“Listen, Frank, I appreciate what you’re sayin’ but the Giants don’t stand a lick of a chance against the Superbas this year. I can feel it already, back to back to back pennants,” Daniel said, tossing some dusty rocks into a wheelbarrow. He was a younger man in his early 20s and gave off an energetic aura. He was smiling wide as he often did, his bright blue eyes alive with excitement and youth.
“Daniel, you’re a regular bonehead, you know that? The Giants have the pennant in the bag with Davis at short. A solid defensive shortstop is all a ball club needs,” Frank replied as he wiped his calloused hands on his crusty overalls.
“Ah, my dear older brother, though I will agree that a hanging defense is a necessity, what respectable ball club doesn’t have a decent pitcher?” Daniel shot back, holding an index finger up in the air then pointing it accusingly at Frank’s chest to emphasize his point.
“Mathewson is a killer pitcher, you goop. His fadeaway is gonna have your precious Keelerhit and the rest of Brooklyn fanning all season. He’s twice the pitcher than that double crossing Rusie,” Frank responded, slapping Daniel’s hand away from his chest.
“Pardon me, but that is a load of bunk. Mathewson isn’t worth a jitney. At least with Rusie the Giants presented a challenge. No, Mathewson is no Rusie, and he is certainly no McGinnity. Now there is a pitcher worth talking about. Truly the Lord in Heaven has touched that boy’s arm. A true Superba. A true Dodger.” Daniel said, making a sign of the cross over himself and closing his eyes as if in deep prayer.
Frank shoved him in the shoulders, “Dammit, Daniel, there ain’t no way the Holy Spirit would be blessing your Superbas, you louse!”
Daniel stumbled backwards as he was much smaller than Frank, and tripped over a toolbox, landing hard on his back. He glared up at Frank, “Lay off, no need to go getting so snarky about it, you schumck.” Daniel held out his hand for Frank to help him back up, “All I’m saying is that 1901 will be another winning year for the Brooklyn Superbas. That’s all there is, there ain’t no more.”
As Daniel was helped up he looked up into the air, squinting from the painful brilliance of the summer sky. He ran his eyes over the steel rods that were the framework of the building that he and Frank were on construction for. They looked like bony fingers reaching up from the earth, trying to grab the sun. “I can’t believe anyone thinks ol’ Burnham’s Folly will stay up, it’s a God damned triangle for crying out loud. Nothing that high will ever stay up. God won’t stand for people moving into His terrain. He’s bound to knock it down with a mighty wind.”
“Yeah,” Frank said slowly, studying Daniel. He had never understood Daniel’s outlook on religion. He wasn’t anything like the rest of their Catholic family. He didn’t just go to church on Sunday to feel guilty and say a Hail Mary. Their mother would always yell at Daniel for ranting about the dire state of man and for staring off into the distance making vague, profound comments about God and his will. She said that it was blasphemous for him to be talking that way, and that he should stick to what the Bible teaches him if he ever wants to get into Heaven. Frank knew that his passionately critical speeches were only for the attention, but he wished that he would cut it out and get his head on his shoulders right.
Frank turned back to loading the rubble into the wheelbarrow when he saw an unfamiliar figure walking towards them. “Aw shit, here comes the new guy, Daniel. Probably some just off the boat mick whose gonna slow us down like Hell.”
The man walked up to them in his yet unstained work boots, overalls, and undershirt. His appearance was plain in almost every way other than a bright red cross with golden vines growing around it that was pinned to his overalls over his heart. His face was soft yet focused looking as he took short, confident steps towards Daniel and Frank. They both watched him approach; analyzing what kind of worker he would be from his demeanor. As he drew nearer they both noticed the man’s powerful eyes that seemed to look through them. Daniel hesitated a moment, then stuck his hand out towards the stranger.
"Name’s Daniel Avery and this here’s my side kick and brother Frank Avery,” Daniel introduced, shaking hands and nodding his head towards Frank who was still looking at the man’s eyes. “Pretty much all we do is take all this rumble here, and wheel it over there out of the way. It’s nothing hard and it’s good honest work for a man at 15 cents an hour. So what’s your name, fella?”
“John,” the man answered simply, in a quiet reserved tone.
