This month sees the release of Beyond Rue Morgue, an anthology of original stories featuring Edgar Allan Poe's Le Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin, the world's first literary detective. The book features stories from authors such as Clive Barker, Joe R. Lansdale, Jonathan Maberry, and Weston Ochse, and we have Mike Carey's story for you to read right now:
"Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’ introduced the world to its first literary detective, Le Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin, and established many literary devices used in future fictional detectives, including Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. Now Dupin’s legacy continues in brand-new tales of ratiocination, mystery, and the macabre. Experience the further exploits of Dupin as he faces enemies both human and otherworldly; follow the adventures of his grandson, the Pinkerton detective; learn the fate of Dupin’s great-granddaughter; discover how Dupin connects his creator, Poe, with Sherlock Holmes; and more!
This anthology include the original 1841 story and Clive Barker's sequel, 'New Murders in the Rue Morgue', along with original stories by Joe R. Lansdale, Jonathan Maberry, Weston Ochse, Mike Carey and many more."
The Sons of Tammany
My name is Thomas Nast. I’m sixty-two years old, and to be honest I don’t expect to be able to hold up my hand after another year’s seasonal turnings and returnings to say I’m sixty-three. I’m dying, at long last. And death dissolves all the bonds of obligation except the ones I owe to God. That being the case, I feel like I’m free at last to talk about the events of August 1870, which formerly I had held back from doing on account of they implicate a whole lot of people in a whole lot of queasy doings, and I couldn’t really back up what I was saying with anything you might count as actual proof.
But when a man’s staring straight down the barrel of his nunc dimittis, and the writing’s not just on the wall but on the face that stares back at him out of the mirror, he stops fretting about the legal niceties and starts to think about setting the record straight. Which is what I aim to do.
In 1870, I was residing in New York City and working as an artist and cartoonist on that excellent periodical, the Harper’s Weekly, under the editorship of George Curtis. I counted Curtis as a friend as well as an employer. But when he called me into his office on the morning of August 13th of that year, he was wearing the boss hat rather than the friend one.
Curtis gave me a civil nod and gestured me into one of the two visitor chairs. Already ensconced in the other chair was a man of a somewhat striking appearance. Although, having said that, I’m going to show myself a weak sister by admitting that I can’t really say what it was about this gentleman that was so singular.
He was a good deal older than I was, and he’d seen enough summers to get a slightly weather-beaten look around his cheeks and jowls. He was kind of short and dumpy in his build, which was neither here nor there, but he had one of those half-hearted little moustaches that looks like it’s about to give up and crawl back inside, and to be honest that was sort of a point against him in my book. If a man’s going to go for a moustache, he should go all-in for one, say I, and Devil take the hairiest. He was toying with a cane that had a carved ivory handle in the shape of a lion’s head—an effete sort of a gewgaw for a man to be playing with. And he had a suit with a waistcoat, and the waistcoat had a pattern to it. In my experience, that doesn’t speak to a man’s moral seriousness.
I guess, thinking about it, it was the eyes that were the selling point. They were a dark enough brown to count for black, and they had a sort of an augur-bit quality to them. It was the most startling thing. Like when this gentleman looked at you, looking wasn’t really the half of it, and maybe you needed a whole other verb.
“Tommy, this here’s Mr. Dupin,” Curtis said. “Visiting from Paris. Not the Texas one, t’other one, over in France.”
“Well, it’s good to meet you, Mr. Dupin,” I said, taking the collateral of the eyes against the rest of the stuff that was on offer. Curtis pronounced the name “dupan”, which I estimate is French for “out of the pan”, as in the thing you bail out from before you end up in the fire. Which wasn’t a bad name at all for this particular customer, as things transpired.
“Only he ain’t a mister,” Curtis added, scrupulous as you’d expect a good editor to be. “He’s a Chevalier.”
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“Means he’s got a horse stashed somewhere, as I understand it.”
“Good job,” I said. “With that waistcoat, he may need to access it in a hurry.”
“Monsieur,” the little man said in a waspish voice, “I speak excellent English, and I thank you for the compliment. I can, if you wish, give you the address of my tailor.”
“Oh, that won’t be necessary,” I told him. “I think one of those things in the world at any one time answers the purpose pretty well.”
The Frenchman surprised me by laughing at that—and it was a big, loud horse-laugh, too, not the little snigger you’d expect would come from underneath that lamentable moustache. “Perhaps you are right,” he said. “One at a time. Yes.”
And then Curtis got to the point, which was that Mr. Du-Frying-Pan wanted to see something of New York while he was here. What’s more, he carried letters of introduction from a job lot of people who were (as you might say) the human equivalent of big guns on big limbers, and could blast Curtis and me and Mr. Harper and the subs’ desk and Uncle Tom Cobley and all into the Hudson if we didn’t show their friend Dupin a good time.
“So I thought perhaps he could come with you today when you go to sketch the bridge,” Curtis wound up.
I knew that was where he was aiming at, so I took it in my stride. “I think that’s a swell idea,” I said. “Sure. Mr. Dupin, come and see my city. She’s something to see. George, you want to come along?”
“Oh no,” Curtis said hurriedly. “I’m tied up every which way here, and I won’t see daylight this side of Tuesday. You guys go and have a good time. Lunch is on Mr. Harper, so long as you don’t get into a second bottle… And you can take a cab to get down there.” He waited a decent length of time—maybe a slow count of five—before adding, “Trolley car will bring you back.”
“And what is it you do, way over there in Paris, Mr. Dupin?” I asked, as we toiled down the stairs. The Equitable Life Building, which they’d just finished building over on Broadway, had its very own hydraulic elevator, but every time I mentioned that to Curtis he walked the other way.
“What do I do?” Dupin repeated doubtfully.
“Yeah. What’s your motive and your métier? What’s the singular thing that you pursue?”
“Ah.” The little man’s face lit up with understanding, but then it closed down again as he took that question over the threshold of his ruminations and worried it some. “The truth,” he said at last. “The truth is what I pursue.”
“Really? There any profit to be had in that?”
He gave out with that belly laugh again. “No. Not usually.”
We waited for a cab on the corner of 41st Street right next to Peason’s cigar store. Mr. Du-Griddle-Tray kept taking sideways glances at the cigar store Indian as though he might be looking to pick a fight. “That there is Tamanend, of the Lenape nation,” I told him. “He’s widely known in these parts, despite having turned up his toes back in sixteen-ought-eight.”
The Frenchman’s answer surprised me. “Yes,” he said. “Of course. Because of the Society of St. Tammany, to which many members of New York’s current civic administration belong.”
I gave him a nod, and probably my face showed him that I was impressed. “One up to you, Dupin. That’s the connection, all right. The Great Wigwam, they call it—the Tammany Hall, down on 14th Street. And it’s got its share of famous patrons, like you say. Our illustrious mayor, Oakey Hall. Judge George Barnard, who doles out wisdom to the city benches. Hank Smith, who’s the president of the Police Commission. Oh, there’s a whole ring of them.”
I didn’t mention the Grand Sachem, William “Boss” Tweed, in the same way that you don’t speak of the Devil—in case you turn around and find him breathing over your shoulder.
“Political corruption,” Dupin mused. “It is a scourge.”
And yes, it is. But this was my city we were lambasting, and I don’t care to see my city, good-time girl though she may be, roughly handled by a stranger. So I changed the subject and talked about the bridge instead. And not long after that, we managed to hail a cab.
In deference to Du-Sausage-Cutter’s hind parts I picked out a Duncan Sherman, which had a sprung undercarriage and a horse with something of an imperturbable nature. Truth to tell, we could have made better time walking—but you’ve got to push the boat out when you’ve got a guest to entertain, and besides it was setting in to rain a little. On a rainy day, Fifth Avenue is a lot more fun to ride down than to walk down.
As we rode, I carried on waxing lyrical about the bridge. “Over yonder,” I said, pointing, “to the east of us, those buildings you see are not a part of the fair city of New York. They belong to our neighbor polity, Brooklyn, which like New York is a thriving metropolis, home to close on a half a million people. It’s got just as many warehouses and factories and refineries as we do, and we’d like nothing better than to increase the ties of mutual amity and profit between the two cities. Only trouble is, there’s sixteen hundred feet of water laying between them. It would need a bridge longer than any in the world to cross that gap.”
“That would seem to be an insuperable problem,” said Dupin, who knew what was required of a straight man.
