UPON THE OPENING OF THE EXHIBIT
“FUNERARY BOATS OF SENWOSRET III”
Palmer House Hotel, Chicago
September 03, 1901
Course I: Widdershins Blue Point Oysters
“Son, I have a favor to ask of you and Griffin,” Niles Whybourne, Industrial Tycoon, Railroad Owner, and quite possibly the richest man in Massachusetts, began with the pained look of a man who is usually the one being asked for the favor. “With your brother...” He trailed off.
“I’m sorry father, but I’m not willing to have anything to do with Whybourne Industries. Just because I am willing to come and have dinner does not mean I have reconsidered.” Percival Endicott Whybourne, current heir presumptive to Whybourne Industries, comparative philologist, and my beloved husband, replied with the attitude of someone who has been refusing favors to captains of industry since birth.
We had made it almost 20 minutes into this visit to Whybourne House before my beloved Ival and his father fought. This was one of our more successful attempts at a family dinner.
“This has nothing to do with the business, Percy, this is personal. One of the McCormicks is sniffing around social clubs, trying to claim that Stanford has been shoved aside from company leadership for being an inconvenient lush. McCormick is spreading that you are to be the new leader of the company, and are focused on expansion of the Kansas-Colorado lines in anticipation of a major mineral find.” Niles left the “Stanford is locked up for killing his sister and trying to bring forth an alien invasion” unspoken. It was rather unbelievable outside of Widdershins.
“That’s ridiculous; it’s hardly my problem that he insists on believing the wrong thing.” Whybourne was quite incensed at the idea that he might have something to do with the family business. He’d spent 30 years avoiding being a scion of industry and had no intention of changing his stance. Left unspoken was the “I’m now a sorcerer of colossal cosmic powers, working to prevent an alien invasion." He glowed in my magical sight like a surly furnace, picking at his plate.
“Son, I know it’s absurd. I need you and Griffin to go to Chicago, attend a dinner at Palmer House, and talk about anything you would like other than rails and steel. Make clear how the only thing you are interested in is ancient words.”
“Niles," I asked, “are you expanding the Kansas-Colorado lines?”
“I fail to see how that is relevant."
Course II: Mock Turtle Soup
“How exciting! Cyrus Hall McCormick is the one who has been sponsoring the expeditions by the Field Columbian Museum that just brought back the funerary boat of Senwosret III. Edward Ayer has been boasting about his great purchase." Dr. Christine Putnam-Barnett, my fellow researcher at the Nathaniel R. Ladysmith Museum, and possibly my best friend on earth outside my husband was far more excited about the prospect than I was.
“You did say yes?” she asked. “Just think: we can go to museum, see the remnants from the Fair, and take some very high quality photos of the stela they brought back with the boat.”
“The translations in the last journal were highly suspect. The images on the stone looked much more like one of the wahoos than a crocodile.” On a professional level I had to agree.
For Christine, the only thing close to as satisfying as a new discovery was providing proof that some other archaeologist was wrong. It had been two years since she was last able to be in the field, for reasons that were entirely my fault. “If we go, you have to do all the speeches on behalf of the Ladysmith,” I conceded.
“I think that I can do that. Let me go find Kander, we have equipment to pack!”
Course III: Rissoles
It’s 20 hours to Chicago from Widdershins via Boston and New York on an express. I greatly prefer it to dog sled and camel, but would prefer to not go at all. Christine alternated work on the stela translation with animated discussion with Kander on the best locations to secrete various firearms about her person.
Griffin started out the window, pencil in hand. Every time I felt us cross one of the magic lines that scattered the country he was marking a map. After our trip to Fallow, he wanted to be prepared for anything when the barrier to the outside opened.
I sat, a spell book in Aklo in hand. It served the double purpose of allowing me to secretly stare at my husband while ignoring entirely Christine and Kander’s conversation about some sort of... crocodile rock? Crocodile hat?
There were 106 miles to Chicago, we had an express train, half a case of Cuban made cigars for gifts, it was dark out, and we were waiting for the beginning of the end of the world.
Course IV: Lobster á Americaine
The Palmer house hotel is the single most opulent and absurdly lavishly decorated building it has ever been my misfortune to visit. I say this as someone who has been married for the last three years to a man who grew up in a house with both everyday and company emerald encrusted clocks. All of my visits to Whybourne House had not prepared me for this level of sensory overload. In comparison, the Whybourne house was a mouldering antique pile with some old plates that no one felt were worth stealing. This hotel was what the Pharaoh’s homes would have looked like if the Pharaohs had access to cut crystal and aniline dye.
Needless to say, Ival hated it on sight.
Course V: Saddle of Venison with Potatoes Lyonnaise, Sugared Beets, and Currant Jelly
The hotel offered to arrange for a boat tour of Lake Michigan, or ‘any other service’ that Griffin and I might enjoy. I declined politely and we set off on foot to see what was Griffin's city. He had left his life here with all of this action and activity for Widdershins.
His old apartment was just off of Belmont in a neighborhood full of small buildings and corner bars. It reminded me of my old apartment, but with far more people and eye contact. As we walked, he pointed out different locations that he used to frequent in his popular social days. Many of them were gone. Everything was so unbearably new. All of these buildings combined were not as old as our little house in Widdershins, and we lived in the new section.
Hundreds of people on the street and I -- I didn’t see a scurrying cloak amongst them.
Strange place, Chicago.
I sometimes wonder how my life would be different if I had gone to school in a big city instead of secluding myself in my studies in Arkham. In conclusion, it would have been awful.
Course VI: Wood Grilled Salmon
“It smells odd,” said Ival, as we sat on the seawall looking over Lake Michigan.
“Of course it smells funny,” was my response. “You can see a giant smelter over there, and the Chicago River is an open sewer.” I kicked my feet back and forth against the concrete, probably destroying my heels.
“No. It looks like the ocean. It moves like the ocean. I can feel the moisture seeping into my skin as though this is the ocean. But it isn’t.”
“No salt, no ketoi. Whatever magic this lake has, it isn’t mine,” said Ival.
I longed to clutch him to me with all my heart, but we were in public, so instead I sat with him silently gazing off into the vastness.
Course VII: Fried Baby Artichokes
We trudged back up to our suite from the lake, still lost in the sunset over the water.
“Why don’t we go back to the room? You can take a bath, I’ll order supper sent up.” Griffin was planning our evening, even if all I wanted to do was lie in his arms and hold him to me against the forces of outside and this city of temptations.
“We can spend a evening alone, and not talk at all," Griffin continued. “This room doesn’t move, doesn’t have Christine and Kander next door, and won’t be in a different city in the morning." He looked at me for approval, as if I could ever argue with him about a plan like that.
This is why I married Griffin. He’s brilliant.
Course VIII: Canton Frozen Punch
Morning brought activity. We scattered into our morning routine of pretending that both beds had been slept in, and that no untoward activity had occurred between men. Based off the behavior of the staff, and the fact I recognized several of the men from my days in the city, I didn’t think it would be a problem. But better safe. No one wanted to blackmail Griffin Flaherty, private investigator. Percival Whybourne, perceived heir to Whybourne Industries had the money to get out of trouble, but also the trouble that came from it.
We parted ways in the lobby. Ival was going to the Field Columbian Museum with Kander and Christine, and the three of them were already arguing in Arabic about what might have been the translation and provenance of the stela that had been found with Setowot III. It might also have been about the bacon served at breakfast, which was not at all crispy.
Next, off to see a man about a dog.
Course IX: Roast Goose with Chestnut Stuffing and Applesauce
The party at the Palmer House was large enough that one of the staff were introducing the guests as they entered. Cyrus Hall McCormick was our host, owner of the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company, a fact I had learned from the many labels at the museum plastered with it. He was also the sponsor of the purchase of the funerary boat of Senwosret III. Christine had many things to say upon the discovery that the museum had not arranged the expedition.
“Dr. Percival Endicott Whybourne,” announced the staff. I tried not to hunch too much as I headed to our host.
“Dr. and Mrs. Iskander Barnett,” the staff member announced.
It felt like the temperature in the room dropped twenty degrees, even if I was the only one who could feel it. Christine turned purple. Puce? I could see her digging into Iskander’s arm. Marriage had certainly changed her, or she had decided to preserve her relationships with future funders, and only a few whispers led to a correction:
“I’m sorry, Mr. Iskander Barnett and Dr. Christine Putnam Barnett."
The couple walked forward together, daring anyone to say anything. And what was that on Christine’s head?
I locked eyes with Griffin, trapped a few couples behind them, towards the end with the unmarried non-heiresses, accountants, and museum employees. It was going to be a long evening for all of us.
Course X: Three Molded Jellies
Ival hates these formal dinner parties, all the strangers speaking to him. He looked to have been safely seated between the wife of our host and a dowager who was a museum founder. From my spot at the other end of the table, it did not seem as if they were trying to press any unmarried daughters his way, not that he would notice. Dinners at Whybourne House and events at the Ladysmith had made clear my social role at this event. Light conversations, a few Pinkerton stories, no questions as to why I was here.
I was seated by a Miss Margaret Horton Potter, daughter of a steel manufacturer and author of several scandalous novels. The new one was about the Goddess Ishtar, and I made a note to have Ival send her one of the translations he had been reading to me. She quickly sized me up as an unsuitable marriage prospect, and from there the conversation was excellent. I told her my stories of the Pinkerton's.
“Mr. Flaherty, how did you get from the moving train to the horse without dropping the bag of money?” she asked. “Was this Billy the Kid?”
