We gave Penny her back pay with a bonus for her patience and understanding from the cash retainer and deposited the rest into the business account before I went home for some much-needed rest. The events of the day were almost too much to process and my thoughts were in a jumble. I knew a nice long sleep would sort the facts out and I would be in a better state of mind to assess our latest case. But I found when I got home all the fatigue was gone. I hadn’t been unconscious that long when I passed out from the seizure so there was no possible way I could have gotten sufficient rest to feel this refreshed. Perhaps Madi was right. Perhaps the men calling themselves Duffy and Thompson had done something to me with their verisimilituder that made me accept the assignment without hesitation, that made weariness drain away and made me feel as if my true calling was to investigate the mystery of the subway shroud until I uncovered the truth.
I waited for as long as I could but tomorrow wasn’t coming fast enough so I found myself pounding on Madi’s apartment door just after midnight. She answered the door immediately, angrily, Louisville Slugger in hand hovering over her right shoulder ready to mete out justice on the delinquent who foolishly sought to take her unawares.
“Darius? Have you lost your mind?”
“Do you know what time it is?”
“Too late for a social call but not after your bedtime,” I said, making mention that she wasn’t dressed for bed, which meant she like I couldn’t sleep because she was most likely working the case.
“Banging on my door like that…I have neighbors!” Madi’s body language eased a bit and the hand with the bat dropped to her side.
“All right, I’ll admit that’s in bad form. May I come in?” I asked as I pushed my way past her.
“Wait a minute! What if this isn’t a good time? What if I’m entertaining a guest?”
“If there was someone in your life besides Penny and me, I know about it, trust me.” which was the wrong thing to say, said in the worst possible way and Madi spent the next ten minutes illustrating just how insensitive it was, as I prepared tea for the both of us.
After she had calmed down sufficiently to enter into a rational discussion, I sat across from her at the kitchen table and detailed the contents of the folder that had been flash-loaded into my mind. For the most part, it was the history of the New York City subway system.
“By 1869 street traffic had become such a nightmare especially along Broadway, the most crowded and congested thoroughfare in New York City, that an inventor and wealthy businessman, Alfred Ely Beach, had the radical idea of creating an underground system of circular, brick-lined tubes, inspired by the underground Metropolitan Railway in London, but instead of using conventional steam engines, he would place high-powered fans at the end of the vehicle which theoretically would create air pressure to push a streetcar back and forth along the line in the same manner that the pneumatic tubes of the time were used to transport mail. The plan received the go-ahead from William Magear “Boss” Tweed, the then Grand Sachem of Tammany Hall but only for the transport of mail, not people, and for two years Beach’s crew attempted to build the transportation system that promised to be gas, soot and steam-free in secret but the materials being delivered to Warren St near Broadway made the construction of the tunnel obvious to anyone who paid attention. And someone had been watching and taking note for the New York Tribune published an article a few weeks before the scheduled opening. Shortly after, the Beach Pneumatic Transit project was scrapped by Boss Tweed in favor of the construction of the elevated subway line in place today.
“The mayor at the time, George McClellan, who not only oversaw the openings of the New York Public Library, Chelsea Piers, and Grand Central Terminal but also licensed the very first taxicab and christened the city’s first subway service. It was a ceremony in which McClellan was only meant to start up the engine of the debut subway train but he was so fascinated by the whole experience that he wound up piloting the new train to 103rd Street before handing over the controls to George L. Morrison, the motor instructor of the company. That was the official story, the story that was printed in the papers and had become history.
“In actuality, when Boss Tweed introduced the bill for Beach’s subway, it didn’t pass, some blaming it on his Tammany Hall political machine which had fallen into disgrace. In an effort to gain reformer support, Beach stated that Tweed opposed his subway system, but if truth be told it was Alexander Turney Stewart and John Jacob Astor III, leading a collective of property owners along Broadway, who were afraid the underground tunneling would damage their storefronts and interfere with surface traffic. In an effort to dispel their fears, Beach operated his demonstration railway, which had one station in the basement of Devlin’s clothing store, a building at the southwest corner of Broadway and Warren St, and ran for a total of about 300 feet, first around a curve to the center of Broadway and then straight under the center of Broadway to the south side of Murray St.
“In 1871-72, the Beach Pneumatic Transit bills passed the legislature but were vetoed by Governor John T. Hoffman on the grounds that they gave away too much authority without compensation to the city or state. Governor John Adams Dix signed a similar bill into law in 1873 but Beach wasn’t able to raise construction funds and then the Great Depression later that year dried up the financial markets.
“While all this was happening, other investors had built an elevated railway in Greenwich St and Ninth Ave, which operated successfully with a small steam engine. Since this railway was well away from Broadway, the wealthy property owners had no objections to its construction.”
“I hate to interrupt you,” Madi said, setting her tea mug on a coaster. “But is this leading somewhere?”
“It is,” I nodded. “But I can’t control how a relay the information to you. I’m telling it the way it was implanted in my brain.”
“Still not happy about that.”
“Really? Try being the recipient,” I said a little sharper than was required. Madi’s expression softened, most likely at the realization that I was helpless in this matter and there wasn’t a thing she could have done to change that fact.
“Mea maxima culpa, which, by the way, should have been your response when I wigged out over your barging into my home in the middle of the night,” she sighed. “But that’s in the past now, so please, continue.”
“I will, but not here,” I said, thumbing toward her bedroom. “Go change into something you wouldn’t mind getting dirty and grab a flashlight. It’s best we get there before the sun comes up.”
“What? Wait…where are we going?”
