Authors: Cassandra Leuthold
Copyright © 2014 Cassandra Leuthold
All rights reserved.
Published by Green Hill Press
South Bend, IN
This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, and events are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Cover design by Deranged Doctor Design
for the Cianis, Zurawskis, Howlands, Schwalms, and all of those who have the courage
to cross great distances to forge a new life in a new country
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The journal rose to become my lifeline, the only thing I live for. I guard it as my greatest secret, and it haunts me during the day like nothing else. When sweat drips into my eyes, when my hands smear grease across the legs of my trousers, I envision its pristine pages before me. As I close my eyes against the repetition of the machines and the men I work with, I imagine turning the pages, glancing at what I’ve written to arrive at the first white sheet. I wish they were there so I could fill them, even if oil and moisture bled the pencil’s smooth lead across their surfaces.
If I could, I would carry it with me everywhere – to work at the factory, on my strolls through the memorial park, on my visits to Saints Peter and Paul Church. As it is, I leave it buried in the bottom of the drawer beside my bed, beneath newspaper articles and whatever scraps of paper I can find.
No matter what happens during the day, I focus solely on finishing the journal. When my boss drops my wages into my hand, I rush to buy new pencils. When the weather warms, I want to take it outside and make notes in the shade of the mighty oaks. When I feel abandoned and alone, I long to hold it. When the sunlight finds a clean spot on the grimy factory windows and pierces my eyes, I wish I could picture the way it streams through the boarding house glass and falls across the bed where I scribble in the lamplight every night.
Whatever greets me when I arrive home from the factory, I draw out the journal. While a fight rages in the street or someone whistles in the hall or I’m stuffing a roll from my supper into my mouth, I fish a pencil out of the drawer and set its tip to the page. I don’t let myself hesitate, and I don’t need to. Whatever ideas grew in my head throughout the day fly across the paper. This stolen hour at night is never wasted sitting and thinking. I write without stopping, sheet after sheet until I worry I will run out of paper before my ideas are done.
If I didn’t need sleep, I would write through the night, but I make myself stop. I jot down my final thoughts in a flurry and fold the book closed. I fling the pencil in the drawer, nestling the journal in the bottom and concealing it again. In the turmoil of sleep, I dream about it, finishing it, marking that last blank page with lines of lead. The grey strokes intertwine and thicken and twist into a mass until there is nothing recognizable as paper left.
My heavy boots stomp up the wooden stairs of the boarding house. The journal looms closer with every clomp and creak. I follow the hall to my door and turn the knob. I can feel the pages in my fingers, thick and dry, before I have even touched the book. I ease the door closed behind me. I forget my boots on my screaming feet as I drop to sit on the edge of the bed and reach for the hanging drawer pull. I dig out a pencil and shift the loose pages aside.
No matter what I do or how long I look, there’s no mistaking it. I cannot find it. Even when I tear the drawer out of the bedstand and shake its contents all over the floor, growling through gritted teeth, no sign of it announces itself. The journal is gone.
Katya jumped as the office door slammed open. She stood under the great Warden wheel, helping Heinz make sure all the guests had climbed off and no children were hiding in its many compartments. Katya gave her full attention to William Warden as he stormed out of his office, a small building tucked behind the eastern food stall. He raised his fist, holding up what Katya barely recognized in the hazy lamplight as a twisted piece of paper.
Mr. Warden’s dark eyes blazed. He glanced from face to face, from Heinz to the man several yards behind Katya closing up his game stall to the cooks in the food stall cleaning up after another busy night. His voice rang out confident but strained. “I won’t be threatened.” The words echoed off the metal engines and supports of the nearby rides, and the cooks turned their heads. “I’m not afraid of you, whoever you are.” Mr. Warden paused, turning the page in the air. He explained, almost casually, “Another death threat.”
Katya stepped back, bumping into Heinz and ignoring the exasperation he huffed out under his breath. She had no wish to stand any closer to Mr. Warden than she had to, as if expecting the threat to be carried out immediately now that he had stepped out into the open. She looked to the food stall to see if Magdalene was watching. Even her industrious friend had stopped moving to stare at Mr. Warden along with the other two cooks. Not a single one of the workers spoke.
Mr. Warden tightened his grip on the tortured page. “I won’t tolerate this. There will be more security by the end of the week, I assure you.” He crumpled the paper until it disappeared inside his fist. He strode back into the office and slammed the door behind him.
Katya was too shocked to know what she thought beyond an automatic fear for her own safety. Workers throughout the carnival buzzed with assumptions and judgments. She heard every sentiment from a worried “Who would do that?” to a hard-edged, mumbling “It’s about time.”
Heinz muttered to himself, “Does he think it’s somebody who works at the carnival?”
Katya glanced at the food stall again. If someone were planning to murder Mr. Warden, she didn’t like Magdalene working twenty feet from his office.
Heinz’s thick elbow nudged her arm, firm but not impatient. “We’re finished here. Go see if anybody else needs help.”
