It’s 1847, New York.
William Matthias Hallett is a fashionable dandy of the Manhattan social set. His life is laid out before him: a world of soirees, riches, and luxury. Yet all he wants to do is find an adventure so deliciously wicked that it will satiate his soul for an eternity.
Disguised in a lower-class manner, into the notorious Five Points he goes, seeking that spark of adventure. That is until it greets him in the form of his old schoolmates from Dartmouth College—a pair of Mohawk warriors who will up-end his world and all he knew it to be forever.
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|Publisher:||Ninestar Press, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.80(d)|
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The Observational Prowess of William Matthias Hallett
The Cove Chronicle According to William Matthias Hallett
Wherein we meet William Matthias Hallett, a man of independent means and stature, doing everything he can to put a swift end to it all.
All Hallows Eve — October 31, 1847 Satan's Circus, The Five Points, Manhattan, New York 8:53 p.m.
Satan's Circus. The name alone conjures up a visage of villainy.
My eyes took in the bright red effigy of Satan nailed to the doorway of the tavern, making no pretense as to what sort of clientele this establishment served, for gluttony and wickedness made a home here. It still did little to keep me from my current quest.
To be sure, as taverns went, she did not disappoint. The Circus was not where one went to hone one's craft of skullduggery and malicious behavior. If you had to perfect your craft, you had best do it elsewhere. Only the most proficient sharks, wildcats, and beasts could call the Circus their home. I could lay claim to none of that, though I did my best to blend in with the dregs who called her home in the chance that some thread of adventure would present itself.
Somehow, I had become somewhat of a regular. Clever enough to keep my nose clean and not falling in with any of the gangs who controlled the Points, I navigated these treacherous waters. Though, if pressed, there could be little in the way of my being able to entirely explain how all of this was accomplished. A pastiche of luck, concealment, and all the bottom of a braggadocio had allowed me to slip in and out of her timbered halls. There were moments where I almost thought, despite my wearing clothing of a lowly station amongst them, a cloak of invisibility had shielded me from them all. No one seemed to take notice unless I wanted to be noticed.
Which, for the most part, I did not.
From the moment anyone entered the Circus, their senses were accosted in such a manner that, if unprepared, would bring the strongest man to his knees. People who drank much and bathed even less peppered her halls and floors. The putridity of the smells was second only to the sounds piercing your ears: a raucous cacophony of braggarts and riffraff.
She is one of the busiest taverns in all of New York.
As I made my way to the barkeep to order a drink, I watched every conniving and devious cutthroat, and the harlots who hung onto them like leeches sucking the men dry, caught up in their usual routine of either getting drunk or getting someone else drunk so as to take advantage of their inebriation. Their game was always afoot.
Like maggots over carrion, the tavern was pressed to her walls with those who picked at the fetid remnants of life. Gold painted onto the fixtures of the hall had been tarnished by her clientele, soiling it to the dull hue they left behind. I could not help thinking that on her opening day she no doubt had been quite glorious. Looking at her now, it was clear she was but a tawdry remnant of her bejeweled past.
As I secured my seat with drink in hand, my eyes roved over the Circus. She boasted two levels, and the only places where a body could not occupy a spot were the large round columns running the gamut from floor to the second story above. Though many tried to cling to them from time to time if only to find some respite against the constant flow of hellions bent on consuming you and discarding your carcass in its wake.
Music played continuously from a couple of piano players who alternated at banging away at the keys with little ear to the line of the tune they played. For the most part the music went either enjoined in a drunken and off-tune chorus or ignored in its entirety. Unlike my normal life in Manhattan high society, I was all too aware that fisticuffs and knifings were standard entertainment fare here, and people took more notice if the evening progressed and bodies had not piled up. No one would spare a tear for lack of their presence; the Points did not permit you to care about anyone except yourself.
My eyes took note of this myriad of immigrants as they scratched at one another and at life; for they did everything to eke out an existence for themselves on these shores. In all of the commotion, it would have been difficult to spot an oddity within the torrent of drunkenness — save for one spot. A single well of calm stood out from the rest of the establishment: a darkened alcove and its inhabitants on the far side of the tavern to the left of the barkeep.
This alcove held my interest, the sole purpose of why I came back to the Points and the Circus time and again.
Having tried many of the other pubs and taverns within the Points, I turned to this very tavern in the hopes of observing something that deviated widely from the normal cutpurse fare — an adventure so decidedly wicked and filled with a sense of raw mystery as to satiate my soul for a lifetime. The gentlemen occupying the far alcove, no doubt the key to such an undertaking, held my attention captive.