“The Beach Pneumatic Transit station, of course.”
I never learned to drive, never saw the necessity in it. Manhattan-born and bred, I had lived in each of New York City’s five boroughs and could easily have hailed a cab, hopped a bus or train or walked to any destination. Despite the lousy reputation the MTA had for delays and passenger safety, I’d proudly hold it up against any other mass transit system in the world. The only times I wished I knew how to drive was when I needed a car to make a spur of the moment trip. It would have saved me considerable time trying to convince Madi to drive me to locations she considered inconvenient. The only acceptable places being the bank, the supermarket and the launderette which were all conveniently located between our office and her apartment. These exchanges usually involved my questioning her logic: “What’s the point of having a car if it doesn’t offer you the freedom and ability to travel anywhere you need to go, especially inconvenient places?”
She eventually relented as she always had when it involved an assignment, and we drove to lower Manhattan and parked on Broadway opposite the bus lane between Duane and Reade streets.“Pop the trunk and don’t forget your flashlight,” I said, opening the passenger side door and moving to the back of the car before she could ask me why. With a soft click the trunk of the teal Volvo S40 opened and from it, I retrieved a tire iron. What followed was the tricky bit.
I closed the trunk and walked toward Reade Street never once looking back to see if Madi had gotten out of the car or decided to follow me. Thankfully both foot and vehicle traffic down Reade Street was practically non-existent this night so there were no obstructions in the crosswalk. I was looking for a manhole cover and at this street crossing alone I found eight. I discounted the ones marked N.Y.C. SEWER, and WATER, which left two choices remaining. The larger of the two was bronzish in color and bore no writing. When I eyed the smaller, I knew I had found the right one. I slid one end of Madi’s tire iron into one the cast iron manhole cover’s pick holes and pried it up with considerable difficulty. I was surprised a lid so small would have been so heavy but I was able to lift the lid just enough so a portion of the cover rested over the lip of the hole. Then I readjusted the angle of the tire iron in the pick hole dragged the cover clear of the manhole.
I stood over the open manhole still not casting a glance over my shoulder to see if Madi was standing behind me. Even though I had convinced her to drive me here and even though it was for a case that could possibly bring a handsome bit of revenue into the business, had I told her we needed to root around the tunnels beneath the city in search of answers, she would have shot the idea down cold. I, therefore, needed to lure her into the mystery. Knowing her as I did, I knew she hated not knowing things other people, especially me, knew. She hated secrets and surprises to the point she demanded to know spoilers for the books she was reading or movies she planned on watching. She was a person who simply had to know and I was counting on her own brand of curiosity to compel her to join me. I didn’t want to do this alone. I didn’t want to do this without her. I am better and more at my game when she is around.
“You expect me to go down into the sewers?” her voice came from behind me and I stifled a smile. Did I know my Madi or didn’t I?
“Not at all. Those lead to sewer pipes, those to the water main and that, that one doesn’t say CON EDISON but I think it’s electrical,” I said pointing at each of the manhole covers.
“And the one you’re standing over?”
I pointed at the manhole cover bearing the initials NYPTS and I tapped each letter with the tire iron, saying, “New York Pneumatic Transit System.”
I pointed at the manhole cover bearing the initials NYPTS and I tapped each letter with the tire iron, saying, “New York Pneumatic Transit System.” After a moment I asked, “So, are you in?” and it truly wasn’t until that moment that I fully realized what I was asking.
This hole, the one I was inviting her to climb into was smaller than the others, a tighter fit. In my anxiousness to jump hip-deep into this mystery, I had forgotten that Madi suffered from claustrophobia. In my defense, though I wasn’t making excuses for my thoughtlessness, she never admitted to the affliction but from years of working side by side with this incredibly brave and tough as nails woman, I knew the phobia generally presented as a fear of restrictive movements but sometimes also reared its ugly head as a fear of unfamiliar small places. Her hesitation allowed me a moment’s self-recrimination. How selfish was I being? Was I truly afraid to take on the endeavor without her? I was about to suggest she go back to the car and act as lookout while I searched for answers when she cleared her throat.
“I’m here, aren’t I?” Madi shook the flashlight in her hand. “And you know where we’re going?”
“I can see it plain as day,” I nodded and tapped my temple, then I gestured to the manhole. “Ladies first.”
“Excuse me?” she couldn’t keep the panic out of her voice. “Why am I taking point? You’re the one with the map in his head.”
“I need to replace the cover behind us. We don’t want anyone knowing we’re down here or accidentally falling through the hole, do we?”
Madi shook her head and shot me a look so filthy that had it been put into words would have embarrassed that foul-mouthed celebrity chef with the Estuary English accent, as she descended into the manhole.
To be continued…
Week 7 of my personal 2018 writing challenge to turn my daily tweeting habit into something productive… and I find myself trying to flesh out and define the relationship between Darius and Madi.
As a recap:
This story, an experiment to write a stream of consciousness book with no outlineor plot in mind, just a year’s worth of whatever-pops-into-my-fragile-little-mind tweets without edits or the fancy flourishes that will come in the rewrite, has, as of this week, become a chore.
Although I have introduced a few characters, I still have absolutely no idea what their importance in the greater scheme of things are, or how many others there will be, what the story will ultimately be about or how it will end. Initially that terrified and thrilled me simultaneously, now, though it seems like a hinderence.
Still, I will persevere in my endeavor to either create something (hopefully coherent and good) from thin air or fall flat on my writerly face.
Don’t forget, if you can spare a moment, I invite you to either cheer me on or tell me what a colossal mistake I’m making. I’m good either way.
©2018 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys