Under the Shield
by Stephen Kotowych
The claustrophobic sound of breathing filled Peter Trevelyan's gas mask as he
surveyed the subway platform. Bodies lay everywhere, even on the stairs and
hanging over the platform's edge, shrouded in a yellow-green fog of chlorine gas.
What a horrible way to die, thought Trevelyan as he stepped carefully so as to not
disturb the corpses. He'd investigated more anarchist attacks in the four years
since Tunguska than he cared to remember, including gassings. These people had
died in agony, their lungs bleeding and destroyed.
Tsar Nicolas's agents in New York were growing bold in attacking a subway
station. The creeping mist had been delivered through the ventilation system,
descending on a platform packed with rush-hour commuters.
Fulton Street Station was in the Financial District, so most of the dead were
businessmen, but there was also an old woman who lay in a bloody heap by the
stairs, trampled to death in the pandemonium. And a mother who'd thrown herself
over her two sons, vainly trying to shelter them from the gas. The younger boy
still clutched one of those new stuffed bears; the ones named for President
Something odd caught Trevelyan's eye: at the far end of the station a single body, a
woman, sat upright on a bench. He made his way to her.
She was dark-haired, no more than twenty. He tugged at the long hose and canister
of his gas hood, pulling the canvas taut to get a better view through the hood's
round, glass eyes.
Wearing a flower-print dress under a beige overcoat, she'd been pretty. Her body
sat facing the downtown tracks, her head tilted down and to the side, looking
peaceful. Trevelyan might have thought she were asleep if he didn't know better.
All the other bodies were on the ground. Why hadn't she joined the stampede?
Who sits calmly on a bench through an agonizing death?
Trevelyan waved his arms to get the attention of the photographer and motioned
for a picture of the dead girl. As the flash bulb fired, Trevelyan wondered who the
freelancer was this time. City cops usually contracted crime-scene photography to
whoever slipped them a twenty first. It was even-money whether the photo would
be in the morning papers before it was on his desk at the Bureau.
He checked the dead girl's pockets for identification, finding none. One did yield a
small, crumpled paper bag with a smeared purple stamp. Peering inside by
flashlight, Trevelyan made out a few pinches of grit. Birdseed? No purse
accompanied the body -- her ID may have been in there, wherever it had ended up.
Pulling at the long gold chain around her neck revealed a golden crucifix hidden
within her dress. He fingered the three crossbeams of the Orthodox cross for a
moment and then placed it carefully back within the woman's dress.
Once he was at street level, Trevelyan tore off the gas mask, glad to be free of its
close, damp heat. The pepper-and-pineapple tang of the gas hung vaguely in the
air. Only two years earlier the anarchists had still been throwing homemade bombs
at police wagons and trying to gun down politicians from the backs of speeding
But an unknown number of tsarist secret police, the Okhrana, had been smuggled
into the United States since then to agitate amongst Russian immigrants, as well as
those opposed to the war and Tesla's peace-beam. The Okhrana trained agents to
fight the only kind of war Tesla shields couldn't defend against: sabotage and
Flash-bulbs popped amongst the crowd at the barricades as stretcher-bearers
carried the shrouded bodies up from the subway and laid them on the cobble.
Newsmen were never far behind one of the Russian attacks.
Vultures, thought Trevelyan.
The Okhrana had been effective. Trevelyan had never seen a more lethal attack:
twenty-six dead from gas, by his count, and probably the same again in the hospital
who would succumb to the effects of the chlorine after several agonizing days.
Ten or twelve more had been trampled to death.
One of the stretcher men approached and removed his gas mask. "That's the last,
sir. Shall I have them start the hoses?"
"Yes, constable," said Trevelyan. "And thank you," he added, not used to such
deference from the NYPD. City cops usually resented Bureau agents assuming
At the constable's signal the assembled firemen started their pumps and trained
hoses down the station stairs. Water would neutralize the vapors, washing them
harmlessly into the sewers.
A distant siren sounded, followed momentarily by a chorus of others. The all-clear.
Reflexively, everyone in the street -- from Trevelyan, to the cordon of police
riflemen, to the crowd of onlookers behind the barricades -- craned their heads
Above the building tops, the Tesla shield dome of electromagnetic energy flickered
out in spasms of forked lightning and crashes of thunder as the generating stations
on Roosevelt Island powered down. Trevelyan felt again the drizzle of rain that
the shield had temporarily blocked.
Every tsarist bomb was treated as a possible prelude to invasion, so up went the
shield. Impervious to external attack, New York had only to worry about the rot
Trevelyan found the stretcher with the girl in the flower-print dress and motioned
to one of the coroner's assistants. "No ID," he said. "Tell the coroner I want her
examined first. Let me know what the autopsy says."
At 3 a.m., after hours of interviewing witnesses and survivors, Trevelyan finally
reached home. He locked his apartment door and pulled down the blinds, then
unlocked a small cabinet that stood in the eastern corner of his bedroom. Its plain
exterior belied the glints of gold and silver revealed within as Peter struck a match.
The wooden doors were divided into ornate arches painted with images of saints,
martyrs, the Madonna and Child -- a private iconostasis for Peter. The contents
were all manner of icons, holy medals, and crucifixes, some passed down for
Peter lit a candle before icons of the Theotokos of Kazan and of Saint Mark of the
Caves that had belonged to his grandmother -- his paternal grandmother -- and
stood quietly for a moment watching the flame dance off deeply-burnished gold-leaf halos and ornate silver frames.
He prayed for the dead girl, who wore a Byzantine cross even though signs of her
Orthodox faith risked recrimination.
And though he lived alone and the door was locked, because Peter prayed all this
in Russian, he whispered.
Trevelyan arrived at the Bureau of Investigation's New York field office on three
hours of sleep. The bright, clear day stood not only as an unwelcome reminder of
how little sleep he'd managed, but also in stark contrast to the headlines he passedat the newsstands.
The Times ran subway terror -- anarchists gas commuters -- dozens dead
while the reliably sensational New York Herald trumpeted underground death!
above a photo of the subway platform littered with bodies.
A thick yellow envelope waited on Peter's desk. As the BOI Russian Affairs
Liaison with the NYPD, he was provided with crime scene photos and notes of the
interviews made with all survivors of anarchist attacks.
The shuffling sound of heavy feet let Trevelyan know Assistant Director Swan
approached. He turned as Swan struck a match, lighting a cigar and puffing until a
veil of thick smoke hung around his head. He always looked to Trevelyan like a
man who had wallowed all day, fully dressed, on an unmade bed.
Swan tossed a missing persons report on Trevelyan's desk. The small glossy photo
paperclipped to the pages -- some kind of official ID photo -- showed the dark-haired girl from the night before.
"She's one of yours."
"Sir?" Trevelyan managed, though his heart was momentarily in his throat. Swan
would know about the name change if he'd read Trevelyan's permanent file, but
he'd never brought up Peter's Russian heritage.
"The girl. She was killed last night in the attack," said Swan. "The coroner
matched the photo with the body this morning. He needs to see you -- there's
been a development."
Trevelyan scanned the missing persons report. His victim had a name, at last.
Alice Bester. It wasn't Russian. An alias?
"This report was filed today," Trevelyan said, flipping through the pages. "She's
been missing . . . less than eighteen hours? How did this get acted on so quickly?"
"She's one of Tesla's." Swan puffed his cigar.
The assistant director nodded and Trevelyan's jaw tensed. Wardenclyffe was the
last thing he wanted to get involved with. Tesla, too. Not again.
"What the hell was one of Tesla's people doing in Manhattan?" Trevelyan asked
aloud. Wardenclyffe was in Shoreham, on Long Island. "I'll need an automobile."
"A car and driver are waiting downstairs," said Swan, and he picked a bit of
tobacco off his tongue. Trevelyan grabbed his coat and followed Swan into the
Ever since Wardenclyffe had been militarized, Trevelyan's understanding was that
staff lived on the base, and, given the secrecy of their work, their movements were
closely monitored. The missing persons report said Alice Bester had been ordered
to the city on official business -- she was one of Tesla's secretaries -- and failed
to return to base.
"Peter," Swan said as they stepped out on to street, "this is going to be a very
sensitive case." They stopped at the curb where a grey-haired constable in need of
a shave leaned against a Model T. "Makes me uneasy, having one of Tesla's
people involved. Very powerful people will want to know why she was on that
platform last night. Solve this -- fast."
Trevelyan thought a moment before he spoke. "Am I working the subway gassing
or Alice Bester?" He'd been involved in politically-sensitive cases before and this
was starting to feel uncomfortably like another one.
Swan merely smiled. "The automobile is yours for the duration of the case.
Hargrave here will be your driver. Good hunting," he said, and disappeared back
inside the BOI offices in a cloud of cigar smoke.
Hargrave appraised Trevelyan coolly. He didn't offer his hand.
"The Bureau's taken jurisdiction in this case, constable," said Trevelyan, sensing a
city cop's territoriality in the man.
"Yes, sir," said Hargrave, in a tone just short of insubordination. "Always happy
to drive around you fellas from the Bureau."
Trevelyan climbed in the passenger side as the auto rocked side-to-side several
times, Hargrave giving the starter crank two or three quarter turns at full choke.
The engine turned over and sputtered to a start as Hargrave gave one final good
spin of the crank. He rushed to the driver's side, hopped in, and advanced the
spark coil. The auto lurched forward into the street.
"Must be a big case if the Department's letting us take out the flivver, eh?"
Hargrave said. When Trevelyan said nothing Hargrave added: "I mean this is a lot
of fuss for one dead girl, ain't it?"
"It's Hargrave, right?" Trevelyan said without looking up from the report he was
reading. "Truth be told, Hargrave, I've only been in one of these damned 'flivver'
things once before. I'm not looking forward to another trip."
Hargrave scoffed under his breath but said nothing else. Trevelyan often found a
little well-placed rudeness had wonderful results. He had too much on his mind to
make chitchat with some flatfoot.
Very powerful people would want answers, Swan had said. Hoover was probably
watching this case himself.
They came to a stop at the corner, where a patrolman directed traffic as a work
crew replaced the traffic signal with one using the new Tesla glow globes.
Caricature portraits of the Entente heads of state were painted on the side of a
nearby building: Tsar Nicolas (looking fey and gaunt); George V (his moustache
exaggerated to make him look like a walrus); and Poincaré, President of France
(fat-cheeked, with a nose red from too much wine).
"know your enemy!" read the painted banner above the three portraits.
"To the morgue, Hargrave." Tongues of lightning arced across the clear sky and a
sharp staccato of thunderclaps echoed through the canyon of buildings around
them as the sirens began their piercing whine. The Tesla shield flickered to life.
"Strangulation?" said Trevelyan, reading aloud from the coroner's report. He
exhaled a lungful of cigarette smoke into the dimness. Trevelyan didn't smoke
often, but it masked the smell of antiseptic and death that permeated the morgue.
Hargrave, who'd produced a sandwich from somewhere, stood by the swinging
doors chewing wetly.
"You can see the bruising here, and here," said the coroner -- a Dr. Northey --
lifting the sheet covering the girl and indicating the bruising on both sides of her
"This girl was dead before the gas started," Northey continued, lighting himself a
cigarette. He was a short, bespectacled man who might have been mistaken for a
barber but for the grim stains on his apron.
"Small mercy, if you ask me," he said. "Chlorine gas . . ." He shook his head.
If Miss Bester was dead before the gas attack, Trevelyan realized, it explained her
positioning on the bench -- she'd been staged by whoever killed her. Passersby
would have thought the young woman had simply dozed off waiting for a train.
Northey tipped his glasses to the end of his nose and began filling out paperwork.
"What I can't figure is why the killer would leave a body on a subway platform
where it could be discovered."
Trevelyan thought a moment. "Unless the killer knew of the attack in advance."
Who would notice one more body when it was all over?
How different Wardenclyffe is, Trevelyan thought, as the Model T trundled to a
halt at a guard booth. There had been no guards on his last visit, and they were still
several miles from where he remembered the old main gates being. A decorative
gate with no lock had been replaced by a high fence topped with razor wire, guard
towers, riflemen, and cavalry patrolling the perimeter . . . Land in every direction
had been annexed by the military and the whole area was designated the
Wardenclyffe National Research Laboratory.
Hargrave presented their badges and explained their investigation. The MP on
duty looked them over and picked up a telephone.
"Straight ahead. Park on the left," he said after receiving instructions. "You'll be
met by Colonel Hilroy's adjutant."
The giant Tesla tower -- the first, Trevelyan realized, of hundreds that now
protected cities all over the United States -- was visible above the trees for more
than a mile before they reached the main base. And where once there had been
only the main laboratory and the great transmission tower, the Wardenclyffe
grounds were now covered in all manner of low buildings, and stretches of
The great mushroom-domed Tesla tower -- transmitter for both shield and death
ray -- rushed heavenward like a steel geyser. Stepping from the Model T,
Hargrave gawked upward and Trevelyan found himself doing the same, sunlight
reflecting blindingly off the tower's metal sheathing. The clouds rushing past
made the tower appear to be falling toward them, and Trevelyan looked away,
It was the Tunguska Event that changed everything.
Though it happened in June of 1908, the world didn't learn of the explosion in the
Tunguska river valley of Siberia until November of that year, when the Russians
produced the first photographic evidence.
It looked like the vengeful fist of God Himself had smashed into the Russian
The blast, equivalent to millions of tons of TNT, had a radius of nearly 900 miles.
Estimates counted 80 million trees destroyed, splintered and tossed over the
hillsides like matchsticks.
Eyewitnesses spoke of a flash and explosion like an artillery barrage. The
shockwave threw people to the ground and shattered windows seven hundred miles
away. Seismic stations in Great Britain registered the blast as an earthquake.
Then came Mr. Tesla's remarkable announcement.
He had, claimed the inventor himself, been working on a weapon to end war for all
time: a focused energy beam, an application of teleforce which he called his "peace
beam," but which all the papers heralded as Tesla's "death ray," a terror weapon
sprung to life seemingly from the pages of an H.G. Wells tale.
His beam had rendered war obsolete for all time, he said, and ushered in an age of
eternal peace. He urged the military powers of Europe and the Orient to abandon
their arms races and entangling alliances.
And then he took questions from the press.
Waiting at the motor pool was a tall lieutenant who identified himself as Carlson,
the colonel's adjutant. They followed him to a smartly-appointed office on the
second floor of the main building, where a bristle-haired Army colonel waited.
"The Bureau telephoned this morning to let me know we should expect you," said
Colonel Hilroy as he and Trevelyan shook hands. "We were very sorry to hear
about Miss Bester. My people will do anything they can to assist you in your
"Thank you, Colonel," Trevelyan said, sitting and pulling out a notepad. "I
understand Miss Bester was a secretary?"
"Doctor Tesla's social secretary, that's right," said Hilroy. "I was told Miss Bester
died in the subway gas attack last night. Can I ask what the Bureau's interest is in
"We're keeping it from the press, Colonel, but Miss Bester was murdered before
the gas attack and left in the subway so it would appear she'd died with everyone
"I see," Hilroy said, his eyebrows raised.
"Can you think of any reason why someone might have wanted to harm Miss
"I didn't know much about her, personally. I can arrange for you to talk with Mrs.
Wilson, if you'd like. She's the head of the secretaries and the typing pool."
"Would Miss Bester have had access to classified materials, anything worth killing
"No, no. Doctor Tesla's forever being requested as a guest at charity dinners,
ribbon cuttings, that sort of thing. The most sensitive information she might have
known was his itinerary."
"Do you have any idea why Miss Bester was off-base last night?"
"As I say, she is -- was Doctor Tesla's social secretary. My understanding is that
she went to Manhattan yesterday afternoon on an errand related to her position."
The colonel's adjutant showed Trevelyan and Hargrave to the dead girl's small
house on base, which was guarded by two MPs on the colonel's orders. Like all
housing at Wardenclyffe, it had been built since Tunguska and so included the
latest amenities, like running hot water and wireless Tesla lamps. He and Hargrave
spent an hour scouring the small space, finding nothing. A few books, some
unremarkable paperwork related to her job as Tesla's social secretary, and almost
There were no photographs of herself or her family, nothing to hint at a sweetheart.
Her bed was unmade, her dressing table cluttered with make-up and perfume. The
closet was full of dozens of dresses, some almost unworn, in a very staid palette of
browns, dark blues, and blacks. The flower-print dress she died in appeared to be
the most colorful item in her wardrobe.
But what disturbed Trevelyan most was the lack of any sign of her faith. She was
devout enough to wear the Byzantine cross daily, yet had no candles or icons in her
home? No prayer book or bible?
They'd looked behind every painting for a safe, behind every piece of furniture…
Trevelyan grabbed the small coffee table. "Help me with this rug, Hargrave," he
said, pulling up the corner of a large Persian that covered much of the living room
floor. Rolling it back toward the sofa revealed two small planks cut from the
floorboards. Hargrave pried up the boards, reached into the small compartment
below, and pulled up a dusty hatbox.
"Bingo!" he said, lifting the lid and getting a glimpse inside. "I can't make out the
name, but that's your girl, right?" Hargrave handed Trevelyan a small stack of
An ID card and passport, both in Russian and bearing the name and image of an
Alisa Bestemianova. A baptismal certificate in that name was also in the stack.
"Yeah, that's her," said Trevelyan. Alice Bester, indeed.
"And there's these --" Hargrave produced a bundle of newspapers tied with string.
"Russian," he said. "Or looks like it to me. There's more of them down here."
Trevelyan recognized them instantly, and read the blocky Cyrillic headline of the
top issue to himself: tsar and his duma betray workers in name of war with
Why the hell would someone at Wardenclyffe have his brother's propaganda rag?
Alisa Bestemianova had immigrated as a child, apparently. Her passport was valid,
though, so she was still a subject of the tsar, at least technically. She'd returned
from a trip to St. Petersburg just prior to the Tunguska Event and the closing of
How does a Russian citizen get a job at the most highly-secure military research
facility in the United States during a war with Russia, Trevelyan wondered as he
flipped through her ID documents.
"Living under an assumed identity? Doesn't surprise me," said Hargrave, pulling
books from the shelves in the parlor. He flipped through each one quickly before
discarding it to the floor. "This whole place is run by a damned Russian. It's
probably crawling with them."
"Tesla's Serbian, not Russian," said Trevelyan.
Hargrave gave Trevelyan a long, incredulous look. "What's the difference?" he
said as another book thudded to the floor. "You know, sir, I got a friend who used
to be with the Bureau. Left for the Pinkertons, though. Said he didn't like how the
Bureau was running things." Hargrave shook a book by its cover and dropped it
when nothing fell out.
"My buddy says there used to be this Russian guy at the Bureau. And after the
Russians declared war, the Bureau just let him change his name and carry on like
nothing had happened. Funny, huh? But I'm pretty sure I can tell the difference
between a real American and someone pretending to be one. So maybe you would
know the difference between a Serbian and a Russian, after all."
"See to the car, constable," Trevelyan said icily. "I'll meet you there when I'm
"Impossible," said Colonel Hilroy in a tightly controlled voice. He'd met
Trevelyan in the foyer of the main building, a grand, ornate space lit by the soft
glow of Tesla globes.
"I'm afraid not, Colonel," said Trevelyan, producing one of the Russian-language
papers and the passport for his inspection.
"You've had a serious breach of security. I suggest you do a thorough double-check on all staff, even the civilians."
"Find Jones," Hilroy snapped to Carlson. "Have him in my office now."
Heavy doors swung open behind Hilroy, and from a laboratory beyond them the
buzz-crackle sounds of electrical discharge flooded into the hall.
Nikola Tesla strode briskly across the foyer amidst a gaggle of assistants. He wore
a white lab coat over black tie and tails, and his shoes were soled with thick cork
that exaggerated his already towering height.
"The resistance across the terminals is at an unacceptable level," Tesla was saying
to a lab-coat-wearing aid that frantically scribbled down on a flip pad everything
the inventor said.
"Special Agent Tretyak! What a pleasant surprise," said Tesla as he noticed Peter.
Trevelyan cleared his throat, feeling the colonel's eyes on him. "Actually it's
Tesla paused a moment and then smiled. "Yes. Of course. Please pardon my
mistake. It has been a long time."
"Yes, it has," Trevelyan said, clearing his throat again.
"Colonel, Mr. Trevelyan saved my life once. I insist that we treat him as an
"Special Agent Trevelyan is here on official business, Doctor Tesla," said Hilroy.
"Miss Bester has been killed."
Tesla gasped and his shoulders slumped. "How did this happen?"
Carlson appeared in a doorway at the far end of the foyer and nodded to Hilroy.
"Carlson will see to anything else you need, Agent Trevelyan. Doctor Tesla . . ."
the colonel said, excusing himself and marching down the hallway.
"They call me doctor even though I have no degree," said Tesla, smiling wistfully.
"Tell me," he said, shooing away his assistants, "what became of Miss Bester?"
"She died in the subway last night," said Trevelyan, following Tesla as the
inventor wandered outside, "during the gas attack. How well did you know her?"
"She was --" Tesla paused as if looking for the right words. "My social secretary.
For almost two years now. The best I've ever had. She'd just arranged the details
for my trip to Cambridge. Massachusetts," Tesla added. "I'm to receive an
honorary degree next month."
"Did she ever mention being in any kind of trouble? Can you think of any reason
that someone might want to hurt her?"
"No," said Tesla, sounding dazed. "No."
Trevelyan let the man walk for a few moments, examining him in silence. He was
shaken by his secretary's death, yes, but there was something more . . .
Tesla led them to a small wooden bench in the middle of a great lawn between the
main laboratory and the tower.
"Had you ever had any difficulties with Miss Bester?" he asked, trying to gauge
Tesla's reaction. "Any reason to be unhappy with her or her work?"
"None," said Tesla. "She was a very capable staff member, helping me with my
great work." No sooner had the inventor sat down than a flock of pigeons arrived at
his feet, seemingly from thin air, cooing and flapping. Tesla pulled a small bag of
birdseed from his lab coat and absently began to feed them.
"Forgive me, Agent Trevelyan," he said after a few moments silence. "I should
like to be alone with my birds."
"You seem to have a good rapport with Tesla, sir," said Hargrave as he opened the
Model T's passenger door. Trevelyan had seen him watching from the motor pool
and there was accusation in the man's voice.
"I brought him into protective custody once."
Trevelyan meant to be curt and left it there. He'd been mulling over his first
encounter with Tesla, though, from the moment he'd learned Alice Bester worked
No sooner had Tesla's press conference about Tunguska finished and the headline
"electrical pioneer invents death ray!" gone out across the telegraph than
Trevelyan was ordered to Wardenclyffe.
He had arrived by Model T near midnight, not long after two assassins dispatched
by the tsar's spymaster. Brilliant blue-white light flashed from the windows of the
laboratory building, illuminating the night like insane Morse code.
Inside, the high-power electrical generators rained storms of lightning across their
terminals. The stench of burnt hair and cooked flesh filled the space. Trevelyan
found Tesla huddled in a corner of his laboratory.
The inventor had been too wily for the tsar's assassins.
After that President Roosevelt had no choice. The United States had not been
responsible for the attack, but there could be no acquiescing to Russian demands
for Tesla's extradition, no handing over of a man capable of building such devices.
The rest followed quickly: the declaration of war by the Russian Empire and its
Entente allies, Great Britain and France; the destruction of the Great White Fleet in
Manila harbor by an Anglo-Russian naval assault; Hawaii occupied; the
militarization of the border with Canada and construction of a fence along the
Hargrave drove in silence, which allowed Trevelyan to review his notes. He had
interviewed all the girls in the steno pool, but none had been close to Alice and
none were able to offer much insight. She'd started two years earlier and kept
mainly to herself, not even partaking in the usual gossip about suitors. Mrs.
Wilson, the head of the steno pool, wasn't aware of Alice ever mentioning any
family, and the next of kin box on her personnel record had been left blank.
The only oddity was in something Mrs. Wilson said.
Tesla had a number of idiosyncrasies she claimed were well-known to the staff and
the laboratory personnel: he experienced great agitation if he came in contact with
human hair; he hated fat people; he detested the sight of women in floral dresses,
or wearing pearls. They were largely accepted as the eccentricities of genius by the
staff, said Mrs. Wilson.
And yet Alice had been found dead in a flower-print dress.
"Oh yes," said Mrs. Wilson when Trevelyan asked. "Mr. Tesla was forever
ordering her out of his sight when she'd wear such things. He'd send her to the
city to buy a new dress before allowing her to return to work. Seems like it
happened every other week."
"And you put up with this?" he'd asked.
"I spoke to her about it repeatedly," she had said, taking offense at Trevelyan's
implication. "She'd swear not to wear such dresses in future, but in a few weeks
. . . Claimed she kept forgetting." Mrs. Wilson had shaken her head.
"Why not fire her?"
"Oh, I tried," said Mrs. Wilson. "Several times. But Mr. Tesla wouldn't allow it.
Said she was simply the only social secretary he could work with. And when Mr.
Tesla makes up his mind about such things, well, there's nothing for it. He's very
loyal and generous to people in his employ. Another one of his quirks, I suppose.
A good one, generally speaking."
"When was the last time Mr. Tesla sent Miss Bester to Manhattan for a new
"Why, only yesterday," Mrs. Wilson had said.
Trevelyan closed his notebook and pulled an evidence envelope from the pocket of
his great coat. Inside was the small paper bag with the purple stamp that he'd
taken from Alice Bester's body.
"Hargrave, I've got something here I need you to run down for me."
Trevelyan watched the coffee shop and its clientele for nearly an hour before
The shop was on the ground floor of a brick building that was all fire escapes up
the front, and its customers were either angry-looking young men who hung about
the front window for a time before slipping in, or somewhat older men who looked
generally not in funds.
Doubtless many fancied themselves would-be anarchists and freedom fighters. In
truth, Trevelyan knew, most had no job and nowhere else to go.
The bell over the door clattered as he entered.
The shop was dark wood with a low tin ceiling, a haze of pipe smoke hanging
sweet in the air. The ne'er-do-wells he'd watched enter now sat at a hodgepodge
of unmatched tables, sipping coffee and conversing in low tones.
"Pyotr!" the woman behind the counter exclaimed. Her voice, so out of place --
loud and feminine -- drew everyone's attention to Trevelyan.
"Katya," he said just as surprised. It had been four years since he'd seen his
brother Mikhail, longer still Katya.
With hands plunged deep in their coat pockets, every man in the shop filed out,
dodging past Trevelyan sideways, shoulder first, as if they might have to ram him.
Katya stood silently behind the coffee bar, trembling visibly, her face pale. Her
hair was different, worn now in the Grecian style popular since the outbreak of the
war. She looked older, too: crow's-feet starting at the edges of her eyes, her mouth
newly downcast. Where had the fire in her eyes gone, the fire he'd known all
through their youth?
It took Trevelyan a moment to remember why he had come. "Is --" he tried, and
cleared his throat. "Is he here?"
"Are you here to arrest him?"
Trevelyan shook his head. Wordlessly, Katya lifted up the flap at the end of the
counter to let him pass and held back the curtain that covered the door behind the
She led him through the back parlor, which was full of furniture that was littered
with stacked books and scattered papers. The hiss-clang-swoosh of printing
presses was audible in the basement below.
Katya showed him to a steep flight of stairs at the end of a long hallway. The
caustic odor of printer's ink and oiled machines wafted through the open door.
For a moment Katya looked about to say something, but instead turned and left the
way they had come.
