Read The Alienist Online

Authors: Caleb Carr

Tags: #General, #New York (N.Y.), #Literary, #Historical Fiction, #Serial murders, #Mystery & Detective, #Fiction, #Psychological, #Mystery Fiction, #Historical, #Suspense, #Crime

The Alienist (34 page)

BOOK: The Alienist
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“I have no idea what you’re talking about, Höpner,” Kreizler answered coolly. “Please move.”

“No idea, eh?” Höpner began to slap the piece of wood against one palm. “I must doubt that. Do you know the good doctor,
meine Freunden
?” he said to the crowd. “He is the famous alienist who destroys families—who steals children from their homes!” Professions of shock sprang from all sides. “I demand to know what part you have in this matter, Herr Doctor! Did you snatch the Lohmann boy from his parents, just as you snatched my daughter from me?”

“I’ve told you once,” Laszlo said, his teeth starting to grind. “I know nothing about any Lohmann boy. And as for your daughter, Herr Höpner, she
asked
to be removed from your home, because you could not refrain from beating her with a stick—a stick not unlike the one you now hold.”

The crowd drew breath as one, and Höpner’s eyes went wide. “What a man does in his own home with his own family is his own business!” he protested.

“Your daughter felt differently about that,” Kreizler said. “Now, for the last time—
raus mit dir!

It was a command to move, such as one might give to a servant or some other underling. Höpner looked like he’d been spat on. Raising the ax handle he made a move toward Kreizler, but suddenly stopped when one hell of a commotion rose from somewhere behind Kreizler and me. Turning to look over the crowd, I could see a horse’s head and the roof of a carriage plowing our way. And along with them I spied a face that I knew: Eat-’Em-Up Jack McManus. He was hanging on to the side of the vehicle, swinging the gargantuan right arm that had made him a formidable force in the prize ring for nearly a decade before he’d quit the fight game to work as a bouncer—for Paul Kelly.

Kelly’s elegant black brougham, brass lanterns shining on either side, made its way to where we were standing. The small, sinewy man in the driver’s seat cracked his whip in general warning, and the crowd, knowing who was inside the carriage, moved aside and said nothing. Jack McManus jumped down once the wheels had stopped rolling, then looked at the crowd threateningly and straightened his miner’s cap. Finally he opened the door of the brougham.

“I suggest you get in, gentlemen!” said an amused voice from within the carriage. Kelly’s handsome face soon appeared at the door. “You know how mobs can be.”

CHAPTER 28

H
a! Will you look at them!” Kelly was full of glee as he stared back at the crowd during our bumpy flight out of the Bellevue grounds. “The pigs have actually gotten off their knees for once! This ought to make for a few sleepless nights on Mansion Mile, eh, Moore?” I was sitting next to Kreizler across from Kelly in the front half of the brougham. As the gangster turned back around to face us, he pounded his gold-headed stick on the floor and laughed again. “It won’t last, of course—they’ll be back to packing their kids into sweatshops for a dollar a week before the Lohmann boy’s even been boxed. It’ll take more than just another dead boy-whore to keep them going. But for now, it does make a glorious picture!” Kelly extended his heavily ringed right hand to Kreizler. “How do you do, Doctor? It’s a genuine privilege.”

Laszlo took the hand very tentatively. “Mr. Kelly. At least
someone
finds this situation amusing.”

“Oh, I do, Doctor, I do—that’s why I arranged it!” Neither Kreizler nor I said anything in acknowledgment. “Well, come on, gentlemen, you don’t think people like that would stand up for themselves without some urging, do you? A little money in the right places doesn’t hurt, either. And I must say, I never expected to run into the eminent Dr. Kreizler in such a situation!” His surprise was transparently false. “Can I drop you gentlemen somewhere?”

I turned to Kreizler. “Saves us the cab fare,” I said, to which Laszlo nodded. Then I spoke to Kelly: “The Museum of Natural History. Seventy-seventh and—”

“I know where it is, Moore.” Kelly slammed his stick on the roof of the brougham and spoke with harsh authority: “Jack! Tell Harry to take us to Seventy-seventh and Central Park West. In a hurry!” The sinister charm then returned: “I’m a little surprised to see you here, too, Moore. I thought that after your run-in with Biff you’d lose interest in these murders.”

“It’ll take more than Ellison to make me lose interest,” I declared, hoping to sound more defiant than I felt.

“Oh, I can give you more,” Kelly volleyed, jerking his head in Jack McManus’s direction. The twinge of apprehension I felt in my gut must have shown in my face, because Kelly laughed out loud. “Relax. I said you wouldn’t get hurt as long as you kept my name out of it, and you’ve played straight. I wish your friend Steffens had your sense. Come to think of it, Moore, you haven’t been writing much of
any-
thing lately, have you?” Kelly grinned slyly.

“I’m collecting all the facts before I publish,” I said.

“Of course you are. And your friend the doctor’s just out stretching his legs, is that it?”

