(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.)
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.
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."
"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.