Trevelyan could feel the narrow, rubber-treaded wooden stairs creak as he
descended, but their groaning was drowned out by the mechanical clatter of the
printing press. Under the light of a bare Edison bulb a lone man in a leather smock
stood by the press, checking the printing on the broadsheets that were being run
He looked up from his work and, seeing Trevelyan, paused a long while before
hitting a button that wound the press down to a standstill.
"Special Agent Trevelyan."
"Who? You changed your name, brother, not me."
"Can we not do this? I'm here for --"
"I thought I told you never to come here. It's bad for business. My customers are
Russians. They can spot the secret police when they see them."
Still trying to goad, to rile. All these years and nothing has changed, Trevelyan
thought. "Mich -- Mikhail!" he said. "I didn't come here to fight with you. I
need you to answer some questions."
"Oh, you don't mean to arrest, then?" said Mikhail, speaking in rapid Russian.
"I'm not here to arrest you," Trevelyan answered in English. "I need some
information. About a girl you might know."
Mikhail made a puzzled face and spoke again in Russian. "I'm afraid I don't
understand," he said. "If only you spoke Russian."
The muscles in Trevelyan's jaw flexed.
"Zhopa," he cursed. "Do you know Alice Bester?"
"So you do remember how to speak your language? I don't know any girl. Who is
"Who was she," said Trevelyan. "She's dead."
He watched his brother try to hide his shock: a noticeable pause, and then he
busied himself with the ink for the presses.
"Mischa," said Trevelyan softly. "Who was she?"
After a moment Mikhail, just as softly, said, "She would come in to the coffee
shop. How did she die?"
"The gas attack in the subway. Was she a subscriber to your paper?"
Mikhail made an effort to deny it, but Trevelyan tossed across the press a sheaf of
the roughly printed propaganda sheets he'd collected from Alice Bester's
"So? They are my papers. It's not a crime to subscribe to them. Not yet. Or is the
BOI finally going to shut me down? I wondered how long freedom of speech
would last in this country for Russians."
"You were born in Brooklyn! You're an American."
"That's not what Americans think."
Trevelyan took a deep breath. "Did you know she was Alisa Bestemianova, a
Russian living under an assumed name?"
"Many of us change our names these days."
"Mischa, this girl worked at Wardenclyffe," Trevelyan said, moving around the
press and close to his brother. "She lied on her application. Your propaganda was
found in her house. They'll trace the papers to you and come asking questions.
They won't be as forgiving as me."
"I don't need your forgiveness."
"As understanding, then. I know you have contacts among the anarchists. Are
you caught up in something? If you tell me what you know, I can protect you.
"You turned your back on us," said Mikhail, darkly. "Collaborating against your
"Collaborating? You publish propaganda supporting anarchists who gas civilians
in subways. Who blow up buses and fire-bomb police stations!"
"You work for a government that protects that Serb and his death ray. You hold
the whole world hostage! That's what they do at Wardenclyffe -- plan when and
where they'll strike next with their terror ray, while the world holds its breath.
And you, running away just when we needed you. Like Father."
"Pishill tiye," Trevelyan said, his voice a low rumble.
"Father was a pig," Mikhail spit. "Like you. Poor little Sonja, lying there in the
parlor stiff and cold, mother wailing. What kind of man leaves his family at a
moment like that? Tell me!"
"It wasn't like --"
"He's in the ground, Pyotr, stop making excuses for him. He left because mother
was a Jew. He knew she was a Jew when he married her. And when she sat shiva
for Sonja -- the one time she acted as a Jew after marrying him -- he left. That's
why he's a pig."
Peter remembered during that time their mother, Sarra, insisted he take Mikhail to
church on Sundays. "Look for your father there," she said to them. But as soon as
the boys rounded the block, Mikhail would run away.
Peter would hide in the back of the dark church, praying his father wouldn't
"Father came back," said Trevelyan, the ache of an old wound in his voice. He had
returned after some months, and no one -- except Mikhail -- spoke again of that
"Alexei never came back," said Mikhail. "Not for me. He was there, in the
apartment, but he never came back. I never understood how you could side with
him, with his church. How you could forgive his cruelty. Maybe that's why you
can side with Teddy, and Hoover, and Tesla. You need cruel masters."
Mikhail hit a button and the presses whirred back to life, drowning out anything
Peter had to say.
Trevelyan crept to his door with pistol in hand. The pounding came again. He'd
been tending his icons, saying evening prayers, and was not expecting visitors.
"Pyotr!" called a voice he immediately recognized as Katya's. "Open the door!"
A quick peek though the peephole to ensure she was alone and Trevelyan unlocked
the deadbolts and chains. Pulling Katya inside by the arm elicited a squeak of
surprise from her and he smelled the acrid reek of old booze as she whirled past
him. He glanced down the hall in both directions and thought he saw a door
At least one nosy neighbor. Dammit.
"What the hell are you doing here?" he demanded. It was obvious Katya had been
crying. "I don't need some drunk woman at my door at midnight screaming in
"Pyotr, Pyotr," she sobbed. "You can get him released. Tell them Mischa didn't
"Tell who? What happened?"
"Mischa went to the police and told them he killed that girl. The one you were
"Then the politsiya -- " She flopped down on the sofa. "They came to the shop,"
she said, sniffling and trying to get her composure back. "Ransacked it. Smashed
up the printing press. They won't let me see him -- you have to help!"
In a flash, Trevelyan ran everything he knew about the case through his mind.
Mikhail killing Alice? It made no sense. What was the motive?
"He was screwing that blyadischa," Katya said, venomously. "How could he do
that to me?"
Trevelyan felt like he might throw up. In a cascade the facts fell together in his
mind, proofs colliding on their way to inescapable conclusion.
"You killed her," said Trevelyan. It was not a question.
Katya, tears rolling down her cheeks, sat down at the small kitchen table.
Trevelyan joined her.
"Tell me what happened."
"I found out they were meeting, in secret. She wasn't one of us," Katya said.
Wasn't Russian, she meant. He couldn't tell her.
"I knew there was going to be an attack. So I set up a meeting at the subway
station. I wanted her to get caught in the attack, to suffer. But when I saw her . . .
It was rage, pure rage. Before I knew it, it was over. I left her there, on the bench.
I was so angry, Pyotr."
Trevelyan could say nothing for a time except "Katya, Katya."
"After your visit Mikhail realized what I'd done. He turned himself in to protect
me. So noble," she scoffed. "Oh God, why do I still love him?" She began
"I didn't know you and Mikhail were -- not until I walked into the shop."
She nodded her head. "We only had each other after you left. Please, Pyotr, you
have to get him out of there."
"I can't get him released unless I can give them someone else. The real killer." He
stood, pushing the chair away.
She reached in her coat for a packet of cigarettes and lit one with shaking hands.
"Maybe we can work out a deal with the district attorney," he said. "You've got
contacts among the anarchists. Turn state's evidence."
"Betray our cause? Mischa was right about you!"
Peter stalked to his desk and from a drawer he pulled the photos from the subway
attack, tossing them on the coffee table. Katya looked away.
"That's what your politics cost, Katya! Innocent people, on their way home from
work. Dead. Think of their last moments. Think of their agony as the gas choked
them. As they were crushed to death. Tell me they don't deserve justice."
"That's not why you want me to turn them in, Petya. You know it."
"If you love him, you won't leave him in there for what you did." Trevelyan took
a cigarette from her pack and lit it with shaking hands.
"They so rarely allow me to leave Wardenclyffe, and then never to a park to feed
Tesla sat on the same bench where Trevelyan had left him two days before. At the
inventor's feet were dozens of pigeons cooing and pecking the ground as he
hunched over and delicately spread seed for them. "I used to spend wonderful
hours in Bryant Park feeding my pigeons."
"In the southwest corner," said Trevelyan.
Tesla turned, a look of delighted surprise on his face.
"It's the same corner you sent Alice Bester to, once a month, to feed your birds."
Trevelyan held up the small ID photo from the missing persons report. "Several of
the vendors remember seeing this girl there with some frequency over the last two
Tesla's smile faded and he turned back to the birds. "I understand Miss Bester's
killer has turned herself in. A matter of simple jealousy, I'm told."
"Jealousy, yes," said Trevelyan taking a seat on the bench. "But simple? There
are a few things that don't add up. You and Alice were close. You both loved
birds. She would bring you birdseed from Capar's Dry Goods on Houston."
"I am impressed, Mr. Trevelyan."
"There was a bag of seed in her pocket when we found her. I noticed the same
purple stamp on your bag when I was here last. I understand from the proprietor
that a young woman placed an order every other week for a very special blend of
birdseed. He mixes it only for her, and she pays a premium for the service. Quite
a bill on a secretary's salary."
Tesla smiled weakly. "I gave her the ratios for the mix myself, and arranged
payment through Miss Bester. It is what my birds like best, you understand."
"But you ordered Alice to the city at least twice a month, according to Mrs.
Wilson. Witnesses only put Alice in Bryant Park once a month. Why the second
trip? Was the flower-print dress her signal that her contact wanted to meet?"
"I've no idea what you mean. It's well known --"
"That you hate flower-print dresses, yes. Strange, though, that a social secretary
you claimed was the best you'd ever worked with and whom you forbade Mrs.
Wilson to fire seemed incapable of remembering such a simple thing. She had
dozens of dresses, yet she wore her only flower-print dress twice a month? Tell
me, Mr. Tesla, did she also routinely wear pearls, or brush her hair in your face?"
Tesla cringed visibly at the thought.
"I didn't think so," said Trevelyan, leaning close. "How long did it take you to
deduce that Miss Bester was Miss Bestemianova and take her into your
Tesla paused his feeding, considering the last handful of seed carefully. "You
seem to have figured out a great deal, Mr. Trevelyan," said Tesla. "Very well," he
said before sprinkling the feed delicately before the cooing, flapping mass of birds.
"Let us speak frankly with one another. I knew almost immediately that she was
Russian. Her accent. She had been here since she was a child and to anyone born
here I'm sure her English was flawless. But I have an ear for such things. A
certain lilt when she vocalized certain sounds, and the way she pronounced
"You were in love with her."
"Dear me, no!" Tesla laughed. "I love only my work and my birds. Anything else
is a distraction I cannot afford. No, Miss Bester was assisting me in my great
"Providing the Russians with plans for your peace beam."
Tesla glowered at Trevelyan. "No doubt you believe the tsar is paying me vast
sums for this knowledge? Do you think me so coldly mercenary as that?" Tesla
stood and stalked away.
"The thought had occurred to me," said Trevelyan, following.
Tesla rounded on him. "You should call it my death ray, Special Agent. Everyone
else does, and they are right. I was terribly naive to think my beam could stop war.
It can only make it more terrible, and more random.
"The incident in Siberia was an accident, and not intended whatsoever. I had
aimed my teleforce beam for the skies above the Arctic, to a spot I had calculated
was west of the Peary expedition. He was then making his second attempt to reach
the North Pole and I had asked him to report back to me anything unusual that he
might witness on the open tundra.
"When I first energized my tower --" Tesla turned to stare up at the giant
mushroom-like transmitter, "it was hard to tell whether it was even working. Then
an owl tried to perch on the tower and was disintegrated instantaneously. We
powered down at once. That was the extent of the test. Forty seconds, perhaps a
minute. But the destruction it caused . . .
"The beam did not behave as my calculations suggested it would. Instead of
discharging into the sky, the energy traveled through the crust of the earth itself,
erupting in the Tunguska valley. I have still been unable to deduce how or why
"My death ray is not like an arrow or artillery shell. It follows no predictable path
or parabola. It is as random and capricious as lightning. It might strike halfway
around the world, or ten feet from you. It is useless as a weapon and a hazard to
any nation that would deploy it."
Trevelyan was for a moment too stunned to speak. The whole world thrown into
chaos for a weapon no one could use safely?
"Then why give the ray to the Russians?"
Tesla's brow furrowed and he straightened to his full height. "I would destroy the
death ray, if I could," he said, voice quavering. "I am thankful beyond measure
that the explosion at Tunguska killed no one. But lesser souls will pervert the
device for destructive ends. I was a fool not to see this before. I understand now
something of what poor Nobel must have felt. I gave the world alternating current,
harnessed the power of Niagara Falls, but all I shall be remembered for is my death
ray. No, I would never share that technology. It's too terrible to contemplate.
"What I gave Miss Bester were plans and schematics for my defensive shield. The
act with the flower-print dress was, as you surmise, to get her to the city when
necessary. She said only that she had contacts in the Russian community that
could pass the information to the tsar's agents."
Trevelyan staggered back and sat hard on the bench. "Mikhail was her contact?"
Katya, what have you done? They weren't lovers.
"I wish she did not have to become involved. But Miss Bester was considered
such a low security risk that she was allowed off base with greater ease and
frequency than would be other members of the staff. And since she was leaving at
my eccentric request . . ."
Trevelyan understood. No one would suspect Tesla of collaborating with the
Entente that had tried to kill him.
"Getting the shield to the Russians is the only way to ensure, nay, enforce global
peace," said Tesla. "If the Entente can shield their cities as we can, it renders not
only conventional warfare obsolete, but also my death ray.
"There are elements, within our military and our government, who wish to use the
death ray even knowing its flaws. Edison -- that fool! -- has convinced them that
the accuracy of the weapon can be refined and a targeting system devised."
Trevelyan lifted his head from his hands. "Is this possible?"
"Possible," said Tesla slowly. "But only at terrible cost. Edison's plan for
calibration might take as many as several hundred firings of the weapon. Several
"This is what Miss Bester -- let us call her by her proper name at last, Miss
Bestemianova -- was working to prevent. But with her dead the Russians will
never build the shield towers, now. They are still missing key components of the
plans. Everything I have worked for -- that she worked for -- has come to naught.
I have unleashed a terror upon the world."
Tesla staggered to the bench and began to weep.
Trevelyan had spent a long night in prayer before his icon of St. Mark of the
Caves, asking help and guidance from a saint known for his gift of discernment.
And as he descended the creaking stairs to Mikhail's basement it struck him how
cave-like the space was. Carved from the bedrock of Manhattan, the walls were
dark and slick with moisture.
Given the contents of the briefcase Trevelyan carried he thought it appropriate, too,
that St. Mark was also known as the Gravedigger.
In the harsh light of the single Edison bulb, Trevelyan saw that the basement and
the printing press had been worked over. Paper was everywhere, both printed
issues and sheaves of blank stock: shredded, wrinkled, stepped on and torn. The
presses were battered and bent, like someone -- or several someones -- had taken
a sledgehammer to them.
In the damp chill, Mikhail stood with his back to the stairs, leaning over his
smashed press and trying to repair the dented rollers with nothing more than a
Mikhail mumbled something that Trevelyan couldn't make out, and as his brother
turned toward him Trevelyan got his first look at Mikhail's battered face. Deep
purple bruises, a split through the left eyebrow, a swollen lip.
"Bozhe moy . . ." whispered Trevelyan.
"This is what they think of us," Mikhail mumbled. Only then did Trevelyan realize
his brother's jaw was wired shut.
"I'm so sorry, Mischa."
Mikhail sucked back spittle leaking through the wiring. "Save your pity for Katya.
I wasn't sleeping with Alice. I never told Katya what we were doing so I could
protect her if it went bad. Instead . . . this. She told me you wanted her to make a
deal, turn in her contacts. She won't do it. She'd never betray the movement. Just
like I didn't tell the police your precious secret. You have no radical brother to
"Mischa, if I could have protected her --"
"Don't," he said, turning back to his ruined press. After a moment: "I was only
ever worried that Katya loved you. I had no idea that she would --" He began to
After a long pause Trevelyan said, "Alice was getting the plans directly from
Tesla." At that, Mikhail turned around. "Told me so himself. We both misjudged
him. He wants his death ray stopped as badly as anyone." Trevelyan held up the
briefcase. "These are the last blueprints they need to build shield generators of
"Is this a trick? A trap?"
Trevelyan shook his head. Mikhail managed a "Why?" after a moment of stunned
"I know you have contacts with the tsarists," Trevelyan said. "I know you've been
passing Tesla's plans to them. I need you to finish the job."
"There's no money in this. No glory," said Mikhail, defensive. "We are doing
only what needs doing."
"I never thought you were being paid, Mischa," said Trevelyan, handing him the
Mikhail quickly examined the papers inside before closing the case. "They will
shoot us for this, you know," he said. "If we are caught. This is treason."
Peter never imagined doing anything like this. Everything was upside down. He
simply nodded and said, "Then let us hope it's a noble treason."