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Chapter 15...continued

Pipe Dreams; A Battle, Biblical.

Of all the vile dives I entered in the City of New York, none was so hellish as the opium joint where Thayer led me. The room was dimly lit, but tiny oil lamps, seemly placed at random points, revealed tiers of smoke swirling throughout the room. The smell was thick and musky, unlike anything I had ever experienced. As my eyes adjusted to the light, I could see bodies lying on the floor and in shallow bunks, three high against the walls. There were men and women; Chinese, white and black all lying together, and each with a lamp and a long pipe.

Thayer and I sat down on mats on the floor, and the Chinaman brought us a tray with a lamp, a pipe and other tools, and gave each of us a small ball of a black, tar-like substance—the opium. Thayer showed me how to prepare it for smoking, holding it first over a flame, then into the bowl of a long wooden pipe—performing each step with a solemn intensity as if it were a sacred ritual.

I coughed on my first draw from the pipe but quickly took another. The amount of opium was not large, and in just a few puffs it was gone. The effects were dramatic and almost instantaneous. A warmth spread through all parts of my body, and I had a sense of relaxed well-being I had never felt before. The room and its occupants, which moments before had filled me with disgust, now appeared as a picture of earthly perfection. This was exactly where I was meant to be at this holy moment.

I closed my eyes, and the rolling of my thoughts soon became a ship rolling over the ocean. It was the Eastern Star, bound for Maui, and I had been shanghaied again. But now I was alone on the deck; there was no captain, no crew, just myself and the seabirds crying plaintively overhead. I turned to look for them and realized I was not on the Eastern Star at all, but on the Mary Claire traveling peacefully down the canal. And I was not alone, Mirabile was there with me. My head was in her lap, and she was stroking my hair.

“My beautiful boy,” she whispered, “my beautiful boy.”

“Mirabile,” I said, “is it too late? Can I yet be saved?”

“Shhh.” She said and moved her hand slowly across my body. Very gently she began unbuttoning my trousers, then slid her hand inside. She grabbed me then, with such force that it woke me from my reverie. I was no longer in the canal boat, but back in the filthy hop joint. And it wasn’t Mirabile’s hand in my pants; it was Thayer’s!

“What are you doing?” I said and pushed his hand away.

“Don’t worry, Jonathan, I won’t hurt you,” Thayer said softly.

All at once I realized what had happened. It was Dugan’s work; he set up the whole thing, and he knew it would end this way. Not content with making a whore of Jack, he was making one of me. Just when I thought I could sink no lower, Dugan showed me that his pit of degradation had no bottom.

I jumped up, buttoned my trousers and ran out into the street. The opium was still with me, but it wasn’t well-being I felt now, it was stark terror. Death lurked in every ally and every person I passed meant to do me harm. I couldn’t go back to the Old Brewery; I did not want to see Dugan or Jack or anyone I knew. I stopped at Paradise Park sat on a bench, put my head in my hands and sank into utter despair.

I could hear strains of organ music coming across the park from Union Mission. It was a hymn, one I didn’t recognize, but it made me nostalgic nonetheless. I thought again of Mirabile, her pure voice, the purity of her spirit. What would she think of me now? I looked up, looked towards the lights of the mission, there for the reformation of whores, would the doors be open for me?

“They are Methodist you know,” a voice came from my right, “a woman’s religion.”

I looked at him, and what I saw made me think I had fallen back into a dream.  He was an old man with wild gray hair and beard, wearing what appeared to be a tattered uniform of a high-ranking officer in some foreign army. It was green with gold braiding, emblazoned with stars and sunbursts. It must have been exquisite years before, but now was filthy and torn. He held in his left hand, as if a scepter, a metal carpenter’s rule.

“I tell you this because I fear you are planning to venture there and it would do you no good.”

“You are right, sir, it would do me no good.” I said, “For I am one of the damned, ordained so from before creation.”

“You sound like a Presbyterian,” he said, “As was I, before I realized that I was, in truth, a Hebrew. That was when I became the Prophet Mathias, who joined together Elijah the Tishbite to found the Kingdom of Truth, a Kingdom of the Father, at Mount Zion, up the Hudson River. Yes, they tried to stop me, the gentiles, accusing me of killing the Tishbite but they failed. The Kingdom is not in one place; it is with me ever. As I told the Prophet of the Latter Day Saints (who I know is led by Satan) when we dined in Ohio, I preach the end of the Kingdom of the Son, the religion of women; and the reawakening of the Kingdom of the Father, the religion of men.”

