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Something Unreck'd

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After the orchestra —

"I ought to go straight home," Marcus says, "my mother will be wondering about me."

"Not your brother?"

"Oh, he's used to it. He's just happy I come home."

This is a strange flirtation between them — if it can be called a flirtation at all, shared leisure bracketed by their shared work. Evening wear suits Marcus particularly well; he cuts a handsome figure on the pavements, dark and slim. Laszlo may favor black for daywear but the Isaacsons both showcase an appealing sartorial range in the course of their work — Lucius may not be as dashing as his brother, but neither of them has anything to be ashamed of.

Laszlo pushes his hair back from his temple. Marcus glances at him and smiles. "Why is it you never seem to remember your hat?"

"They're not my fashion," Laszlo says, gravely.

And indeed they are not; too easy to lose or discard, and not worth the expense of being outfitted with a good one. Knowledge of the best things in life — good music, for instance, fine suppers, pleasant company — is all that makes their undertakings bearable.

"I never thought I really liked Chopin before tonight." Marcus tugs off his gloves the moment they climb into the carriage; the pair are stitched from blond kidskin and the action makes a good display of the span of his hands. "Can you believe that? What a performance."

"You're humoring me. I saw you during the first movement; you were resting your eyes."

Marcus' cheeks color a little. "I was not!"

"Perhaps you were experiencing a heightened appreciation of the music. Transports of bliss."

"You stop that," Marcus says, indignantly stuffing his gloves into the pocket of his discarded overcoat. "You know I've been up since five o'clock trying to chase down suppliers of mountaineering equipment by mail—"

"Then I won't keep you away from your bed a moment longer."

"No, no, no— I like it here, honestly, I loved the music, I had a hell of a time tonight."

"You're too charitable with me. Count your blessings it wasn't the opera tonight, you'd have been snoring by the interval. Where can I take you to round out the night?"

"You know German, don't you?" Marcus asks, in the middle of unbuttoning his vest — for a moment Laszlo is quite taken aback by the gesture. "What about Yiddish?"

"I have a little, from my students." They are students even here, it seems wrong to call them patients. He has a grasp of the language sufficient to unpick disclosures of harrowing experiences and domestic strife. "Enough for most purposes."

"Perfect. We'll see what's on at the Thalia." Marcus pauses for a moment with his hands bracing Laszlo's shoulders. "You can leave your coat in the carriage, I think."

*

In an East Side street — the two of them shuttled off to some Bowery theater unknown to New York society's glittering four hundred. A boy like Stevie could get up to a great deal in such a place. Marcus pauses under the awning of the Thalia Theater, before the doorway flanked with posters for the night's performance — all in Hebrew lettering, an alphabet that does not flow easily under Laszlo's eye. Marcus must take his concentration for puzzlement.

"King Lear. Bertha Kalish is playing Cordelia." He gestures at the inset portrait of the leading lady, a white-shouldered beauty with piercing eyes. "She's new, and she's good. I think she's Hungarian, too. Or something like that."

"Ah, well. One of my countrywomen."

The theater is already streaming with patrons — matrons and children, young men and girls, the carefully scrubbed and the carelessly thrown-together, individuals of all classes and descriptions, all of them Jewish. There are a remarkable number of children in the house — behaving themselves, quarreling with their siblings, trailing dolls and paper wrappers behind them.

What will these boys and girls grow up to be? What will spring up from this context?

Marcus tugs him along by the sleeve, quite careless of the intimacy of the gesture. "Maria Roda spoke here a couple years ago. She was only a girl when they locked her up. Nobody understood a damn thing she was saying, but everybody applauded."

"I never thought you were an anarchist." What would Roosevelt make of that?

"I'm not. I just like speeches."

Kreizler looks out on the ranks of humanity — less stifling, perhaps, than the crowds at the Met, but all he can see is the hallmarks of poverty in its varying degrees. The women are making their way to the upper tier. "It isn't the Metropolitan," Laszlo says. "But it's remarkable nonetheless."

"No kidding. Some of these families spend five dollars a week here, and you know how much they make. They take theater a hell of a lot more seriously than the folks uptown."