Laszlo shifted in his seat uneasily, but spoke calmly. “Mr. Kelly, as long as you’ve offered us this remarkably timely ride, I wonder if I might ask you a question.”

“Of course, Doctor. It may be hard for you to believe, but I’ve got a lot of respect for you—why, I even read a monograph you wrote once.” Kelly laughed. “
Most
of it, at any rate.”

“I’m gratified,” Kreizler answered. “But tell me—knowing as little as I do about the murders you speak of, I am, nevertheless, curious as to what possible reason you can have for inflaming, and perhaps endangering, people who have nothing to do with the matter?”


Am
I endangering them, Doctor?”

“Surely you realize that such behavior as yours can only lead to wider civil unrest and violence. A great many innocent people are likely to be hurt, and still more jailed.”

“That’s right, Kelly,” I added. “In a town like this what you’re starting could get out of hand pretty damned quickly.”

Kelly thought about that for a few moments, without ever losing his smile. “Let me ask
you
something, Moore—horse races go off every day, but the average guy only takes an interest in the ones he’s betting on. Why’s that?”

“Why?” I said, a bit confused. “Well, because if you’ve got no stake in it…”

“There you are, then,” Kelly interjected, chuckling thoughtfully. “You two gentlemen sit here talking about this city and civil unrest and all of that—but what stake do
I
have in it? What do I care if New York burns to the ground? Whoever’s still standing when it’s over is going to want a drink and someone to spend a lonely hour with—and I’ll be here to supply those items.”

“In that case,” Kreizler said, “why concern yourself with the matter at all?”

“Because it
riles
me.” For the first time, Kelly’s face went straight. “That’s right, Doctor—it riles me. Those pigs back there get fed all that slop about society by the boys on Fifth Avenue just as soon as they’re off the boat, and what do they do? They knock themselves out trying to eat every bit of it. It’s a sucker bet, a crooked game, whatever you want to call it, and there’s a part of me that just wouldn’t mind seeing it go the other way for a little while.” His amiable grin suddenly returned. “Or maybe there are deeper reasons for my attitude, Doctor. Maybe you could find something in the—the
context
of my life that would explain it, if you had access to that kind of information.” The remark surprised me considerably, and I could see that Kreizler, too, hadn’t expected it. There was something very intimidating about Kelly’s rough-hewn intellectual agility: a sense that here was a man who could pose a serious threat on any number of levels. “But whatever the reasons,” our host went on brightly, glancing out of the carriage, “I’m enjoying this entire affair
immensely
.”

“Enough,” Kreizler pressed, “to complicate a solution?”

“Doctor!” Kelly feigned shock. “I’ve got half a mind to be insulted.” The gangster flipped open a lid on the head of his cane, revealing a small compartment full of a fine crystalline powder. “Gentlemen?” he said, offering it our way. Laszlo and I both declined. “Gets the system moving at this ungodly hour of the day.” Kelly placed some of the cocaine on his wrist and snorted it hard. “I don’t like to give the appearance of some cheap burny blower, but I’m not much for the morning. Anyway, Doctor”—he wiped at his nose with a fine silk handkerchief and closed the lid of the cane—“I wasn’t aware that there’d
been
any serious attempt to solve this case.” He stared straight at Kreizler. “Do you know something I don’t know?”

Neither Kreizler nor I answered the question, which prompted Kelly to go on, sarcastically but at length, about the appalling lack of any serious official effort to solve the murders. Finally, the brougham lurched to a fortuitous halt on the west side of Central Park. Laszlo and I stepped out onto the intersection of Seventy-seventh Street, hoping that Kelly would now let the matter drop; but as we got to the curb the gangster poked his head out behind us.

“Well, it’s been my honor, Dr. Kreizler,” he called. “You, too, scribbler. One final question, though—you don’t imagine that the big boys are actually going to let you
finish
this little investigation of yours, do you?”

I was taken too off guard to reply; but Kreizler had evidently adjusted to the situation and replied, “I can only answer that question with another, Kelly—do
you
intend to let us finish?”

Kelly cocked his head and looked at the morning sky. “To tell you the truth, I hadn’t thought about that. I didn’t think I’d have to. These murders really have been very useful to me, as I say. If you were actually to jeopardize that usefulness—ah, but what am I saying? With what you’re up against, you’ll be lucky to stay out of jail yourselves.” He held his stick up. “Good morning, gentlemen. Harry! Back to the New Brighton!”

We watched the brougham pull away, Eat-’Em-Up Jack McManus still hanging off of it like some kind of overgrown, malevolent monkey, and then turned to head into the Early Renaissance walls and turrets of the Museum of Natural History.

Though not yet three decades old, the museum already housed a first-rate collection of experts and an enormous, bizarre assortment of bones, rocks, stuffed animals, and pinned insects. But of all the prestigious departments that called the castle-like structure home, none was more renowned, or more iconoclastic, than that of anthropology; and I later learned that the man we were on our way to see that day, Franz Boas, was primarily responsible for this.

