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Six Degrees

April 12, 1912

Skillful hands trace the forms of the man and child standing at the railing, capturing life onto a piece of paper. Jack looks up at his two subjects, tongue between his teeth, brow furrowed with concentration. Fabrizio glances over Jack's shoulder, and gives an approving nod to what he sees.

"Ah, that's typical," a voice says in a strong Irish accent, breaking Jack's concentration.

He looks up in time to see a snooty looking steward walk by, holding the leashes of a French Bulldog and an Afghan hound.

"First class dogs come down here to take a shit," the man continues, taking another puff from his cigarette.

"Lets us know where we rank in the scheme of things," Jack answers wryly, setting his pencil down.

There was a time, long ago, when he would have considered it appropriate that the better half not have to dirty its shoes with the more repulsive things in life. Five years and a world of experience later, he wonders now how he could have been so blind.

"Tommy Ryan," the man continues, offering his hand.

"Jack Dawson," he replies, returning the handshake without hesitation.

"Fabrizio," Jack's friend says, offering his hand as well.

"Hi," Tommy replies, taking it. He then indicates the notebook of paper Jack is holding in his lap. "You make any money about your drawings?"

Jack glances down at the paper. Drawing was never meant to be anything more than a hobby for him, something his mother devised to keep him out from underfoot. But it had become more than that. It was his passion when he could get a job, and his sole means of support when he couldn't. It's funny how things change.

Jack looks back up to answer Tommy when he catches sight of a woman walking across the deck above. She pauses at the edge, arms resting lightly on the rail, and Jack finds himself looking her over with his well-trained artists eye. Regal bearing, usually means a proud spirit, looked away, modest, looked back, not easily intimidated, my God, she was stunning… Jack leans forward, drinking her in, as his thoughts run through his head. He sees Fabrizio's hand wave up and down in front of his face, but he ignores it.

A man comes out onto the upper deck and takes a hold of the woman's arm. The woman says something along the lines of "Do you mind?" before walking back inside. Jack leans forward, squinting at the man. He looks familiar… wait, that's not… The man glares at the water before going back inside. Jack swallows. It was Cal Hockley. He feels a stab of pity for the woman.

"Ah, forget it, boyo. You're as like to have angels fly out of your arse as get next to the likes of her," Tommy says.

Jack almost laughs out loud. Well, he thinks, glancing down at his ragged clothes, you'd never guess from his attitude now that he used to be one of them, would you?

Philadelphia, 1907

A young man wrapped in a blanket stood staring out the window of his well-appointed bedroom. This young man's name was Jonathan Hawthorne, and was so different in manner and bearing from Jack Dawson that it would be difficult, if not nearly impossible, to recognize the two as the same person. Whereas Jack would be waving cheerfully or yelling "Good morning!" out the window at familiar faces in the street below, Jonathan simply glared coldly at the neighbors, jealous of the fact that they could move about outside, while he had to stay indoors. As far as he was concerned, the doctor's orders were unnecessary; the light coats worn by passersby suggested that the weather outside was cool, but not uncomfortable.

He coughed, feeling the slight burning in his lungs, a last clinging remnant of illness. They had visited his grandmother on his mother's side in Wisconsin a few weeks ago, and he had decided he wanted to go ice fishing, despite the lateness of the season. Naturally, he had fallen through the thinning ice and his cousin had selflessly jumped in to save him. They had both caught pneumonia and had been bedridden for the next few weeks. Jonathan's parents had scolded him roundly once it became clear that both he and his cousin were going to be all right, but he had expected nothing less. He had always been considered a sickly child because of his pale hair and thin build, and it irritated him. As far as he was concerned, if falling into a lake full of freezing water didn't kill him, nothing ever would.

He turned and gazed listlessly at the books strewn over his bed, a mess created by his effort to find something to do. But there was little point in reading right now. All the tomes did was remind him that he was stuck here in Philadelphia instead of seeing new places and having adventures like most young men of his age did. He walked away from the window and sat on the edge of the bed, tossing a copy of "The Hound of the Baskervilles" aside.

He had tried to talk his father into letting him study art in Paris. He had carefully rehearsed an entire speech, explaining how important it was for every young gentleman to be well traveled and cultured, but to no avail. To Mr. Hawthorne, drawing and painting were parlor activities for women. Young men were supposed to spend time in the outdoors, to improve their hardy constitutions, something his mother had refused to allow due to Jonathan's supposed "illness". Young men were supposed to have a head for business and politics; subjects Mr. Hawthorne had spent long hours tutoring his son in. He was grooming a successor, someone to take over his half of the steel business when he died.

The other half belonged to Nathan Hockley, an old friend of Mr. Hawthorne's from college. The two of them had bought an old steel mill with their inheritance and had overnight turned the struggling enterprise into an empire, buying out suppliers and forcing competitors out of business. As far as Jonathan was concerned, Nathan's son Caledon could buy the other half of the company from him.

To learn how to make more money when the family already had more than they could ever spend was ridiculous. Besides, he felt he shouldn't have to do anything he didn't enjoy. He was upper class, after all.

The maid, what was her name, Sheila, interrupted his brooding by bringing in a fresh pan of hot water for his feet.

"I don't need it," Jack snapped in irritation, waving her away.

She curtsied. "My apologies, sir, but it's your mother's orders."

Of course, it would be Mother, coddling him again. Why couldn't she just leave him alone?

"Do you need any help in getting back to your chair?" the girl continued.

"No," he growled.

"Very well, sir," she said, shutting the door quietly behind her.

He didn't like her. She wasn't nearly subservient enough; her manner was too short and impatient. He made a mental note to have Mother fire her.

The sound of raised voices coming from his father's study drove all other thoughts completely out of his head. Jonathan left his room and descended the stairs, sitting on a step and watching the action through the narrow space where the door had been cracked a bit.

His father was speaking. "I'm telling you, there's too much sulfur in the steel. She'll buckle when we try and work her. If we get caught selling it, everyone, from railways to builders will take us to court, and what's worse, they'll win."

Mr. Hockley said, "If, if, you're talking in probabilities! The reality is that we can't scrap this batch. I've already sold it to the shipping lines."

"It's not just one batch, Nathan. I've gotten five notices saying the steel is no good, and it'll continue to be no good, unless we reformulate the process."

Jonathan heard the rustling of paper, than an oath from Mr. Hockley. "We can't shut down the smelters for three hours, much less three months!"

A sharp laugh from Jonathan's right startled him to his feet.

The voice continued, "They talk for endless hours about behaving like gentlemen, and as soon as they start talking business they swear and stamp like sailors in a bar brawl."

"Caledon Hockley," Jonathan said, recognizing the man.

"Cal, please. Your father has talked so much about you I feel as though I've known you for years," the man continued, shaking his hand.

He looked Jonathan over with a critical eye. "With the way your mother spoke about you, I was expecting a little boy, but you're practically a man."

"I can imagine. She has a tendency to worry too much," Jonathan responded, trying to make himself appear more dignified despite the fact that he was wearing a blanket.

"Women," Cal said, shaking his head.

He pulled a cigarette case out of his pocket. "Would you like to try one?" he said, holding the case out.

"Sure."

Cal lit the cigarette for him, and Jonathan took a deep puff. He swallowed the smoke, and started coughing. Cal laughed and sat on the step next to him.

"How do you like it?" he said, watching Jonathan's face turning green.

Jonathan expelled a small puff of smoke and looked at the cigarette. "I could get used to it," he said, taking another puff.

Cal watched him for a few moments, as though trying to make up his mind about something. Apparently he came to a decision, because he put his cigarette case away and spoke again. "Some friends and I are going on an outing this evening, gentlemen only. Would you like to come?"

Jonathan was pleased. Finally, someone was treating him like an adult. "Of course."

Cal's carriage arrived at seven thirty. Jonathan had left by the servant's entrance, so as not to attract the attention of his mother. His father and Mr. Hockley had left on a business trip earlier that day. He was introduced to the rest of the fine young gentlemen in the carriage, whose names he promptly forgot, despite his best efforts to remember them.

The carriage took them to a part of town that was less reputable looking than he had been expecting, and stopped in front of what must have been quite a nice residence in its day, but now, with the grounds sold off and buildings pressing in from either side, it bore a closer resemblance to a converted boarding house. The sign on the front window simply said, "Tavern." The rest of the men piled out of the carriage, laughing and talking. Jonathan hesitated at the carriage door, looking at the dilapidated building with a feeling of repulsion.

Cal paused at the doorway of the house and called reassuringly, "I know it looks distasteful from the outside, but I assure you it's quite respectable."

Jonathan stepped down from the carriage and followed them inside.

The room the gentlemen were seated in was very nice looking, with crystal chandeliers, large booths, and a long mahogany bar. It was a little threadbare and worn, perhaps, but no more so than his grandmother's house. The one thing that astonished him was the dress of the women who worked there.

"They're only in their underclothes!" Jonathan gasped, causing a rousing chorus of laughter from Cal's friends.

"Don't worry about it. Here, have a seat," Cal said, sliding Jonathan into the booth and handing him a large glass of beer.

The liquor was strong, and it was all Jonathan could do not to cough it back up. The other gentlemen started discussing politics, pausing to refill Jonathan's glass every once in a while. After a time, he started to feel woozy, but he didn't dare tell them to stop, fearing that they would think him less of a man if he did.

The volume of the other gentlemen's voices had noticeably increased during that period of time, and they started making comments toward the women that would have made Jonathan feel uncomfortable under most circumstances, but since the women didn't seem to mind, and he himself was very drunk, he didn't mind. He found himself staring over the blurry rim of his cup at one of the women, a statuesque figure with long auburn hair. She noticed him and winked in response.

