Excerpt from City of Dreams by Beverly Swerling, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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City of Dreams

A Novel of Early Manhattan

by Beverly Swerling

City of Dreams
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2001, 591 pages
    Jun 2002, 592 pages

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She left. Lucas checked the contents of his surgeon's case. A dozen ties made of sheep's intestines. Three scalpels of different sizes, a couple of saws, a needle threaded with catgut, and, for stone cutting, a fluted probe and a pair of pincers with a jointed handle that could be opened to the width of four spread fingers.

The sound of flies buzzing in the sun beyond the window was the only noise. The man in the bed gritted his teeth against the agony and said nothing, just kept looking at Lucas. Lucas looked back. Finally Anna Stuyvesant returned. "Hot water, you said, and clean cloths and a bucket. It's all here."

"Thank you." Lucas stood up and removed his jacket. He began rolling up the sleeves of his shirt. "Now, mijnheer, may I assist you from the bed?"

"Yes, but first...Anna, go. Leave us alone."

"I do not like to go, Peter. If you should -- "

"This is nothing for a woman to see. Go." And after she had gone, "Very well, barber, let's get this over with. If you hand me my stick I can -- " Stuyvesant broke off, gritted his teeth against another wave of the pain. "Do it," he whispered finally. "I don't care how much it hurts or for how long. For the love of God, man, do it now."

"Forty-five seconds," Lucas promised again. "From the first cut. I swear it."

He helped Stuyvesant hobble to the chest beside the window. The governor leaned forward, taking his weight on his elbows as Lucas directed. In fact Lucas would have preferred that his patient stand on the chest and squat, but a man with one leg couldn't be asked to assume such a position. Bent over like this was the next best thing. Lucas pushed up the governor's nightshirt, exposed the Dutchman's plump buttocks, then, a moment before he began, "There is one thing, Mijnheer Governor."

"What one thing, barber?"

"My fee."

"Are you mad? I'll have you horsewhipped. Of course your fee will be paid. What do you take me for?"

"A strict man but a fair one. I'm told your word is absolutely to be relied on."

"It is. I take it you mean to ask for something other than money." The words came hard, with wheezing breath, limned by pain. "Ask then. Quickly."

"A homestead closer to the town than the one my sister and I have been assigned. And a place inside the town to practice my trade."

Stuyvesant turned his head, looked at Lucas over his shoulder. "There is no place inside the town. In Nieuw Amsterdam the one thing even I can't control is the roofs over people's heads. Fifteen hundred souls between the wharf and the wall, and all of them building where they...For the love of the Almighty, barber, this is an odd sort of conversation to be having with a man when your arse is in his face."

"I do not need much space to practice my craft, mijnheer, a small room will do." Lucas still hadn't touched his instruments.

"But I tell you...Very well. We'll find a corner for you. Now -- "

"And a different piece of land for my sister and myself. As I said, it need not be inside the town, only close to it. In the Voorstadt, perhaps."

Stuyvesant looked into Lucas's eyes for a second more. "Get on with it," he said finally. "You'll have what you ask. A barber shop this side of the wall and a homestead in the Voorstadt. But only if I live to issue the orders."

"I expected you'd see that part of it, mijnheer." Lucas pushed his rolled sleeves further up his arm. "This is only the examining part of the surgery. The forty-five seconds doesn't start until I'm done."

He inserted his finger deep into Stuyvesant's rectum. The governor grunted, but he didn't move. The soft wall of the intestine yielded to probing. Lucas could feel the bladder, and when he pressed a little harder, the stone. "Ah, a pebble of some size, Governor. No wonder it's causing such trouble." Stuyvesant's only answer was his labored breathing. "Now, mijnheer, the forty-five seconds begins. You may start counting."

Copyright © 2001 by MichaelA, Ltd.

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