Mr. Vilkenny (The Tragic Case of Jacob Vilkenny)

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic

For those who are fans of the 19th century-style crime story, this one is for you. Set in the late 1800s, the story opens with the death of a mysterious eccentric named Jacob Vilkenny. When Officer McKean arrives at the scene, he quickly learns that there is far more investigation to be done, for the beginnings of this tragedy are convoluted indeed...

Mr. Vilkenny

 Usually it is customary to begin a story such as this with the birth of a hero, or perhaps the beginning of the culminating events of his life that drive the tale into motion. In this case, however, it is best to start from what appears to be the end: the mysterious death of the famous Mr. Vilkenny.
It was a rather peaceful, snowy Saturday morning on 63rd St. in Manhattan. Few carriages clip-clopped their way down the street, or even down Central Park West. The motorcars were few and far between as of yet, but every now and then, the occasional neighborhood gloater would toot their obnoxious horn to make their presence known.The officers arrived at the scene to find a raggedly dressed pair of women, one his sister Elise and the other his mother, Mrs. Greenwald. Mr. Greenwald had passed many years before of a strange ailment of the heart, while Elise had chosen to remain a spinster at the ripe old age of 26. His bedroom was full of men searching for clues, while the two ladies simply sat by his bedside, sobbing most hysterically. This was their first time in his home, a grand new house not far from the park.
The bedroom was grand indeed -a four-poster bed and a complete mahogany set with intricate Egyptian carvings, brightly-polished brass handles on the accompanying pieces, and a fancy pink silk canopy draping over the bed. Atop his dressing table was
a fabulous mirror -Mr. Vilkenny was well-known for his moderate case of vanity- donned in blue crystal beads and many photographs of an unknown lady and gentleman. As they continued to search the room, a most interesting mark was found: a Star of David etched into the glass in the upper right corner of the mirror beneath a gold silk drape. Only one clue had been found: a bottle of arsenic on his nightstand. The officers, already confused by the rather poverty-stricken women and their surnames, were now most deeply entangled in the many mysteries of Mr. Vilkenny.
As far as anyone knew, Mr. Vilkenny was approximately 35 years of age, wearing only the darkest of colors on even the most heat-stricken of days, and had quite a fancy for wearing unusual hats -even ones over one hundred years out of date. He never wore one piece of clothing used, keeping a tailor on-call as a member of his rather small household staff. Often, he was seen riding about the city in his vulgar hunter green carriage, stopping always to chat with neighbors, friends, and of course ladies. He conducted tremendous amounts of business at the First National Bank midtown and enjoyed evenings of lavish entertainment at the theatre, or perhaps at Fontaine's, a local lounge for only the wealthiest of gentlemen to share fine wine, brandy, cigars and business. This was the extent of common knowledge on the matter.
Out of morbid curiosity, Off
icer McKean waited until the Vilkenny house was cleared before sifting through the gigantic wooden drawers of the bedroom to begin unraveling what was now a great intrigue. Who was this man, really? The chief called his death "suicide by poison"; McKean, seeing that there was so much more to this man than he and the others had ever thought, did not agree. Upon opening the top dresser drawer, he found stacks and stacks of letters, all signed either, "Love, Margrete," or, "Your Most Humble Servant, Brighton." There did not appear to be any letters from the women claiming to be his family, but one short correspondence from a Mr. Greenwald briefly stating, among few other words, "You are no longer my son. Consider yourself forbidden from my home…" did appear at the bottom of the stack, with many water stains upon it. One could only assume they were his most bitter of tears.
The one bit of useful information found on the letters was an address: 201 S. Ave. A, #10. The Lower East Side was quite a distance from Vilkenny's house, and most certainly out of Officer McKean's jurisdiction, but he traversed there by subway nonetheless. The neighborhood, dirty, cramped, reeking of all sorts of wretched filth, was certainly not the most pleasant place to be. People of many ethnicities resided their, but it was predominately Jewish. He arrived at the disgusting tenement building, stepping over several rats and roaches
to reach the second floor, and most gently knocked upon the aging, splintered door.
McKean held his breath as a dark-haired women, with a child in her arms, wearing a tattered brown skirt and torn off-white shirtwaist, most angrily answered the door. He could hear two other children screaming in the background. After glancing him over quickly, she spouted, "Please, officer, I have nothing to offer you but my children these clothes. I assure I've done nothing wrong." Having heard of the extortion prevalent in these neighborhoods, he calmly reassured her: "Madame, I'm not here to seek anything from you but information about Mr. Vilkenny. Did you know him?" A look of shock and remorse blanketed her ashy face. Pale and faint, he grabbed the baby from her arms as she whispered, "Won't you please come in."
Sitting upon a ripped, dust-covered and ancient sofa, the tale began: "Mr. Vilkenny was very close with my sister. Naturally, she is not my sister, but we grew up together here in this building and worked together at the old Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. We even wear twin gold charms, see? Several years ago, after my husband passed away, we decided to try to find ourselves men by stealing expensive dresses, walk around up in the park, and flirt with kindly gentlemen. Then one day he came along. I feel like it was yesterday. He pulled off his carriage, walked over to us at our bench, tipped his three-cornered h
at at us and said, 'Good afternoon, ladies. It would be the greatest honor to be graced by your company on this lovely day.' His voice was deep, clear, and his accent foreign. It must have been 100 degrees out that day, but he wore a black suit, white ruffled ascot and a long blue quilted coat with gold embroidery. Beneath that hat, he had long, dark, wavy hair, and beneath his sunglasses, deep gray eyes. I introduced myself as Mrs. Harcourt, my sister as Miss Carrington. The names just sounded so much richer than Harkowitz and Cohen. He immediately noted that we certainly looked nearly alike.
After hours of conversing about things we had never dreamed of -mind you, we both studied a great deal on our own from childhood- he invited us to his house on 63rd St. for dinner. Although this man was so mysterious, so brilliant, just something so dark and beautiful about him, it was Margrete he fancied. Months went by; he just kept meeting us in the park and serving us a king's feast afterwards until one evening in the fall. He asked me to return home, for he wanted to speak to Margrete alone. To this day, I do not know what they discussed, but soon after, she disappeared and I have not seen or heard from either of them since. I assumed they moved to France to a palace and married. It was not difficult to find another roommate, and I completely understood her motivations. But I always found i
