The Time Travel Journals: Shipbuilder, Chapter 38

Chapter 38

July 1911—October 1911

The police investigator, the same man who took their report about the riot, came to see them one evening shortly after Tom returned. He commented that he was spending far too much time with the Andrews, and he hoped their lives “would settle down and not require his presence again, any time soon.” Then he sat in the parlor with Tom, Casey and Sam, and proceeded to explain how he had captured Colin Riley.

Riley had indeed come close to committing the perfect crime, the investigator told them, waving an unlit cigar in his hands. His alibi was solid, there was no evidence anywhere, and if the victim had died as expected, there would have been almost no questions at all. But like most amateur criminals, Riley was obsessed with his crime. Soon after his return from Paris, he had made his way to the burnt farmhouse, walking around, inside and out.

“I followed him, you see,” the investigator said nonchalantly. “I knew he’d trip himself up, eventually.”

Whatever Riley expected to see at the farmhouse, he didn’t seem to be finding it. He grew more and more disturbed, bending to look under the fallen and burnt bookcase, scraping in the ashes on the floor, searching the ground outside. The inspector finally took pity on him and put in an appearance.

“Startled him a bit, I did,” he said, eyes crinkling in amusement. “In fact, he nearly jumped out of his skin. Who am I? he wanted to know. What did I want? Like he owned the place.”

The inspector shrugged. “So I told him who I was, and asked what’s he looking for? He was nervous, you see. It never occurred to him that Mr. Altair hadn’t died, so he didn’t have a plan for dealing with that. He couldn’t answer my questions, kept contradicting himself. We talked for about fifteen minutes and I told him someone pulled a fellow out of a fire here a few months back, and he completely cracked. Broke down crying and confessed.”

The inspector smiled at Sam, who had tears in his eyes. “He’s in custody and will be going to trial in a week or two. You’ll be up to testifying, sir?”

Sam nodded, looking relieved and regretful all at once. “I wish it wasn’t like this,” he said, his voice husky.

The inspector nodded. “I understand. When it’s a colleague who turns on you…” he left it unsaid and shrugged again, slipping the never-lit cigar back in his pocket. He stood and shook hands with all of them. “I’ll be in touch. You people try to stay out of my life from now on, what?”

They promised to try.

Tom saw the inspector out. Sam stood and limped to the window. His legs still had not healed completely and he often used a cane for support. He stared out at the darkness, not seeing anything, a state of affairs he sensed matched his soul. He felt Casey beside him and smiled grimly in acknowledgement, but didn’t look at her.

She knew what he was thinking. “It’s not your fault, Sam.”

He wrapped his arms around himself, suddenly chilled. “What right did I have to just appear on his doorstep? To expect him to do something about us? I only knew his equation; I knew nothing about the actual person.”

“You have to let him be responsible for his own actions.”

“He’s insane, Casey. He’s not responsible.”

“Maybe.” She seemed unusually annoyed. “No one is guaranteed a stress-free life. Maybe our problem was stranger than most, but you did not send him over the edge, Sam. Anything could have done it.”

“What am I condemning him to?”

“He tried to kill you, Sam!”

He sighed and did not respond. She tried again, resting her forehead against his arm. “If he’s let go, you will always be in danger. Maybe I will be, too. He might even decide my children are abominations against the natural order of the universe.”

He turned to stare at her and Tom spoke up from the doorway. “Why would you want him to be free? I don’t understand.”

They both turned. “Our concept of crime and mental illness is different in the future, Tom,” Sam explained. “My experience with Riley convinced me he’s not sane. He should be helped, not punished. I feel responsible for him.”

Tom laughed. “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.” He held up his hands. “Not about him needing help. That’s fine. But you are not responsible. Even if all you say is true, you’d be the worst person to try and help him.”

“That’s true,” Casey chimed in. “He freaks as soon as you’re around. He needs a chance to be away from your influence, and deal with his own issues.”

Sam gazed at Tom. “What is the state of treatment for the mentally ill, Tom? What’s done with them, these days?”

Tom looked disturbed. “I don’t know very much. Most people are taken care of by their families, who try to keep them safe and someplace where they can’t harm others. There are institutions for truly violent people. Riley may fall into that category.” Tom moved into the room, his eyes glinting in the lamp’s light. “There are doctors who try to help them.”

“Not successfully.” Sam was bleak. “If he lives long enough they’ll start jabbing him with electric shocks and turn him into a sponge.”

“He’s going to jail, Sam,” Tom said. “Not a mental institution.”

Sam looked startled. “But if he’s insane…”

Tom shrugged. “He committed a crime. Maybe it’s different in the future, but right now, that means jail. In fact, with this degree of premeditation, he might be put to death.”

