Vengeance Behind the Mask – Extended Epilogue

He would be there any minute. Michael was not prone to nervousness, but this was a meeting he’d imagined would never happen. He could hardly resist the rush of energy in his blood, anxious energy making his heart beat faster.

Clara gave him a calming smile, setting her hand on his arm as they both looked out the window, watching the street and waiting.

Three years after their marriage, Michael and Clara were raising a newborn child, David. Warren Beals had married and moved on, leaving The Chicago Tribune in Michael’s hands. There was little time to raise his new family and run the entire newspaper, though he managed to do that and more.

Still famous as the man who’d brought down the terrible Baltimore Butcher, he and Clara were declared heroes in Chicago. Donations poured in for the church, which was quickly finished and staffed and became the healthiest and most admired church in all of Illinois. The family attended services every Sunday, where they were always warmly greeted by their friends and neighbors.

Sheriff Neil Mallory had replaced his late deputy with several others, and the streets of Chicago’s south side were clean and its citizens confident in their daily safety. But there had still been plenty to report on by Michael and the several young writers he’d hired to work under him.

Somehow, he’d managed to find time to write the memoir of his year on the trail of the Baltimore Butcher. Entitled, Manhunter: Hunting the Baltimore Butcher, Michael had printed it himself using the Tribune’s type and ink and presses to create the manuscript.

“You should publish it yourself,” Clara had said after reading it. “Expand into book publishing.” But that would be a project that Michael could find no time for, so he’d compromised and sent a few copies to established publishers on the East Coast, soon forgetting it in favor of raising his son and keeping his wife happy.

Then he’d received a response, from a major company in New York. They had a man traveling to Chicago on unrelated business, and they wired to advise Michael that they would be pleased to arrange a meeting at their mutual convenience.

Michael had been eager to accommodate them.

At last, the day had come. Michael had long fostered childhood dreams of being a great writer like his heroes, including Dr. Benjamin Franklin. The news story of the death of the Baltimore Butcher had indeed created a stir, but the entire story needed to be told, and Michael was the only person to tell it.

Knocks fell on the door and Michael jolted a bit, nervous energy built up past the point of tolerability. Clara gave him a little love tap on the arm and the two crossed to the front door. They opened it to see a tall man with a black handlebar mustache that was waxed and curled at the tips. He wore a waistcoat to match his trousers and stiff white collar.

The man introduced himself as Elliot Dean from Harper and Brothers Publishing. Clara welcomed him in and brought out tea and cakes. David was asleep in his room upstairs and the three adults sat down in the parlor to discuss the past, the present, and the future.

“They just loved the book,” Elliot said, sitting in an overstuffed, wing-backed easy chair, across from Michael and Clara on the couch. “I was already on my way out here when it arrived in our New York offices, but I’m assured that it’s a modern classic, certain to capture the imaginations of Americans from coast to coast… Europeans, too.”

Clara asked, “You’ll be translating it into other languages?”

“Well, not at first,” Elliot said, raising the white china teacup to his lips, blowing on it from under his mustache. “We intend to market it in England, however. And the French are very excited about American literature. We’re confident that word will spread.”

“Oh my,” Clara said, putting a flattened hand on her chest. “How exciting.”

Michael felt just as Clara seemed to, but he didn’t dare show it. His greatest fear in this affair was disappointment, something he knew to be prepared for.

Elliot went on. “It will be widely distributed to our booksellers here too, of course. We think it will be the biggest seller since The Autobiography of Colonel David Crockett of the State of Tennessee. You’ll be a rich man, and quite famous too.”

Michael glanced at Clara. “All I want is to provide for my family.”

“Honorable,” Elliot said, “and well said. I don’t doubt that your book is every bit as good as I’ve heard.” He’d entered with a leather briefcase, which he’d set on his lap. Putting the teacup down, he opened the case and pulled out a piece of paper, closing the case and setting it down next to him.

“I have a few notes from our editors in New York,” Elliot said, looking the paper over. “If you’re open to some… minor thoughts?”

Michael’s sense of dread returned. But he’d worked with editors before, and he knew how important they were considered to be in the industry. There would likely be some give and take, but Michael was prepared for that. Even the best writers made mistakes, and even the best writing could often be improved in little ways that could make a big difference.

Elliott clarified, “You don’t mind?”

“Not at all,” Michael said. “I’ll be grateful for the input.”

“Excellent,” Elliot said, still surveying the paper. “Overall, the writing and the pacing are very good. Your descriptions are vivid, and the emotional pull of the story is expected to have broad appeal among our readers.”

“So far,” Michael said, “I think your editors show excellent taste.”

They all shared a little chuckle and Elliot went on scanning the page. “One or two points of interest, however.” After a little pause, he went on, “There’s some business in Philadelphia.”

“The prostitute who was killed.”

“No, actually… the cat.”

Michael repeated, “The cat?”

“The Butcher leaves a dead cat on steps of the police station, if I’m not mistaken?”

“Well, we were never sure who did that,” Michael said. “The Butcher kept a low profile. But it speaks to the effects on other people, how the notion of committing random violence seems to inspire some people to do the same.”

“Yes, well, our editors feel certain that this will be upsetting to our readers and we would prefer it be removed.”

“Upsetting?”

“Well,” Elliott said with a shrug and a smile, “it’s an innocent creature, after all.”

