Off to Coney – Spring 1854
“Body NOT identified at Coney Island“
*ANOTHER INQUEST AT CONEY ISLAND – Coroner B. Donly was called on Thursday afternoon to hold an inquest on the body of an unknown man, that was found floating near Coney Island Point, by a colored man named Isberal Peterson. The body was very much mutilated, having been in the water it is supposed about five or six months. He was dressed in black pantaloons, checked shirt and coarse boots. The jury returned a verdict of “death from causes unknown.” The body was taken to Flatbush for burial. Further information can be had by applying to Bernardus Donly, the coroner, at his store, in the village of Gravesend. – Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Monday, April 24, 1854.
That was the second body to wash up on Coney Island Point in less than a month. The previous had been one of the men Jack dispatched to keep an eye on the landings at a demon-cursed dock on the Gravesend Bay side of the Point. The story was unclear as to their activities when our man purportedly was drowned, as we learned about the death in a pithy, if not poorly written letter. Our men had found him the very next morning coming in with the tide and buried him just off the beach. They had stated that the body had been terribly mutilated. Since then, another of Jack’s men had gone missing in Coney, and another had run off after a fight. Only one man was left. No one knew anything telling about him, other than his sobriquet: “Chuck A. Luck.”
On a Thursday morning in late April, Jack told Gabe the gorilla and myself to take the cutter out to Coney and investigate. He said to bring ample supplies for a two week stay, and gave us money to ingratiate ourselves with the Gravesend townsfolk and pleasure seekers of which Coney Island attracted.
A few hours later we shoved off from Miller’s Landing and sailed down a calm East River. We were both seated on supply laden crates, which were abundant on the deck and in the small cabin below. Gabe had his arm draped over the wheel, piloting the craft in a carefree manner. The sun was high and warm on our faces. The sky was deep blue. Ten minutes later we entered Upper NY Bay. Spread over the expanse were tall sailing ships with proud white sails, quite a few steamers, and many smaller vessels similar to our cutter.
Gabe eyed me with a pearly grin and opened one of the boxes filled with Jamaican rum flasks. He removed a wide blue flask, uncorked it, took a swig, and handed it to me.
“Thanks,” I said, and raised the flask up as if in a toast.
“You’re not as horrible a sort as I once thought,” the gorilla said in a high-pitched voice, while the persistently jumpy light in his eyes steadied on me for a full moment.
“You have inbred skills and keen instincts. Jack has said so himself, and I know he’s not the only one impressed by you.”
“Who else is?”
“I’ve asked Jack where the money comes from.”
“He says, ’God.’”
The gorilla laughed brightly. “You won’t get much out of him. Me neither.”
I held up the rum flask. It was decorated on two sides with some sort of geometric design. I took a mouthful and inhaled through my nose, enjoying the alcohol and molasses flavor before swallowing. I took a closer look at the design on the bottle, which jogged my memory… “The brands we use to mark the demons have a tiny Masonic square and compass stamped into it.”
“Yeah,” I said.
“They have a hand in all sorts of things.”
“One day Jack sent me over to a mansion in Gramercy Park to get something. He didn’t say what I would be receiving, nor to whom I should call on. It was quite a handsome home, that any millionaire would be proud of. Before I could knock, the door was opened by an older gentleman in a fine evening suit. He said his name was Gregory. He pumped my hand and called me ‘brother Joe Harris,’ and said he was the ‘Worshipful Master,’ as if I should know what that meant. Then he presented me with a box, of a type I had seen before, and I knew that inside were the brands we used to mark the demons.”
“Funny how Jack trusts you more than me. And with you liking the drink so much.”
(The Masonic Square and Compass from Wikipedia)
I held out the flask and looked off. A row of rather large homes up on the hills of Brooklyn Heights caught my eye. They were spaced far apart and surrounded by woods and farmland.
The gorilla took the flask from me. “But you do deserve Jack’s attention,” he said and took a long drink. He winced. “You have thoroughly impressed us all. Thoroughly impressed, that’s it for sure. What can I say, you saved me–saved me from a most serious disfigurement, for sure. Maybe worse.”
“No,” I said, though in the short time I’d been working for Jack, I had saved Gabe at least twice from serious bodily harm. His problem was that he acted like a giddy marauder, just happy that he had the opportunity to kill. While he himself, in my opinion, would be an easy kill. For one, he swung that damn bludgeon of his like he was slinging a boulder. All one had to do was avoid his initial blow, and all his major organs were there for the slicing and dicing.
“I had a hard time believing in you at first, but when we were on the rum ship, you were quite remarkable. Jack and I walked right past the damn monster. We had our back to him; and with your back to them, you’re as good as dead.”
Gabe spoke of the time we had boarded a Jamaican rum ship at Miller’s Landing. Jack and the gorilla had moved across the main deck ahead of me, passing a group of sailors who had gathered to see what the commotion was, as we had come on board with a posse of armed men. There was something odd about the light in the eye of one of the sailors. I had figured on only scaring the man when I reared back with my stave, but as I came forward, pretending to strike, his mouth opened and I saw fanged teeth. Before he could further react, I plunged the end of the stave with the razored brand through the being’s skull.
Gabe had a few more gulps of the rum. “O’, you remember that feisty little beast, quick as lightening. On the tea ship; the one with the face painted all black.”
“Sure I do.”
“He was slippery as a fish that one, and hell-bent on killing us rather than escape. The only thing faster than him, was you,” Gabe said, and lifted his right hand from the wheel and jabbed behind his back with it.
The vessel loaded with tea had sailed from China. Just seconds after we boarded it, the blackface demon had raced right at us, and caught us off guard. But as I dove, I managed to fling my stave behind my back and spear the demon through the neck with the pointed end. And just at that moment, he had bore his teeth and fangs and lunged, for what seemed a deadly attack, on an off-balance Gabe. Yet my strike had given the gorilla a chance to regain his footing. A second later, Gabe was swinging his spiked bludgeon and walloped the demon upside the head.
We sailed through the Narrows channel and faced the Atlantic Ocean. The wind had picked up. There came a whistling breeze that had a sweet ring. It was very odd…
To our immediate left was Gravesend Bay, where the right side of the shoreline circled to the point of the Coney Island peninsula. Marshes were spread between the two pieces of land, and through the growth I could just make out a connecting crushed-shell road. Out about a mile into the water–from the far end of Coney Island–we could see part of the Rockaway Peninsula. It marked the end of NY Bay and the beginning of the Atlantic, as did a spit of land stretching into the water that was known as Sandy Hook. It was about five miles across NY Bay, attached to the New Jersey shoreline.
I turned my head, half-believing I heard a voice. It seemed to be hidden in the whistling breeze, which made me think of the song, “Old Folks at Home.” Moments later–with no prompt by me–the gorilla began to sing the tune.
“Way down upon de Swanee Ribber,
Far, far away,
Dere’s wha my heart is turning ebber,
Dere’s wha de old folks stay.
All up and down de whole creation
Sadly I roam,
Still longing for de old plantation,
And for de old folks at home…”
“That’s the damn siren humming that tune,” I said. “Don’t sing it. Don’t think of it.” We both looked back to the shores of Staten Island, which were more than a mile away. It was where the siren had vanished, quite appropriately, into a rocky area just off the beach.
“No, she can’t be,” he said. “Not in the light of day.”
“Tis’ true I’m afraid. Some demons never sleep, and some even love the light of day.”
We both looked ahead to Gravesend Bay. Most of the shoreline was made up of sandy beaches and thick-green woodland. There were two long piers in Gravesend and a smaller one at Coney Island Point. Through the trees we could see the roofs of quite a few homes and a church steeple in Gravesend, while on Coney there was just one building that was visible. It stood behind the pier.
We sailed towards Coney…
**Brooklyn, NY 1854 – Rare early view of Brooklyn, New York, published by Smith, Fern & Co., based upon a painting by B.F. Smith. View is from the west (approximately the area of the Wall Street Pier) and shows a vibrant East River scene, teaming with sail boats a few early steam vessels, including the Empire State.)
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