“Well it’s nice to have you on, John. Now how about you help me and Frank toss some of these stones into the wheelbarrow and bring them over the other side of the site?”
The three men went back to the pile, loading up rocks, and wheeling them over to another pile further off site and dumping them. They did this as the sun rose higher into the sky, escaping the grasp of the rigid steel fingers of the Fuller Building. As the sun moved overhead the heat intensified and pushed heavily upon the construction workers, causing sweat to drip heavily from their brows and their movement to become more sluggish. The heat of the sun added a more weight to each rock that needed to be lifted, and made the wheelbarrows harder to push. The wood of the handlebars grew white hot in the light making each back and forth trip a rite of passage for the workers.
Once while Frank was at the pile on the other side of the site, Daniel leaned against the cool dark side of a steel pillar that was near where he and John were working. He pulled his handkerchief from his pocket to wipe down his face then once again stared up into the blue sky.
“So what do you think of all this, John?”
John kept his eyes down, focusing on piling more stones into his cart, giving no indication that he had heard Daniel.
“Some people see this building going up and think it’s a regular humdinger, a lollapalooza, an achievement of modern society. I don’t see that at all.” Daniel looked back over to John to look for a response, but received nothing.
Daniel continued, speaking to the sky. “No, I don’t see at all what they see. This skyscraper is exactly that, it’s grating against God’s creation. Once we finish this building it will tear a hole in the sky, like a knife pressed against soft flesh, and all Hell is gonna pour out. All this industrializing isn’t good for man’s soul. False prophet tycoons with their material goods are corrupting society. Rockefeller’s oil and Judah’s railroad. The loss of human dignity as we all come to America and are sent into the industrial shops is horrifying. Men falling into meat grinders, children losing fingers to harsh chemicals, it’s unnatural. Godless cement spreading out of the cities like blood from a dead deer. But no one cares; everyone’s letting their eyes adjust to the darkness of mechanical precision as they move out of God’s light. Everyone’s become worse than the most brutal tribes of the wild, more ruthless than jungle law. Everyone is biting and scratching to get one more penny ahead in life at the expense of every paddy and ginzo that stands in their way. Manifest Destiny and the American Dream have become man’s dying words.”
Daniel heard that John had stopped piling rocks and turned looked back to him for his reaction. To Daniel’s surprise John was standing erect, staring directly at him with his powerful, watery eyes. Daniel opened his mouth to continue but lost the air in his lungs. He stammered slack jawed before falling silent. The stared at each other for a few moments before Frank returned and broke the silence.
“Hey Daniel, quit chewin’ the fat and let’s hotfoot up to Hanley’s and see if there’re any knockouts while we get a pint.”
Frank set his barrel on the ground and walked away, leaving John and Daniel to continue silently staring at one another. After a moment, John walked away in the opposite direction that Frank had gone. Daniel fell to his knees, his eyes still unblinking as small tears begin to drip down onto his cheek. He slowly rose back up, headed off to follow Frank to the pub.
Daniel walked into Hanley’s a few minutes after Frank, seemingly in a haze. He slowly walked across the smoky bar to where his brother was sitting, weaving in and out of the dense gathering of patrons that frequented the place, and sat on a stool next to him.
“Hey two for the Avery brother’s alright, Sam? It’s been a long day up at the site, hasn’t it brother?” Frank shouted across the counter to the bartender, wrapping his arm around Daniel’s shoulder and shaking him. As he laughed heartily he looked at his brother and noticed him staring vacantly at the wall of liquor with watery eyes. “What’s gotten into you, Daniel?”
Daniel was slow to respond, “I was talking to John, he…”
“Oh don’t pay any mind to that two bit schmuck,” Frank interrupted, “that nut gave me the willies with those creepy eyes of his. Here have a swig of this, it’ll take your mind off of whatever he said to you, brother. Gettin’ loaded is always good for clearing a man’s thoughts,” Frank said as he handed Daniel a tall glass of ale that they both downed immediately.
After several more drinks Frank was becoming more and more gregarious while Daniel seemed to be slipping further into a comatose state. “Oh c’mon Daniel, you’re really starting to get on my nerves acting like a pantywaist like that. What’s eating you?”
Daniel looked up at his brother without really looking at him. “Frank, John was God. I’m absolutely sure of it.”
“Oh cut the crap, Daniel. What’s put that into your head?”
“The way he looked at me today, he had eyes like God, Frank… like God.”
“I think you’ve had a little too much of the hooch tonight, brother. None more for this one Sam, he’s already tanked up!” Frank yelled to the bartender.
Daniel quickly rose up and grabbed Frank by the top of his overalls, slamming him into a nearby wall. “I’m serious Frank, that guy was God come to earth. He looked into my soul, he judged me, Frank. He condemned me for what I said to him.”
“You’re drunk Daniel,” Frank harshly said back to Daniel, pushing him away back into his stool, “Why don’t you go home and sleep it off alright? We’ll talk about this tomorrow.”
Frank then stormed out of the bar, leaving Daniel alone to have everyone’s eyes fall upon him for a moment, before going back to their own drinks.
The next day John didn’t show up at the construction site to transfer the dusty rocks from one pile to the other. He didn’t show up for the rest of the week, or the week after that, and no one else around the site had seen him or heard anything about him when Frank began to ask around. Daniel’s mental state grew worse and worse, no longer willing to talk about baseball, or Shackleton’s expedition, or even about his views on the construction of other skyscrapers around New York. Soon he stopped talking all together, except for occasionally mumbling “His eyes…” quietly to himself. Eventually Frank put it upon himself to track down John to put an end to his brother’s misery. He went to his manager to find out what he could about John.
“Hey, Horace, I need to talk to you.”
“What? Is this about your nutty brother, Frank? You better get him in shape, he’s riding on thin ice as it is right now. I don’t need him actin’ like a lush around here all day.”
“Yeah, I’m trying to help him out here. Do you have any information about that guy John who worked here a few weeks ago?”
“John? C’mon Frank, there’s a thousand John’s that come in and out of here.”
“This one was only here one day, and he had a bright red cross on his chest.”
Horace thought for a moment, looking up and scratching under his chin, before saying, “Yeah, I remember him. That guy with the crazy eyes.”
“Yes, him, can you tell me anything about him? Where he lives?”
“Sure, if it means getting Daniel out of such raggedy condition. Just don’t let the brass find out I was givin’ out this info or they’d can me,” Horace said, grabbing a file out of a cabinet and opening it up. “He lives at… that little apartment building down on Rivington in the Lower East Side.”
Frank took a streetcar down into the overpopulated Lower East Side, eventually finding the lone small apartment on Rivington. As he approached he noticed how it was the most rundown building on the street, as if no one had lived there for many years, and if they had they didn’t care about up keeping. When he stepped inside he asked for the tenant at the front counter. An old man of about 60 approached Frank.
“Hello, I’m looking for someone who lives here by the name of John?” Frank implored.
“John? Why would you be looking for him?” the man responded, eyeing Frank suspiciously.
Frank decided it would be easier to lie than to explain his brother’s problem to the old man. “He skunked my friend out of 5 dollars the other day, I’m trying to find him and do him in.”
The man continued to look over Frank, not seeming to buy his story. “Well he ain’t here. He ain’t been here for a few weeks in fact. Police showed up and took him up to Utica. He’s probably sleepin’ like a baby now in one of them cribs.”
“Utica? The lunatic asylum?” Frank asked in disbelief.
“Yep, that would be the one. I was told the boy was retarded, that the police caught him starting fights in some bars, yellin’ all to hell to the other patients about this and that. Course I coulda told the police that boy was slow without any sort of tests. Never sayin’ a word whenever you talked to him, just starin’ back at you with those big cow eyes. Boy was just not quite right in the head.”
Frank never did tell Daniel what he found out, but instead watched him slip further into a depression, all of his youthful energy sapped from him. He continued to insist that John was God and that he had judged him. Daniel said that John had shown him that his beliefs were misguided, and that he had it all wrong. That he was missing the big picture. He said that he had lost all direction in his life and needed to talk to John again to be shown the way. Later when Daniel began showing suicidal tendencies Frank to committed him to the Utica Insane Asylum. When Daniel asked where he was being taken, Frank told him, “You’re going to talk to God, Daniel.”