He was about Kreizler’s age, and had been born in Germany, where he’d originally been trained as an experimental psychologist before moving on to ethnology. Thus there were obvious circumstantial reasons why Boas and Kreizler should have become acquainted upon the former’s immigration to the United States; but none of these was as important to their friendship as was a pronounced similarity of professional ideas. Kreizler had staked his reputation on his theory of context, the idea that no adult’s personality can be truly understood without first comprehending the facts of his individual experience. Boas’s anthropological work represented, in many ways, the application of this theory on a larger scale: to entire cultures. While doing groundbreaking research with the Indian tribes of the American Northwest, Boas had reached the conclusion that history is the principal force that shapes cultures, rather than race or geographical environment, as had been previously assumed. Different ethnic groups behave as they behave, in other words, not because biology or climate forces them to (there were too many examples of groups that contradicted this theory to allow Boas to accept it) but rather because they’ve been
taught
to. All cultures are equally valid, when seen in this light; and to his many critics who said that certain cultures had obviously made more progress than others, and could thus be considered superior, Boas replied that “progress” was an entirely relative concept.

Boas had thoroughly energized Natural History’s Department of Anthropology with his new ideas since his appointment in 1895; and when you strolled through the department’s exhibition rooms, as we did that morning, a sense of intellectual vitality and excitement raced through you. Of course, this reaction might have been prompted as much by the sight of the ferocious faces carved into the dozen enormous totem poles that lined the walls; or the large canoe full of plaster Indians—cast from life—who paddled wildly through some imaginary body of water in the center of the main hall; or the case after case of weapons, ritual masks, costumes, and other artifacts that occupied the remaining floor space. Whatever the cause, upon entering those rooms one felt very much like one had stepped out of fashionable Manhattan and into some corner of the globe that those of us who knew no better would immediately have labeled savage.

Kreizler and I found Boas in a cluttered office in one of the museum’s turrets overlooking Seventy-seventh Street. He was a small man, with a large, roundish nose, an ample mustache, and thinning hair. In his brown eyes was that same fire of the crusader that marked Kreizler’s gaze; and the two men shook hands with a warmth and vigor that is only shared by truly kindred spirits. Boas was in a somewhat harassed state: he was preparing a massive expedition to the Pacific Northwest, to be paid for by the financier Morris K. Jesup. Kreizler and I therefore had to state our case quickly. I was somewhat shocked by the complete candor with which Kreizler revealed our work; and the story gave Boas a shock of his own, to judge by the way he stood up, looked sternly at the two of us, and then firmly closed the door to his office.

“Kreizler,” he said, in an accented voice that was as definitive as Laszlo’s, if slightly gentler, “do you have any idea of what you’re exposing yourself to? Should this become known, and should you fail—the risk is atrocious!” Boas threw his arms up and went for a small cigar.

“Yes, yes, I know, Franz,” Kreizler answered, “but what would you have me do? These are children, after all, however outcast and unfortunate, and the killings will go on. Besides—there are enormous possibilities, should we
not
fail.”

“I can understand a
journalist
getting involved,” Boas railed on, nodding at me as he lit his cigar. “But your work, Kreizler, is important. You are already distrusted by the public as well as by many of your colleagues—should this go badly you will be utterly ridiculed and dismissed by them!”

“As always you are not listening to me,” Kreizler answered indulgently. “You might assume that I’ve been over such considerations many times in my own mind. And the fact of the matter is that Mr. Moore and I are pressed for time, as are you. Therefore, I must ask bluntly—can you help us or not?”

Boas puffed away and scrutinized us both carefully, shaking his head. “You want information on the Plains tribes?” Laszlo nodded. “All right. But one thing is
strengt verboten
—” Boas pointed a finger at Kreizler. “I will not have you saying that the tribal customs of such people are responsible for the behavior of a murderer in this city.”

Laszlo sighed. “Franz, please—”

“Oh, about you I have little doubt. But I know nothing of these people you are working with.” Boas eyed me again, more than a little suspiciously. “We already have enough trouble changing the public view of the Indians. So you must pledge that to me, Laszlo.”

“I pledge it for my colleagues as well as for myself.”

Boas grunted once disdainfully. “Colleagues. I’m certain.” He began shuffling papers on his desk in annoyance. “My own knowledge of the tribes in question is insufficient. But I have just hired a young man who will be able to help you.” Rising and crossing to the door quickly, Boas pulled it open and shouted at a secretary: “Miss Jenkins! Where is Dr. Wissler, please?”

“Downstairs, Dr. Boas,” came a reply. “They’re installing the Blackfoot exhibit.”

“Ah.” Boas returned to his desk. “Good. That exhibit’s already late getting in place. You’ll have to talk to him down there. Don’t be deceived by his youth, Kreizler. He’s come a long way in just a few years, and seen a great deal.” Boas’s tone softened as he came around to Laszlo and extended his hand again. “Much like some other distinguished experts I’ve known.”

The two men smiled at each other briefly, but Boas’s face went straight with suspicion once more as he shook my hand and then showed us out of his office.

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