Prologue of Tatterdemalion
In what's necessarily my spare time, in between job hunting, bill-paying, shopping, laundry, trips to the garage and all the quotidian minutia comprising a human life, I've been piecing together 1000-2000 words a day (which, when inspired, I can toss off in 30-60 minutes even in longhand) a novel you may have heard whispered about in this forum. Last year sometime, I got it in my head that it would be a hell of an idea to assemble Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley and her husband, Arthur Conan-Doyle, Sitting Bull and Sigmund Freud and have them hunt Jack the Ripper in 1888 London. After doing some preliminary historical research, I realized the timelines were somewhat compatible (with a little literary license) and their motives for being in London's East End were even more plausible and compatible. My first novel, written in 1994-5, was a sci fi tale about Jack the Ripper so it was just a matter of brushing up on old research.
I'd tossed off a prologue and brief first chapter then it sat in mothballs for several months while I was working on my Joe Roman trilogy. Then I met an English author and asked him if he wanted in, since I thought having a co-author across the pond wouldn't be a bad idea since he'd have a better idea of how the Queen's English is spoken and may have better insight as to what Victorian London was like. After showing him the first eight chapters and getting some tweaking from him, he'd decided a couple of weeks ago to drop out of the project, citing scheduling conflicts and wanting to earn enough money from his book royalties to quit his day job. He'd actually said he wasn't too keen on splitting the royalties of our book, even though he'd known since early March we 'd be doing so.
He was supposed to do the publicity and marketing while his cover artist was to do the cover while I would pitch it to literary agents since I have much more experience doing that. But now, with him out of the picture, I'm free to write this book any way I want, one which was my vision, to begin with. One of the first things I did was to turn the existing prologue into the first part of Chapter One and to write a new prologue, which you see below. I'm already on Chapter 13 and, even in first draft, it's coming along pretty well. Virtually the entire book is narrated by my fictional character, Scott Carson, a young pioneer cinematographer who actually shot the first motion pictures in 1887 when Buffalo Bill and his Wild West show was in London doing a command performance for the Queen's 50th Jubilee.
Remembering Bill's gallantry and sense of honor, Queen Victoria is more than amenable to Inspector Fred Abberline's unorthodox idea of bringing in Bill and his troupe back to London to investigate the Ripper murders since one of his own Indians (and this is historically true) has been blamed for the Whitechapel killings of Jack the Ripper. This is Scott Carson beginning his tale as a disillusioned 55 year-old Hollywood cameraman in 1922.
Buffalo Bill bursts from the London fog like a rawhide cannonball, .45s blazing, his horse’s hooves striking sparks on the cobblestones. On either side of him is Chief Sitting Bull, both hero and villain of the Little Big Horn, Annie Oakley and Frank Butler and Arthur Conan-Doyle. Looking down on this vivid milieu from some metaphorical coign of vantage is the man who redefined Humankind’s inner universe, Dr. Sigmund Freud.
Of course, it was rarely if ever actually that romantic. I will leave such dramatic imagery to any publisher of dime store novels what may find this account worthy to be put between covers.
However, it is human nature to apply layer after another the patina of nostalgia over our actual memories of more quotidian events what, for better or worse, alter the largely capricious trajectory of our lives. Bill and Sitting Bull, sadly, are now no more. The once pretty and sprightly Annie Oakley has never been quite the same since her automobile accident (Though her legendary aim, I am happy to report, is actually sharper than ever.). Frank Butler and Conan-Doyle are now stiffly-moving old men and Freud’s not doing so well himself these days.
Yet as parents persist in thinking upon their children at their most adorable and vulnerable, so I tend to imperfectly recall my old, dear friends at the height of their powers and during the first of several defining times of our mutual amities. I see them still, God save me, certain characteristics, phrases or looks etched in sharp relief as with a coroner’s scalpel or Jack the Ripper’s knife, a forgivably, I will hope, intrusive palimpsest superimposed over a factual history.
The fall of 1888 was just such a time, one of palimpsests and faulty revisions of the hideous actual, an age of false narratives, illusions, delusions, lies, prejudices and subterfuge. And while Bill, Annie, Frank and I had at least one other subsequent adventure together what could be termed grand, our relationship in London during the last of the Whitechapel murders was taken at times beyond the breaking point just as surely as Saucy Jack had successfully tested 8000 London policemen.
Ours was an ad hoc investigatory body what would forever change law enforcement throughout the English-speaking world and perhaps beyond that. And this was brought about because our unsuspecting, more innocent world had never seen anything like the Ripper killings, or, as Freud had written to Conan-Doyle, “the Caesarian birth of a new pathology setting latter-day psychology on its bloodied ear.”
Ergo, please permit me my persistent romantic recollections of a singular event of multiple murders what had taken place across five weeks in the autumn of ‘88. As long as my memories endure within this failing brain, I will always think of Buffalo Bill, his gold and silver hair flying behind him as he barrels through London fog atop his steed Isham, Annie “Little Sure Shot” Oakley at one side, her infallible rifle tucked into her shoulder, Sitting Bull on the other side, bow and arrow at the ready, both taking aim at an elusive evil that even now, with the benefit of decades of hindsight, cannot be adequately explained or even defined.
However much you may choose to believe or disbelieve, this is how these great men and a great woman detoured from their path to posterity to pursue and vanquish an evil rendering redundant the necessity of embellishment or dramatization.