Wednesday, July 11, 2007

"Westinghoused," Part 5

(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.)

George Westinghouse

Late July, 1890
Auburn Prison, Auburn, New York

Harold Brown's chair leaned back on two legs. The tips of his shoes were lit by a stream of midday sun. "I wish I could've seen old Georgie Westinghouse's face," he said.

Bradley, Mr. Brown's lab clerk, sipped soda from a bottle. "Not me. I hear he breaks things when he's angry."

Brown took another bite of his lunch and grinned just thinking about it. "Cochran put on a good show, didn't he? But he wasted his time. People don't understand the principles of electricity. Living and dead. They understand that."

"Mr. Edison did good," Bradley said.

"Yes. He certainly did. That man could sell ice cubes to an Eskimo."

Bradley watched Mr. Brown's face and tried to figure out his thoughts. Socializing with him made Bradley nervous. Working was easier. At least then, Mr. Brown told him what to do, and he just did it.

Brown laid his sandwich on his lap. "We'll be ready for show time soon. Of course, I'm sure Mr. Kemmler wouldn't mind if we took our time."

"What if the courts stay the execution again?"

"Impossible. I'll give Westinghouse credit for running it up to the Supreme Court, but now, it's over. Only the Governor can save him, and he's set to sign his Death Warrant."

Bradley crumpled his little brown bag.

"Hello boys."

He turned. The long sweep of Charlotte's dress was lit in the same sunlight. She was the Warden's typist.

Mr. Brown brightened. "Hello. I suppose you've been sent by prison administration to check up on our progress?"

She shook her head. "The Warden is away, and the Deputy Warden has fallen asleep at his desk."

"Sounds like a dreadfully relaxed day," Mr. Brown said.

"It's lonely," she said.

The two airborne legs of Mr. Brown's chair returned to the ground. "Well, then you've certainly come to the right place."

Her shoes clipped into the room. "So how is it going?"

Mr. Brown looked over the heavy framed execution chair. "We're nearly finished with testing small currents. Everything seems good. We won't be able to test operational currents yet, however."

"Oh? Why?"

"Well," Mr. Brown said, "the main problem is that ole Georgie Westinghouse would not let us have one of his alternating current generators. Every sales agent in the country was warned about us. If someone sells us one, they will be excommunicated from the Westinghouse Company. Also, promptly sued, I imagine."

"What are you going to do? You have to be ready by next week."

"Ah, but Bradley here outsmarted him again, didn't you?" Mr. Brown said.

Charlotte's gaze pounced. He looked down at his hands and nodded.

"Tell her how you did it," Mr. Brown said. "Go on."

Charlotte leaned against the execution chair. She was waiting.

"W, we set up a straw man in Brazil."

"An intermediary buyer," Mr. Brown said.

"Right," Bradley said, "exactly. We used him to buy a used Westinghouse generator."

"They don't watch those so well."

"Right. Anyway. Right away, we put it on a ship back to New York City. It'll be there by tomorrow afternoon."

"Ingenious," Charlotte said. She looked over the craftsmanship of the metal banding. The ominous wires and connections. "So, it's safe now, right?"

"Yes, perfectly safe," Mr. Brown said. "It's a toothless lion without the generator."

She grinned a sly grin and curved her back down into the chair. Bradley blinked wide eyes.

"Strap me in," she said.

Bradley froze, but Mr. Brown was already moving to oblige her.

He stood over her and read her expression. Something in his eyes connected with Charlotte's.

She was serious.

He folded the loose leather straps into the buckle. Latch holes pressed circles into her flushed skin.

"Too tight?" Mr. Brown said.

She shook her head. "Tighter."

He bore down, and she struggled a little to test the hold.

Mr. Brown moved to the left wrist, then knelt down at the ankle restraints. Some of Charlotte's hair had fallen in front of her face. Her chest rose and fell in a deep, quick rhythm.

She looked up. Above her head, the cranial electrode array dangled. "Put the helmet thing on me too," she said. "I want to feel everything. I want to feel what it'll be like."

Bradley looked to the open doorway. What if someone came in?

Mr. Brown lowered the device. "There will be sponges," he said, "soaked with saline solution." He fastened the chin strap. "There will be a hood too, but we don't have it yet."

Her hair was matted by the electrode cap. Her blue eyes fixed straight ahead.

Bradley watched her.

She closed her eyes.

Then, something changed.

"Get me out," she said.

On to Part 6.
Back to Part 4.


The Quoibler said...


I love the mix of sensuality and death. Very erotic in a kind of "snuff film" way. : )

Only one question, though:

In the 1890s, were women secretaries in most workplaces? I thought that was a post-Victorian era phenomenon. (I could be totally wrong on this one.)

Looking forward to the next installment...


Anonymous said...

Angelique, my wife and I discussed that very question! To be honest, I didn't research it. However, turns out, I'm in luck. According to Wikipedia, after the introduction of the typewriter in the 1880's, women began working as secretaries. Apparently, the typewriter was targeted to women: "When Remington first started marketing typewriters, the company assumed the machine would not be used for composing but for amanuensis purposes, and that the person typing would be a woman. Flowers were printed on the casing of early models in order to make the machine seem more comfortable for women to use. In the United States, women started working in the professional workforce very often as typists, and according to the 1910 U.S. Census, 81 percent of typists were female." From "Typewriter," Wikipedia.

I wonder if there's a comprehensive reference source for every day life in the U.S. through the years. This sort of question drives me crazy.

Anonymous said...

BTW, I changed "secretary" to "typist" to be more authentic.

The Quoibler said...


That's very cool to know. I was totally unfamiliar with the word "amanuensis", though, and had to look it up.

For any other curious readers of your awesome blog (which I visit every day), the definition is:

"certain persons performing a function by hand, either writing down the words of another or performing manual labour." (from Wiki)

Thanks for the education!


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Angelique! You prompted the education. Thanks for keeping us all honest. :) (And while I'm at it, thank you for the link. I've adding you to mine too. I enjoy stopping by.)

The Quoibler said...


Thanks for the add! I love heading "Heat Lightning". I think I'll get a tattoo on my arm with those words. (just kidding)


The Quoibler said...

Ooops... that should say "the heading". It's 10:00 a.m. and I'm already fried.

Jay said...

Your 'fictionalized version' is really quite compelling. You mix strands of history in with such ease - what a pleasure to read.

Anonymous said...

Angelique, I tried to think of my favorite things about the night to make my headings. Heat lightening was always a very mysterious thing for me. The distant flashes with no clouds or sound. Of course, now I know it's just very distant thunderstorms.

Jay, thank you for the kind words. I'm thinking very seriously of trying to pitch a collection of these types of pieces as an anthology. I like the challenge of trying to mix the teaching of history and science with the teaching of humanity.

anne frasier said...

great stuff, jason.

mysfit said...

masterful... please sir, can i have some more?

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Anne. :)

Mysfit, much appreciated. It's always great to see you stop by.

mermaid said...

I am sure plenty of readers are amazed by your craft in writing. What amazes me is your depth of perception, one human wearing the skin of another, suffocating in it because the suit is too tight, too close to home.

angel said...

i have no words jason...