|Aldrich, Janet M.
|Allan, T. N.
|Allen, M. G.
|Ammonds, Phillip J.
|Augustyn, P. K.
|Aymar, E. A.
|Baumgartner, Jessica Marie
|Bennett, D. V.
|Bernardara, Will Jr.
|Bohem, Charlie Keys and Les
|Boyd, A. V.
|Brown, R. Thomas
|Burke, Wayne F.
|Butler, Simon Hardy
|Cameron, W. B.
|Campbell, J. J.
|Campbell, Jack Jr.
|Cardoza, Dan A.
|Cooper, Malcolm Graham
|Corrigan, Mickey J.
|Cosby, S. A.
|Cross, Thomas X.
|Danoski, Joseph V.
|Davies, J. C.
|Davis, Michael D.
|de Bruler, Connor
|De France, Steve
|De La Garza, Lela Marie
|Deming, Ruth Z.
|De Neve, M. A.
|Dennehy, John W.
|Di Chellis, Peter
|Dioguardi, Michael Anthony
|Drake, Lena Judith
|Dromey, John H.
|Dubal, Paul Michael
|Dunham, T. Fox
|Dunn, Robin Wyatt
|Fisher, Miles Ryan
|Flanagan, Daniel N.
|Flanagan, Ryan Quinn
|Funk, Matthew C.
|Gardner, Cheryl Ann
|Garvey, Kevin Z.
|Gay, Sharon Frame
|Goddard, L. B.
|Golds, Stephen J.
|Greenberg, K.J. Hannah
|Gurney, Kenneth P.
|Hanson, Christopher Kenneth
|Hayes, A. J.
|Hayes, Peter W. J.
|Hockey, Matthew J.
|Hogan, Andrew J.
|Hoy, J. L.
|Huffman, A. J.
|Huguenin, Timothy G.
|Huskey, Jason L.
|Irascible, Dr. I. M.
|Jaggers, J. David
|Jones, D. S.
|Jones, Erin J.
|Kaplan, Barry Jay
|Keaton, David James
|Kevlock, Mark Joseph
|King, Michelle Ann
|Kolarik, Andrew J.
|Krafft, E. K.
|Lacks, Lee Todd
|La Rosa, F. Michael
|Lerner, Steven M
|Levine, Phyllis Peterson
|Lewis, Cynthia Ruth
|Liskey, Tom Darin
|Lopez, Aurelio Rico III
|Lucas, Gregory E.
|McFarlane, Adam Beau
|Mooney, Christopher P.
|Moran, Jacqueline M.
|Morgan, Bill W.
|Moss, David Harry
|Muslim, Kristine Ong
|Neuda, M. C.
|Ogurek, Douglas J.
|Perez, Juan M.
|Perez, Robert Aguon
|Powers, M. P.
|Purfield, M. E.
|Quinlan, Joseph R.
|reutter, g emil
|Rhiel, Ann Marie
|Richey, John Lunar
|Robinson, John D.
|Rodgers, K. M.
|Sayles, Betty J.
|Schraeder, E. F.
|Seymour, J. E.
|Shaikh, Aftab Yusuf
|Sheagren, Gerald E.
|Shirey, D. L.
|Shore, Donald D.
|Simmler, T. Maxim
|Sinisi, J. J.
|Small, Alan Edward
|Smith, Brian J.
|Smith, Ian C.
|Snethen, Daniel G.
|Solender, Michael J.
|Stanton, Henry G.
|Stewart, Michael S.
|Stryker, Joseph H.
|Swartz, Justin A.
|Taylor, J. M.
|Thompson, John L.
|Valent, Raymond A.
|Waldman, Dr. Mel
|Weil, Lester L.
|White, Judy Friedman
|Williams, K. A.
|Art by Ann Marie Rhiel © 2017
by Edward Francisco
Allan Poe and Detective Allan Pinkerton occupied a suite of rooms in the Royal Hotel, located
in the French Quarter, in one of the most charming cities in America, New Orleans. The
two men had been enlisted by local authorities to investigate the disappearance of a notorious
Creole socialite and alleged serial killer, named Delphine LaLaurie. LaLaurie was accused
of torturing and murdering at least nine slaves in her mansion, the ruins of which sat
directly across the street from the hotel where Poe and Pinkerton were staying, and
where they awaited the arrival of Chief Magistrate Jean Francois Canonge, a legal author
who’d commissioned the now famous duo of sleuths to locate the missing matron, if
possible, and to bring her to justice.
As a die-hard abolitionist, the Scottish-born Pinkerton believed in the equality
of all beings and was appalled that slavery continued to exist in a so-called civilized
place and time. A southern gentleman, who moved easily in social circles, above and below
the Mason-Dixon line, Poe believed that an end to slavery was inevitable. However, unlike
Pinkerton, who’d travelled to Louisiana to redress a wrong, Poe was attracted to
the case itself -- one already inspiring wild claims, alleged disappearances, and the diabolical
practices of Voodoo. A rap at the door interrupted the protracted reverie of the two men,
each one comfortable being silent in the company of the other.
Poe rose to admit the visitor. Judge Jean Francois Canonge extended a hand and
entered at Poe’s invitation.
“Gentlemen,” Canonge greeted Poe and Pinkerton.
Judge Francois Canonge was a short, compact man, dressed in the distinguished fashion
of the day. A watch fob and chain hung from his vest. On removing his top hat, he revealed
a bald pate. Both Poe and Pinkerton took note of the hat, its brand, one of a kind produced
by a milliner in St. Louis. (It was the sleuths’ stock and trade to notice such
details.) Poe bade the judge sit in a vacant chair. The seating arrangement formed a triangle
of the men facing one another.
“Would you care for a Brandy?” Poe asked their guest.
“It’s a bit early for me,” Canonge replied. “Thank you,
nonetheless.” The judge cleared his throat before resuming. “First, let me
thank you gentlemen for coming to New Orleans.”
“The pleasure is ours,” said Poe. “New Orleans is an enchanting
it is,” the magistrate agreed. “The diverse backgrounds of its citizens result
in no end of excitements.”
Poe smiled. He was naturally predisposed to hedonism. Pinkerton, on the other hand,
was a proper Scot, teetotaler, and Presbyterian. Sins of the flesh were repugnant to him.
He was the sort of man who’d refuse anesthesia in the unfortunate case his leg needed
amputating. Poe suspected that Pinkerton was far less forgiving of Poe’s carnal impulses
than Poe was of Pinkerton’s stuffiness. Maybe Pinkerton knew he was stuffy. Whatever
the case, the Scotsman was gentleman enough not to fuss or scold.
“This case you wrote us about,” said Poe, “sounds intriguing.”
“Bizarre is how I’d describe it,” the
you can tell us about it,” Pinkerton urged.
“Yes, fill us in,” Poe said.
“Well,” Canonge began, “across the street from this hotel lie
the ruins of the most majestic house in all the city. It belonged to a Creole woman named
Delphine LaLaurie, twice widowed at the time the fire broke out in the house. When
rescuers responded, they found a seventy-year-old woman, the cook, chained to the stove
by her ankle. She admitted to setting the fire in an attempt to commit suicide rather than
be taken to the uppermost room of the house for punishment because, as she alleged, those
taken there never came back.”
“Grisly business,” said Pinkerton.
“You haven’t heard the worst,” announced the judge. “Upon
being refused keys by Delphine LaLaurie, bystanders broke down the doors to the slave quarters
and discovered seven slaves naked, starved, and mutilated. Two had their eyes
gouged out and were barely clinging to life. Two of the male servitors were already dead,
having bled out after being castrated. All the poor wretches had their lips sewn together
to muffle screams.”
rare to find a woman engaging in such extremes of sadism,” Pinkerton noted.
“What fate awaited the surviving slaves?” Poe asked.
“Madame LaLaurie was found guilty of illegal cruelty and was forced to forfeit
nine slaves later manumitted in response to demands of an outraged citizenry. The
freed slaves quickly sought refuge and protection in local Creole neighborhoods or left
the city entirely, fearing that LaLaurie might order them captured and returned for more
you saying,” the Scotsman asked, his face reddening, “that LaLaurie experienced
no consequences other than losing her slaves? The woman should be tried for serial murder.”
Canonge gave a heavy sigh. “It is a curse of our society that slaves have
no rights that anyone is obliged to observe. However,
I would be misleading if I failed to disclose that LaLaurie’s atrocities did not
escape the notice of the Creole community. A mob of locals attacked the LaLaurie residence
and demolished and destroyed everything they could lay their hands on.”
“And Madame LaLaurie?” Poe asked.
“Escaped,” said Canonge. “Rumor has it she fled New Orleans during
the mob violence, took a coach to the waterfront and, traveling by schooner, from there
to Mobile, Alabama, and on to Paris.”
“That would place her beyond our jurisdiction,” Pinkerton noted, “assuming
that the account is true.”
“There’s the rub,” said Canonge. “No one knows for certain,
and gossip takes on a life of its own.”
“You must have some reason to believe she might still be in New Orleans,”
Poe said directly.
“A suspicion, indeed,” said Canonge.
“What do you suspect?” Pinkerton asked.
“After LaLaurie’s alleged departure to France, a man’s decapitated
body was found floating in one of the canals.”
“Horrid business, to be sure,” said Pinkerton.
“Yes,” Canonge replied. “However, in the absence of a head, there
was little chance we’d ever be able to identify the victim.”
“Yet, you think you know the man’s identity,” Poe said. “It
is not the man’s body but the nature of his murder wherein you find the clue.”
“How did you know?” asked Canonge, a bit surprised at Poe’s acumen.
could be little else,” said Poe. “You must also believe that Madame LaLaurie
had a hand in the man’s murder, which means she couldn’t possibly have been out
of the country at the time he was killed.”
“You surmise correctly,” said Canonge. “I have a strong suspicion
that the beheaded man may be LaLaurie’s husband.”
“Decapitation is a ritual practice of Voodoo,” said Poe.
“A fact I only recently discovered while investigating this case,” Canonge
admitted. “But frankly, gentlemen, I’m out of my league here. I know very little
of the dark arts and am superstitious enough not to want to know more. That’s why
I contacted you, Mr. Poe. Your reputation and stories indicate someone knowledgeable in
matters of the occult.”
“I confess a penchant for such phenomena,” said Poe. “As for their
being superstitions, I’m reminded of Hamlet’s statement to his skeptical friend: ‘There are more things in heaven and earth,
Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’”
Allan Pinkerton snuffed derisively.
“See here,” he interrupted. “What motive might LaLaurie have for
murdering her husband?”
“The same motive as for killing her first two husbands,” Canonge speculated,
“both of whom died suddenly and suspiciously. Her first husband, a high-ranking
Spanish royal, named Lopez, simply dropped dead on a ship en route to Havana.
Her second husband, Jean Blanque, was a prominent banker, merchant, lawyer, and legislator.
The cause of his death, too, was unknown. With these two husbands, Madame LaLaurie was
able to improve her circumstances and elevate her position in New Orleans society. As a
young woman, Delphine LaLaurie was a great beauty. She possessed a bewitching air and
likely could have ensnared any man she wanted. To a woman possessing such pulchritude,
however, nature and time are sworn enemies. Still, she was able to convince a third man,
a physician named Leonard LaLaurie, to marry her. Because
he was much younger than she, rumors floated to the effect that she’d ensnared him
with charms and spells peculiar to Voodoo.”
“Rubbish,” said the proper Scotsman, Pinkerton. “It’s more
likely that the young man saw an opportunity to fleece a dowager out of her fortune. If
she gleaned that was his intent, she’d need no additional motivation to kill him.
She wouldn’t need the help of charms and spells, either.”
“But she would need the help of someone to decapitate him and dispose of his
body as part of an elaborate rite of sacrifice,” Poe announced. “Isn’t
that right, Monsieur Canonge?”
“Once more, Mr. Poe, you are a hound hot on my heels, and, once again, you
are correct. Shortly after the discovery of the dead man’s body, one of Delphine
LaLaurie’s slaves, a man named Simon, came to the police station, insisting that
he’d not killed Leonard LaLaurie -- Delphine LaLaurie had done that with poison --
but had been enlisted by Madame to assist in decapitating her husband and disposing of
his body. She promised to put a curse on the slave if he refused or breathed a word of
what he’d helped her do.”
“What prompted him to come forward?” Pinkerton asked.
“When Madame LaLaurie sent him on a small errand, Simon saw an opportunity
“But wasn’t he afraid of Delphine’s curse or hex or spell -- or
whatever?” Pinkerton asked.
“He was,” Canonge stated. “However, he fled to the home of the
one person on whom Delphine LaLaurie’s treachery would have no appreciable effect
and who could repel any hex placed on Simon.”
“You act as if this -- stuff -- is real,” Pinkerton scoffed.
“It may be hard for outsiders to understand,” said Canonge, “but
the magic of Voodoo is centuries, perhaps eons, old. It may well date back to the Devil
himself. You do believe in the Devil, don’t you, Detective Pinkerton?”
I never gave the Devil much thought one way or another.”
“The people of New Orleans do,” Canonge asserted. “That’s
why Simon went to the one woman who could unbind a spell:
“Ah, yes,” said Poe. “Madame Laveau. Her reputation precedes her.”
is the undisputed Queen of Voodoo in New Orleans,” Canonge said, almost proudly.
“Despite, or perhaps because of, the Voodoo rituals she conducts, Laveau is held
in high esteem for her devout Catholic faith. She attends church daily and was recently
granted permission to practice her rituals behind St. Louis Cathedral. Early on, Creoles
in the city saw the parallels between Voodoo and Catholicism.”
“What can be worse than the marriage of two
superstitions?” Pinkerton asked.
“It is noteworthy, I think,” Canonge said, “that it was Madame
Laveau who convinced Simon to present his account of Leonard LaLaurie’s murder to
the authorities. She promised to protect him from Delphine LaLaurie if he did.”
didn’t you take this Simon into custody?” Pinkerton asked.
“My agreement with Marie Laveau was that Simon would provide details of Delphine
LaLaurie’s murder of her husband and gruesome treatment of her husband’s corpse
in exchange for his release into Madame Laveau’s custody.”
“What makes you think he won’t flee the city?” Pinkerton asked.
sat quietly, listening to the exchange between both men.
“Because I have Madame Laveau’s word,” Canonge announced solemnly.
word of a Voodoo priestess?” Allan Pinkerton said, shaking his head.
“Yes,” Canonge said. “Besides, Simon is terrified of Delphine
LaLaurie. He would never forsake Laveau’s protection. He’s staying in her home.”
found it all too difficult to believe and said so.
“A grown man seeking the protection of one woman from another? Assuming we’re
able to locate and bring LaLaurie to justice, will Simon be willing to testify
against her in court?”
Poe and Canonge exchanged glances.
“It’s not that simple,” said Magistrate Canonge. “I’m
afraid the burden will be ours to prove LaLaurie killed her husband. That’s why I
enlisted the aid of the two greatest sleuths in America.”
“But we have an eyewitness,” Pinkerton protested.
“I regret to say that a slave’s testimony is unacceptable in a court
of law, not only in New Orleans but throughout the South.”
“Then why have laws at all?” Pinkerton sputtered.
“Perhaps that should be a discussion for another time,” his friend,
Poe, insisted, ending his own silence. “What I’m curious about is the rumor
that LaLaurie fled the country after the discovery of tortured and mutilated slaves in
her home and the conflagration sparked by an enraged populace. If Simon is telling the
truth -- and we’ve no reason to believe he isn’t given the risks he took coming
forward -- then Delphine LaLaurie was busy murdering her husband at a time she was supposed
to be out of the country. Tell me, then. In whose best interest would it be for such a
rumor to circulate?”
think I see what you’re getting at,” said Pinkerton. “There might be two
intended outcomes of such a ruse. The first would be to quell the vigilante mob’s
persistent attempts to find and lynch her. If the bird has flown the coup, what reason
to pursue her? The second effect created by a rumor of Delphine LaLaurie’s hasty
departure would offer her an alibi in the event someone discovered the decapitated victim
actually was Delphine’s husband, Leonard LaLaurie. If in France at the time of the
hapless man’s murder, Delphine LaLaurie couldn’t be his killer. Of course,
in the absence of the man’s head and the inability of the one witness, a Negro, to
testify to the dead man’s identity, we don’t seem to have a devil’s chance
of solving the case.”
Poe smiled at his friend’s reference to the devil.
“With all due respect, Detective Pinkerton, I beg to differ,” Canonge
“Really. Why’s that?” Poe asked, detecting a change in Canonge’s
tone indicating the magistrate may have recalled a hitherto undisclosed piece of information.
“Trust me when I say if we are lucky enough to apprehend Madame LaLaurie,
then her husband’s head will almost certainly be in her possession.”
detectives traded glances at the macabre suggestion. Canonge sought to explain at once
on seeing their perplexed looks.
“Forgive me, gentlemen. It appears I failed to mention that Madame LaLaurie
was also a practitioner of the dark arts, as they are sometimes called. I have that on
the authority of Marie Laveau. In fact, at one time, Delphine LaLaurie was an
acolyte of Madame Laveau until the teacher discovered the student’s uses of magic
to harm, rather than help, those weakest and in most need - the slaves of her own household.”
“What does any of this have to do with Madame LaLaurie’s husband’s
head?” Detective Pinkerton asked.
“As I said, I’m squeamish when it comes to such subjects,” Canonge
confessed. “However, Madame Laveau explained that ritual sacrifices sometimes take
place to appease the gods and to partake of their power.
“Madame Laveau is correct,” Poe interjected. “My own researches
into the occult reveal that severing an enemy’s head was originally a trophy-taking
behavior designed to ensnare life forces for the victim’s slayer. The head is regarded
as a totem imbued with divine powers. For that reason, I suspect Monsieur Canonge and
Madame Laveau are right in assuming that Delphine LaLaurie and her husband’s head
are in close proximity.”
“Savagery!” Pinkerton summed it up in a word.
“To a modern sensibility, perhaps such rituals appear savage,” said Poe. “However, history demonstrates blood
sacrifice to be at the core of all major religions.”
At this statement, the men grew quiet for a time, each absorbed in a reverie of
his own, disturbed only by a ticking clock.
“Has anyone considered how preposterous it would be,” Pinkerton asked
finally, “for Delphine LaLaurie to attempt to escape the country with her husband’s
head in tow?”
“I believe we can conclude with a reasonable degree of certainty,” said
Poe, “that Madame LaLaurie hasn’t left the country, or even the city.”
can you be assured of that?” Pinkerton asked.
“It’s a reasonable conclusion given the piece of information Monsieur
Canonge just gave us.”
Magistrate Canonge appeared shocked that he might have something important to reveal.
on,” Pinkerton urged.
this,” said Poe. “For the rumor to circulate that Madame LaLaurie fled the
country before, or after, allegedly murdering her husband, someone had to see her leave.
Am I right in assuming, Monsieur Canonge, that no one having observed her departure has
right,” Canonge affirmed.
“Then it behooves us to ask how such a rumor originated and who most benefits
from its circulation. The obvious answer to both is Delphine LaLaurie. Her best
chances for survival are for both the authorities and the vigilantes to believe she’s
beyond their grasp, most especially if she’s still in their midst. Keep in mind she
would have no need of a rumor if she’s already in exile. However, these broad strokes,
I suspect, do not paint a complete picture.”
“What are you saying?” Pinkerton asked.
“Only that while the imputed rumor would be useful to Madame LaLaurie, it
might also serve the interests of a person hiding her.”
“An accomplice?” Pinkerton asked.
“Not necessarily,” said Poe. “In fact, maybe someone wishing to
Laveau!” said Monsieur Canonge excitedly, instantly seeing the role his piece of
intelligence played in Poe’s thinking.
“Yes,” Poe said. “You yourself, Monsieur Canonge, disclosed the
one person with a motive and the capabilities to guarantee not only that justice is served
in the case of Delphine LaLaurie, but that the punishment fits her crime. Not only did
Madame LaLaurie torture her slaves, but she also betrayed Marie Laveau by using her mentor’s
knowledge -- for evil purposes.”
“Then do you think,” Pinkerton asked, “that Madame Laveau is holding
Delphine LaLaurie hostage for purposes of torturing her?”
“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Poe declared.
“If so,” Pinkerton said grimly, “I fear we may be too late.”
fear we may not be late enough,” said Poe.
Poe’s cryptic remark made sense to Pinkerton once the two detectives arrived
at Marie Laveau’s home and were invited inside. Somewhat to their surprise the Voodoo
Queen offered no resistance to their entry.
“I thought you’d have come sooner,” she said. “Follow me.”
Laveau was a statuesque woman of color. Poe surmised her to be an attractive mix of African,
Indian and Caucasian ancestry, known as a Quadroon. As the detectives followed Laveau to
a room off the kitchen, their noses were assaulted by the unmistakable stench of blood
and viscera. Its source was that of a woman -- naked, bound, gagged, and trussed in the
most contorted fashion.
“Gentlemen, let me introduce you to Madame Delphine LaLaurie, at one time
of one of the most beautiful women in New Orleans,” said Marie Laveau. “However,
as you can see, Madame LaLaurie has fallen on hard times.”
Poe and Pinkerton stared at the grisly spectacle. Most noticeable was the spiked
iron collar holding the figure’s head in a static position. Her skin appeared to
have been flayed from every conceivable angle. Two Negro men flanked her with whips in
hand. A deep gash in Madame LaLaurie’s head dripped blood into a bucket on the floor.
The most striking abuse of Delphine LaLaurie was that her eyes had been gouged out - now
hollow and bloody sockets. Wielding instruments of torture, a half dozen other Negroes
waited their turn while a chocolate-colored youth hobbled over to the lump of flesh that
was Delphine LaLaurie, swung a sledge hammer down hard on the victim’s foot, and
listened for the bones to break. Poe and Pinkerton would later learn that the Negroes
were all slaves belonging to Madame LaLaurie and that the slaves were replicating injuries
inflicted on them. If Poe had hoped that LaLaurie would be dead when they found her, he
was disabused of that possibility in the next instant when a low, cavernous moan issued
from the woman’s throat.
Marie Laveau strode over to Delphine LaLaurie and spoke in her ear, the lobe looking
as if an animal had chewed it.
“Still want to die?” Marie Laveau asked. “You see, that isn’t
possible at the moment. You still have many sins to atone for and much suffering to endure.
Do you recall using my potions to keep your victims alive while you experimented on
them? Trust me when I say I want you to live and will do all in my power to make sure you
don’t leave a moment too soon. You of all people, Delphine, should know it’s
a fine line between inflicting enough pain to make a victim wish he were dead but not enough
pain to kill him.”
Laveau finished her speech and turned to face the detectives. Allan Pinkerton had drawn
a pistol from his pocket but couldn’t bring himself to point it at her. Poe stood
quietly at his side.
Laveau, I must insist that you stop torturing Delphine LaLaurie. I understand your desire
for revenge but --” Pinkerton broke off, not knowing what else to say. Marie Laveau’s
eyes were smoky and alluring.
“You misunderstand, Detective,” said Madame Laveau. “My desire
isn’t for revenge. My desire is for a reckoning.”
“Be that as it may,” Pinkerton said, “but I must insist that you
stop torturing her.”
“I’m afraid that isn’t possible,” said Laveau. “Not
until every last offense is answered.”
“Offense?” said Pinkerton.
“Let me introduce you to some friends of mine,” Marie Laveau announced.
She seemed next to address only the darkness behind her. “It’s all right. These
men won’t hurt you.”
Out of the shadows and into the dim light emerged six Negroes, four men and two
closer, so they can see you,” Marie Laveau instructed. One by one each took a step
and paused, awaiting inspection. The first thing Poe and Pinkerton noticed was that they
all were disfigured. One Negro woman was missing her ears; the other was hunchbacked owing
to bones broken and reset making her look like a crab. One male Negro youth had great patches
of white skin where he’d been flayed. Another adult male opened his mouth to reveal
the absence of a tongue torn out at the roots with pincers by Delphine LaLaurie. Another
man, naked, had survived castration. The last thrust out his arms. Where hands had been,
there were only nubs now. The wounds sustained by Madame LaLaurie’s slaves were hideous
and grotesque, unspeakably so.
“Now you see with your own eyes why Delphine LaLaurie can’t be released;”
said Marie Laveau, “The law would protect her, and the fate of my friends would be
to suffer more than they already have. There would be no justice for them. They
might even be returned to her or sent to another harsh slaver once she’s dead. I
can’t permit that. As long as they remain with me, they are safe, until a time when
I can arrange their departure for a destination where slavery doesn’t exist. There
they will be free. As for Delphine, she took a blood oath to honor our craft, knowing that
failing to do so would result in torture and death. She knew what to expect. Don’t
waste a moment feeling sorry for her.”
Allan Pinkerton’s pistol drooped at his side.
There was no way he could bring himself to imperil Delphine LaLaurie’s slaves further.
It was a devil of a dilemma in which he and Poe found themselves: Pinkerton
couldn’t condone torture, but he couldn’t condone slavery - especially when
slaves themselves were tortured. He would choose the lesser of two evils and hope Poe agreed.
was imagining all the ways to forget what they’d just seen. He remarked to himself
that it had all seemed akin to a terrible nightmare and that he and Pinkerton had discovered
a door opening onto the landscape of hell. Now he and Pinkerton should back out the way
they came in. What Poe said next put the minds of Marie Laveau and Allan Pinkerton at ease.
“Madame Laveau, thank you for your assistance in this case, but it seems Detective
Pinkerton and I have reached an impasse in our murder investigation. Without a confession
from Delphine LaLaurie and without a way to identify the headless corpse, we have no case
and likely never will.”
“I’m sorry you came so far for so little,” said Marie Laveau.
“C’est la vie,” Poe said. “However, before we leave, I wonder
if you’d indulge me by engaging in a small thought experiment?”
“I’ll try,” she said, sensing Poe wished to satisfy some matter
“Thank you,” said Poe. “I’d like for you to imagine you
are writing the story of Delphine LaLaurie. How does that story end?”
Poe, the writer, wanted a conclusion to the
saga only the Voodoo Queen could provide.
“If I were to peer into a crystal ball,”
Madame Laveau intoned, “I’d discover that Delphine poisoned Leonard LaLaurie
and then decapitated her husband, with the aid of a slave. She carried the head to a powerful
priestess, versed in the art of curses, hexes, and spells. Delphine believed the head would
serve as a blood offering, enabling her to atone for transgressions against the priestess.
She was mistaken. The priestess buried the sacrificed head where no one would find
it. When it came time for Delphine LaLaurie to die, the priestess beheaded her,
with the aid of a slave. Together they buried Delphine’s head with that of her
husband so each could stare into the eyes of the other for eternity.”
grim ending, indeed,” Pinkerton said nervously.
“I’m afraid it’s the only
ending possible,” said Madame Laveau.
With that, the detectives showed themselves
to the door.
|Art by Ann Marie Rhiel © 2017
Arendt and Eichmann: Behind Bars
She heard the faint suspiration of breath
as smoke materialized in an eerie halo above the smoker’s
head. He extended the pack of cigarettes, offering her one.
“No,” she said, not wanting anything he had to
give. She seated herself without being asked to take a seat. The man across the table from
her crushed out his cigarette in an ashtray provided, undoubtedly, by prison officials,
not wishing their star prisoner to complain that he’d been neglected or mistreated.
There was bitter irony in that.
asked to see me,” she said in as matter-of-fact a tone as possible despite bile
rising in her throat, the result of equal measures of fear and disgust.
Adolph Eichmann eyed Hannah Arendt with a faint
air of detachment, his head tilting as if to view her from a different angle. Maybe he
wished to make her uncomfortable. The man’s eyes were gun-metal blue. He owned an
aquiline nose, the sort displayed by Caesar on Roman coins. How had so noble a nose withstood
the stench of the camps? High, chiseled cheeks complemented the total effect.
Eichmann was nothing if not a poster boy for Ayrian ideals of power and beauty.
Hannah concluded that it was one of life’s many inequities that age had
mercifully spared Eichmann’s features during his years in hiding.
By no one’s estimation would Hannah Arendt be deemed attractive.
She was so plain as to be unrecognizable in a crowd. That was a fact of experience. At
university she’d studied philosophy with Martin Heidegger, whose intellectual
status in Europe at the time was that of a god. Arendt had fallen in love with
Heidegger, and the two subsequently engaged in a short-term affair. In the wake
of their break-up, Arendt moved to the University of Heidelberg, completing her
dissertation in 1929. When later that year Heidegger failed to recognize her at
a train station, Arendt was devastated. If Heidegger had loved her once, it was because
she owned the mind of a man.
“Thank you for agreeing to meet under
these conditions,” Eichmann spoke apologetically, realizing that the Israeli soldiers
flanking them and the omnipresent microphones recording their conversation in the tiny
cell were hardly conducive to an incisive and free exchange.
hadn’t thought you’d have heard of me,” Arendt said, impervious to Eichmann’s
attempts at politeness.
“Oh, my, yes,” said Eichmann. “Would
you dare to hear what I know about you?”
“If you wish,” Hannah said, careful
to reject the crumb of flattery he’d offered her.
were the stellar student of the brilliant philosopher, Martin Heidegger, who
maintained his allegiance to the Nazi Party until the end of the war,” Eichmann
announced proudly. “You, on the contrary, left Germany as a self-imposed exile
and, later, took up the cause of our enemies. In 1951, you enjoyed a brief
period of celebrity with the publication of your book, The Origins of Totalitarianism,
a rather pedestrian assessment of the roots and
influence of Nazism.”
“If my analysis was so pedestrian, why
did you ask to see me?” If her research had taught her one thing, it was the duplicitous
and grandiose strategies of interrogation by the Nazis.
you, of all the correspondents covering this trial, may be fairest and most
Eichmann took the pack and matches from the
table and lit another cigarette. Hannah suddenly felt dizzy, claustrophobic. She fought
the urge to rise and bolt to the door.
mistaken, Colonel Eichmann, if you think I have a grain of sympathy for your
“Otto,” Eichmann interjected.
“Obersturmbannführer,” Arendt insisted on using
his German military title.
“As you wish,” Eichmann insisted.
“However, you’re mistaken if you think I want your sympathy. That’s the
last thing I want. In fact, I’m counting on your dispassionate qualities as a scholar
to sift through the facts of the case and present a fair accounting of my role as an obedient
functionary of the SS.”
Arendt asked, stunned.
“Of course,” said Eichmann in a
tone meant to absolve himself of any wrong-doing in the systematic murder of millions.
“I was one of the many horses pulling the wagon and couldn’t escape left or
right because of the will of the driver.”
“Is that your defense?” Hannah asked.
“What else could it be?” asked Eichmann. “I
never did anything great or small, without obtaining in advance express instructions from
Adolf Hitler or any of my superiors.”
that is your defense,” Hannah concluded, “then there can only be one outcome
to your trial.”
“Do you think I’m a fool, Frauline
Arendt?” Eichmann asked rhetorically without giving Hannah time to answer. “There
never was but one outcome to this trial. The culmination of these mock proceedings was
a fait accompli. Did you really think I expected
to receive a fair trial from the Jew tribunal?”
Arendt flinched. “Unrepentant to the end,” she murmured.
“Unrepentant?” Eichmann repeated,
crushing out his cigarette. “I’ve done nothing for which I have a need to repent.
Repentance is for children.”
Arendt recalled the testimony of dozens of eye
witnesses who’d seen Eichmann order deportations of tens of thousands of children
to death camps where they were gassed and their bodies dumped into mass graves for the
sake of expediency. When the number of Jews slated for extermination exceeded the personnel
necessary to dispose of the corpses, children were permitted to live, though
they faced starvation, illness, and brutal labor. Some were subjected to state
ordered “medical experiments” often resulting in torture and death.
“Are you suggesting,” Arendt began,
pausing to steady the timbre of her voice, “that you weren’t complicit in the
genocide directed at millions of European Jews?”
“I never killed a single Jew,” Eichmann
declared. “In fact, under normal conditions, I should be receiving a commendation
for saving the lives of Jews.”
All traces of fear at being in the presence
of a monster were swept away in an instant of anger. She concluded that Eichmann was delusional
despite the sobering assessment of psychiatrists declaring him perfectly sane.
“In Gottes namen, how did you
save Jews?” Arendt asked.
looked surprised. “In 1938, I was promoted to second lieutenant in the
Schutzstaffel, tasked with the responsibility of heading the Center for Jewish
Responsibility. My role was to facilitate emigration of Jews from Germany while finding
other destinations for them. In eighteen months, I arranged egress for almost one hundred
thousand people. Many undoubtedly went on to live productive lives.”
“And when emigration laws were repealed, and Jews were
forced to remain within the border of
Nazi-occupied Europe, what were your responsibilities then?”
“It was unthinkable that I would not follow
orders,” Eichmann said.
if obeying those orders meant the untold suffering and death of millions of
human souls?” In that instant, Hannah realized she’d adopted the tone of
“I don’t believe humans have a soul,”
said Eichmann with an air of tiredness.
“If human beings are soulless,”
Arendt remarked, “then it stands to reason that you experienced no qualms of conscience
in shipping millions of men, women, and children to death.” It was apparent that
Eichmann was one of those rare individuals void of doubt or anxiety. Hannah had not heard
of his being troubled by insomnia or psychosomatic ailments either.
“I would have had a bad conscience only if I had not done
what I’d been ordered to do.”
you saying that you’re absolutely certain of the rightness of your actions?”
Hannah asked tentatively, not certain she wanted to hear the answer.
“In the sense of the indictment,”
Eichmann said, “I am without guilt.”
Arendt paused to study Eichmann’s expression,
his posture, even his tar-stained fingers. How many cigarettes had he smoked during nine
months of interrogation since his capture in Argentina where he’d lived for years
“Are you surprised, then at the charges
you’re facing?” Hannah asked.
at the charges, but not surprised at being charged,” he said.
“Explain,” Arendt urged.
“I do not acknowledge the legality of this trial. I don’t
need to acquaint you with the fact that I was kidnapped by an Israeli commando squad in
Buenos Aires and whisked to Israel on an El Al plane. I am here against my will.”
Hannah was tempted to remind Eichmann that Jews
had been herded into camps and kept against their will, but to do that would imply no difference
between Mossad, the Israeli secret police, and Nazi Germany’s Gestapo. Hannah could
not forget that Eichmann was disingenuous and dissembling, even as he seemed oblivious
to his own culpability in mass murder.
criminals are willing to confront charges and stand trial of their own
volition,” Hannah reminded Eichmann.
“Since I’ve committed no crime,”
Eichmann hastened to defend himself,” I cannot be tried as a criminal. I’m
not on trial. Israel is. I am the sacrificial lamb Israel needs to justify its existence
to the rest of the world.”
and Nazi henchmen like you, gave birth to the nation of Israel—albeit
unwittingly,” said Arendt, realizing in that moment her obligation to draw
large pictures for the nearly blind.
“Israel is a strip of land stolen from
Palestinians who were expelled from their homes—a war crime that Israel committed
purposefully and with the sponsorship and sanction of powerful American Jews. These same
Jews invest millions each year to fund the diplomatically immune and largely unaccountable
United Nations. Is it a coincidence that UN headquarters is located only four miles from
Wall Street? Jewish bankers drive American diplomacy, and American diplomacy sanctions
the terrorist tactics of the Shin Bet, Israel’s not so secret service, a fact to
which Palestinian refugees can attest.”
withdrew another cigarette from the pack on the table. Arendt was silent while
he lit it.
“It never ceases to amaze me,” Hannah
said, “how murderers can exonerate themselves of their crimes while blaming their
victims. If you object to the establishment of Israel as a nation, then you have only yourself
“I will say once more that I committed
no crimes. I broke no laws—in Germany.
The only crimes with which I’ve been charged are based on laws enacted to punish
people like me. Because I do not recognize Israel as a sovereign state, I do not recognize
the legitimacy of its laws.”
would have been tried in Germany had you stayed to face the music,” Hannah
“With a much different outcome, I’d
“You have no guarantee of that.”
“But I am certain of the verdict in this trial, though
I err in referring to it as a trial.”
what would you call it?”
“Not a trial, but an orchestrated spectacle.
You Jews are nothing if not skilled propagandists. However, I must admit that it is a bit
unnerving to be the first man in history whose trial is being televised. What better way
to keep the world’s attention focused on an imaginary Holocaust?”
“Few outside Germany doubt that the Holocaust is a fact,
“What is a fact, Frauline Arendt? Is it
a fact to believe the evidence before our eyes? Is it a fact that Jews are the unluckiest
people on earth or that Jewish suffering is singularly special, to be spoken of in referential
tones, while enshrined by special laws designed to punish the enemies of Jews?”
“A fact requires evidence. A million corpses
are evidence of a million murders. Nazis perfected the calculus of destruction.”
“If only it were that simple,” Eichmann averred.
“Don’t you think that irrational motives are often at the basis of the fate
of a people? Beyond the understanding of a human being? Surely life teaches us that what
leaders do will not always lead to the aim and destination they intended.”
“Are you asking me to believe that you
were only an innocent executor of some mysteriously foreordained fate, some Hegelian spiritus mundi, requiring blood sacrifice to ensure
Germany’s glorious destiny?”
will only scandalize you when I say that Hitler was innocent of the slaughter
of the Jews. He was a victim of the Zionists, who had compelled him to perpetuate
crimes and to create the legend that would eventually enable them to achieve
their aim: the creation of the State of Israel.”
Hannah suddenly recalled a story she loved to
read as a girl growing up in Germany. It was British author Lewis Carroll’s “Alice
in Wonderland.” Her favorite part was an exchange between the Cheshire Cat and Alice
on the subject of madness:
you can’t help that” said the Cat. “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re
“How do you know I’m mad?”
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or
you wouldn’t have come here.”
Hannah were to believe the Cat, then the world itself was insane, rendering
Eichmann’s “sanity” as useful to him as the huge bulk and muscles of the
“Are you suggesting,” Hannah asked,
“that Jews were complicit in their own destruction?”
“Jews will do anything,” Eichmann said, “including
selling out their own. Trust me when I say that the SS rarely were tasked with rounding
up Jews. We didn’t have to. The Jews appointed to the Judenrat, the Jewish council,
performed the chore for us.”
wasn’t telling Hannah anything she didn’t know. She was aware of Jews who’d
collaborated with Nazis and had benefitted as a result. They rationalized their
decision by saying that if they weren’t doing it, someone else would be.
“Does it surprise you the lengths people
will go to appease their tormenters?” Hannah asked.
surprises me, Frau Arendt,” said Eichmann. “Not even the bogus charges leveled
at me or the sham trial I’m forced to endure. These are nothing but the
machinations of a people convinced of the righteousness of their actions.”
“We claim only one right – the right
to survive. Israel is a message to the world that people like you will never again be in
a position to destroy us.”
if it means adopting the tactics of your tormenters?” Eichmann said with a sly
“If that’s what it takes,”
said Hannah, staring at him eye-to-eye.
you’re no better than we are despite all your talk of principles,” Eichmann
“I hope only that we’re no worse,”
Hannah declared, shifting in the chair and signaling her wish to end their conversation.
The time was short between them now.
thing more, Frauline,” said Eichmann as Hannah rose, standing above him. The
guards, within earshot, stood perfectly still. “Did you get what you came for?
Have I satisfied your curiosity?”
you wish to know the truth?” Hannah asked.
“Disappointed?” Eichmann asked.
“Disappointed to discover you’re the one thing I
“What’s that?” Eichmann asked.
“Ordinary,” said Hannah Arendt. “Ordinary.”
|Art by Darren Blanch © 2019
by Edward Francisco
son, he seems so sweet and kind,” said Ingrid Mueller, nurse at the Sisters of
St. Mercy Hospital, in Linz, to her patient, Klara Hiedler.
impressionable and sensitive,” Klara said, smiling weakly. “So sweet a boy.”
had taken its toll on Klara, as had the mastectomy and the subsequent daily treatments
of iodoform, an experimental form of chemotherapy burning her throat, making it difficult
for her to swallow. Klara had consented to the excruciating regimen at the tearful requests
of her son who could not bring himself to entertain the thought that his mother might succumb
to the disease. Klara had honored her son’s wishes, though she had no illusions about
her chances of survival. Although the year was 1906, and doctors were more skilled
than they’d been fifty years ago, and treatments more advanced, Klara’s
condition was hopeless. Time was running down, and each tick of the clock was
certain assurance of the inevitable.
“How old is your son?” Ingrid Mueller
asked, busying herself with disposing of the iodoform gauze applied at the site where Klara’s
mastectomy incisions had been re-opened and her tissue exposed to the toxic treatments
she’d received. The remedy was killing her as assuredly as the cancer.
Klara answered, thinking how young he was and how bereft he’d be at losing her.
“Has he chosen a profession?” the nurse asked.
to be an artist,” Klara answered with a note of pride. “He plans to attend
the Art Institute in Vienna.”
Of course, Klara had no way of knowing that her son’s aspirations
of attending the art institute had been dashed by his failure to pass the entrance exam.
He couldn’t bring himself to tell her and couldn’t bear the prospect of seeing
the pained expression on her face, especially since she’d fought so hard in
opposing his father’s desire that he become a civil servant. Klara understood
that her son was not cut out for such work.
“Ja,” said Ingrid,
“I understand. I had hopes that at least one of my five sons would profess holy orders.
No such good fortune.”
Klara tried to be pleasant despite excruciating pain to which the bloody
strips of gauze in the nurse’s hand bore witness. Klara opted to be stoical, assuming
that both her disease and her fate were God’s will. Her son spoke often about
how brave she was, tears glistening in his eyes and streaking down his cheeks.
Under no circumstance would she disappoint him.
“What do your sons
do?” Klara asked.
“One is a banker, another, a lawyer. Three are enlistees in the Imperial German
Army. They are always talking about the prospect of war. It’s frightening.”
“I can imagine,” said Klara, “that your sons’ choice to
become soldiers must fill you with much anxiety.”
asks us mothers what we think,” the nurse spoke bitterly. “If mothers had a
say, there would be no war.”
“Ja,” said Klara. “It is fathers who encourage sons
to be soldiers, filling their heads with dreams of glory.”
husband said as much. He stated that he’d served in the army, so why shouldn’t
can be short-sighted,” Klara noted. “Before his death three years ago, my son’s
father scolded my son for wishing to be an artist. He opposed any mode of
employment that didn’t ensure a steady income. He threatened to disown our son
if he pursued the life of a vagabond or gypsy, as my husband described it. He
said that artists were decadent and of no use to society. They should be targeted
for sterilization, according to my husband.”
“A father’s words linger long after
he’s dead,” said Ingrid, “especially to an impressionable lad like your
fear you may be right,” said Klara.
“Men are inherently
cruel and competitive,” Ingrid declared, “especially when it comes to sons.
I think that my sons’ father won’t be happy until a caisson bearing the flag-draped
casket of one of our boys passes along the street for his inspection.”
was a long interval of silence between them. Both seemed to ponder their sons’
fates. In particular, Klara Hiedler wondered what would happen to her son’s
dreams once she was gone. If Klara’s mood was marked by worry, Ingrid Mueller’s
affect announced a palpable bitterness.
“My husband is fond of reciting the Latin
phrase ‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.’
It is right and fitting to die for the Fatherland. He speaks in reverent tones of the honor
in making the supreme sacrifice. It is as if he longs for death and destruction.”
“Men have short memories when it comes to war,” Klara said, thinking
of the crimes perpetrated in the name of patriotism. In Germany, in particular, war had
achieved sacred status.
Ingrid Mueller stuffed gauze strips into a container
whose contents would later be incinerated. Her and Klara’s conversation was interrupted
by the appearance of Doctor Bloch at the door.
“Herr Doktor Bloch,”
said the nurse in a greeting.
“Frau Mueller,” the doctor replied. Then: “Klara.”
doctor nodded in the direction of his patient.
“Herr Doktor,” said Klara.
Bloch was a short, stout man who wore wire-rimmed glasses. Gray temples signaled
that he was probably middle-aged. Although there was nothing about his appearance to distinguish
him from dozens of other men, he was gentle and kind and spoke in comforting tones. He
walked over to Klara’s bedside, lifting her hand into his own and holding it momentarily.
are you feeling today, Klara?” Doctor Bloch asked, knowing how she would
was patient and long-suffering—a model patient.
eh?” said Doctor Bloch.
Klara’s condition was degrading daily.
Pain had etched new lines in her face since the previous afternoon.
The treatment that Doctor Bloch adopted as a last resort was agonizing.
He had no doubt of it. It involved reopening her mastectomy incisions and applying a
caustic substance directly to the tissues, in effect, burning both cancer cells
and surrounding tissues. It was anyone’s guess whether Klara was dying faster
from the cancer or the toxic consequences of the treatment. If it had been
entirely his decision, Doctor Bloch would have permitted his patient to pass
peacefully. As it was, for forty-eight days, he’d subjected her to a barbarous procedure
at the entreaties of Klara and her son.
“Your son—I passed him in the hall on my way here,”
said Doctor Bloch. “He’s frantic about your condition.”
Bloch wouldn’t examine Klara’s wounds today. He didn’t want to cause her more
agony. Besides, it wasn’t necessary. The outcome was inevitable.
said Klara bleakly. “He worries.”
“In fairness to your son, Klara,” said Doctor Bloch, “you
should acquaint him with the hopelessness of your case.”
bring myself to dash his hopes that I might still survive the cancer. He needs to believe
“It’s an obstinate case, Klara,” Doctor Bloch announced,
glancing at Nurse Mueller as if silently soliciting her support.
Mueller was a mother, too, and knew Klara Hiedler’s need to cling to every breath.
see, my son and I share an especially close connection,” Klara said to Doctor
Bloch, not expecting him to understand. “I lost my first three children to
illness and despaired of having another. Then, when I found myself with child a fourth
time, I was terrified, fearing it would be the same as before. I contemplated doing the
unthinkable so as not to endure the mother-loss of another child sacrificed to cruel fate.
Fortunately, a doctor, a Catholic, convinced me that the Church’s teachings prohibited
such a thing. Now that child has grown into a young man intent on becoming an artist.”
face beamed proudly despite her weakness. Doctor Bloch knew that it was useless
to talk further to her. Ingrid Mueller had genuflected on hearing Klara’s plans
for the infant. Ingrid was of the old school of Catholics who believed that being
in the approximate occasion of sin could be sinful in itself.
“Well, then, ladies, I’ll be on
my way,” said Doctor Bloch, bowing slightly before turning and exiting the room.
woman spoke at first, listening to the soft echo of Doctor Bloch’s footfall
fade down the hallway.
“Doctor Bloch is a nice man,” said Ingrid Mueller. “But
he isn’t a mother. He doesn’t understand.”
impossible for a man to grasp the depth of feeling a mother has for her children.”
you know he’s Jewish—Doktor Bloch, that is?”
Klara, a little surprised that Nurse Mueller had mentioned this detail.
doesn’t work on Yom Kippur,” Ingrid explained. “Did you know that Jews comprise
one percent of Germany’s population but twenty-five percent of the country’s
“No,” Klara said, never having
given a thought to the frequency of Jews or Jewish doctors in Germany or anywhere else.
it’s true,” Ingrid insisted. “My husband says that Jews have survived by making
themselves indispensable. When they are kicked out of one place, they simply
set up shop in another. Jews carry their livelihoods in their heads and on
Ingrid Mueller paused to let her words sink in.
the same,” said Klara, “Herr Doktor Bloch has been kind and attentive to me and
respectful of my desire for my son not to know more than he needs to know. That’s
why I feel a twinge of guilt at not being entirely truthful with him about why I kept the
baby. It had nothing to do with being Catholic.”
What did it have to do with, then?” Ingrid asked, a little surprised by Klara’s
“Do I have your word that you will never breathe what I’m
about to tell you to another living soul?”
“You have my word,”
said Nurse Mueller, growing more curious by the second.
was a gypsy,” Klara admitted.
“A gypsy?” Ingrid repeated.
was a fortune teller in Braunau. I needed to know what the future held for my
unborn child. I lost my first three babies. It was as if fate had cursed me. I lost
my faith in God. Then I heard about a young girl with second sight. She was a beautiful
girl with luxuriant, black curls and black eyes that snapped. I felt strangely comforted
in her presence. She had an aura that drew me to her.”
heard that such people possess a ball letting them see events in the future.”
never saw a ball, as such. What she did was amazing, though. She placed her
hands on my belly, and the baby quickened at her touch. I still recall her
words: “The baby is a boy. As a man, he will impact the world in unimaginable
“That must have been a great relief to you,” Ingrid conjectured.
was and is,” Klara assented. “She inspired in me the confidence that my son
would not come to an early end like the three children before him and the hope
that he would have a bright future as a man. It’s strange how things turn out.
Who can discount the possibility that, in the fulfillment of destiny, my son’s
siblings sacrificed their lives so that he might live? My only regret is that I won’t
live to see the impact that he will make on the world as foretold by the gypsy.”
Mueller thought for a minute.
“The world is a very large place, Frau Hiedler,” the nurse
said finally, as if struck by the possibility of considering something she’d not
had to consider before.
Klara’s voice interrupted her reverie.
Mueller,” said Klara, “you have been so kind to me that I wish not to trouble
you much longer.”
There was a note of urgency in Klara Hiedler’s voice.
Ingrid exclaimed. “You’re no trouble at all.”
It was true. Klara was
a model patient, withstanding her agonies courageously.
why I hesitate to ask if you will indulge me in one final act of kindness,”
“Anything,” Ingrid said.
a pact that will connect us for eternity,” said Klara, “in this life and the
one to come.”
“What sort of pact?” Ingrid asked.
“I know how you
must worry about your sons serving in the army and about the terrible perils of war,”
Klara said, “even as I worry about my son’s fate once I’m no longer here.”
Ingrid quickly agreed. “We mothers share terrible burdens.”
was that perhaps I could be a guardian angel to your children from above and you could
be a guardian angel to my son below, following his progress in life.”
Mueller’s heart was touched by Klara’s appeal. The nurse laid a hand atop
Klara’s own frail and trembling hand. Tears glistened in both women’s eyes.
will do it. You have my word. I will visit him from time to time, too,” Ingrid
“You have no idea how much your offer comforts me,” Klara
said with a relaxed sigh. “Tell him, when he has difficulties, that he has the love
of two mothers to sustain him.”
Klara was announcing that
she was about to die, wanting to leave no unfinished business behind.
need to write down your son’s name and address,” announced Ingrid, reaching in
the pocket of her nurse’s apron to retrieve a pencil and sheet of paper on
which she wrote patients’ medicine schedules.
“Now, I’m ready,” said Ingrid,
poised to write. “I assume that your son’s last name is the same as your own.”
Klara said with a note of hesitation. “There was a falling out between my son
and his father. My son spells his name differently now.”
“Say the name,
and I’ll write it down,” Ingrid instructed.
“Adolf,” Klara pronounced the name
lovingly. “Adolf Hitler.”
“For six years we have met each day in
this fetid, filthy dungeon,” announced the Inquisitor, “and for what purpose?
Things did not have to come to this pass.”
The man whom the Inquisitor addressed was Giordano
Bruno - Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician, poet, and astrologer. The man addressing
Bruno was Cardinal Bellarmine, appointed chief inquisitor by Pope Clement VIII. The two
men were seated in a cell in the inquisition prison located within view of the Vatican.
The date was February 16, 1600, just hours before the appointed time of Bruno’s execution.
“That’s where you’re wrong,”
said Bruno. “There was never another outcome but this one.”
respectively disagree,” protested the Cardinal. “Look at your friend Galileo.
He recanted his heresies and now enjoys a fine meal and a walk in the open air. You, on
the other hand, are all bones. The rats chew off your toes.”
It was true that his years in the dungeon had taken a toll on
Bruno. He’d been starved, flayed, and burned with searing metal pincers. The foul
and rank vapors had been conducive to producing disease. Even now he had a nagging cough
that refused to subside.
“Galileo is a coward,” Bruno announced.
“Besides, how does a person recant the truth?”
“Ah, that’s just it,” said the Cardinal. “Galileo
is a reasonable man who saw the error of his ways in time to save his life. He acknowledged
that the Church possesses infallible truth.”
me, Cardinal,” said Bruno, “how Galileo came to recant the incontestable evidence
before his eyes?”
“The Devil causes the eye to trick itself,”
said the prelate. “The truth remains immutable.”
“Then how do you explain the Church’s
mutability on res terra, that is, the nature of the Earth?”
“To what specifically do you refer?”
asked the Cardinal.
“I refer to the Church’s longstanding
position that the Earth is flat even though Aristotle debunked the notion more than two
thousand years ago.”
“I don’t recall Aristotle’s
having done that.”
The Cardinal wore a look of confusion on his
face as if trying to summon a recollection of something he’d never learned in the
first place. The Cardinal was decked out in full regalia, colored pipings and buttons announcing
his rank in the ecclesiastical hierarchy. He wore a cassock made entirely of watered silk,
a purple fascia, and a gilt pectoral cross. He smelled of rose water, undoubtedly the result
of a bath given him by a young girl or, more likely, boy, earlier that morning. By
contrast, Bruno sat in rags barely covering his loins. In the absence of soap
and water, he’d long ago grown accustomed to his own stench, now indistinguishable
from the putrid odor of dung and the pungent foulness of urine in slop buckets,
not removed for days, in some cases. Bruno’s filthy condition had not
diminished his mind’s ability to remember the teachings of Aristotle, however.
not only proved that the earth was a spheroid, but he did so by exercising both operations
of logic and observation,” Bruno explained.
was the same each time they met. The Cardinal came tending to correct Bruno’s thinking
in matters of divinity only to find himself embarrassingly inadequate in matters of natural
philosophy. The Cardinal pretended to know what he didn’t. That, and the fact
he was gullible, made him an unwitting victim of Bruno’s barbs and casuistical
assaults. Until meeting Cardinal Bellarmine, Bruno had never met an obtuse
Jesuit. He could now say that he had. Bruno was forced to conclude that even a
jackdaw could be taught Latin. If true to himself, he would have to admit that
confounding the oafish cleric was one of Bruno’s chief pleasures in life, even
while chained to the wall of a dungeon.
“What did Aristotle observe,” asked
the Cardinal, “that possibly led him to conclude that the Earth was round?”
“Aristotle realized that a lunar eclipse occurred between
the sun and moon. The shape of the earth’s shadow, Aristotle observed, was round.
If the earth were flat, its shadow would have a much different form.”
“Ah, both you and Aristotle miss the point of
such occultations,” said the Cardinal. “An eclipse is a warning from God to
sinners whose eyes are blind to the light of truth. Darkness is a precursor of the fate
awaiting benighted souls in the afterlife in the event they fail to repent in this life.”
How Bruno had endured the Cardinal’s profound
ignorance for so long was a miracle of grace - enduring proof of God’s existence,
to Bruno’s thinking.
“An eclipse is the result of the natural
operation of planets,” Bruno insisted.
“It is only the will of God that prevents
the heavenly orbs from tumbling to earth from their fixed points in the sky,” the
“Your statement violates every canon of
reason,” Bruno objected.
“Damn your reason!” Cardinal
Bellarmine thundered. “Reason is the crutch on which the edifice of your shaky position
stands when faith alone should guide your every thought, word, and deed. We’ll see
how much reason comforts you after tomorrow when your soul writhes in hellfire.”
“What you call faith, I term superstition,”
Bruno responded calmly. “Moreover, hell is a myth
created by the Church to terrify and control illiterate peasants whose knowledge
of hell is limited to this sphere of existence.”
the Cardinal boomed.
“If it is heresy, then it is a heresy
first promulgated by such Church fathers as Clement of Alexandria and Origen as early as
the third century. Not to mention the non-canonical gospel of Mary Magdalene who assures
us that Our Lord freed all souls from bondage, making hell utterly unnecessary.”
“Statements like those are why you will be burned at the
stake before sunset tomorrow if you do not recant your blasphemies and confess your sins.
You would do well not to recite the dubious words of the whore, Magdalene.”
“She was no whore,” Bruno insisted. “She was
Jesus’ wife and his chiefest apostle.”
it your way.” The Cardinal snarled, slapping his thigh in disgust. “You are
chiefest among sinners and have dug your own grave. No less than the Holy Father sent me
to wrangle a confession out of you even though I told him that all such attempts
would be useless. I said that if six years in this dungeon had not resulted in
your penance, then a visit from me would have no well-disposed effects upon
“For once you spoke the truth,”
“Then I have no choice but to read the
charges against you and ask how you plead to each.”
“This is ground we’ve covered time and again,”
said Bruno, suddenly grown tired.
“The ministrations of the Church require
the procedure. After tomorrow it will be of no matter. Your death is a fait accompli.”
you wish,” said Bruno.
“Then let us begin,”
said the Cardinal. “Charge one states that you
hold opinions contrary to the Catholic faith. How do you answer?”
“The Catholic faith holds opinions
contrary to my own; therefore, your statement is an accurate reflection of my position.”
“Charge two states
that you hold opinions contrary to the Catholic faith about the Trinity,
divinity of Christ, and Incarnation. How do you answer?”
“I believe that Jesus Christ, created by God the Father at
a point in time, is distinct from the Father and is therefore subordinate to
“So you persist in
embracing the Arian heresy,” said the Cardinal,
proud of his skill in edging Bruno ever closer to the precipice of doom.
“It wasn’t a heresy when the formulation
was first articulated by Arius of Alexandria.”
“Arius of Alexandria,” the Cardinal interrupted, “died
a ghastly death for his sins. Divine retribution overtook his criminalities.
Witnesses said that serious abdominal convulsions produced evacuation of his
bowels so fierce that his small intestine protruded, with portions of spleen
and liver in the effusion of blood at his feet. No reason but God’s wrath could
account for so mysterious a death.”
“God had nothing to
do with Arius’ death,” said Bruno. “Arius
was poisoned by ecclesiastical authorities of the Church willing to murder the man who
opposed their wicked doctrine. Arius’ death showed all the earmarks of poisoning.
There was nothing supernatural about it.”
“Blasphemer!” the Cardinal bellowed. “I
hold your life in my hands, and I will guarantee a death worse than Arius’ demise
if you persist in your stubborn refutations of the truth.”
“Your tortures have had no effect on me. Neither
will your flames.”
said the Cardinal brimming with spite. “You undoubtedly
have never seen someone burned at the stake. I have - numerous times. Let me describe the
procedure. The faggots are piled high - up to the condemned man’s neck, in some cases.
They are lit. The fire burns slowly at first, burning clean the victim’s nether parts
before touching the upper. At that point, he begs for the flames to consume him. But fire
obeys its own law and progresses slowly at first, reacting to forces of wind and weather.
The coup de gras comes only when the flames
reach the gunpowder bag hung about the perpetrator’s neck. The entire process
takes only minutes, but any sentient being can deduce that the agony is so
extreme as to seem to last for eternity. I have a confession to make, Bruno.
I’m going to enjoy watching you cook like a pig over a spit.”
“I have a confession
to make, too, Cardinal Bellarmine. Your comparison of my body to a pig’s is more
apt than you may imagine. For, at the instant the fire ignites, the only thing the flames
will consume is the husk you perceive as my body. My spirit will be free to explore the
endless and limitless reaches of infinity.”
“Ah, yes. How could I have forgotten the most dangerous notions
of all: your conception of infinite
worlds! Let me see if I can state your case correctly. There exists a plurality
of inhabited worlds, each with its own eternity. By some procedure known only
to you, you are able to transport yourself to those habitations by an exercise
“The means is not
known only to me,” Bruno said. “Jesus knew it, too. Do you recall
when he said that ‘in my father’s house are many mansions?’ The word
mansions refers to worlds with intelligent
beings who experience their own divine interventions.”
“Assuming that’s so,” said the Cardinal, “I
would point out that Jesus was God; therefore, Jesus’ truth came from God. Your proclamations
derive solely from instruction by the Devil.”
“Jesus wasn’t God,” Bruno countered. “He was
an unusually skilled magician. I know because I am able to replicate his miracles.”
The Cardinal’s face
was as red as a tomato, and he sputtered as if in the throes of apoplexy.
Bruno deemed how ironic it would be if he outlived the Cardinal by a day.
“You viper!” the Cardinal squealed in the
highest registers of his voice.
is you who are a viper,” Bruno stated calmly.
“I am an ambassador of God’s truth! You are an emissary
of the Father of Lies.”
am no such thing,” said Bruno, “though I’ll grant that
you believe your doctrine as assuredly as I believe mine.”
“You will sing a different song tomorrow,” said the
Cardinal, quaking with rage while determined to see Bruno die the most hideous
death ever conceived. Smoke from the conflagration would rise like incense to
figured out that the truth is indivisible and cannot be separated from itself?”
“Then take your damnable truth to hell,”
said the Cardinal in a final verdict. “Make friends with the Devil while you’re
The Cardinal rose, preparing
to exit, frustrated at being unable to secure a recantation in six years
of interrogation, but glad that the ordeal would soon be over.
“At the end of time, even the Devil will be reunited with
the Heavenly Host,” Bruno declared.
was a curious point of Bruno’s theology about which the
Cardinal wished to ask a question he might never have the chance to ask again.
“That is the only
part of your villainous doctrine that puzzles me,” said the Cardinal. “Why,
in God’s name, would you give the Devil the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven?”
“So the likes of you can receive divine grace
and be saved,” said Bruno. “Why else would I endure your unendurable confession
for six years if not to ensure your salvation at the end of time?”
croaked the Cardinal, his eyes widening in disbelief.
“Of course. Now if you’ll kindly get behind
me,” said Bruno, “I go to prepare a place for you in heaven.”
*Giardano Bruno was burned at the stake on February
17, 1600. Upon hearing the sentence of execution, Bruno said to his judges:
“Perhaps your fear in passing judgment on me is greater than my fear in
Edward Francisco is author of 10 books,
including novels, poetry collections, and works of scholarship. His stories and
poems have appeared in more than 100 magazines and journals. He is professor of
English and Writer in Residence at Pellissippi State College in Knoxville,
In Association with Fossil Publications