Monday, September 29, 2008

Blood is Thicker Than Water: Forte Vs Broadstead--Fisticuffs

Forte had received the stage. He flashed all his pearly white teeth at Broadstead. I thought he looked rather like a crocodile about to swallow his dinner. I also noticed for the first time a huge object covered by cloth that the Frenchman had wheeled from behind the stage onto the platform. “Mr. Broadstead, let me get this straight,” Forte began. “You say that everything that exists has a logical explanation?”

Broadstead’s answer was absolute. “Undoubtedly.”

“And the evidence, or rather the lack of evidence of the supernatural convinces you of this?”


“And what about those things that have evidence? Like ectoplasm, or moving furniture?”

Broadstead snorted. “The only tangible evidence of ghosts I have seen is luminous cheesecloth! Or something like that.” The audience sniggered in approval.

Forte reddened and slammed his hand on the podium. “It just so happens, Tubby, that I have made studies in the scientific spiritual field. Proof? You want proof? I’ll give you proof!”

“What’s the matter, Forte?” Broadstead purred. “Angry about losing the debate in St. Louis?”

The mediator had come to the middle of the stage. “Gentlemen! Please! No fighting!”

Forte knocked the Frenchman out of the way. “I am sick and tired of you, you parasite!” he said to Broadstead.

“Fine, Forte.” Broadstead crossed his arms in unmovable decision. “I’m sure all of New Orleans will enjoy it if you make a fool of yourself. Pray, enlighten all of us here.”

“I certainly did not enjoy the way you said that, Tubby.”

Broadstead walked out from behind his podium, slowly, deliberately. He nearly stood on tiptoe to look Forte in the eye. “Broadstead. My name is Broadstead. And my skepticism comes from the fact that I have heard ill of you, Mr. Forte. You are a medicine show man. A cheat. A scoundrel. You have been run out of more towns than your fellow country man, P.T. Barnum. You seem to be interested in anything that can make you a speedy dollar. You, sir, are a fraud.”

“A fraud!” Forte’s voice roared in the hall, vibrating the walls. “Okay Jack, stand back. Back off,” he said to the Frenchman, who had taken refuge by the covered object, “I’m a scientist.” Forte unveiled a large box, covered with flashing multi-colored bulbs and what must have been state of the art scientific doodads that whirled frantically in front of us.

“This,” said Forte, “is a machine that catches spirits.” Forte twirled a dial, and the box began to hum ominously. “If you’d done your homework, Tubby,” he spat at Broadstead, “you’d know that I’d caught several pieces of luminous cheesecloth with this baby!”

Broadstead’s face was the color of a purple beet. “You sir, are more than any honest man can take! No doubt you are going to demonstrate that contraption and blow us all up in the process! After all, you almost burned down the town hall in Boston!”

Broadstead turned Forte’s dial off, and the machine whined in protest.

“What’s the matter, fat boy?” Forte was leaning over the man who was half his height and twice his width menacingly. “Afraid I’m going to prove you wrong?” His long arm searched behind him and turned the machine on.

“Enough name calling, you cad!” The machine was off.

“I’m not done with you yet, porky!” The machine was on.

“Cur.” Off.

“Pompous—” On.

“Scoundrel!” Off.

“Arrogant—” On.

“Oaf!” Off.

“Son of a–!”

“Gentlemen!” The Frenchman was trying to work his way between them. “Please,” he entreated. “No violence!"

“I hope,” Broadstead said coldly to Forte, “you know Queensbury rules?”

“Let me tell you what you can do with your Queensbury rules!” Forte took a swipe at Broadstead, and Broadstead ducked.

The ensuing chaos is difficult to place on paper. Several young men headed directly for the stage to attempt to placate the combatants, some of them cajoling Forte to “shoot the old man” with his ghost gun. One of these vehement young men was gesticulating wildly to a tall subdued man at his side, who studied the proceedings passively. At the side of this man was Marie LaVeau. I turned to Father Stewart, but he had employed his nasty habit of disappearing on me again. My next thought turned to removing Abigail and Juliet from this fray.

By the time the law enforcement officials arrived, I had secured Abby and Juliet a space in the comparatively empty back of the hall. I plunged back into the crowd, both to find Father Stewart and his mysterious lady friend. The two fighting men were a flurry of limbs when the police tore them apart, Forte still yelling blasphemies at Broadstead and causing ladies to swoon, and Broadstead turning a deeper, more vivid purple. By the time the paddy wagon had removed Broadstead and Forte, most of the crowd had dispersed following the wagon, or moving out to spread the news of the fight to all the quarters of the city. I felt a familiar tug on my elbow.

“Some fun, eh, Polly?” Father Stewart beamed at me. I frowned at him.

“This,” I said, “has been quite a fiasco. What was the purpose of bringing me here?”

“I can tell you on the way to spring Mr. Forte.”

“That medicine show man?”

“The very same. Using Broadstead’s terminology on him won’t win him to our cause, you know.”

“I can’t go with you,” I protested. “I have my niece to worry about.”

“Well, tut, woman! Send her home!”

I couldn’t argue with that. It seemed extremely logical to me. The only way I would find out exactly what was happening from Father Stewart was the walk to the jail. The father and I sent Juliet and Abigail on their way, I admonishing them to be careful. Then we headed for the jail. I didn’t know if the priest had seen Marie LaVeau in the crowd, so I thought I might have a surprise of my own for him.

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