Katya walked away, rebuffing his order and heading straight for the food stall, making sure the door to the office remained closed. She did not usually worry about Mr. Warden’s reaction when she disregarded Heinz’s directions, but under the circumstances, she felt she should. It was not every day Mr. Warden lost his head in front of his employees. Katya needed to reassure herself about Magdalene’s safety if not find a good answer to Heinz’s query before concern ate a hole through her stomach.
The cooks had returned to work, cleaning counters and smuggling unsold food into sacks to carry home. Magdalene worked her way closer to Katya, scrubbing the surfaces around her with a darkened rag.
Katya leaned toward the high counter, running any possible suspects through her head. “You don’t think it’s the carriage driver, do you?”
Magdalene kept her voice even lower than Katya’s. “It doesn’t matter. Whoever it is, they’re only angry at Mr. Warden.”
Katya’s eyes widened in disbelief. “It doesn’t matter? After multiple threats? We’re alone with the driver every night. If he’s that angry, we’ll be lucky if the police find us in one piece in the morning.”
Irina, her dull eyes anchored deep in her pudgy red face, threw Katya a disapproving scowl. She turned her broad back to the young women to scrub blackened bits from the bottom of an iron skillet.
Katya let out a puff of agitation at Irina’s dismissal. “Every paper would report it,” she insisted to Magdalene. “That’s not how I wanted to get in the paper. I haven’t gotten in for getting married yet.”
The third cook, an Englishman with a dark, tidy moustache, shoved a cast iron pot into Magdalene’s hands. She wiped it down while she answered Katya with distracted assurance. “I don’t think it’s the driver.”
Katya pictured several other workers she didn’t know very well. “One of the ticket sellers, maybe. Or the woman who cleans the water closets. We have to ride with her, too.”
The Englishman leaned toward Katya. “We don’t need your help here. Take your gossip somewhere else.”
Katya looked up at him. “You’re not worried about the threats?”
The man ducked down to store the clean pots in the cabinets. “Why should I? We’ve all wanted to take a swing at Mr. Warden on one day or another. I’m sure they’ll go straight for him.”
Irina peered at Katya, her voice slow and hinting. Her accent was thicker than Katya’s with hard vowels and complex, shifting consonants. “Why don’t you offer your help to Mr. Warden? You’ve gotten closer to him than any of us have from what I’ve heard.”
Katya filled her chest with indignant air. She set her hands on her hips, searching every piece of her mind for the best retort she could think of. Only the sharpest and cleverest would do.
Before she could find it, Magdalene waved her away. “Wait for me at the front. I’ll only be a few minutes.”
Katya sulked at the pompous glint in Irina’s eyes and stalked off toward the front of the carnival. She was willing to bet an entire week’s salary Irina had never had anything brash or romantic happen in her whole life. If she was not jealous, she should have been.
Walking alone, Katya felt the toll of the chaos and cacophony of the night creep over her. She dotted old sweat off her forehead with the wrist of her glove. The soles of her feet throbbed from strolling the grounds for hours with little time to rest.
Katya passed the Beast, the towering roller coaster at the carnival’s center, its metal and wooden frame eerily silent and still. The stage for the band in front of it lay empty, all of the music stands folded under their chairs and the instruments gone home with their musicians. Katya knew every inch of the property and at least one thing about everyone who worked there. She stopped at the corner of the stage, playing Mr. Warden’s outburst over in her head. She glanced behind her, where the three cooks rushed to organize their space and Mr. Warden’s office stood behind them, tantalizing her. Katya respected Magdalene’s request, but there was only one person who could ease her apprehension. She would hurry back in time to meet the carriage. Katya retraced her steps with determined strides, keeping her eyes on the small dark building to avoid Irina’s disapproval as she whizzed past the food stall.
Behind the wooden plaque labeled OFFICE, the door remained closed. Katya held her ear against it, her hat shifting to the other side of her head. She grabbed hold of the brim to keep it on. Two muffled voices entered her ear, Mr. Warden and the man glued to his side, Mr. Lieber, head of security. They sounded intense but reasonable. Katya pulled her ear back, straightened her hat, and opened the door.
The first room held two sofas, both of them empty. The two men lurked in the back room through the open door. Mr. Lieber stood on the left, his almost-white blond hair parted on the right and his blue eyes suspicious. Mr. Warden leaned into view from the right where he sat at his desk. Their conversation stopped the moment Katya opened the door.
Mr. Warden eased into a smile, the same twist of his features that made people love and hate him. “It’s not a good time to ask for a raise, Katya,” he teased.
“I didn’t come about that.” Katya closed the door. “I was concerned for you when I heard you’d been threatened.”
Mr. Warden made a cavalier gesture with no hint of his prior irritation. “It’s nothing. We’re forming a plan to make sure it doesn’t amount to anything.”
“But there has been more than one threat?” Katya passed through the first room to linger in the doorway. She focused purposefully on Mr. Warden. She barely knew Mr. Lieber, but his very presence could unnerve her into shivers. Although both men wore expensive, well-fitting suits, the absence of steampunk additions made Katya all the more aware of the gears and clock hand-shaped buttons on her own costume. She handled the guests, and they did not.