For the past four nights the events surrounding these men varied little: they would sit in the alcove, each barely visible in the subdued light. The first thing I noted was how out of place they seemed.
Where everyone else bore the drab clothing of their lowly station, from what I could discern of these men's appearance, they seemed highly financed and respectable, as evident in the richness of their clothing — an island of wealth amidst the disenfranchised. Ensconced there, silent and immobile, casting about a wall of dark stoicism, they did little to dissuade me of my course. Indeed, their behavior did everything to secure my thoughts in the reverse. No service came to their table, and they made no attempt to gain the interest of a barmaid to change that.
They merely sat, waited, and watched.
The longer I observed them, the more intrigued I was by their presence and the great lengths everyone else went to not take any notice of them. These men, mysterious creatures confined in that darkened alcove, signaled to all around they alone occupied the top of the food chain — predators who preyed on other predators.
The alcove possessed only one source of light: a tiny candle jammed into a singular glass container. This poor excuse of a flame sputtered as if it had gleaned some prescient knowledge of the men's depravity as it struggled to cast some illumination against the three dark figures in close quarter. As far as I could tell, the only clear element in view, illuminated by their right hands lying on the table, displayed the same signet ring of a double-headed eagle, a symbol I had seen before but for the moment could not ascertain where. It gave me my only clue of their true identity.
From the outline the candle cast, they bore quite proudly their ostentatious attire, evident by the fullness of their black redingotes and framed in the soft ambient glow of lanterns hanging above the alcove. This allowed me to take note of their black furred hats.
These three men of mystery, large in stature for they nearly filled the alcove with their presence, always appeared around the same time each night. Yet, I could not recall the exact time of their arrival. Even the barkeep did his best not to look into the alcove they occupied. I believe I witnessed him visibly shudder last night as he had been watching the door and never spied their entrance, and yet, in that alcove, as sure as a tick of the clock, they sat.
Lighting, never in abundant amounts in any of the Five Points establishments, as dark endeavors require darkened quarters to operate, made it difficult to discern actions. This particular alcove exuded a darker purpose, one that kept even the more frightening miscreants of the Points at bay. For some reason I could not fathom, I found myself in exactly the opposite disposition — I was riveted.
For an hour or so, I sat and just watched them, forcing myself to drink the "cocktail" of ale that ran more in common to what I imagined pig's piss-water might have been.
From what I overheard, the barkeep spent the prior day buying up the dregs from other more well-established taverns' caskets of ale and tossed them together with little regard in the way of taste; for all I know he probably did add his own urine to the swill.
I heard one woman call it Satan's Arse Cleaner. She, being a frequent customer, and a lady of the evening, no doubt meant the double entendre when she would yell to the barkeep to "gimme the SAC." I did not think her commentary far off the mark on that account.
Yet I continued observing these three who held me spellbound. I do not know if they took notice of my stare. I talked to no one, just sat there, tolerated the SAC, and waited for my adventure to unfold, for I knew it would most certainly involve these men.
Around nine of the clock on each of the preceding nights, a young lad of no more than seven or eight strode into the tavern and walked right up to their table. No one stopped the lad; no one seemed to take notice of him at all, save for myself.
He would speak to them for but a few moments; then he would turn and leave the way he came. By the time I watched him go and turned back to watch what would happen next, the men would be gone. They seemed to vanish into thin air. The first time I witnessed it, I thought I imagined the whole routine. To be sure, I decided to gamble with my safety and changed my position to be closer to their alcove so I could observe their departure on the following night — again, to no avail. One moment there, and the next gone. The lack of lighting in the alcove did not help matters to be sure, but whether I observed from near or far, the result was the same: there one moment, gone the next.
Well, tonight I surmised would provide a new game. I knew I had the right of it. What put me onto it I could not say, but I felt it in the air. Tonight, the fifth night of this mystifying rendezvous, something was precariously at the tipping point. Disappointment would not be the order of the evening. I would soon discover the nature of their darker purpose.
As I sipped what I could from the devil's swill, I realized the men had waited much longer for the boy to arrive. They had no perceptible change in their posture to warrant that feeling, but the moment seemed pressed just a little harder. A tightening of the screw, so to speak. The edge to them was palpable. Whatever news the boy brought this evening bore the utmost urgency for these three men. As if on cue, the boy arrived as he had before. Despite seeing him the previous four nights, this time I bothered to take real notice of him.
A lowly immigrant boy, of that there was no doubt, he bore his station in his tattered clothes marked with the filth of the Points. But the boy's face, now there a marked change revealed itself to me. Most of the youth in this part of Manhattan were relegated to cutthroat tactics to survive their childhood, what little there was of it. That harsh existence etched a tough life upon them at an early age. To be sure, this young lad took his life in his hands, scratching out what little he could to keep his head above the torrents of the Points and make it to his teen years. He would sort out his adulthood once he made it that far.
