Chapter Three, the Preview Continues

From unpublished notes written by Solomon Hanson:
My adventure began as many beginnings do; with an ending. I was in the coal covered city of Pittsburgh. The year, 1880
As Hap dismounted his horse, he scanned the Pittsburgh skyline below. Iron black acrid pillars of smoke from nearby steel mills hung over the huddle of brick behemoths and tainted everything. He shuddered.
Hap’s sandy hair used to shine like brass. Now muted, merely tan, the ever-present soot suppressed its luster. Bloodshot halos often encircled his sea green eyes. A reporter for the Pittsburgh Examiner, Hap eventually hoped to write his way to a modest solitary home, far from the ‘wonders’ of the industrial age.
Arriving at his destination, Hap paused to take it in. The pantheon of Pittsburgh’s elite built their Olympus here. From this hillside retreat the stewards of steel escaped the sullen surroundings of their subjects below.
Proudly standing atop a treeless hill, the Brazelton mansion demanded attention. White trim gleamed in the muted afternoon sun. Unstained yet by soot saturated rain, the roof radiated a deep red. Its pristine splendor proclaimed the owner’s meteoric rise in status.
Hap rang the doorbell. The door swung open. Standing boldly in the entrance, Allen Brazelton beckoned Hap in. Shorter, Allen’s fiery hazel gaze pierced from under thick thunderstorm brows.
“Come in, Solomon.”
Briskly, they strode in silence. Only the tick-tock of the grandfather clock disturbed the eerily hushed house.
Before Hap asked, Allen answered. “I gave my staff the evening off. The ladies are out of town. It’s just us.”
Hap swallowed hard, his throat suddenly dry. They ended their march in the billiard room.
Allen thrust a glass tumbler at Hap. “You’ve done good work Solomon.” Allen poured them each a drink. His grim features failed to match his glowing praise. “That’s why I’m offering you this opportunity rather than fire you.”
Hap’s tumbler slipped, his jaw dropped. “Allen, Mr. Brazleton, what is this about?”
Hap’s host seized a pool cue from the wall. He crouched over the blue-green table and struck the cue ball, the white bullet blasting the tightly packed spheres. Only then did Allen share the tempered fury with his glowering glare. “This is about my Caroline.”
Stalling, Hap drained his tumbler before speaking. “What about Caroline?” Hap barely caught the cue Brazleton threw to him.
“You know too well what.”
Hap diverted his eyes to the billiards. Craning over the table to make his shot, he boldly responded. “Caroline and I enjoy one another’s company enough to see past our differences.”
A father’s face flushed. “I did not raise my daughter to be enjoyed.” Brazleton focused his fury, fired his next shot. Silence sank in.
Hap watched his friend, his boss smolder awhile longer. His eyes burned holes through the green felt. Slowly, fury faded. Allen Brazleton locked his molten-iron eyes with Hap.
“Solomon… Hap, I didn’t ask you here to quarrel over Caroline.” His hazel embers cooled slightly. “Earlier I spoke of an opportunity. Let’s get back to that.”
Hap let a sigh escape. It’s the first time this afternoon he’s called me Hap, hopefully that’s a good sign.
Allen cooled further as he began. “You’re an observant man. The world is changing. Steel and steam are the backbone of great nations. Edison’s inventions will make the twentieth century an electrical age. Those failing to embrace the new will be left behind, forgotten.”
Pouring another drink Hap listened. Allen continued. “America leads in ideas and industry.”
Hap braved a grin, a chuckle. “I never knew you to be overly patriotic, Allen.”
Allen grimaced. “No, but I enjoy wealth and power as much as the next man. My point is this. A new player has entered the game. I mean to know more about him.”
Incredulous, Hap recoiled. “Where are you going with this?”
Allen’s gaze darkened. “France. Hap, someone’s beginning to challenge the status quo.”
“How do you know and why do you care?”
Despite their solitude, Allen’s voice lowered. “I have friends, powerful friends.”
Smiling, Hap clapped his boss on the shoulder. “You run a newspaper, one I enjoy writing for.” Then frowning, “Let Europe worry about France.”
“They’re perfecting a new technique for lightweight, strong steel. Hap, what if French steel production surpasses Pittsburgh’s?” Allen countered gruffly.
“Where do I fit in all of this?” Hap asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Find out what you can. Rumor is their working on a variety of advances.”
Hap shrugged. “This hardly sounds like an opportunity for me.”
Allen’s amber eyes twinkled. “Still writing your book?”
“Sort of, it sits on the shelf mostly. Why?”
“The key investor in France’s industrial surge is Julian Turleau.”
Hap’s eyes flashed briefly, then hardened. “That’s dirty pool, Allen.”
The old competitive fire flickered in Allen’s eyes. “It’s reporting Hap, you know it. Interview him about his next book. Slide in a word about your novel. Once Julian knows your ulterior motive he’ll let his guard down. With any luck you and I get what we’re after.”
Smiling wryly, Hap finished Allen’s thought. “… and Julian feels good about helping an aspiring author.”
Allen offered a broad, innocent grin. “Right. Everybody’s happy.” Allen’s smile failed to ease Hap’s apprehension. It intensified.
As a reporter Hap had tiptoed around the truth to get his story. Before, the truth of the story outweighed any little lies told to uncover it. Justice required it. This story lacked the luster of virtue. Tightness in Hap’s gut tugged at him, warned him.
Returning to the billiard table, Hap studied his next shot. The distraction allowed Allen’s words to sink in, settle, crystallize. Cautiously, Hap wondered. “What’s all this got to do with Caroline?”
Allen turned to look outside. Against an evening sky, his face, like the vista beyond, darkened. He spoke in a low somber tone. “I want you to leave before my Caroline returns. There will be no farewells, no tearful promises.”
Stunned, then angry, Hap snaps. “You think you’ll break us up that easily?”
Turning back, Allen glared at Hap squarely. Shocked, Hap saw something unexpected in the older man’s gaze. Pain, remorse. He knows he’s breaking Caroline’s heart, yet he’d rather do that than allow us to stay together. Am I that bad for her?
Allen answered the question in Hap’s heart. “It’ll never work Hap. She’s infatuated. How long before an eighteen year old girl realizes you’re not so wise, not so smooth… not so young?”
Hap lashed out. “What’s my age got to do with anything?”
“Hap, most men in their thirties know what they’re going to be when they grow up. Hell, most are halfway there. What will you be when you grow up?”
“I am a reporter, a damn good one. You said so yourself.”
“You’ve been a soldier, a cowboy, a miner, and now a reporter. Your passions burn like brush fires Hap. They start quick, burn hot, and move on to consume something else. Caroline is not the only one infatuated.”
Hap’s fury flared. “Dammit Allen! I joined the army because I believed in what we fought for. After that, I worked where I could. Finally, maybe, I’ve found my calling. Being a reporter and writing novels are not mutually exclusive.”
“You must know you two aren’t headed for a happily ever after.”
Allen’s words hung in the air as the two stared at one another. Startled, Hap’s rage receded as he saw the pain in Allen’s eyes. Turning from Allen, Hap looked outside. He’s trying to avoid a war for Caroline’s heart. If I stay, things will get ugly for all of us.
Hap’s gaze fell upon the murky Pittsburgh skyline. He imagined dead factories, smokestacks transformed into aeries for buzzards, economic ruin, chaos. Maybe saving this city is justification enough for my deception.


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