The psyche hungers for something more than bread, something more than gaudy trash — and when it cannot access that substance in the halls of high culture, it must be brought home. The two of them pick their way to their seats, acutely conscious of their conspicuousness when surrounded by working-men attired for a less expensive night out. The air is stale and warm, perfumed with chewing tobacco and cold meat. Somewhere there must be a man selling hot dogs, but Laszlo can't spot him when he turns his head.

"I feel like I should be peeling an orange," Laszlo pronounces once they've settled in, folding his arms.

"Maybe I'll buy you dinner for a change." Marcus' smile is impish — it's strange to think that this man in all his boyish goodwill is one of Roosevelt's crusaders, the terror of gopher-men and counterfeiters alike.

*

At the theater — shoulder to shoulder and elbow to elbow there in the half-dark, with Marcus' hand resting companionably on Kreizler's leg, very much welcome

"How was that?" Marcus asks after the show, once they've made their way out past the playbills into the street. "A rather free adaptation, but I can't find it in me to care." He says this for Kreizler's sake — bashful, perhaps, about the performance they had both witnessed. For Laszlo it had been a pleasantly puzzling experience — the performances lively, the dialogue a union of the familiar and the unfamiliar.

"A wonderful performance, Marcus." Laszlo ducks his head, stepping into their carriage. "And pertinent to our work. The figure of an absent mother, and an overbearing father..."

If Laszlo has to duck down to climb aboard, Marcus practically has to bend himself double, poor man. When he straightens up he has a funny look on his face. "A violent blinding, an execution. You can't really hate Lear, though, can you? Do you?"

He won't touch that remark, at the risk of ruining the purity of the performance. "I don't mean to see our man executed, whoever he may be. I need to interview him first, and if possible, to treat his condition. I have too many questions. There's too much in his mind."

"Behind the ostent," Marcus says, "a mystic cipher waits, infolded."

Laszlo furrows his brow. "I beg your pardon, but I don't understand."

"Whitman, on Shakespeare. I used to be crazy about codes and ciphers, and you know how my mother and father felt about Shakespeare — in English only, as the Bard intended. I tried to find signs, clues, codes, anagrams, secret identities, you name it. Until Lucius very reasonably pointed out Shakespeare didn't have a hand in typesetting from beyond the grave and I should really throw in the towel. I like Whitman, too, but that came later."

Whitman the grand pagan, one of those Mannahatta originals. Lover of immigrants, lover of nature, lover of men. Marcus has a vague smile on his lips that suggests more than it tells.

Laszlo thinks of Marcus as a younger man. The Isaacson twins are younger than Kreizler and Moore by some ten years, and members of a different academic cohort altogether. Ten years ago and both men would have been mere puppies, still attending their respective universities. Ten years ago, Kreizler's institute was still in its infancy. Twenty years ago, Kreizler was a Harvard undergraduate in the lecture hall and Marcus was one of these well-scrubbed boys. Thirty years ago, the Isaacsons could be scarcely said to exist, and Laszlo was already what he would come to be more fully in adulthood — a lonely cripple.

"You have a great breadth of mind, Marcus. Are we ready to retire for the night?"

*

In the carriage — nothing but darkness in the street, nothing but darkness surrounding them. With the window-shades rolled down the mood is funereal, but without them the atmosphere of scandal would spill out. Even near midnight, New York doesn't sleep.

Marcus is not so drowsy either. His hands are hot in Kreizler's lap, his mouth is urgent — he has a fine lean body and it presses against him at every point, as Laszlo presses him with kisses that scratch his mouth scarlet. He murmurs lines from a poem Laszlo has never read, or that perhaps he once read long ago.

Marcus slowly tugs the gloves from Laszlo's hands — his eyes dart downward to the stiff crook of his crippled arm, and Laszlo must kiss him hard to keep him from a remark both of them might regret.

"I never kissed anybody with a beard before," Marcus laughs against his mouth. His hand slides between their bodies, into the slit-pocket of his trousers. "That's a knife in my pocket, doctor, I'm not being fresh with you. I never walk the mean streets of Broadway without protection."

"Very reasonable. Some of those society matrons become aggressive when provoked."

"May I make a demonstration?"

"Of course, detective sergeant." The blade is already glinting in the thin thread of light — passing streetlamps, perhaps, or a public auto-da-fe in the middle of the street. Cyrus still speeds them past. Laszlo is fascinated by the look of it — like something from a detective novel. Mesmeric.

"You might be asking yourself: what could a man do with a knife like this?" The warmth in his voice is palpable and teacherly, but not comforting. Marcus' hands are steady, sliding the blade under the placket of Laszlo's shirtfront with the precision of a surgeon and the flair of a stage magician — he can feel the edge of the knife catch on the gold shirt-studs, and the cobblestones thrumming beneath the carriage-wheels. Marcus continues. "I could make a superficial cut, if all I cared about was seeing the blood. Smelling it. Tasting it."

He withdraws the blade and presses the edge of it to the very tip of his faintly pink tongue, just hard enough to make an impression on the flesh — and then draws it away grinning. It gives Laszlo a delicious thrill, the grin as much as the knife — not precisely sexual, in the sense of exerting an influence on the sex-organs, but a close cousin to it. If only John were here — he would make an excellent subject for this demonstration.

"Yes," Laszlo says, quietly. "You could do such a thing."

"Or I could make a number of quick punctures, striking at soft parts like the belly or the throat. That might be satisfying, in a visceral kind of way. Or I could draw the blade here — slowly."

Here, meaning the prickling crease of Kreizler's neck — Laszlo is acutely aware of the need for stillness, he can hardly breathe, and yet the desire to squirm into the cold metal edge is irresistible. It stirs him. It baffles him. Laszlo makes no sound.

"And it would all go lickety-split from there." Marcus presses him with a kiss, and folds the blade shut in a one-handed gesture. Some elegant schoolboy trick.

What a strange courtship they have. Laszlo ducks his head, letting his hand fall between them.

"May I?"

Marcus makes a sound of delighted outrage. "Please, Dr. Kreizler, we're not in Paris!" So much for the masterful impresario of cruelty. He'll have to read to him from one of those books that even alienists are at times bashful to own — one of those books kept only in the dustiest and most arid corners of the library, where no one ever goes.

Laszlo runs his hand up the innermost seam of Marcus' trouser leg, methodically teasing. "Then of course it can wait."

"No, I didn't mean it—" His hand clasps on Laszlo's and brings it to the heated pit of his lap. "I didn't really mean it at all."

Perhaps it once had a musical connotation — to drop down low, beneath the tonic in the musical scale. Gamma ut, corrupted, gamahucher, a mechanical action to be performed on man and woman alike. To go down.

*

And in the library afterward —

Kreizler's own preference in cigarettes is for dark Russian tobacco; Isaacson smokes the same inexpensive brands as his fellow detectives. Laszlo inhales the perfume of cheap smoke, laid over the unmistakable cologne Marcus wears on the hot places of his throat — a detail of dress which seems like a flagrant indiscretion now in context, and makes Kreizler's nose twitch. He smells like old roses and petitgrain. He's as done-up as any of the performers they've seen tonight, and as striking.

"What's the matter?"

Marcus must catch his glances where they linger, as he settles back into place. It would make a pretty picture, the two of them smoking companionably side by side — Laszlo in shirtsleeves with misbuttoned flies, Marcus' legs crossed ankle-to-knee with his well-shaped anklebones curiously vulnerable.

"Nothing's the matter. I'm just committing this moment to memory."

"Sara wants to meet with you tomorrow. I told her you'd be sleeping late, and she'd be better off sending a telegram."

Laszlo startles, dropping particles of ash down the front of his vest. "You don't mean — she knows we went out tonight without John or Lucius."

"Of course she knows. All three of them know, they were very understanding. Cyrus knows, why shouldn't they know? And to tell you the truth I think Cyrus knows a lot. He's a very knowledgeable fellow." Marcus uncrosses his legs, suddenly prim, as if their mutual friends may be watching.

"What did you tell them?"

"I told them we were onto something but I wanted to talk it out with you alone."

Kreizler clears his throat. "Well then. We had better come up with something to show for ourselves."

The real finale to their evening will be puzzling over photographs of murdered children. At least Isaacson's legal background has given him, if not good cheer, a certain equanimity about these things.