t strange that she never told me what her intentions were. Perhaps she'd thought I'd be angry, or envious? Anyway, that is all I know about Mr. Vilkenny. I apologize for not offering tea, but I have none. Care for me to show you out?"
Flabbergasted by the story and concern for the ragged children led him to refuse. As he headed towards the door, he suddenly remembered this "Brighton" character. "By the way, Mrs. Harkowitz, do you know who Brighton is?"
"Why yes, of course, he was Mr. Vilkenny's carriage driver and manservant. He would know a lot more about him than me; he was the only servant in the house besides the cook and the tailor."
"Thank you so much for your time and cooperation. My station is at 65th and 7th if you find anything out."
"Officer, is Vilkenny dead?"
Feeling a cold rush through his stomach and down his spine, knowing she would probably not see the papers, he simply replied, "No, Madame. We are just doing a routine business investigation." On his way out, he noticed a rather strange, tattered wedding photo hanging crookedly from the wall: the bride, looking like a well-groomed and younger Mrs. Harkowitz, stood on one side of the photo, and the groom, stood far on the other side. The wedding party consisted of eighteen total, all well-dressed, and right beside Mrs. Harkowitz stood Magrete Cohen -the same woman in all of Vilkenny's photos on his mirror. Suddenly, while stari
ng at the groom and his men, two one-word questions aroused in his mind: Wealthy? Irish!?
The only solution that had come to mind -for the time being- was to return to the Vilkenny house and find this Brighton fellow. After all, where would he have to go? There was no return address on his correspondence, oddly enough; why would a live-in servant write his master at all? So many questions about this whole scenario coursed through his aching brain as he rode his way back to the house.
Upon entering the now silent but unlocked door, he called out, "Hello? I say, is there anyone here?" Antoine, the tailor trudged down the curling stairwell with luggage in his hands. "What business have you here, sir? Weren't you already here and done enough damage this morning?"
"I merely wish to speak to Brighton, Vilkenny's manservant." he replied.
"He is in the master bedroom packing….in his room, 7th door on the left, packing."
"Much obliged, Mr.?"
"Brunelli. Antoine Brunelli."
As he climbed the steep, long staircase, he noticed that the house was fully lit, except for Vilkenny's room. The lush Persian carpets beneath his feet were fine indeed, and the entire house was electrically wired with no gas or oil necessary. There were huge paintings all along the stairs into the hallways, mostly portraying scenes from various world mythologies. Egyptian seemed to be his favorite. There were even ancient artifacts carefu
lly placed along the many narrow mahogany and teak mantles, tables, and cabinets.
There was suddenly a quick scuffle through the dark end of the hall into the 7th door as McKean called to the manservant; "Brighton, this is Officer McKean of the New York City Police. I just have a few inquiries I would like to make of you."
"Go away! Leave me alone!" he shouted with great fear in his voice.
"If you do not cooperate, I can have you arrested."
"Arrest me then. I have nothing now, nowhere to go, no one left." He began to weep profusely.
He followed Brighton into his room where he sat in utter sorrow on his bed. McKean was not the kindest or most sensitive man around, but he knew how to get answers. "Now Brighton, I am certain that all is not as grim as it seems. I'm sure he left you something in his will."
"The will? The will! Damn his will to hell!" as he hurled a nearby Greek statuette into the wall.
"Look young man, I need not your violence or opinions. I have come here seeking facts. You seem quite angry at Vilkenny. Why?"
"Everything was fine until that whore Margrete and her bitch of a sister Ellena started coming around." He paused for a difficult sob as his face became covered in tears. "I gave Jake my whole life. I gave him everything. At first it was fine, but as time went on, I saw that gleam in his eye as he went to the park. Then, a couple of years ago, =0
Ahe actually begged Margrete to stay here with us." His mind faded back to the not-so distant memory of Magrete standing in the upstairs hall with her gray and red knit hat and matching cape, her crimson taffeta gown draping the floor. The voice of Vilkenny resonated in his fragile mind: "Brighton, Margrete has decided to stay with us."
"She cannot. She simply cannot. We do not have the household staff, Master…"
"This is not a matter of discussion, Brighton. We have more than enough room and supplies to include her in our…little family."
Margrete, in her soft, childlike voice spoke up; "Mr. Vilkenny, I am extremely pleased with your offer, but there is a rather serious question of propriety and I do not wish to be an imposition."
Brighton screamed into her while charging, "You are an imposition! We do not need you here and we do not want you here!" Immediately, he began crying, ran to his room and slammed the door.
McKean, not an unaware or ignorant man as indicated by his stern Irish face, tall frame and bright blue eyes, saw the truth of the matter plain as day. "You were his lover, weren't you?"
Brighton, hanging his teary head into his lap popped up in anger; "Yes, we were lovers. So go ahead, arrest me for several thousand counts of indecent behavior.  But I assure you, there was nothing indecent about it. It was love, Officer. Love. Pure and true, and, and, and beautiful. And n
othing you can do to me can ever take away the 12 years I had with him. Not even that whore, that little kike whore, can take that away from me!"
Astounded by the young man's professions, he assured him that he would not tell a soul. "You called him Jake earlier. What is his real first name?"
In slow, jumbled retort, Brighton dredged out, "Jacob. His real name his Jacob."
"Are you aware that his mother, sister and father were all named Greenwald?"
Suddenly the sobbing ceased. "Greenwald? How can that be? He told me he was an orphan!" He took Brighton's cold, wet hand and walked him into Vilkenny's room. He showed him that star on the mirror under the drape, and read him the letter from his father. Brighton was stunned. "All this time, I have loved a living lie? He was a god damned kike, too? Why didn't he tell me?! I, I, I… would have loved him anyway." His crying grew louder as he dropped to the floor in agonized betrayal, crunching the letter in his hand. McKean, thinking quickly, knelt beside him; "Brighton! You need to tell me what happened to Margrete!" Brighton rose, and slowly walked over to Vilkenny's bed, sat beside his body, stroked his hair and now pale face with the utmost tenderness, muttering, "I love you; what will I do without you!" He threw himself onto the corpse, crying loudly, again. McKean, feeling regretful of his haste, gave the boy a moment to simply=2
A few moments later, Brighton, his childish face and long blonde hair, began to clear of the intense pain as he sat up and answered the question: "She disappeared. Three days ago. Jake was terrified; I think she went back to her husband."
"Husband? I thought Magrete Cohen was single?"
"Her maiden name was Cohen. I overheard her and Jake discussing it. Her name is Mrs. Magrete Joyce."
"What about Mrs. Harkowitz, her sister?"
"Ellena? She has never been married. As far as I know, she still lives in that pitiful slum downtown where they both were living with Margrete and Stephen's children."
"And the will?"
In the most defeated tone possible, he replied, "He left everything to her."
With that, Officer McKean exited the home to return to his and ponder.

A bright, cold, and quiet Sunday morning arrived. Officer McKean went to Mass, as per usual, then proceeded to the Harkowitz home to discover the truth, if she would in fact reveal it.
"Mrs. Harkowitz? This is Officer McKean! Open the door!" as the door rattled in disrepair with his thumping beats. She hurriedly unlocked the decaying scrap of wood that would easily become ajar if pushed incorrectly. Looking startled by his seeming anxiousness, she remained silent as he entered her apartment.
"Look, Miss Harkowitz. I know we spoke yesterday, and I somewhat deceived you as you deceived me. I called you Mrs., and you permitted me, and you al
so led me to assume that these were your children. But I told you Vilkenny was not dead, when in fact…he is. Please, tell me everything about Magrete and yourself in relation to this man."
"Before, you simply did not ask the right questions. You only asked what I knew of Vilkenny himself. I did not intend to deceive you, Officer. I needed to protect my ladyhood. I already told you what Margrete and I did to secure our futures. I did not tell you the past. Before we met Vilkenny, Margrete was living on Long Island in Oyster Bay with the very handsome, wealthy young man in that, their wedding photo, Stephen Joyce. She loved him so, and together they had these three children -Mallory, Stephen Jr., and Colleen. We had a pledge that if something were to happen to the other, we would care for each other's children for life. I did not pry into Margrete's leaving, as Vilkenny was a powerful man, as was Stephen, and it felt it best not to create a stir. She told me she left Stephen because he was a terrible tyrant, ruling her with an iron fist, and she could no longer withstand the pain."
A sudden ache raced through McKean's body, remembering what Brighton had said. "Miss Harkowitz, where is he now?"
"Stephen? He became somewhat of a recluse after her leaving. I have heard on good authority, however, that he has been spotted recently at that fancy gentlemen's place uptown, Fontaine's."
Ready t
o run, he tipped his hat and said, "Thank you, Miss Harkowitz!" He dashed out of the door, heading towards Fontaine's.