“You’re crazy,” I said.

“No, sir, I must read you this,” he pulled from his coat a faded newspaper clipping and began reading. The article said, in effect, that a judge had ruled that he was entirely sane in all matters except religion.

“Which of course is wrong,” he said, “I am just more intimate than most in the Truth of the Father.”

Finding it too tedious to listen to the man talk more of his life and religion, I closed my eyes again and tried to shut him out. But the Prophet continued, now quoting scripture, relating some great Old Testament battle.

“And Sihon would not suffer Israel to pass through his border: but Sihon gathered all his people together, and went out against Israel into the wilderness: and he came to Jahaz, and fought against Israel.”

Still under the opium’s influence, I could hear the battle cries, and in my mind’s eye, could see the swords clashing, the chariots charging against the enemy.

“And Israel smote him with the edge of the sword, and possessed his land from Arnon unto Jabbok, even unto the children of Ammon: for the border of the children of Ammon was strong.”

Then I opened my eyes, and the battle cries did not fade. In front of me, in Paradise Park, a battle was raging—not Israel against the people of Sihon, but the Bowery Boys against the gangs of Five Points. The Dead Rabbits marched to battle behind their emblem, a dead rabbit on a pike. The Plug Uglies, looking like circus bears in human dress were charging forward. The Shirttails, so called because they wore their shirts outside their pants like Chinamen, had entered the fray. The Roach Guards were there and the Chichesters as well; it was the largest gathering of gangs I had yet seen.

And from the other direction came the Bowery Boys, with their tall hats and long coats, their trousers stuffed into huge hobnailed boots. They were armed with clubs and brickbats, and each man had a knife, and a pistol stuck in his belt. The engagements were swift and bloody, and the park was already strewn with the fallen wounded. Before long a third faction entered the battle; the police in blue uniforms, on foot and on horseback entered Paradise Park swinging their clubs indiscriminately. And now every man on the battlefield had two enemies.

As the battle raged in front of me, I saw Dugan in the thick of it. It angered me to see him, and I stood up and shouted as loudly as I could, “Eamon Dugan, I’m calling you out!”

Dugan turned his head, and seeing it was me, he walked over.

“Jonathan, what in hell are you doing here? Where’s Thayer.”

“I’ve had enough of you, Dugan, I don’t like the way you treat me. I don’t like the way you treat Jack.”

“Nothing but trouble, that one,” he said, “I liked her better as a hoyden.”

“You’re a coward and a bully, Dugan, you need to be brought down a peg.” I assumed a fighting stance, knowing full well it would be a fight to the death that I could not possibly win. I just wanted to do some damage to the man before I left this world.

But Dugan didn’t comprehend that I wanted to fight him; the notion too absurd for him to entertain.

“You seem agitated, Jonathan, we’ll talk after the battle.”

“We’ll settle our business now,” I said and shoved him in the chest.

This got Dugan’s attention, and his eyes widened as he cocked his massive arm to let loose on my face. But at the crucial moment, a Bowery Boy, standing not five feet away, heaved a brickbat, with deadly force, at Dugan’s head. The shock of impact was so strong that it knocked the life out of Dugan and he collapsed to the ground in a pathetic heap. A sharp edge of the brickbat had sliced a deep cut into Dugan’s temple, but he was not even bleeding. His heart had stopped beating. Dugan was dead.

The Bowery Boy disappeared into the crowd, but a Dead Rabbit came over to see what had happened. “You’ve killed Dugan,” he said, pointing at me, calling other Dead Rabbits to gather around. “He’s killed Slasher Dugan.”

Two policemen came to see what had happened and the Dead Rabbits tried to persuade them to arrest me for murdering Dugan. But the policemen were not interested in a single murder with bloody warfare all around them. They tried to disperse the Dead Rabbits, who were determined to see justice done one way or the other. Then the Prophet Mathias stepped forward and in his labored, Biblical manner gave his account of the death of Dugan.

The ensuing confusion gave me just enough cover to slip down Cross Street and away from Paradise Park. I got to Sixth Avenue unmolested, then walked north for miles, past the closed up shops and the darkened mansions of the high-numbered streets, then out of the city and into farmland until I reached the end of Manhattan. It was nearly dawn, and I sat at a ferry stop until the morning service commenced. I took the first boat across the Hudson and never looked back.