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March 1872, Boston, Massachusetts
Even at the age of fourteen, Griffin Turner always knew when one of his mother's "bad times" was coming on. First she'd quit cleaning the meager four rooms they shared. Dust would pile up. Dirty pans and plates would accumulate. Rats would saunter across the gritty floors, as bold as you please-as bold as they tended to be in the tenement building Griffin and his mother had moved into After Their Circumstances Changed-and chew their way into the few remaining foodstuffs in the kitchen. A good swat with a broom got rid of them, Griffin had learned, but he hated the way that smacking their furry bodies made his skin crawl.
He also hated how weak it made him feel to admit that. After their circumstances changed, Griffin had become the man of the house. The man of the house could not be weak. He knew that.
When he failed to remember it, his mother reminded him.
A day or so after she stopped cleaning up, his mother would pull all the tatty draperies tightly shut, so that not even the tiniest sliver of wintertime sunlight could penetrate their home's dank interior. Then she would abandon whatever piecework job she'd grudgingly taken on. Finally, she would take to her bed.
Griffin wasn't sure how that was supposed to help anything. After all, nothing happened in bed except dreaming. Dreaming didn't exactly put food on the table and kindling in the fireplace. But he knew better than to say so.
At least he knew better than to say so twice.
Most of the time, Griffin managed his mother's bad times without too much hardship. He learned how to dust and sweep. He figured out how to light the stove and how to inveigle a few grocery items from their careworn neighbors when things got desperate. He learned to leave crackers by his mother's bedside while she was asleep, but never to mention having done so the next day. He learned the precise time to bring a bracing cup of coffee into his mother's room. He learned that doing so made her smile at him but only if he got the timing right. So he learned well.
During the bad times, Griffin tiptoed a lot.
Overall, he didn't think about his mother's moody spells much. They came like the weather; they went for reasons that were as inexplicable and as evergreen as springtime in the city. They were a fact of life- like his growing body, his work tending the fiery furnaces at the glass factory and his knowledge that the only way to get by was to toil until sweet oblivion took him at the end of the day. Sleep was good, even if he didn't remember having any dreams of his own. Work was good. He earned money to support his mother and himself. He kept busy. He had every Sunday off to do as he pleased-which wasn't, by the age of fourteen, to attend Sunday church services alone, as his mother believed he did. It was to revisit their old town house, which still stood in the neighborhood where they'd lived before their circumstances changed, and try to figure out how to get it back.
Generally, life was shambolic but manageable. As long as you didn't count on anything, Griffin knew, you would be fine.
Sometimes, though, enough time passed between bouts of tidying and tiptoeing-and treating his mother with the same care that the glassblowers at the factory handled their bottles and pitchers and glasshouse whimsies-that Griffin forgot about the bad times. That was dangerous. That was when he was blindsided.
He came home on one such day, full of verve and vinegar, puffed up on the thrill of having spent his Sunday with a girl he liked-a girl who worked at the glass factory as a sweeper. He'd met her after church. They'd spent all day roaming around the city, going to Griffin's old neighborhood and sharing a single precious gooseberry tonic at the soda fountain. The girl-Mary was her name-had taken Griffin home to meet her parents. They'd invited him in for some Irish stew and brown bread. They'd sent him home high, with a freshly barbered head of hair-courtesy of Mary's mama-and a care package of leftover stew.
He hadn't wanted to think why they'd given it to him. He knew he was thin, on account of the meals he missed or gave to his mother, but he was also tall and broad shouldered. He didn't look sickly enough to warrant a gift of potato-filled stew.
But they gave it to him kindly, so Griffin didn't refuse. He was carrying it when he breezed into the tenement building and clomped up the rickety staircase- daydreaming about Mary's winsome face, mentally placing her in the fancy town house he meant to own someday, dressing her in finery fit for a carriage ride- and came inside to find all the draperies drawn.
Too happy to abide the gloom, Griffin opened them.
"Leave them shut," his mother snapped from her chair.
But this time, Griffin didn't want to. He'd had a nice day. He'd felt content. He didn't want his mother to ruin that.
"Are you hungry?" Deliberately leaving the window curtains as they were, Griffin strode through the beams of sunlight and presented the care package-wrapped in newspaper and secured with butcher's twine-to his mother. "I brought you some stew."
Suspiciously, his mother squinted. "Where have you been? I've been here on my own all day long. The fire went out."
