Yep, just about to start on Albeus’ origin story. I’ve mined lots of detail on 1866 New York from Luc Sante’s “Low Life,” where Albeus hits bottom after the Civil War. For his pre-war life in Brooklyn, I have a book called “Brooklyn and the Civil War” coming today – Henry Ward Beecher and the Abolitionists, Walt Whitman, the Navy Yard…yikes, I could go down a black hole. But, I’ve learned that even backstory needs a brisk pace, and I’ll use only the relevant details. So, here’s the “prebackstory” scene, where the cover photo is justified and explained…
“Wait a minute. You fought in France? When?”
“The second world war.”
“You’re…how old are you?”
The King had to think. “Now? I’m…175 years old.”
Finally Albeus smiled, his aura flickering as if the flame had received a whiff of oxygen. “I know.” He got up and picked up a framed picture from the top of the cabinet. Darien hadn’t even known it was there; it had been concealed by the picture of Abraham Lincoln and the officers in front of a tent.
He handed it to Darien, who stared at it disbelievingly. He looked from Albeus back to the picture. If it wasn’t Albeus, it was his ancestor, and Albeus was his spitting image. The man in the photo had on a uniform tunic, with no insignia of rank in view. He was so handsome, and his intelligence, his humor, his bravery all shone through.
Darien knew how rare it was, to find these qualities in a photo from that era, but not because those qualities weren’t present in spades in the men of the day. The technology required the subject to sit perfectly still for between three and eight seconds, and “holding still” instinctively made people flatten out their affect. And a portrait was a serious, expensive proposition – it was a record of how your family would remember you, how the world would remember you, and that was no laughing matter.
So to see this young man, almost looking as if he was in a 21st century “selfie,” was astonishing. It was as if he had been in a thousand pictures, as if he’d mastered the art of posing. He was brave, in the face of the camera, the world, the war he was going off to fight. He wasn’t an officer, and maybe that helped – he had no middle or upper class stuffiness about him, no sense that he was required to make this a solemn occasion.
“That was you, before the war?”
Albeus nodded. “Yes. What a pair of balls I had, eh? The war took a lot of that out of me. It was a long time afterward before I was…that man again.”
Darien stood up. “Okay. I’m going to go into the kitchen, and I’m going to make us dinner. No, Mr. Trask can help me, but I’m in charge. We’re going to sit down and eat and you’re going to tell me everything. The whole story of Albeus aka Elvis Finley, brevet Captain of the Union Army.”
Albeus smiled. “Yes. That I will.”