Cal clapped Jonathan on the back. "Nice choice!"

He motioned the woman over. "My friend could use some company. On me," he said, handing her a bill whose fuzzy figure Jonathan couldn't read.

The woman seemed well pleased, because she took Jonathan from Cal. Cal tried to pull the mug away from him, but he refused to let it go until he had taken one last sip. He gulped it down, and promptly crashed to the floor.

He heard Cal's voice say, "Ah, well. I'll be happy to take his place," before he blacked out.

Arms wrapped around Jonathan's waist, dragging him to his feet. The sudden movement and the stench of the gutter he had been lying in caused a strong nauseating vertigo, and he vomited.

"Oh, here now," said a woman's voice, and the arms led him over to a nearby trash barrel, into which he continued to retch.

He glanced up at the woman, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. It was Sheila.

"What're you doin' outta the house?" he said, trying to sound imperious and failing miserably.

"I came to find you, sir," she responded, handing him her handkerchief.

He took it with a bitter laugh. "Mother sent cha, didn' she?" he said, dabbing his lips.

"I don't believe she has missed you as of yet, sir. I've brought the light trap," she said, indicating the curb where a horse and buggy stood.

"Don' need your help," he said, pushing past her and stumbling down the sidewalk.

"You would prefer to walk home?" she asked, that touch of insolence back in her voice.

He stopped. "How far's it?"

"About three miles."

He went back to the carriage. "Think I'd lika ride."

"Very well, sir," she responded, helping him into the carriage.

By the time the pair arrived back at the house, Jonathan had a splitting headache. He supposed that meant that he was no longer drunk. Granted, he had never been drunk before, so he had no way of knowing. He felt tired, and filthy, and not just because he had been lying in the gutter all night. He knew they hadn't done anything that a gentleman wouldn't do. Still, he couldn't shake that prickling feeling of wrongness.

The guilt gnawed at him while Sheila helped him into the house through the servant's entrance and up the back stairs.

Jonathan's mother was seated imperiously on his bed as the two entered his room. "Sheila, I want to have a moment in private with my son," Mrs. Hawthorne said as the girl helped Jonathan into a chair.

Sheila bobbed a curtsey and left.

Mrs. Hawthorne shut the door with a great finality and said to her son in a low, hard voice, "You are going to stay in this room. You are not to leave this house unless accompanied by your father or myself."

"Mother…"

"I don't want to hear it, Jonathan. These are my instructions, and as I am your mother you will obey them. Is that understood?"

Jonathan was stunned. He admitted that he might have behaved inappropriately, but to imprison and condemn him over a single mistake…

"No," he found himself saying, even before he realized the words had left his lips.

His mother stiffened. "I beg your pardon?"

"No," Jonathan said, a slow, arrogant smile playing upon his lips. "I rather enjoyed myself last night. In fact, I think I shall go out more often."

"You're too young," Mrs. Hawthorne said, pursing her lips.

Jonathan laughed. "Perhaps you should go out more often."

She opened her mouth to speak, but he silenced her. "I got drunk, Mother. I learned about women. So whatever else you think I don't know, I promise you, I do. And I'm not letting anything stand in the way of my freedom. Especially not you."

He advanced on her, menacingly. She retreated out the door quickly, and he slammed it in her face with a flourish.

Mrs. Hawthorne descended the steps to the kitchen, where Sheila was waiting. Oh, cunning as serpents, that girl. Sneaking my son out at night, teaching him things that he ought not know about, and then acting as innocent as you please. She likely even enjoyed it, the wench. Mrs. Hawthorne's hand flew through the air and struck the servant girl across the face without warning. Sheila stared back, too shocked to respond. "Get out of my house," Mrs. Hawthorne said, icy venom dripping from every word. "Ma'am," Sheila said, trying to explain. Mrs. Hawthorne grabbed her by the arm and shoved her out the kitchen door. "I didn't spend all these years bringing up my son properly to have him corrupted by a little low born tart like you. Don't bother looking for work as a servant. Once I'm finished, no respectable family within a thousand miles will hire you," Mrs. Hawthorne snarled, slamming the door in Sheila's face.

Jonathan noticed Sheila's disappearance, but was much too preoccupied over the next few weeks to worry about it. He snuck out of the house, spent all night drinking and slept off the headaches during the days. He was irritable, snapping at anyone who crossed his path. He didn't enjoy the drinking, really, but Cal and his friends seemed the only means of getting out of the house. And Cal was more than generous, lending him money whenever he needed it, listening while he snarled about his mother coddling him and his father not letting him go to Paris. He would have sworn to anyone that Cal was the best friend anybody could ever have. How wrong he had been.