Casey gasped and Sam turned back to the window. “I’ll find a place for him. I’ll ask the judge to send him there. Where he can be safe. I’ll pay for it, myself.”

Tom’s lips tightened, but he didn’t say anything. Casey just nodded.

***

The shipyard’s conference room was stifling in the unusual July heat. The managing directors were close to wilting as they compared notes on the progress of Titanic. As bad as it was for them, they were all aware how much harder it was for the men in the yard. George came in, shaking his head. “I just overheard a fellow promise to start praying to the pope if they would just get a breeze through the plating shop!” he reported with sardonic amusement as he took his seat. The laughter that met this story was only half sincere. With the Home Rule questions raised by Tom’s letter, the extreme factions were determined to cause trouble. Sloan’s group was quietly malicious. The heat was fraying tempers and making things worse. The managers kept the water boys hopping to supply water to the men, but even so, a current of fear ran underneath the work. Tom had just had to force the workers to remove anti-Catholic graffiti from the ship’s walls and funnels. The yard was on the tipping point.

Lord Pirrie was in London, but had sent a telegram to Mr. Kempster, who presented it to the directors. “Ismay is asking for a deadline when he can expect delivery of Titanic. Can you all give me an estimate?”

As they each reviewed their records and considered what was still needed, they began throwing out dates. Tom, already aware of the date that would be chosen, sat back and watched the byplay. These moments were problematic. He knew what the answer was, but not how that answer was reached. He was never sure what role he had played in reaching the decision, so was not sure if his actions now would change something, and in changing something, would it be for better or worse?

Thinking about it produced a headache. So he didn’t think, he just watched and waited. He did know his own schedule and tossed out the date of 15 March. After more discussion, they decided to tell Lord Pirrie the ship would be ready on 18 March 1912. Tom felt an eyebrow twitch. Sam had said the date was 20 March.

Later, when he told Sam and Casey what they had decided, Sam was unimpressed. “Is that the date Lord Pirrie is going to give to Ismay?” he asked. “Let’s wait and see before we get our underwear tied up in knots.”

Sure enough, the next day a telegram from Pirrie informed them that they would turn the Titanic over to White Star Line on 20 March, 1912. Lord Pirrie had given them two more days after consultation with Mr. Kempster revealed that a vendor would have trouble meeting the original deadline.

Tom made a notation in his time travel journal: The smallest details seem to fall into place without any prodding or manipulation from anyone. I don’t know whether to be confident or afraid.

***

Sam was determined to save Riley, and finally found an asylum in Switzerland that seemed accommodating. He then began the lengthy process to convince the powers that be to send Riley there, rather than to jail. He worked with Tom’s brother James, whose practice in law, Sam knew, would eventually lead to a Judgeship in Ireland’s highest court. James approved of Sam’s empathy, but warned Sam that he must not let his empathy for Riley overrule his common sense.

The judge was skeptical. He was inclined, based on the evidence, to use the death penalty, unless he could be convinced that Riley was insane and incapable of controlling his decisions. It was Riley who provided the final proof.

James told everyone about it over dinner at Ardara the Sunday before the trial, shaking his head in amazement. “Sam had hired a psychiatrist to talk to Riley and give the judge a report. So the fellow’s visiting Riley and ‘just chatting,’ he says, when Riley leans in toward him, all intent-like, and says,” James sat straighter, wagging his finger furiously in front of him at his audience, quoting his source who was quoting Riley, “’He’s from the future, you see! He knows things! He’s planning to take over the woooorld!’” James finished with an exaggerated flourish, extending the last word dramatically, as everyone around the table laughed or gasped in amazement.

Tom, Casey, and Sam all managed to smile, as if amused. After a piercing glance to Casey, Sam attempted some spin control. “I knew he thought that, he’s accused me of it, before.” He shook his head. “It’s why I thought he was insane, after all. He believed it enough and was frightened enough of it, to try and kill me. He needs help.”

James sipped his tea. “He’ll get it, now. Your doctor will recommend to the judge tomorrow that he be sent to that asylum you found. He said he’s only disappointed he can’t work with him, himself. He thinks it’s a fascinating case.”

They were all relieved at the satisfactory ending and the conversation moved on, but Sam noticed Mrs. Andrews, as she watched Tom with a thoughtful expression on her face.

***

Early in September, Casey was unpacking herbs in the greenhouse when Sam came in. He watched for a minute, then moved over to help. “You’ve been awfully quiet the last few days, girl. What’s up?”

She shrugged, not answering, but her expression could just about freeze the herbs. He tried again. “Did you and Tom have a fight?”

She gasped out a laugh. “Don’t be silly. I’m just worried, is all.”

“About what?”

Her look clearly said, you’ve got to be kidding, as she picked up another container of herbs.

He moved to the next table and spread out a batch to help. When Casey spoke, her voice was small. “I wish he wouldn’t go.”

Sam turned in astonishment to stare at her. “He has to go, Case.”

She looked perplexed and angry. “Why? Where is that written?” She shrugged again. “He’s led the last three guarantee groups on maiden voyages. Maybe it’s time to let someone else take the reins. I’m thinking of asking him.”

“Don’t ask him to do that, Casey.” Sam couldn’t even look at her, he was so disturbed.

She threw the herbs onto the counter. “You have no right…”

You have no right! Damn it, Casey! You have no right to ask this of him. You’ve lived with him all this time, you’ve loved him, and you don’t understand this one thing?”

“I understand he has children. He has a life, here.” Casey was shaking. “I can’t do it, Sam. I can’t let him walk onto that ship. If he doesn’t come back… how can I live without him? How can I live knowing I could have stopped him?”

“Casey, he can’t do it. No matter what you want, no matter what he wants, he can’t stay away. And if you ask him to, gods, Casey, do you have any idea what that will do to him? Think, damn it! If you force that choice on him, you destroy him. Do you see that?”

She shook her head, stubbornly. “No! It won’t! He has a right to stay with his wife and children. No one will blame him for that.”

He’ll blame himself. You know that, Casey. If he’s not there and something happens, you’ll lose him anyway. He will never forgive himself and on some level, he’ll never forgive you for forcing it on him. Is that the life you want?”

He could see her shaking from across the room, as she gripped the table, trying to stay upright, tears falling on the herbs. “How can I live without him?” she whispered. “How do I do this?”

“You just let him go, Casey. You, of all people, understand that we all make our own choices. Yet you want to take his choice away from him and turn him into a prisoner.” Sam sat, trying to remain the calm one, and continued, “He’s worked—we’ve all worked—these past years to make this event a non-event. We have a very good chance of succeeding. But he must be there. If something happens, his knowledge, his skill, will be desperately needed by the two thousand people on that ship. If the worst happens, there are now enough lifeboats. He’ll be on a lifeboat. You can make him promise you that. I think he’d do it anyway, but ask him that. But don’t make him choose between you and those people. Because no matter what his choice is, Casey, you’ll be the loser.”

She looked at him, letting his words sink in. Gradually her shaking lessened, although her tears continued to fall. Eventually she nodded and left the room. He didn’t follow her. He’d stopped her from forcing a choice on Tom, because he sincerely believed the cost of that choice would be more than they would want to pay. But he had forced a choice on Casey, and he did wonder what the price would be for that.

***

The fallout, as Sam called it, from Tom’s letter, continued to hold the attention of Belfast’s citizens. The ladies of Belfast had rallied behind Casey, even those who had voted her out of the Horticultural Society.

“They were afraid,” Mrs. Herceforth told Casey over tea one afternoon in her elegant parlor, newly painted a delicate pink, with golden wood wainscoting. “A good many of them thought your idea was harmless, but no one was willing to stand up against Sloan. They were too afraid they’d be the only one doing it.” She offered Casey another sandwich. “Even I was afraid, dear. And I doubt that Sloan would ever try to hurt me.”

“And now?” Casey was still leery of their acceptance.

“Your husband has roused the entire town against them.” Mrs. Herceforth shook her head. “I’ve never seen anything like it. But somehow, your husband has convinced people that even Catholic rule would be better than being prisoners to those who are supposed to be our brothers.”

“You see, that’s where people have the wrong idea,” Casey put her cup down and stared firmly at her hostess. “I’m concerned that thinking like that will eventually turn people away. Tom isn’t advocating for Home Rule and certainly not for Catholic rule.” She held a hand out in supplication. “Secular rule. Ireland needs secular rule.”

“You mean like in America?” Mrs. Herceforth shook her head. “I’m not sure that’s possible in this country.”

“Nonsense. If the Irish were so afraid of it, they wouldn’t be moving to America in droves.”

Mrs. Herceforth laughed at that. “There’s a lot of truth to that, isn’t there? So when I hear someone say Tom wants Home Rule, I’ll correct them, I promise.” She tilted her head. “Will he run for office, dear?”

“Tom?” Casey shook her head again. “He’s been asked, but he always says the same thing. He wants to build ships.” And I don’t know which occupation will get him killed faster, she thought bleakly.

With effort, she turned her attention back to Mrs. Herceforth. “Tom and Sam and I have discussed it. We all think Tom can do more good on the sidelines, working with both sides. He still has the respect of everyone, even if he is married to me.”

Mrs. Herceforth nodded in slow agreement, her gaze amused. “Well, you should know that you and your children are probably the safest people in Belfast. If your son scrapes his knee, Sloan’s group is worried they’ll be blamed for it. If people continue to demand peaceful solutions, they’ll have to back down. And Tom is just the person to get the Catholics to demand peace at the same time, which is essential, of course.” She smiled broadly. “And thanks to your garden plan, the Catholics who prefer peace are putting the same kind of pressure on their fanatics.”

***

On 18 September, White Star placed an ad in newspapers worldwide, announcing that Titanic’s maiden voyage would be on 20 March, 1912. Tom and his time travelers, who knew the actual date would be the tenth of April, waited for the next proverbial shoe to drop.

The telegram came late in the day on September twentieth. Lord Pirrie, ill with an enlarged prostate, was at home in London, but he informed the directors that Olympic had been damaged in a collision, and would need repairs. The only dry dock in the world that was big enough for her was at Belfast, the dry dock that was currently occupied by Titanic.

They waited to examine Olympic before giving any new dates for turning Titanic over to White Star. The new date ended up being Tom’s decision, since he was most familiar with both ships, and with Titanic’s schedule. He based the decision on his knowledge of the materials needed to repair the Olympic, what they had in stock, what needed to be constructed or delivered, and how much time, almost to the hour, this would put Titanic’s fitting out behind schedule. He spent twice as much time on the equations as he needed and even had George Cummings look over his figures, because he could not believe the date the figures insisted was correct.

The first of April, 1912. The exact date planned for her turnover in the other timeline. Sam had told them that with the April first turnover, White Star would schedule the maiden voyage out of Southampton for the tenth of April. Wind would keep them from leaving Belfast until the second of April, but White Star would not change the date for the maiden voyage again.

Really, he had no way of knowing why or how White Star chose any particular date for sailing. The options were myriad and even Ismay couldn’t predict it. So he told them April first, and prayed that Casey would never find out it had been his decision.

***

Olympic’s accident had the unfortunate effect of providing an excuse for overconfidence in the new liners. Olympic had all the same features Sam and Casey had insisted were needed for Titanic, and she performed exactly as they had built her to perform, when she collided with the HMS Hawke. The damage was easily contained, and the ship was never in danger of sinking. The builders and owners were justifiably proud of this result, but it was the press that took it to the absurd conclusion that the ships were truly unsinkable. Worse, it was the shipping industry’s own journal, Shipbuilder Magazine, that perpetuated the myth when they ran an article about the collision, and the repairs being done. Newspapers worldwide gleefully picked it up as a sensational headline, and the ever-gullible public ate it up.

Tom wrote a furious letter to the magazine, sternly reminding them that no ship was unsinkable. They printed his letter, but never actually made a retraction, and the newspapers that received a copy of the letter never printed it at all.

***

Despair numbed Casey, as if part of that Atlantic iceberg had settled in her chest. She moved through the days automatically, feeling alive only when Tom was around. Now, on the patio at Ardara House, she picked up the fussing baby and settled into a rocker, surrounded by the other women. Bees buzzed behind her in the surprising October heat, providing accompaniment to the squeals of children and the shouts of their fathers as they all played football on the lawn. As she nursed Terry, Casey closed her eyes and let the women’s conversation drone overhead.

She hurt. Not in any specific part of her body, and certainly she had no injury. She just hurt everywhere, inside and out. Fear seemed to be an unavoidable companion. I don’t want to be alone. The thought came again, as it had every day for weeks, filling her with chills. Tom will die with Titanic and I’ll be alone in this century. She knew this wasn’t true, that she had her children and Sam, and Tom’s family would always include her. But none of them could provide the love and companionship she had found in Tom. It was not fair to him, it was wrong to place such responsibility on him, but it was true.

Her misery was interrupted as the children were herded inside for drinks and naps. The men began a rougher game of football. Little Jamie had escaped the women and stood at the edge of the patio, watching the game. At three, he was still too young to be in a game, and he had only played on the sidelines for a few minutes.

Casey laid her sleeping daughter on a mat and moved to stand behind Jamie, picking up another ball from the ground. He didn’t notice her, his eyes following the men on the grass as they dashed back and forth. She could practically feel his longing, and she dropped the football in front of him, reaching to halt its movement with her foot. She didn’t look at him, so that when he glanced up at her, she was searching for something several yards away. She motioned with her chin. “See those two birches beyond the roses?” He nodded and she looked at him appraisingly. “Right between them is our goal. Whoever kicks the ball through first, wins.”

