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the Locomotive – majestic Generosity –

The locomotive stubby, boxy, there between brick-walled warehouses, an idling rumble so large and full they step around, move through it, a dozen or so in coveralls, toward the lone boxcar coupled to the end. A couple clamber up on the walkway running back up the side of the locomotive to knock the panels of it, peer in the vents, wreathed in the streetlight tangled on steaming exhaust. The rest cluster about a sliding door in the side of the boxcar, splashed with graffiti. A lever’s thrown, latches undone with booms that echo under the rumble, that door slides open even as an overhead door grates up on the warehouse there, snort a forklift pulling out onto the loading dock, and shouts, arms waving, someone in coveralls leaping up on the dock to confer heatedly with a man in shirtsleeves. The woman behind the wheel of the forklift holds up a clipboard. The rest of them all in coveralls form up a line across the street, from boxcar to loading dock, hup! a shout as swung from the boxcar comes an enormous burlap sack, hup! as it’s caught and passed to the next, and the next, even as a second swings out, a third, as the first’s heaved up on the dock, neatly dropped on the forklift’s waiting pallet, and the next, with grunts and whups of bags passed hand to hand down the line. I’m the man, someone chants, the publican man, and others join in, that waters the workers’ beer! Yes I’m the man, the middlin’ man, that waters the workers’ beer! What do I care if it makes them ill, or it makes them terrible queer, I’ve a car and a yacht and an æroplane, and I waters the workers’ beer!

Past the warehouse, deep shadows of an overpass, a cast-iron streetlight stands sentinel on high. Two men beside the balustrade up there, couple-three yards above the snoring locomotive, watching them unload the boxcar, another hup! and a hitch in the line, someone slaps the fender of the forklift, the load lurches, lifts, the motor whines as it backs away. From the boxcar tumbles a fresh pallet, grey scraps of lumber nailed ruthlessly square, falling edge-on into the waiting hands of the line to be caught and awkwardly rolled like a cornered wheel up to the loading dock tipped, falling, bang! into place. In its wake the heavy sacks resume their swinging, tossing progress, I reaches my hand for the water-tap, and I waters the workers’ beer!

“Boys wanted to put on a show,” says one of the men up there. “Send it off in style.” His suit a greyly green, his black meshback cap that says FTZ-45 over the bill. “Last delivery by rail to a factory in the Triangle. End of an era.”

“Triangle?” says the other man, sweater the color of oats, shock of hair gone dull in the streetlight.

“The Northwest Industrial Triangle, sire? This vitiated district of your demesne, that we have faithfully served so many years?”

“It’s called the Pearl District, Tommy Tom,” says the King. “Has been since Nu Shooz had a hit.”

“Pearls,” says the Soames, looking out over the warehouse rooftops. He lifts a hand, a benediction, “Well, they’ll grow in peace. These crusty oysters won’t anymore be troubled by the clamor of honest work.”

“You wax elegiac,” says the King. “When this ramp comes down?” A gesture for the viaduct stretched out toward the river, the bridge, the unlit hulks of warehouses below. “When the condos finally go up, all at once? These old oysters will need gutting, renovating, replacing. Construction’s honest work.” A sidelong smile. “And as clamorous.”

“Construction ebbs and flows, majesty. And when it’s done, it’s done.”

“When it’s done, Tommy, there’ll be a brewpub. Fifteen hundred barrels a year.” Pointing to the bustle below. “A grocery store,” waved at an empty warehouse, “a twenty-storey tower,” up along the viaduct, “anchored by the first brick-and-mortar of a major online retailer. And running down Lovejoy, right under our feet? The first new streetcar line in any city since the war! Art galleries, design studios, turnkey manufactories, software ateliers, fulfillment conciergeries, small presses for video, paper, internet, small-batch distilleries, pickleries, roasteries, perfumeries,” leaning out over the stone balustrade, reaching for what’s to come, “creative engineers and fashion directors, indigenous restauranteurs and industrial docents, network cartographers, data sculptors, experiential curators, ten thousand people, right here, and all they might ever need or want but a block or two away.”

“Stevedores,” says the Soames. “Wharfies. Dockers. Teamsters and bullockers, outfitters. Firers. Conductors and yardmasters, longshoremen, switchmen, brakemen and signalers, porters, bulls,” as below, the forklift’s hauling another load away, into the warehouse, and another empty pallet’s tumbling down the line of laborers, I puts in strychnine, they’re chanting, some methylated spirits and a drop of paraffin.

“Tell me, Tommy,” says the King. “Did you ever meet Pearl?”

“Pearl, sire?” says the Soames. “Can’t say I have.”

“You seem quite close to the Viscount, these days; I wondered how far back that might’ve been the case.” And then, still lightly, smiling, “Do you really believe the Duchess set the hounds on Medardus?” That smile slips away. “Or, to be more precise: did either of you believe, that I’d believe.”

The Soames says, “She did spend time with a number of the hounds, my lord. In her days on the street, before she caught your sister’s favor.” Still looking down at the laboring line. “Perhaps they did not do so at her direction, but still, I think, we’ll find: with her license.”

“License?” says the King. “I’d no idea she’d annexed Lake Oswego. I can figure the Viscount’s play in this, Tommy, but you? You surprise us. You’d throw away your sterling word for a bit of backup in your beef with the Marquess.”

“The Duchess, sire,” says the Soame, “we all see how your sister does dote on her. And she did love the Duke, and he loved her, but – she is a Gallowglas, for all that. Who knows what mortal fears might drive her, and to what?”

The King turns about, his back to the stone. “Four terminals,” he says. “Rail yards in Brooklyn and Northwest. The airport, Swan Island, up to your eyeballs in the ten-year and twenty-year development plans, a place at court, and a full share of the Apportionment. No other Soames has risen so high, Twice Thomas, nor done so much for his people.”

“It is as nothing without your majesty’s generosity,” says the Soames.

“Yeah,” says the King. Pushing off the railing then, headed away, hands in pockets, down the ramp, the shadowed street below. The Soames folds his arms. The sacks keep piling up below, huff and grunt and slap, there isn’t the profit there used to be, in watering workers’ beer!

She sits up abruptly, at the table neatly stacked with photographs, siennas, rusts, dull greys, a fumble of her fingers, peeling away the one stuck to her cheek, an image of men in old dark suits on steps before a stolid door, and part of it scratched or scraped away. Blinking thickly at an empty drinking glass, a ring of milk left at the bottom. Turning with a jerk at the footfalls that ring across polished concrete, a man in brown shorts and a brown work shirt, clipboard in his hand, “Your grace?” he calls, down the length of the garage. “Jo Gallowglas?”

“What?” snaps Jo, standing up from the high-backed black desk chair.

“Apologies, ma’am,” he says. “There was no one to sign for this,” and “What?” Jo’s saying, as he holds up a white envelope, “message, ma’am.”

“Who from,” she says.

“Ah,” looking down at his clipboard, “Beaumont,” he says. “Christian Beaumont.”

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The Man that Waters the Workers’ Beer,” written by Paddy Ryan, within the public domain.

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