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Murder in Lansingburgh

By Tom_M_7b All Rights Reserved ©

Thriller / Mystery

November 22, 1886

To whom it may concern:

Upon reading these words, you are now in violation of Section 145.27 of  New York State Penal Law.  You are subject to fine or imprisonment, or, if I have anything to say about it, both.

Theodore Roosevelt

Governor of the State of New York

November 7, 1899

Telegram dated November 16, 1886


He Is Dying [STOP] Informed Files To Be Burned[STOP] Do What We

Agreed [STOP] HM[STOP]Regards[STOP]


Telegram dated November 17, 1886


Dead [STOP] Recovered [STOP] HM Helpful [STOP] Funeral?[STOP]

Regards [STOP]


Telegram dated November 18, 1886


Good [STOP] Preserve [STOP] Good [STOP] Not You Me [STOP]

Regards [STOP] Thanks [STOP]


Chapter One

New York City

November 18, 1886.

Finally, Old Friend, I have time for you.  She has gone to bed (sans any request for my attendance) but perhaps it is the combination of accelerant and old hatreds that had her flee my side tonight. I do not blame her. And so the quiet of the early morning, by the clock two in the morning, and the late fall chill  is invasive through what I once thought were solid walls.  Will I ever be left to peace?

I too pursue and am pursued by a white whale.  Not that any will know that since my magnum opus, as noted in the London Athaneum as ill-compounded mixture of romance and matter-of-fact, sank faster than the Pequod herself.  Has it been 35 years since publication?  I believe it is also the total amount of volumes sold, despite old Hawthorne's jest that he has thirty of them, since I have the other five.

I have four now, Old Friend, do you remember? I gave one to you the day you left your mother and I at the train station for California. You wrote back when you arrived in San Francisco that you had read it to other passengers, that the final scenes had thrilled them, and that women wept.  And I asked you in my following letter, that if the women wept, did the men perhaps rend their clothes or gnash their teeth?

You answered in my heart, or perhaps merely from the drink, now barred me by your mother.  All too clear I saw you on the bed, your eyes as empty as Ahab's soul as he was dragged down into the murky depths.  Our boys are gone, and I shall, despite your mother and her meddling pastor, find solace in the pen, or the bottle, or perhaps a walk in the biting New York air near the river.  Nowyour brother Malcolm shall walk beside me, the ghost and his gun. I see him when I walk the steps to bed and the only oblivion I am allowed in sleep.  His shadow stands by the door to his long empty room, and begs me enter.  Guide me, Stanwix, my Starbuck, to my true course.  Or your mother will.

I do have something interesting to bide the time.

Theodore came by tonight to thank me for what small part I may have played in a certain episode some days ago.  Have I told you of Mr. Roosevelt?  I believe you met him once or twice since our move to New York City, or was that your brother?  I find his enthusiasm truly startling, his smile endearing, and the bitter tears hidden deep behind his bluster in accordance with my own.  Just a few hours previous to these journal entries, he had paced the floor before my desk, his suit of grey clinging to him, still streaked with ash and blood from our evening's errand.  He told me -

“Melville, we have risked life and limb tonight for sheets of foolscap, journals, and flubdubs.  Now you must carry on.  We have a duty, both of us, to serve this nation. You shall speak of its past, as you have done brilliantly before.  Fear not. I shall handle the future.”

He stopped and turned to me.  His spectacles hid the pale blue eyes in the poor gaslight fixtures but the crackle and spit of the fire painted God's spirit on wired glass held by pincers on his nose.

“Call on me for whatever else you need, and I shall do my best to provide.  You must call yourself Ishmael one more time-”

“Theodore, I am tired,” I said, begging off from this latest sermonette. “I have no desire to return to the beautiful illusions of youth.”

“And if you meant that, my friend, you would have booted me out on my keister hours ago.

Now stop this maudlin show.  My beloved Edith has sailed with my sister to London to make preparations for our wedding on December Second and I begged off, noting some post mayoral race obligations, but that I would soon follow.  The press believes I am already there, in London and what they don’t know may save them all, if we remain vigilant. And we did not break a promise and laws tonight for nothing, I assure you, at least I did not.”

He pointed to a slightly charred but still legible pile of papers slowly invading my desk.

“It is all there. Tell the tale. And call on me when you are done.  Are you attending the funeral on the 22nd?  Steven will be there, of course, as will the usual courtesans.”

I shrugged, but then agreed.

“Two Presidents in one parade? Why not? And then, Theodore-”

More grin.

“Someday you may look back on the occasion and see more than you once thought you did, Herman.  But enough for tonight.  I shall have my hansom cab come around early for you. Until  Monday, my friend. Tonight, we were magnificent.”

The door slammed behind him. The house trembled slightly at his departure, and then silence, as if it looked at its present tenants and found us wanting when compared to the mighty TR. The house would be correct.  I could end this all by stoking the fire and adding kindling from 1838.  But even now as I take up my pen again I can see foolscap with my own scribbles upon it from so long ago.  I randomly, and ever so delicately, pull on the sheet. Slowly more writing appears, albeit grudgingly as the past does not want to be disturbed. I can free a full sheet, and it slides into my palm.  Still extant is the smoldering that singed some sheets before we rescued them from the pit.

How odd to have risked life and limb, to defy a dying man’s wish for a possibly patriotic cause, only to realize that my penmanship in 1838 was so atrocious that I can barely translate anything written then.  My mother never ceased fretting that her son, who so wished to write, who always carried a quill, was so poorly taught chirography in my youth that no matter what I had to say, no one would understand.  According to my many publishers, my mother was correct.

I put the sheet back on top of the pile, and then I locked the sheets, evidence of a crime committed this night by a well known politician, and a harmless scriber of sea tales, in the bottom drawer of my desk.  Upon my shutting the drawer, I detected still the faint smell of the whisky bottles that has infected the wood as a siren calling again to darker parts of my soul.

Not tonight, Old Friend.

And with that to bed.  Enough. Theodore still has some two hours left in this day to hunt Bengal tigers in Central Park or change the course of the Hudson River.  Perhaps my wife shall grant me entrance for a heroic tale of my own.

Odd. Even as I prepare to lay down my pen, the very first word on that page I pulled out was completely legible to me.  It was -

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