“No, Billy was before my time. I did play poker with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid on a stakeout." I always had good results with this. No need to mention that the stakeout was not to catch the pair.
Course XI: Mandarin Cake
I was seated next to Christine, a stroke of luck. I was able to deflect all of the questions about the boat and Egypt to her. My other side was Mrs. McCormick, and I shrunk back to let her and Christine converse. Just one more course to get through.
‘I do love your hat, Dr. Barnett-Putnam,” said Mrs. McCormick. “Are those ibis feathers?”
Christine, who I knew for a fact would happily wear almost anything that would keep the sun off her face in the desert, replied, “Yes, ibis feathers, attached to a small mummified Nile crocodile." Maybe the cheer was for the crocodile?
“Did you see many crocodiles when you were in Egypt?" asked Mrs. McCormick
“I was largely farther inland,” Christine replied, “so we mostly saw jackals. But when were were in transit on the Nile I saw hundreds.”
“That must have been terribly frightening.” Mrs. McCormick herself being highly unlikely to find a crocodile in Lake Michigan.
Christine took another careful forkful of cake before answering. ‘I wouldn’t swim in the Nile, but people have been going up and down it on boats for thousands of years. The crocodiles know what to avoid. My husband got this one for our anniversary. It’s not actually ancient, but a forgery from when Napoleon was in Egypt.”
Mrs. McCormick looked a little startled, possibly by the idea of a crocodile for an anniversary present instead of something more suitable, and possibly by the free admittance that the crocodile wasn’t really 5,000 years old.
Course XII: Coffee, Cheese, and Crackers
After dinner I adjourned to the smoking room with the rest of the men. Mr. McCormick approached me alone, as my father said he would.
“So, Whybourne, when are you going to join us down in Jekyll Island?” McCormick asked.
“Jekyll Island?” I asked.
“Surely your father has mentioned it -- your brother was a regular attendee.” McCormick looked askance, as if I was missing some great secret. Was this a cult? A business meeting? Or an orgy? All three sounded unpleasant.
“No, it has never come up in discussion. I am not involved in the running of Whybourne Industries,” I said.
“Really? Shame. You don’t have to be involved in the company. Jekyll Island is an exclusive hunting club,” Mr. McCormick continued. “Duck hunting, fishing, golf. One hundred of the best families are members. The Whybourne membership is not currently in use.”
“Where is Jekyll Island?” I asked.
“It’s a private island off the coast of Georgia. Easiest way to get there is by ship. If you catch the Friday steamer, it pulls in on Tuesday morning. The relaxation starts on the boat, first class the entire way.” McCormick was smiling, as if I had been invited to the best place on the planet earth.
I couldn’t suppress a shudder. 60 hours on the water, than a week surrounded by plutocrats -- the ones who liked my brother. It hardly could get worse.
“Many men bring their families, but we also bring some entertainment to the club, for all of the men who are there alone." McCormick stressed the entertainment.
“How are the research facilities and the library on the island? I find that translation is not just my profession, but also my avocation. I have very specific working requirements.” I was not lying. Those requirements were a quiet room, in Widdershins, with Griffin somewhere in the vicinity. Perhaps also our cat Saul and a good light.
McCormick looked taken aback. “Many men have built homes with offices, but the island is intended to be a place of recreation, not vocation.”
“Unlike my brother, I am not a hunter, and unfortunately sea voyages make me ill. You may wish to speak with my father about disposing of Stanford’s membership.”
“Yes, I must. Thank you, Whybourne, and give my best to your father.”
“Certainly. It has been a pleasure." McCormick and Jekyll Island weren’t Stanford’s group of sorcerers trying to control Widdershins and America. They were Stanford’s group of rich men who wanted to go hunting and whoring away from the eyes of the press. My father could conclude whatever business was to be done there. I had hoped that there would be more information about his group that was working for power, but it became clear that this was a group entirely devoted to pleasure.
I looked about for Griffin, caught his eye. I was free to go whenever he choose to collect me.
XIII: After Dinner Mints
“Ival, only you could get invited to violate the anti-trust act, participate in an orgy, betray your father, and possibly join an ineffectual magical cult in same evening.” I was curled against my husband in what was ostensibly his hotel room. “Just be glad you got here late and I’d already sent the party favor home.”
“I don’t know why they would send strange women to invitees' hotel rooms. That’s hardly sanitary.” Ival pulled his arm tighter around me.
“I gave the woman a lot of money, and implied that you were suffering from a personal problem, as a result of your sickly youth.” I hoped it would keep the marriage seeking heiresses away from my husband, if only for the rest of the trip.
“Did you get invited to any orgies, Griffin?” Ival rolled over to face me.
“I did actually. Is two an orgy?” I kissed his nose.
“A perfectly exclusive guest list,” said Ival, and ended the conversation in the best way.