A Song of the Past: Thirty-four

Chapter problem: Chapter seven is empty at present: when I got this far, I realized that I had to adjust some material out of earlier chapters into later ones.

Table of Contents


“We are but of yesterday, and know nothing, because are days on earth are a shadow.”
—Job 8:9

Sunday, 6:00 AM
Deirdre had just left the station when a van pulled up to the curb alongside her. Suddenly fearful, she looked frantically up and down the street, but at this hour on a Sunday morning the area was deserted. Four masked men leapt out of van. She began to run, but her feet didn’t seem to be working properly, and then they had grabbed her, and were dragging her back to the van. She tried to scream, but a cloth was clamped over her mouth, a cloth reeking of some heady chemical that made her head spin. In a moment everything went blank.

When she came to she was in a graveyard shrouded in mist. Around her were ancient, cracked tombstones, and she could read the names of the graves’ occupants from some of them: John Davenport, James Pierpont, Ezekiel Cheever, Theophilus Eaton. Before her rose a large granite obelisk, in front of which a scarlet robed figure, face masked, ringed by four skulls laying on the faded turf, chanted something that sounded like “Wer war der Thor, wer Weiser, wer Bettler oder Kaiser?” In a circle around the obelisk there danced a ring of twenty-eight robed and hooded figures, chanting:

As Eastern priests in giddy circles run
And turn their heads to imitate the sun

The circle slowly closed in upon her, and she was lifted off of her feet again, and spirited back to the van. The van seemed to fly down the streets of New Haven: she sped by her old friends Whalley, Goffe, and Dixwell. But she was the one being judged. Now they were cruising along Chapel Street. They seemed to be headed for the Yale campus. The van screeched to a halt in front of what looked to be a mausoleum, oblong, its doors pointing to the east, where the sun was rising. Deirdre was lifted by her arms and led into the tomb. She and her captors descended seven marble steps and stopped before a massive door. There she was stripped of all her clothing, and then lifted by many hands, carried through the door so that she at first saw only the ceiling of the inner chamber, flecked with stars: the archer, the great and little bear, the hunter, the twins.

She was laid in an obsidian coffin. The room, too, was obsidian, foursquare, but its cornerstones were of adamantine, and they coruscated in the flickering light of the torches that lined the walls. She lifted her head slightly and glanced over the rim of the coffin: the floor was a checkerboard of black and white squares, on which were inscribed strange figures, half-human and half-beast, jackal-headed, hawk-headed, cat-bodied, snake-haired, that seemed to dance in the wavering illumination. She turned her gaze towards her feet and saw past then a golden altar, upon which was spread a cloth of blue. At the altar stood the same figure she had seen in the graveyard, clothed in scarlet, its face hidden behind the mask of tragedy. Over her it made the sign of the cross, but backwards, and then she heard from behind the mask a male voice intone: “Ossa Patriarchuns tradeba ut deos ornerannes.”

Her robed captors closed in around the coffin, and pulled back their hoods. Many of them were familiar to her: John Kerry, William F. Buckley, George Bush, Paul Giamatti… and there, his hand reaching out as if to touch her left breast, was Harrison Tyler.  She wanted to cover herself, but her arms felt leaden, and she could not stop their stares from caressing her body, or their hot breath from curling around her. Together, their voices intoned: “You are ours. Your old life is gone, and now you are reborn to do the bidding of the Bones of the Patriarchs.” Intensely rhythmic music began to play from somewhere. The face of the scarlet-robed man now loomed over the coffin. She tried to see the eyes through the mask—they were familiar, but the identity of the wearer eluded her. Suddenly, in time with a change in the rhythm, the masked figure spun around, and the mask of comedy hung over her. Buckley and Bush reached from either side of the figure and slowly lifted the mask. Laughter rung out from beneath it, and Deirdre waited to see whose face would be revealed. But when the mask was completely removed, she was staring into a dark void, being pulled into it, like matter into a black hole. In the depths of the abyss she would be ground out of existence.

She screamed and sat up in her bed. God, what an absurdist nightmare. But something about it made her head buzz; she felt she had just had a revelation, if only she could drag it into the waking world. She looked at her alarm clock. It was already half past eight, and, although she longed to retreat back into sleep, even given the prospect of re-encountering the WASP masters of the occult there, she dragged herself out of bed.

After showering and making coffee, she called Harrison Tyler’s house, and found him home.

“Mr. Tyler, I’m sorry to bother you at home on Sunday morning.”

“Deirdre, haven’t I yet convinced you that your appearances in my life are never a bother?”

“You’re too polite, Mr. Tyler.”

“Please, it’s Harrison, and I’m not being polite, rather, I’m making my best effort to enchant you.”

“I’m flattered, Harrison.” Deirdre used his given name with difficulty. “But I’m calling on business.”

“How can I help you?”

“I’m wondering if Jacob would inherit your estate if you died?”

“No, my daughter would. The only way Jacob would come into it is if I violate the clause in my father’s will that demands his heir be a moral example for the community. Then, the estate would revert to the person who was second –in-line at the time of my father’s death, namely, my brother.”

“How could you do that?”

“Well, although the clause may sound stringent, basically, the only circumstance in which a contestant clearly could prove I’d violated it would be if I was convicted of a felony.”

Deirdre fell silent for a moment, adjusting her web of information about this case so that it included this new fact with a minimum of re-structuring. Having found a tentatively satisfactory place for it, she asked Tyler, “Have you ever entertained the notion that this clause represents an incentive for your brother to see that you will be found guilty of a crime, such as, perhaps, Evelyn’s murder?”

“But Jacob wouldn’t harm a fly. In fact, I often have told him that his greatest flaw is that he hasn’t accepted he’s living in a fallen world, and not some fairy tale where good intentions always find their reward.”

“Still, even for the pure of heart, the Tyler fortune would have to present a great temptation.”
“But don’t you see, Jacob doesn’t care about money. He could have become a banker, too, if he had wanted earthly riches, and be making many times what he gets at that little charity he runs.”

“Did you know he made $84,000 there last year?”

“Eighty-four thousand dollars would have been his starting salary at Brown Brothers Harriman twenty-five years ago. The idea that he would try to frame me for murder because of money is preposterous.”

“You’re probably right, and I’m just grasping at straws. In any case, I appreciate your help, and I won’t take up more of your time.”

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