“Well, sir, you’d think so. But Mr. John Augustus Roebling, of Ohio, drew up a plan for a suspension bridge whose spans would be supported by steel wires redoubled inside flexible housings. He died before he could start in to build the thing, but his son, Washington Roebling, took over. Then Washington got sick from the Caisson disease, and deputed his wife, Emily, to see the project to completion. Now the Brooklyn tower’s mostly up and they’re laying the foundations for the New York side. Hell of a thing to see, I’ll tell you. When it’s done, it will bestride the East River like a colossus.”
“Remarkable,” Dupin observed, dryly.
“Yes, sir, it is.”
“And yet, dogged by ill fortune and tragedy.”
I shrugged that off. I was a younger man, then, and more easily impressed by big dreams and big ideas. The misfortunes of the Roebling family didn’t seem like such a big almighty deal to me. “Well, the salient fact is that this will be the biggest suspension bridge in the whole damn world. Biggest one right now is in Kentucky, and Roeblings built that, too. America is a place where anything’s possible, Mr. Dupin.”
The Frenchman nodded solemnly. “Yes,” he agreed. “I believe that is so. That is one reason why I wished to see it.”
I was opening my mouth, about to parrot some more facts and figures about steel wires and three-way overlapping joists, when I realized that I’d lost my audience. Mr. Dupin was staring ahead down the street toward the Centre Street Pier, or rather just before it, which was where they’d erected the scaffolding for the tower on the New York side of the river.
“It seems,” Mr. Dupin said, “that we have chosen a busy day.”
And in truth there was a crowd milling in the street beside the pier, the like of which I hadn’t seen since the draft riots. They didn’t seem to be up to any mischief, but there was a lot of shouting and shoving of the kind that normally signals something unusual has happened, and—undeterred by that past tense—people are jostling to line up in its wake. A few city police were trying to keep some kind of order, along with a crew or two from the new paid fire service which had replaced the volunteer brigades a few years back. They were having a lively time of it.
I paid off the cab and we pushed our way through the crowd, my press badge making little difference to the citizens, but winning me a little headway with the cops and the firemen. Finally we got through the police line and into the building yard. In front of us was the massive, complicated apparatus known as a caisson—the chief aid and comfort of bridge builders everywhere, and (sadly) the scourge and terror of their workers. It only showed six or seven feet above the ground, but it extended a great long way beneath us.
Normally, this building site was such a humming pit of industry that you had to duck and weave as you walked along, leading with your elbows like a forward in the Princeton University Football game. Today, though there were a lot of workers around, nobody was actually working. Most of the men were sitting around looking unhappy or sullen. The rain was coming down steadily now, turning the earth to mud, but it seemed like nobody cared about the cold or the wet. Some had their heads in their hands. The winch that lowered food and coffee to the men down in the caisson was standing idle, and the old Italian man who ran it was slumped against the scaffolding, his arms draped over it, like a prize fighter who’s only just made it to his corner. He looked to have been crying.
I collared a foreman who was bustling past, red-faced and urgent, and compelled him to stop. “See here, brother,” I told him, “we’re from the Harper’s Weekly and we’d like to know what’s going on here.”
The yegg tried to pass us off with some mumble about asking the shift manager, but Dupin spoke up then, and either his gimlet eyes or his weird accent took the wind out of the foreman’s sails. “What is your name?” he demanded.
“O’Reilly,” the man mumbled, truculently.
“Your given name, as well as your family name,” Dupin snapped, for all the world as though he had some kind of right to ask. “Come, come.”
“John. John O’Reilly.”
“C’est ça. Tell us what has happened, John. Be brief and precise, if you please.”
The foreman didn’t seem to know what to make of this strange little guy in the fancy clothes. But on the principle that most people he met were going to turn out to be more important than he was, he coughed it up. “We got twenty men dead. The whole night shift. I went away to sign in the morning crew, and when I got back they was all…” He faltered into silence and pointed down into the caisson, as if the period of his sentence might be found down there.
“Twenty men?” Dupin echoed, and O’Reilly nodded. “Twenty men is a full complement, then? A full workforce?”
“It depends what’s going on,” O’Reilly said. “There’s less men on at night, on account of we just light the lanterns up in one half of the caisson. There’s a fire hazard, see?”
“No,” Dupin said forcefully.
“No, I do not see. Show me.”
“Listen here, I got to…”