"Give me fifty dollars and I'll see you're a rich man by the end of the fortnight, Tim!" shrieked Inman from yards away in the roiling vat of bodies. "Sam Morse's telegraph can make you a king!"
"Take your fairy money and go to hell," I returned cheerfully, reaching for a slop rag. "You ever play the market, Julius?"
I'd likelier burn money than speculate it," Julius answered without looking at me, deftly pulling the corks from a row of drenched champagne bottles with his wide fingers. He's a sensible fellow, quick and quiet, with fragrant tea leaves braided into his hair. "Fire can heat a man's soup. You calculate they know the Panic was their doing? You think they remember?"
I wasn't listening to Julius any longer by that time. Instead, I was dwelling thick as laudanum on the last thing Mercy had said to me.
Don't think you've hurt my feelings. I'm not married to the name, after all.
It was the only sentence directly to the purpose I'd ever heard her say, I think. At least, it was the first since she was about fifteen, and even so, the remark had a sideways charm to it. So that was a heady, graceful moment. The moment when I discovered that Mercy saying something near-plain is every bit as beautiful as Mercy talking circles like a flame-red kite in the wind.
At four in the morning, I passed Julius an extra two dollars as he propped the mop handle in the corner. He nodded. Worn to a thinly buzzing alertness, we headed for the steps leading up to the awakening city.
"You ever wonder what it's like to sleep at nighttime?" I asked as I locked the cellar door behind us.
"You won't catch me in a bed after dark. Keep the devil guessing," Julius answered, winking at his own joke.
We reached the street just as dawn flared with grasping red fingers over the horizon. Or so the corner of my eye thought, as I settled my hat on my head. Julius was quicker to catch on.
"Fire! " Julius bellowed in his low, smooth voice, cupping his hands around his sharply defined lips. "Fire in New Street!"
For a moment, I stood there, frozen in the dark with a streak of scarlet above me, already acting about as useless as a broken gas-lamp inspector. Feeling the same sickness in my belly the word fire always causes me.
Kenn Nesbitt is new Children's Poet Laureate(Jun 12 2013) Kenn Nesbitt has been named the new Children's Poet Laureate: Consultant in Children's Poetry to the Poetry Foundation, which noted that the two-year position...