Mr. Warden nodded to the nearly full wastepaper basket beside his desk. “Number three.”
“Do you have any idea who might be writing them?”
“Some of us are worried it might be someone close to us, someone who could do us all harm.” Katya ignored the impulse to look for Mr. Lieber’s response. She could imagine him sneering in approval of the workers meeting bad ends.
Mr. Warden gave no reaction except to warm his voice. “I’m sure you’re quite safe. We’ll have new security soon.”
“Do you think that will be enough?”
“Why not? How is anyone going to kill me if he can’t get to me?”
An uncomfortable reflex curved Katya’s lips. “Why would somebody want to kill you?”
“I don’t know.”
Mr. Lieber took a step toward them, his boots thundering on the wooden floor. “Miss Romanova, we have other matters to discuss.”
Katya nodded, wanting to talk to Mr. Warden further but feeling Mr. Lieber’s brush-off as surely as if he had escorted her out. “I’m sure you do. I’m sorry.”
Mr. Warden considered her, his expression hanging between humor and condescension. “If anyone tries to kill you, let me know right away, won’t you?”
Katya flashed a forced grin. “Of course.” If the joke was meant to relax her, she did not find it very reassuring.
Katya turned and let herself out. She had not learned as much as she wanted to, but she did feel slightly comforted. Mr. Warden would not take any chances with the carnival. He would protect his interests – professional and economical. That meant the staff’s safety, too.
Katya rounded the food stall. It sat silent and empty now. Magdalene and the other cooks walked up ahead of her, approaching the ticket booth at the front of the grounds. Katya hung back, keeping her distance until the mustachioed Englishman parted from the women to make his way home on the public, horse-drawn streetcar. Katya resented having to ride with Irina in the private carriage. Mr. Warden spared its expense because the sides of it advertised the carnival to all who saw it. It only served the four women employed there, driven by a man who rarely spoke. Katya did not really believe he hid the kind of anger that led to murder, but he certainly possessed the opportunity since he had so little work to do. He waited in the front of the carriage outside the gate, and Katya climbed up into it after the others. The charwoman already sat inside, her gloved hands folded over her lap. She spoke even less than the driver.
Katya settled in next to her across from Magdalene. Out the window beside her stood the carnival’s impressive iron gates and its plethora of signs advertising its wonders. To one side hung the original signboard naming it
William H. Warden’s Astonishing Public Carnival, Open to All
. Beneath it hung the newer, slightly larger sign proclaiming,
Come See The Famous & Amazing Steampunk Carnival You’ve Read About!
The carriage heaved forward. Katya addressed Magdalene although she knew the others were listening. “I talked to Mr. Warden. He says there’s no immediate danger.”
Magdalene brushed her fair, curled bangs back from her forehead. “Do you believe him?”
“Of course. He might’ve told me more if Mr. Lieber weren’t there.”
“He intends to keep us safe?”
Irina looked over from the view out the window. A streetlight beam radiated off the cogs and metal parts sewn to her hat. “We’re a barricade, my dear. We’re part of the security he’s talking about. If somebody carries a gun through the gate, he’ll pass all of us before he gets to Mr. Warden. Or
. There are plenty of women who’d like to see him dead, I’m sure.”
Katya said nothing. She resolved to wait until Irina and the charwoman had been dropped off at their houses to continue her conversation with Magdalene. When they finally left the two young women alone two stops later, Katya gave a heavy sigh in the dim light of the carriage. “How does everyone know what happened between me and Mr. Warden?”
Magdalene slipped off her red silk gloves, engine gauges embroidered on the backs in pure white thread. “Did you really think he wouldn’t tell anyone? Or that nobody would guess? He created a job for you, Kat. He doesn’t do favors for anybody else.”
Katya thought back to the brief entanglement that had created so many rumors and cynical outbursts. “I needed the work, and I’d rather work for the carnival than anywhere else. It was easy for you. He needed a cook, and you’re a cook. If getting close to Mr. Warden got me a job, so be it. It’s not like I let him under my corset, just over it.” Katya laughed at her boldness. “He let me name my own salary after that.”
Magdalene paused, her eyes falling on the dusty floorboards. “Maybe Irina’s right. Anyone could be writing those letters.”
“Mr. Warden won’t let anything happen to the carnival. He can’t afford to let word of the threats get out. If the papers knew he was being threatened, there’d be a stockholders’ meeting tomorrow. Half of them would want to pull out.”
“And Mr. Warden would sweet-talk them back in again. He always gets his way.”
“He won’t if he’s dead. What would happen to the carnival? Who would run it? Mr. Lieber?” Katya imagined reporting to Mr. Lieber, the stern German seated in Mr. Warden’s office chair. She shuddered. “I won’t work for him. I’d rather sell cookbooks under the guise of charity and keep the money for myself.”