Friday, July 06, 2007

"Westinghoused," Part 4

(In the late 1800’s, the battle between two competing electric technologies, AC and DC currents, turned brutal. For Thomas Edison, it was a life and death struggle. This is a fictionalized version of true events in history. Just joining us? Go back to Part 1.)

W. Bourke Cochran

July 23, 1889

Dominick checked the time. He wound his pocket watch, then dropped it back into his vest. "What do you mean he has a visitor?"

"Well, not exactly a visitor."

"I'm going on break in fifteen minutes."


"Forget it. Let his grandma wait."

The other guard slung the keys into Dominick's chest. They slapped off his brass buttons. "It's not his grandma. You better get going."

Dominick hissed a few curses on the stairs down to the cell block.

At the bottom, he waited. The heavy lock clanked, and the door guard rolled the gate open. He yawned as Dominick passed through. The sound of the latch closing echoed off the concrete.

Kemmler was napping. He did that often.

Dominick cleared his throat. "Get up!"

Nothing but a snore.

He slid out his baton and hammered it into the bars. Kemmler jolted.

"Get up!"

Kemmler cracked his crusty eyes. "What is it?"

"Hands out."

He blinked. "What's going on?"

"Just do it!"

He tried to uncurl himself, but couldn't wring out the slouch. He slipped his wrists between the bars.

Dominick cuffed them. "We're going to the prisoner's conference room. Someone is here to see you."


Damned if he knew. No one visited Kemmler. "Step away."

Kemmler obeyed. Dominick used his keys to open the cell.

He waved Kemmler out then gripped him by the right arm. Dominick hovered his free hand near the baton. Kemmler was usually gentle, but you never know.

The door guard took notice only after the pair stopped in front of the gate.

"Prisoner G105 to the prisoner's conference room," Dominick said.

Kemmler closed his eyes as if trying to hold onto a dream he'd been having. The door guard was supposed to repeat the order, but just opened the gate instead.

Dominick walked Kemmler down the cold hallways. Cut light streamed from the barred windows high overhead.

Another door guard passed them into the visitor's block. Dominick led the prisoner into room V4. The block guard locked them in.

A finely dressed man rose and offered his hand. He smiled a distant smile. "Mr. Kemmler, I'm W. Bourke Cochran."

Kemmler frowned.

"I've been retained to represent you."

Dominick knew the name from the papers. One of those expensive, famous lawyers. He'd never seen him in the prison before.

Dominick regarded Kemmler with wider eyes.

"I didn't hire you."

"I know that, Mr. Kemmler."

"I'm not going to pay you. I don't want you. I don't want to fight. Just let them get it over with."

Cochran leaned over the scarred wooden table. "Do you understand they're going to execute you in less than three weeks?"


"You know what they're going to do to you?"

"Don't care."

Cochran's face was grave. "You should care. Did you know the State of New York recently changed its method of execution?"

"Don't care. Dead is dead."

"You are the first man condemned to death this year. That makes you the first to die by the new method."

Kemmler seemed tired of responding.

"It's electricity, Mr. Kemmler. Terrible amounts of electricity. It's not going to be pleasant."

"It don't seem like I'll be much bothered, Mr. Coltrain."

"It's Cochran. And don't be so sure."

Kemmler turned to Dominick. "Can I go now?"

Cochran's voice raised. "It's a horrific process, Mr. Kemmler. Not tested. Not consistent. You could linger, you could be only injured, or you could burn."

Kemmler wasn't standing yet.

"This law would not be passed at all if it weren't for Thomas Edison. You know of Mr. Edison, correct? Famous and rich? He and his operatives engineered this law's passage. He means to discredit George Westinghouse and his company using the spectacle of your death."

Kemmler stared.

"Do you like being another man's freak show, Mr. Kemmler? Do want the entire world laughing at you? "

Kemmler reddened.

"I though not," Cochran said, handing him a document. "You'll see that I've already obtained a stay for your execution."

On to Part 5.
Back to Part 3.


suzanabrams said...

A classic Victorian feel, Jason.
Honestly! :-)

Verilion said...

This is really amazing Jason. I was reading it and thinking: ehm this could be longer, a little more padded out and then BOOM. So much in so few words.

The Quoibler said...

Putting that law degree to good use, eh, Jason? :)

As someone with a strong background in theatre, I respect your ability to create realistic dialogue.

That being said, I still want Kemmler to fry. :)


mermaid said...

For once I am stumped. I think I know where you are going to go with something, and then, BAMM! The irony of a man's pride also being his death. I think I've been shocked with some of that electricity myself.

Anonymous said...

Suzan, very cool! I was worried I wasn't being true to the time period.

Verilion, yes, this could be fuller. I'm sensitive to the blog format, though. Things need to be quicker and shorter for the surfing audience. ;) I'd approach it somewhat differently for print.

Angelique, what a high compliment, thank you! Realistic dialogue is easy to take for granted when you read it, but it's not easy to create. It hurts badly when it's lacking.

Mermaid, I've been thinking about how straight-forward history appears. How linear and easy. The reality is very different, of course. Those bright lines are illusions. I'm trying to insert a little imagined reality and complexity into the text book.

apprentice said...

I like the way you've sketched in the gaps, it feels very authentic.
I think you're right about blog formats to, pace is probably really importaant. I could see this in comic book format.

Anonymous said...

Apprentice, thanks for the feedback! I'm trying to hit just enough points in the story to give it a rounded feel.