She kicked the ball, not hard. When his glance went briefly back to his father and uncles, she went after it, skirts lifted in both hands, feet nudging the ball quickly toward the trees. Not about to be left behind, Jamie forgot the men and raced after her, reaching the ball just as she paused to give it an exaggerated, but gentle kick. He kicked hard, sending the ball to the right. Casey let go of her skirts in surprise as he ran to catch the ball. She took a long moment to lift her skirts out of her way before following.

He kicked it again, with more control. He kept up with it, instinctively moving in the direction of his goal. She caught up with him, but he turned to block her. The ball started down a slope toward the creek and he threw himself in front of it, blocking it with his stomach, then scrambled to his feet and kicked hard toward the trees. Casey whooped, and ran toward it, but it rolled haughtily through the goal and continued its interrupted trek to the creek.

Jamie was right behind it, fishing it out before Casey reached him. He looked up, his face bright with joy that suddenly changed to alarm, as he shouted, “Look out, Mum!”

She turned in time to see the ball from the men’s game heading straight for her. Briefly aware of Jessie’s scream from the patio, and shouts of dismay from the men, she jumped to meet it. It bounced off her head, dropping a few feet from her. She lifted her skirts to run with it toward the nearest of the men’s goals, defying their chivalrous concern for her safety.

Tom recovered first. He raced in, shouting to John to block the goal. He spared her no quarter, or at least not much, and the two of them wrestled with the ball to gain or keep control.

Exhilarated, Casey nudged them nearer the goal, occasionally using her long skirts to good advantage; Tom could not see the ball when she let them drop a bit, but she could always feel where it was. He laughed a bit in frustration, then took a chance and kicked where he thought the ball was. It escaped them both, but Casey was closer and she kicked it hard, startling John, who had not taken Tom’s order seriously.

As it sailed an inch above John’s outstretched arm, accompanied by yells and whistles from the spectators, Casey’s melancholy returned in full force, slamming her to a complete standstill, heart racing and lungs unable to fill with air. Tom touched her shoulder in alarm.

“Sweetheart, what’s wrong?”

She looked up into his anxious face, twitching once at the concern in his eyes, and her own fear. “Don’t go.”

“What?” He looked confused.

Her lips twisted in sudden rage and she moved back a step, away from his arm. “On Titanic. I don’t want you to go.”

If she had turned him to stone, he could not have been more frozen. They faced each other, the breeze dancing through the trees and through Casey’s hair, which had come loose from its pins. Willie’s voice came to them just as a shaft of sunlight lit the ground at their feet: “Everything all right? Is she hurt?”

Tom raised an arm, keeping them all at a distance, as he continued to stare at Casey. The others drifted away, taking Jamie with them, mystified, but giving the couple space. Casey’s chin quivered a moment, then she lifted it defiantly, returning Tom’s stare; the course was committed and she couldn’t take back her words.

“I have to go.” His words sounded hollow, somehow.

She shook her head with deliberate slowness, her eyes still on his face. “You don’t. We need you, Tom. I need you.” Her voice was brittle.

“Casey.” He licked his lips. “For five years, we’ve planned this. I’ve done everything you and Sam suggested, I’ve made every change I could, I’ve made every contingency plan. Would you have me send someone else?”

Guilt tugged at her. She looked away, unable to meet his gaze. But her lips tightened when he spoke again. “Should I send George? Or Ed?” He searched her face. “They have families, too. Would you have me send them off, with no warning of what’s to happen to them? With no knowledge of what needs to be done?”

He reached for her hand; she didn’t pull it away, but made no effort to hold his. He continued. “You and I and Sam have worked out the best method for unlatching the lifeboats, for loading people onto the boats. We’ve worked out how to get the third class people up to the boat deck. I’m taking an extra pair of binoculars and I know to give them to the lookouts. I can make sure Captain Smith gets all the ice warnings. If I have too, Casey, I can sabotage the engines. Sweetheart, there isn’t anyone else who can go.”

Tears trickled down his face. She knew what this was costing him. He stepped toward her, putting his arms around her and she felt something loosen in her heart. She slid her arms around his waist. “I know you have to go,” she whispered, not sure if he could hear her. “But I don’t want you to. I will never want you to. I don’t know how to live without you.”

He tightened his hold on her. “There’s never a guarantee about that, sweetheart, you know that. We always assume I won’t die before April fifteenth, but we don’t know anything about after that. It’s that way for everybody.”

“I know.”

He began to stroke her hair, urging her to look up, but she wouldn’t. So he just held her, and she listened to him whispering how sorry he was for what he was asking of her.

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