At the entrance to the club, a tall, dark man, clad in a long doorman's coat gruffly spoke, "Excuse me, sir, you need to be fully and properly attired to enter this place."
Feeling rather offended, McKean looked down at his black wool pants, white button down, navy blue pea coat and rough leather boots, realizing he was no "gentlemen." He did, however, has his badge in his pocket, he remembered, as he quickly pulled it out. "Officer McKean, New York City Police Department. I need to ask one of your customers some questions. "Sorry, Officer. I certainly hope no one here is in any sort of difficulty." He quietly strode past him into the club.
After quite a bit of searching, he finally found the man in the photo: medium height, short length red hair, moderately stout figured.  Swallowing his heart into the depths of his stomach, McKean approached the man, tapping him on the shoulder, "Excuse me, Mr. Joyce?"
"Why yes, that's me, how can I help…" He turned around, shocked to see the badge.  Quickly, he returned his cigar to the ashtray and his brandy to the table.
"I am Officer McKean, and I would like to ask a few questions regarding your ex-wife, Margrete and…"
"Ex-wife? You must be mistaken, sir. Margrete and I never divorced." Stephen slouched down into his huge lea
ther seat, paler than Vilkenny's corpse, with slight accumulation of liquid forming in the corners of his eyes. "I have not heard her name in such a long time. Is she alright?"
"Tell me about your relationship with your wife, Mr. Joyce."
He let out a subtle sigh. "About six years ago, I met her at the factory. My firm was conducting an investigation of their business practices, before the fire. There she sat, sewing away, with the face of an angel staring back at me. She was so sweet, so innocent; I knew right then and there that she had to be mine. I was so deeply in love, more than I ever had been before, not to say I have that much luck with the ladies, like that tall fellow who used to come here often -Vilkenny, I believe was his name? Sad tale his is indeed. Well, we married almost immediately and had our three beautiful children together. About two years ago, I came home from the office one day to find all of them gone. I was so confused. I did nothing but give her and the children everything they desired!" His voice grew deep and angry. "Thank you very kindly for restoring my wounds. Doorman, please see this man out. I have told him all I can"
Leaning over, in a whisper he said, "I find her body, you will find a new home on the island." At that, he was quietly walked outside.
There were far too many questions lingering in McKean's tired mind. Either Joyce or Hark
owitz was lying to him. Where was Margrete? Why did his family disown him, then suddenly arrive at the scene of his death? The only thing to do was to talk to Miss and Mrs. Greenwald, and then, perhaps only then, would the story begin to congeal.
The Greenwalds did not even live in New York; they resided on the other side of the bridge in Brooklyn. Nonetheless, it was a trek worth making. He found their house, on Hancock St., which did not appear to reflect the abject poverty shown through their devastated outfits. The house was actually quite lovely, under the circumstances, with brownstone exterior, large windows, and an actual bit of grass to the anterior of the lot. Without hesitation, he approached the door.
A rather sorrowful Mrs. Greenwald answered the door, drenched in black rags, looking pekid and exhausted. "Good afternoon, Officer. Didn't we speak yesterday?" Her accent was thick, rich with heritage, yet quite welcoming. Very politely he replied, "Yes, Madame, but I have many questions I need to ask of you about your son."
"We have not seen my son in 10 years until yesterday. I assure you there is little we can tell you." She began to shut the door as he quickly jammed his boot inside the doorway. "Mrs. Greenwald, what you tell me may be the difference between finding who killed your son or the entire city thinking he committed suicide." She motioned for him to enter.
The meager carpet
s of the house were torn and filthy; the browning walls were covered in Old Testament prints and portraits from magazines other assorted other sources. The couch, with its dark wood scrolling and deep red upholstery, yet covered in chips and worn spots, seemed to have once been lovely. It was the story of the entire house -this family was once comfortable and now was reduced to slow decay.
As Mrs. Greenwald sat beside McKean with a cup of tea to offer him, she looked at him curiously; "What is it exactly that we can help you with, Officer, McKean?"
"Yes that's correct. I need to know why Mr. Greenwald banished Jacob from the family."
She sighed. "Jacob was our first, our only son. We praised much when he came to us. He was such a good boy. But as he matured, something in him changed. It was like the beast himself was taking over Jacob's mind. We wanted him to become the family's first rabbi, but he had other plans. He loved the women he would get when he dressed all fancy, and he loved money. He moved to the city seeking his fortune at a bank, had a big new house built, and had this strange young man living with him. His father tried to talk sense into him, but he would not listen. Jacob did not inform us how wealthy he was, nor did her share any of it with us. Jacob changed his name to sound more 'American' and worthy of wealth. My husband was a simple man -he loved his shoe store, he loved us and he loved his faith, and the homeland. He was displeased with Jacob and wrote him a letter telling him to never come home ever again. We still loved him, but we were not allowed to write to him or see him."
"Then how did you know he was dead, and where to find him?"
"He wrote us a letter about a week ago begging us to come see him. We could not refuse. We arrived just find out he was gone, without making our peace on the Sabbath." She began to cry, deeply hurt by the entire situation.
Trying to be as subtle as humanly possible, he softly whispered, "Did you know about Margrete?"
"Who is this Margrete?
"No one of tremendous consequence. I thank you for your time, Mrs. Greenwald."