“So was the prostitute,” Michael said, noting the rising ire in his tone. “So were all the Butcher’s victims.”

Clara had her hand on Michael’s arm, and she gave it a little squeeze to silently calm him.

“Quite true,” Elliot said. “And their stories are really what our readers are interested in. Is it worth it to derail their truths for the sake of this other piece?”

Michael understood the editor’s mindset, and though it rankled him greatly, he knew there could be some wisdom in it.

Clara asked, “Is there anything else?”

“Actually,” Elliot went on, “another relatively small matter. You recount an altercation between you and a deputy in Cleveland, Ohio?”

“Not an altercation, really,” Michael said. “I killed him outright. But it was self-defense, even the local sheriff thought so.”

“Yes, but we… we at Harper and Brothers, I mean… we feel that it reflects poorly.”

“Reflects poorly,” Michael repeated, “on whom?”

“Well, we don’t want a hero who goes around killing lawmen.”

“First of all, I’m not really a hero. That’s not what the book is about.”

“It will inspire generations of young men,” Elliot said. “We wish them to see the law as a positive force, uncorrupted.”

“But it’s not always that,” Michael countered.

“The truth? Even in your Chicago Tribune, the truth only has a fighting chance. There’s commerce to be considered, am I right?”

He wasn’t wrong, Michael had to admit. Ad space needed to be sold, those clients were generally well-respected. They’d earned that respect. And Michael had never overlooked a crime because the perpetrator happened to take an ad in his newspaper.

“I publish the truth only,” he said.

“But we publish books, dear fellow. And books are different from newspaper articles, as you undoubtedly know. There’s a matter of… dramatic license, literary loopholes.”

“Literary loopholes,” Michael repeated, “dramatic license.”

“I’m glad you agree,” Elliot said. “What is it they say? ‘Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.’” Referring again to the notes on his page, he went on. “As to the matter of your… disguising yourself as a priest.”

“It was a tactical necessity,” Michael said, “and a way to make the other priest’s death have some value, to honor the man’s sacrifice.”

“Mister Hillburn,” Elliott said with a shake of his head, “we’re a company with broad appeal. A lot of our readers are dedicated Christians.”

“And my husband is a hero to the local congregation,” Clara was quick to say.

“I don’t doubt it,” Elliott said. “Still, we don’t feel that our readers will be drawn to such an act. Perhaps… if you pretended to be a rabbi, our readers might not take it so personally.”

Michael asked, “What about your Jewish readers?”

“They are surprisingly few, intelligent as they are rumored to be. Oh, there are some in the East, but they tend to keep to themselves.”

“Mister… Elliot, is it?”

“Dean, Elliot Dean.”

“Well, Mr. Dean,” Michael went on, “I suggest that you don’t really want to publish my book at all.”

Elliot leaned forward, looking at Michael and Clara from over his eyeglasses. “I… I beg your pardon?”

“You want a different story, with different things in it.”

“No, no,” Elliot said, “we want this book, we just want it… our way.”

“I’m sorry,” Michael said, “no.”

“What if you pretended to be a… a doctor? Not a lawyer, obviously… we all want a likeable protagonist!” He laughed, but neither Michael nor Clara joined him.

“Mister Dean,” Michael said, “there is enough dishonesty in the story as it is truly told. I realize that I’m responsible for that, my own actions. But it is a true story.”

“About your sister,” Elliot persisted, “have you considered that she might… survive at the end? After a few months in a hospital, she comes back and you all live as a happy family?”

Michael said, “Mister Dean—”

“I know it’s a slight… bending of the truth—”

Clara repeated, “Bending?”

Elliot shrugged. “We think a lot of our female readers will appreciate it. Some will be able to relate to her perspective.”

“Her death is a matter of record,” Michael said. “It’s a non-fiction book.”

“Yes, well, perhaps… perhaps a novelization would be more appropriate? That would give us a lot more leeway. Change a few names… We’ll print ‘based on a true story’ on the cover.”

“No,” Michael said, “I’m sorry.”

Elliot leaned forward with a hopeful smile. “‘Inspired by actual events.’” Michael and Clara just sat there in silence before Elliot asked, “Not even to rouse countless young men to take action on the side of right? Not even to be greeted as a hero all over the world? Fame is a powerful ally, my friend. It could put you in the White House if you played your cards right.”

“I have a house,” Michael said, turning to smile at Clara and to savor the smile she offered in return. “I have a home. Perhaps I’ll publish it myself as it is, expand the business.”

Clara said to their guest, “Thank you for coming, Mr. Elliot.”

“Dean,” he corrected her. “But, Mrs. Hillburn, perhaps you will listen to reason. I’m talking about hundreds of thousands of copies, perhaps more. You’ll be rich.”

“I have everything I need and more,” Clara said. “My husband is an excellent provider, a good man. I am truly blessed.”

“Don’t you wish to see him enjoy all the fruits of his considerable labors?”

“He already does,” Clara said, “I assure you.”

Michael said, “Give my best to your editors in New York,” and ushered the man out.

“God be with you,” Clara said before the door shut.

They shared a glance, no room for doubt between them. There was no other reasonable choice to make, and Michael knew his wife was confident in his position. She shared it, as they shared everything in their lives. It left them with time to plan their new publishing house and make other plans for their bright and glorious future, to live it and to render it truthfully.

THE END


Readers who read this book also liked

One thought on “Vengeance Behind the Mask – Extended Epilogue”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *