The Time Travel Journals: Shipbuilder, Chapter 3

CHAPTER 3

January 25, 1906–March 1906

With judicious use, the ten pounds lasted them several weeks. One pound, and a story about Sam being Casey’s guardian, got them a room at a boarding house in a middle-class section of town, with a bed for Casey, a couch that Sam could sleep on, and a folding room divider for privacy. This was expensive for one room, but the landlady, Mrs. Fitzsimmons, kept it clean. Board was included, along with the knowledge that their room was not rented out in shifts to other people. They purchased some inexpensive clothes–pants, suspenders, shirt, vest, jacket and bowler hat for Sam, and for Casey, a skirt, blouse, bloomers, petticoat, camisole, and a large, ugly hat with feathers that the shopkeeper insisted was a favorite of the “best ladies.” Casey horrified the shopkeeper by refusing to buy or wear a corset.

They decided that Casey’s cloak was neutral enough in style for her to wear, as were her boots, but Sam bought a used overcoat to replace his Kevlar rain jacket. He also bought a pair of shoes and a toothbrush. Casey had a toothbrush in her backpack, along with toothpaste, shrugging at Sam’s astonished expression.

“Sometimes, I stayed at a friend’s place overnight, which I obviously should have done instead of walking home last night. It’s not such a dumb thing.”

Sam didn’t think it was dumb at all, and realized that of all the teenage girls who could have stumbled into his experiment, he may have lucked out with the one he got. She seemed to have a good head on her shoulders. She didn’t waste time on panic or hysterics, preferring to get on with the task of surviving.

But she was far from okay. Until the battery ran out on her cell phone, Sam would often catch her sitting on the floor in their room, staring blankly at the pictures or messages stored on it. And although she tried to be quiet about it, when she went to bed and the lights were out, he could hear her cry.

***

Steady work did not come easily. Sam found occasional temporary positions that lasted for a day or two. He grumbled about “age discrimination,” but there was nothing to be done about it. Casey suggested he try teaching, perhaps at a technical school or even one of the public schools for young children. It turned out, though, that teaching was one profession where past experience and good references were important. And the one reference they had was not to be found, as Casey discovered a couple of weeks later, when Sam arrived for dinner just as the other boarders were starting to eat. She noticed that he looked upset, but let it go until they returned to their room.

“You look like you had a bad day,” she said.

He sat on the sofa, leaned back and stared at the ceiling. “Aye, you could call it that.” He said nothing else, and Casey waited until he continued, with a shake of his head. “Riley’s left town.”

“Riley?” She didn’t know what to make of that information. “Where’d he go?”

His gaze shifted to her. She realized he was really angry. “The official word from the university is that he’s on sabbatical. They wouldn’t tell me where he went or even if the sabbatical had been planned, or taken suddenly. My guess is, it’s sudden. I think he took off like a bat out of hell.”

“Because of us?”

“Hell yes, because of us!” Sam curved his hands in front of him, as if he wanted to choke someone, reminding Casey that she didn’t know him very well. Then he dropped his hands, more sad than angry. “I don’t understand it. Why such fear, Casey?” He looked bewildered. “I ask myself how I would have felt if people from the future had shown up on my doorstep. Like you said, considering my work, it was a real possibility. I hope…” he shook his head again, “…that I would have reacted with more professional curiosity. And courtesy.”

“Well, screw ‘im,” Casey said.

“What?” Sam asked, with a startled laugh.

“If he’s that afraid, he’ll be nothing but trouble. We’re better off with him gone.”

“Except he was a reference for us. That’s what caused all the bloody trouble, today. One of the employers I talked to had tried to call Riley and get a personal reference, but found out he was gone, with no warning and no expected date of return. It didn’t look good and he turned me down for the job.” Sam’s lips tightened, his anger back. “You’re right, though. We’ll do it without his help. And I’m going to do what I should have done all along.”

Casey just raised her eyebrows, and he answered, “Look for work as a physicist. It’s what I know how to do, even in this day and age.”

She nodded, a little smile tugging at her lips. “What about documentation? Sure, you can tell people you lost all your papers in a fire, but they’ll want to know why you can’t write to Stanford and have them send you a copy.”

He laughed. “One reason would be that Stanford was not in operation in 1872, which would be the year I got my PhD.”

“Oh.” She laughed with him. “Maybe you went to Cambridge or something?”

He gave it some thought, then asked her, “Do you think it’s possible to have someone counterfeit a degree?”

“We’re going to be regular criminals?”

“Just the bare minimum. I don’t like it either, you know.”

She leaned back in the chair, her legs extended and hands folded over her stomach, the pose incongruous with the Edwardian clothes she wore, as she considered their plight. “I suppose I could live with the ethical quandary, but let’s be practical. How do we find someone who knows how to do that kind of thing? And how do we pay them?”

He looked helpless. “Damned if I know.”

“Could Queen’s test you and give you an honorary degree or something? After all, you have the knowledge and experience. You’re just missing the paperwork.”

He considered that. “Maybe. Let me think about it.”

***

Sam decided to contact Albert Einstein, who was living in Bern at this time. “Einstein,” he told Casey, “has an intuitive grasp of time travel and the paradoxes involved. I’ll go slow, but if I can convince him of what’s happened, any thoughts he has can only help.”

He sent a letter, writing a little about his research and the practical applications he had been developing. He would have preferred to go to Bern himself, but he felt responsible for Casey, and was unwilling to drag her across Europe with no money and no guarantee Einstein would be able or willing to work with him.

They talked about Sam working as an “inventor,” creating appliances and technologies they knew would catch on. While this would no doubt make them rich, the obstacles were overwhelming. Even the simplest invention required materials that they could not afford or that did not yet exist, although Casey facetiously suggested he figure out how to invent a better sound system. Her music player no longer worked and she hated how the gramophone mutilated music.

Casey faced predictable discrimination as she looked for work. She was a girl, thus her options were limited. And like young people everywhere (and evidently in all times) she complained about the catch-22 of how to get experience when all the jobs required experience! But one obstacle came from an unexpected source–her nationality. More than once, a possible employer turned her away with the comment, “there’s plenty o’ Irish out of work. Can’t see my way straight to hirin’ an American who could just go home.”

***

It was after just such a rejection a few days later, that Casey, her head down against the wind, hurried across a street, fighting back tears at the shopkeeper’s rude shout and slammed door. She paused at the entrance to an alley, her back to the street, and gave vent to a brief gasp of sorrow and rage. She tried to stop, knowing that red eyes would make people think she was on the morning after. Then she gave up, turned her face to the wall, and wept.

Someone brushed past her into the alley and she looked up, startled. A man stood farther in, well-dressed, hands in his coat pockets, hat pushed firmly onto his head as he regarded her with a friendly face. She wiped the tears away as she murmured, “excuse me,” and started to turn.

“Looking for a job?” His voice was mild and she turned back to face him, hope making her voice bright.

“Yes, I am. Do you have a position open?”

He tilted his head deeper into the alley and took her arm. “We can discuss positions a little farther out of the wind and prying eyes, lass. Come along.”

“Oh, for pity’s…” she jerked her arm back and turned to the street, but he grabbed her again and pulled her roughly into the alley, pushing her against the building. His hand covered her throat, just firmly enough to keep her silent as he told her, “Shush, now.” He searched her face a moment, smiling a little.

“Not looking for that kind of work yet, lass?” He smiled wider at her glare. “I’m giving you the option of taking home a few shillings for the work of a few minutes. That’s more than you’ll make applying at stores.”

Ignoring her pounding heart, Casey glared at him, her hands grasping his in an effort to loosen his grip on her throat. “Are you going to force me?” she croaked past his hand. “Strangle me if I say no, or scream? Or will you just let me go like a reasonable person?”

His smile faded as he stared at her. “I’m not a rapist nor a murderer. But only a whore wanders the streets without a chaperone. I’m offering you a business deal.”

Her body tensed in fury. He was not prepared for her to defend herself and she knew she could hurt him. “I have a right to look for honest work, and I have a right to not be molested while I do it. Let me go, now.”

He thought about it before releasing her with a haughty twitch of his brows. “I don’t need any trouble. Another time, perhaps. When you’re hungrier.”

She shoved him a little as she moved past him, muttering “asshole” under her breath, not caring if he heard. He didn’t follow. Her mind swirled as she walked blindly down the street, afraid to stop anywhere, afraid to take the time to pull herself together. The tears had returned but she kept walking, oblivious to anyone around her.

Fucking Edwardians! How can they justify this society? I can’t work at an honest job and I’d be condemned if I was a prostitute! But that’s the only option they give me! I hate them! I feel like I’m in the middle of Les Misérables!

That’s when she saw the sign in a barber’s window:

WE PURCHASE HAIR!

She hesitated. That could work. I have lots of hair. But it will only work once.

She stepped inside and stood self-conscious at appraising stares from several men. The proprietor looked over her cheap skirt and blouse and waved her off. “Go somewhere else. I don’t run that kind of place.”

Casey glared at him and lifted her chin in defiance. “I want to inquire about selling my hair. You advertise that you buy it.”

The barber looked at her a bit more critically, then jerked his chin toward a chair. “Sit there. I’ll be with ye in a few minutes.”

It was almost thirty minutes before he judged enough customers had been taken care of and he walked over to examine her locks. She removed the pins that held it up and saw the gleam in his eyes as he ran his fingers through the red curls.

“I’ll pay ye ten shillings for six inches,” he stated with finality.

She winced. “Take it all for two pounds,” was her counter, and he gaped at her.

“All? Are ye sure, Miss? Ye’ll look like a boy.”

She shrugged. “That can only help in finding work. Go ahead. Cut it like a boy’s.” She gazed at him in the mirror and relented at the concern in his eyes. “It’ll grow back, you know.”

He bit his lip as he picked up his comb. “Sure ye don’t want to check with yer mother, first? Ye can come back.”

His innocent question filled her with pain and she found herself blinking back tears. She grabbed the bunch of curls, twisted it harshly, and let it fall again down her back. “Cut it!” she demanded, and closed her eyes.

***

On the way home, Casey used a bit of the two pounds to buy a boy’s pants, shirt, shoes and cap. As she approached the boarding house, her steps slowed. She kept her eyes on the ground, holding her purchases in front of her like a shield. Her head was strangely light and naked-feeling, and she was cold. But a plan had coalesced in her mind at the barber’s protest that she would look like a boy. She had to try.

She had noticed the boys on the streets. Little more than waifs, they darted here and there, doing odd jobs picked up from shopkeepers or strangers, and earning a bit of money. Probably not much money, but Casey figured she had an advantage or two over the young boys. Age was one. Most of the boys were between ten and fifteen, she was twenty. And she had more education than any of them.

Disguised as a boy, she would qualify for all kinds of odd jobs not available to a girl. She’d be safe from people like this morning’s asshole. She could even go into pubs if she needed to. Odd jobs would help in another way, too. Almost any kind of permanent job meant sitting in a dark and dull room somewhere, performing the same task over and over for fifteen hours. A recipe for insanity. If she could pick up enough work, the variety alone would keep her sane.

***

Casey plopped the cap on her head and gazed in the small mirror. Her curls were cut almost to her scalp and the cap covered them easily. But her skin was too soft and smooth to be a boy’s, her eyebrows too arched, her cheekbones too high. To her, the face looked like a girl’s face, but the definitive test would be Sam. She stepped out from behind her privacy screen. Sam glanced up, then did a double take. Eyebrows scaling up to his hair line, he walked around Casey to examine all sides.

“Wow.”

“Do I pass?”

Sam lifted his shoulders. “I would say yes, but I don’t trust my judgment. So how did you…” he made vague motions around his chest.

Casey grimaced. “Just bound them up with cloth. Squished ’em, basically. Good thing they’re not too big to begin with.”

He just nodded. “It might work, Casey. It’s worth a try, I suppose. People will think you’re a boy anywhere from twelve to fifteen years old.” Then he glared at her. “You’re sure I can’t talk you out of this? You really are taking chances.”

She shrugged. “I’m not getting any work the other way, Sam. Odd jobs are better than nothing.” She reached for the doorknob. “May as well jump in. I won’t go far this time.”

He looked worried and unhappy as he lifted a hand in farewell. “Please be careful.”

She raised a fist, just to remind him, gave him a brief smile, and darted out the door.

Go on to Chapter 4

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