerchief so tightly. She would never regret that he'd been spared today.
She wondered if the marshal would ever regret sparing her.