Yet, in his countenance he possessed an almost angelic repose. A proper-looking lad who had the singular misfortune of being cast among the poorest of the poor, he no doubt stood out from the more average fare of the Point's child riffraff.
For a moment as my gaze followed him, I fancied seeing him cast in a different light altogether, one where he would have the finest clothing, food, and education. I guess what struck me most about him was that, save for our respective lots in life, he could be me at the same age.
Undeterred by others, he strode with purpose to the darkened alcove. A young man willingly engaging what the more aggressive and salient of the cutthroats dare not do. He spoke with them very quickly, and the men stirred. For the first time their faces came into the glow of the small candle's flame. It wavered, cowering a bit, as if their malevolence would snuff it from existence.
Each man, in that sputtering light, was revealed to be a foreigner. Their hats, now fully in view, were the tell-tale giveaway. Once they made themselves known to me, I identified them fully: Russians.
How odd to find them so far away from their home and in the Points. What possibly could they have to do in New York in this house of inequity? Though well groomed, each of them possessed a darkness to their eyes and did not bother to feign even the slightest element of any good-doing on their part. As the boy spoke, the men exchanged a silent but knowing look with one another, clearly taking whatever report he brought them to their liking. The man in the middle said something to his companions, gave instruction to the boy, and the most amazing thing happened: the three got up! Their quick movement caused me to jolt, and I dropped the cup of swill I had been tolerating. It clanked to the floor, though with the raucous sounds around me no one took note. Cursing at my obvious blunder, I scrambled to retrieve the cup. However, by the time I had set it right onto the tabletop next to me, they had taken their leave of the tavern.
I glanced at the door, only to catch a whisper of black redingote sweeping through it and out into the night.
At least this time, I have not lost them entirely I scrambled from the table to the door and out into the square that teemed with activity. I surveyed every option of escape. A key point to survival in the Points, you had to keep moving. A stationary man was a target for any number of assailants who would descend upon you and pick you apart. In some cases, that included the scattering of your bones, as well.
My sole quest at this juncture was to find the men quickly and keep moving along in this stream of sharks and piranhas. I eyed the small marshy patch that stood as the Points common. This tattered piece of bare earth, where meager strands of grass dared to show themselves, provided the only piece of undeveloped ground the Points had to offer as a public meeting place. A place where many a man had met their demise — publicly too. I did not wish my adventure to come to such a conclusion.
The Five Points existed where Cross and Orange streets intersected with Anthony, bordered on the east and west by Water and Mulberry streets. Hell's residence on earth, if there ever was one. And now I found myself swimming in the rip current of their existence.
And therein lay my current problem: I labored too long to find the men. A woman, who might have been quite striking save for how life had dealt her blow upon blow so now she bore a mere shadow of what God had intended at birth to qualify as beauty, made her way toward me. The purposefulness of her stride left little doubt that I had a target painted upon me, and I had only been on the sidewalk ten or so seconds.
However, I discovered an added benefit to my notice of her advance, for just behind her I spied the last of the gentlemen making their way down Cross toward Mulberry. I surmised their goal lay beyond the Points, but as to their exact destination, their plan escaped me.
The wharf, perhaps?
I did not know for certain. 'Twas the only thing I could think of lying in that direction. I tried in vain to circumvent the advancing barracuda harlot.
"Well now, a strappin' man like yerself. Where ya off to in such a hurry?"
She stood in front of me, attempting to ply her trade, as if I could not deduce her ulterior motive. I would have definitely been put off by the state of her teeth, which ran the gamut from putrid yellow to mildewing green and resolved themselves into decaying black. Her breath billowed about me, a mixture of the death that had already manifested itself within her and whatever ale she had consumed thus far to mask — poorly — the putridity of her pre-decomposition.
The harlot, for all intents and purposes, embodied a walking prostitute corpse. If I was clear on one thing, Necromancy did not fall under the classification of adventure in my book. I possessed little stomach for death. Little did I know how wrong I was to be on this singular, salient point.
"Eh, not interested," I replied with much haste and attempted to slip from the grasp of her left arm around my neck, entwined like a serpent hellbent upon consumption. Adam should have kept a better eye on Eve as the female sex had learned far too much from that reptilian encounter of biblical verse.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Beware Mohawks Bearing Gifts"
Copyright © 2019 SA Collins.
Excerpted by permission of NineStar Press, LLC.
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