Now the situation progressed deeper into a land of confusion. Perhaps Mrs. or Miss Greenwald were responsible for his death, hoping to gain his fortunes? They appeared to be unaware of his now missing lover, making them his next of kin. Officer McKean decided it to be imperative to see Vilkenny's will.
Monday arrived, and, before his afternoon shift and making few inquiries, McKean discovered that his lawyer was John Goldberg with an office not far from the Vilkenny house. The office looked very similar to the house -lush carpets, fine furniture, and countless paintings. Of course, the office's décor was far more conservative than that of the illustrious Vilkenny. He was greet
ed by a friendly secretary, then shown to Mr. Goldberg's office. "How can I help you today, Officer?"
"I am actually interested in the contents of Jacob Vilkenny's will."
"That is private information. Perhaps I can tell you what you need to know?"
"You can certainly try. I need to know who the beneficiary is, and the next one beside her."
"Well, I can tell you, as you may or may not know, that Magrete Joyce is listed as the primary beneficiary, but we cannot seem to locate her. The will is to remain unexecuted until she is found or until three months has passed."
"And if she is found dead?"
"Standard procedure holds that the next of kin receives the estate, but Vilkenny's will specifically states that the next of her kin receives the estate."
In a most hurried rush, he thanked him and returned to the station. He told his long tale to the Captain, who listen with compelled curiosity, knowing that McKean's odd little hunches tended to be correct. They went to Fontaine's to bring in Stephen Joyce immediately.