Her peevish wave indicated the woodstove. Undaunted, Griffin set aside the stew. He took off his coat, went through the practiced motions of laying a blaze then dragged his mother's favorite quilt from a nearby chair. He laid it on her.
She clutched it, frowning. "Only the most selfish boy leaves his mother alone on the Lord's day. You should be ashamed of yourself! Sauntering in here, flaunting your friends and your strength and your stupid, stupid stew." She cast it a disgusted glance. "It smells like Irish slop. I wouldn't want that."
He knew his mother still considered herself above the life they had in the tenement building. He knew she didn't mean to offend. This was the point where, ordinarily, Griffin would have apologized. That was what worked best to keep the peace. But today, with Mary, Griffin had glimpsed a brighter future-a future that didn't involve endless toil and smacking rats and accepting handouts from neighbors. A future that held the promise of laughter and plenty and genuine smiles that didn't need to be coaxed into being but happened all on their own.
He wanted that future. His mother couldn't stop that.
"Maybe you'll want it later." He picked up the stew, wended his way past a pile of unfinished mending- piecework was all his mother could manage, owing to her continual "nervous strain"-and started an enam-elware pot of coffee in the kitchen. Keeping his voice even, Griffin called into the other room, "Coffee?"
"Men don't make coffee," his mother grumbled.
He offered her a cup all the same. He was used to her abuse. He knew she didn't mean it. Not when she was like this.
"Drink it," he urged. "You'll feel better if you do."
"Humph. You're getting older. Bigger." Her accusatory gaze moved from his shoulders to his face. "You don't need me."
He knew how to answer that. "You're all I have."
But instead of the smile he yearned for-instead of the reward he wanted for holding inside the rebuke that kicked to break free-his mother gave him a disapproving finger wag. "You're getting ready to leave! That's why you were gone all day-why you're gone every day. I see it all over your face!"
Griffin was "gone every day" because he was working. Because he was trying his hardest to keep them in baked beans and brown bread, eaten in their own home instead of in a charity ward. But he didn't want to say so. That would only rile his mother. Everything got worse when he riled his mother.
Besides, he loved her. Despite everything.
He set down the coffee nearby. "I'm not going anyplace."
"That's what he said, too. But you and he-you're the same kind." Another critical look. "You've got the same mark on you that he did-the same sign that tells me you're rotten inside."
Griffin tried to ignore that, too, the same way he'd ignored her command to close the curtains. But he was only one boy-a boy of fourteen, at that. He was old enough to work but not to shield himself against the vitriol in his mother's expression. He was, as she'd pointed out, not a man. Not yet.
"It makes me sick to look at you," she went on. "Sick!"
Her scathing tone dug deeply. Griffin flinched.
"It makes me sick to have birthed you into this world." His mother's voice trembled with emotion. "You're going to wreak havoc on it, just like he did, and it will be my fault."
Griffin knew what to say to that, too.
"It's not your fault. It never was." He kept his voice low, his hands steady, his manner patient. He'd practiced this part. He knew what to say. He knew how to say it. "You did all you could for him. You were a good wife. You're a good-"
Mother, he meant to say, but suddenly he wasn't so sure.
Was she a good mother? Mary's mother was a kind woman. She was gentle. She never would have said such harsh things to her own child. All at once, Griffin was sure of it. He straightened.
"Good what?" his mother demanded. "I'm a good what? "
He could tell by the wounded sheen in her eyes that she knew the praise he was withholding. At the same moment, Griffin realized he meant to keep right on withholding it. There was no way he'd give in. Not even to make her feel better. Not this time. If that made him as rotten as she'd said-
It did make him as rotten as she 'd said, he understood just then, and felt despair rush through him. Of course his mother was right about him. She was his mother! She knew him, inside out.
"You can't say it because you're evil, like him?" Her voice cut into his self-condemnation, scattering his thoughts like the hot embers he shoveled all day at the glass factory. Her gaze pinned him in place, making him listen-making him endure the way she scowled at him, from his scruffy boots to his newly shorn dark hair. "You're cruel," she judged. "That's the mark of it, right there on your face. Everyone can see it. Especially me."
"No. I'm not marked." Somehow, Griffin found the strength to raise his chin. "There's nothing wrong with my face."
But even as he said it, his voice quavered. His throat closed up. It ached, just like his hands did. He'd clenched his fists, he saw, without realizing it. Because he knew his mother was telling the truth. After all, people had stared at him his whole life. They'd pointed and whispered. They'd laughed.
They'd turned away. Away from him.
Even at the glass factory, where he'd earned some respect, they'd nicknamed him Hook. Hook Turner. Griffin hadn't blamed them for that. His oversize hook of a nose was conspicuous. The nickname had begged to be given. But now he wondered.
Did everyone see what his mother did when they looked at him? Did everyone see his lack of character, his lack of strength, his lack of goodness?
You're evil, he heard her say again, so callously and calmly. You're rotten inside. You're cruel. Everyone can see it.
Reliving those words, Griffin felt a hot rush of shame. There was no point sidestepping the truth. Ever since his voice had deepened and his shoulders had widened, his features had matured, too. He'd definitely inherited his father's nose.
And with it, it seemed, his father's wicked nature.
All Griffin could remember now of his father was his husky laughter and-hazily-his face, with its similarly prominent hawklike nose and incongruously merry eyes. Edward Turner had been scarred by the same disfigurement that now marked Griffin.
He'd been made uglier by it, even to his wife.
Of course he had. After all, everyone knew that having a good moral character was what made someone nice to look at. Virtuous women were beautiful. Decent men were handsome. That was why they were admired. Griffin didn't know how he'd let himself overlook that fact. Maybe he'd just needed to. Until now.
"That's the inheritance of the Turner men," his mother went on. "I'd hoped you'd be spared. Now I can see you were not. You're rotten, through and through." She gave him a punishing look, confirming it. "It's as plain as the nose on your face."
If that was meant to be a joke, it wasn't funny.
From somewhere, though, Griffin found a glimmer of defiance. Maybe this didn't have to be the end of him-the end of hope for him. It was whispered that, someplace in the city, Edward Turner was prospering. That he'd made good, despite his glaring nasal defect. Maybe Griffin could do the same.
Not that his father's success meant much to his starving and abandoned family. To them, he might as well have been dead.
Maybe he hadn't been able to bear the sight of his son .
Griffin fixed his spine. "It doesn't matter. I'll work." I'll work like my father did. "I'll overcome it."
At that, his mother burst out in unpleasant laughter. "You can't overcome that, boy!" She pointed. "It's ludicrous to try."
But Griffin knew that he could. He had to. What other choice was there? He couldn't go through life with his hated defect being all that people saw when they looked at him.
It was bad enough that he was helpless to hide it. He couldn't wear a bandito's bandanna, like a desperado from a dime novel. His only hat wasn't big enough to obscure his face. And now, with his hair cropped so closely, his nose was even more noticeable. No wonder his mother had chosen today to tell him these things. Doubtless, she'd taken one look at his protruding feature and been overcome. That was why she'd been so cruel.
She hadn't been able to help herself.
It had been for his own good, he reckoned.
He had to make up for his flaw somehow, Griffin knew. He had to amass other things, things that would compensate for his appearance. Things that would make him wealthy, make him whole, make him a real man-a real man who wasn't afraid of rats, didn't make coffee for the womenfolk and refused to be called Hook Turner by those knucks at the glass factory. Whatever it took, Griffin vowed, he would remake himself into someone stronger.
He couldn't remake himself into someone better. He knew that now. Given his birthright, he couldn't be good. So he would have to settle for being strong. Being hard. Being tough.
He would have to settle for being invulnerable.
As a first step, Griffin schooled his face into an impassive mask. It was sorely difficult, but he did it. Then he drew in a deep breath. He looked squarely at his mother.
"Someday," he said, "you'll know you were wrong about me."
She gave him a dubious look. Pointedly, she glanced away.
"Someday," he added, pushed by her obvious skepticism, "you'll be proud to call me your son."
His mother's obstinate expression didn't change. Neither did her refusal to acknowledge his promise. But Griffin didn't care. He couldn't allow himself to care. He wouldn' t.
What he lacked in other ways-what he longed for and couldn't have-he could make up for with single-mindedness, Griffin reasoned. His mother might be stubborn-too stubborn, even, to love him-but he was stubborn, too. Stubborn and smart and ready to work his fingers to the bone to earn his success. Whatever it took to change his life, he would do it.
"You will be proud of me," he repeated. "I swear it."
Then, without waiting for his mother to answer him, Griffin left her with her cold coffee and her charity Irish stew and went to figure out how he could most quickly make his fortune.
Because everything started with money, he knew and ended with him forcing the world to admit it was wrong about Griffin Turner and what he was capable of-hawklike nose and all.