It was a warm spring morning on 63rd St. The park was beginning to blossom, as were the flowers hanging from each window. Carriages full of huge trunks lined up in front of the Vilkenny house. Out of the first, strolled a finely dressed lady, head to toe in a fine blue cotton day dress drenched with little rosette embroideries and a tall, feathered hat t
hat miraculously did not turn flat in the carriage. Soon after, a stocky red-haired man in a brown pin-striped day suit and fine derby stepped out. They slowly strutted to the main hall of the house as she whispered, "Welcome home, my wonderful husband."
"Ellena, it is more beautiful than I imagined!"
Soon, the children came trotting in after them, dressed as little ladies as gentlemen in their spring finest, in utter awe at their new home. "Stephen, I've waited for your love so long. Margrete was such a fool to leave you, all alone, and taking your children as well! I know I cannot bear any more for you, but…"
"I most dearly love all that which I have, my darling. I wish you would have told me sooner your feelings for me! You are so like her…" as he stroked her brown cheeks and kissed her gloved hand. Under her breath she muttered, "Now I have it all…"
Meanwhile, at the bottom of the East River, lay Margrete, nearly rotten to the bone with nothing covering her fragile frame but her gold charm and Ellena's torn necklace wrapped around her dead fingers.

The End

Submitted: January 04, 2010

© Copyright 2020 sophiaradcliffe. All rights reserved.

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