Jonathan woke up mid afternoon after a long night of carousing, quite early for him. He decided to go downstairs and have Cook make him some warm honey tea, since lying on his stomach with his head feeling twice its normal size certainly wasn't going to help him get back to sleep. He slipped silently down the front staircase, rubbing his temples with his fingers.

He stopped at the foot of the stairs when he heard Mr. Hockley's voice from the foot of the stairs. "How long does it take to get back wages to a servant girl?"

So, the two were back from their business trip.

Cal's smooth voice responded, "Calm down, Father. At least it gives us time to go through his papers."

Going through papers? Jonathan tiptoed up to the office door and peeked through the keyhole. His father's safe was open, and Cal was seated on the edge of the desk, reading the top sheet of a stack of papers.

Cal held it up. "Look. He's writing to the customers and telling them about the steel."

Mr. Hockley snatched the sheet. "That bastard. Apparently turning his son into a drunkard wasn't embarrassment enough to keep him quiet."

Jonathan felt the rage grow inside him. They… they had been using him as blackmail?

"Perhaps it's time the company became a sole ownership," Cal said, slipping the letters into his pocket and putting the rest back in the safe.

Mr. Hockley looked thoughtfully at him. "Can it be arranged?"

"I know a police officer that might fit the bill nicely."

"And the boy?"

"He did say that he's always wanted to go to Paris. I believe the inheritance plus the princely sum we will offer for his half of the company should more than cover the cost of the trip."

Jonathan felt his blood run cold. They were going to kill his father!

"And if he gets suspicious?" Mr. Hockley asked.

"That, too, can be handled."

Jonathan stumbled away from the door. He had to find his father and warn him.

Jonathan rode bareback down the streets of downtown Philadelphia, weaving around carts and carriages and fuming at himself for being duped by Cal for so long. But he was going to fix it, if he could. Cook had only been able to give him imprecise directions, a vague memory of Sheila mentioning a brother and a butcher's shop. He had tried thirty-seven such shops along the way, getting only puzzled looks in response to his frantic questioning. Finally, at the thirty-eighth shop, he found a man who looked like he might be Sheila's brother.

When asked, the man's eyes narrowed. "You're that spoiled brat what got my sister fired."

Ignoring the large mallet the man was hefting dangerously, Jonathan asked breathlessly, "Is my father here?"

"He's been and gone. You'll be off too, if you know what's best for you."

Jonathan rushed back out to the sidewalk, to find the horse he had been riding collapsed on the sidewalk.

"Tough break, lad," the butcher said, obviously pleased with the turn of events.

"Can I borrow some money for a cab?" Jonathan asked.

"What do you think I am, now? A bank?" the man scoffed.

"Please, it's an emergency!"

"What? Going to miss your tea time?" he answered, turning to go back inside.

"Not a Mother emergency, a real emergency. My father's partner is trying to kill him."

"And you haven't summoned an officer because?"

"Because it's a police officer that's going to kill him."

Sheila's brother snorted. "And I thought I'd heard everything."

Jonathan grabbed him by the arm. "Do you think I'd almost run my horse to death for nothing?"

The man sized him up. "I lend you my cart, you give my sister her job back."

"Done."

"Around back. Already hitched up."

"Thank you," Jonathan said, running to fetch it.

The traffic wasn't any better going there as getting back. He kept his eyes open, hoping to catch a glimpse of his father. Every time, he was disappointed. Nearly three hours had passed since he had left the house, and he felt his hope fading with each passing minute. When he reached his street, he saw the fire trucks, and his heart sank. He jumped out of the cart and ran to the front of the house. The whole mansion was ablaze. The servants stood to one side, coughing and trying to stay out of the way of the fire crew.

"Where's my father?" he yelled, running up to them.

The butler glanced at him, and then nodded his head back at the mansion, while Cook bawled into her apron.

"And… Mother?" he asked, his heart sinking.

The butler said quietly, "The same," while Cook squalled even louder.

Jonathan sank to his knees, shaking as the tears flowed.

Jonathan had been promptly taken to the hospital and treated for exhaustion. The first visitor he had when he awoke was his father's lawyer, Mr. Bell. His sad, sympathetic expression made Jonathan's stomach tighten into knots.

"What is it?" the boy asked, sitting up.

"I read your father's will this morning," Mr. Bell said, pulling the document out of his briefcase and handing it to Jonathan.

He skimmed over it, and his jaw dropped. The will clearly stated that his father's half of the business, the fortune, the house, everything had been left to Nathan Hockley.

"I'm sorry, Jonathan, truly," the lawyer said gently.

Jonathan stared closely at the paper. It looked like his father's signature, but…

"Jonathan." He looked up to see Cal standing over the bed. "Please accept my sympathies for your loss. And, a small token, to help get you started with your new life," he said, handing Jonathan an envelope of money.

"Go to hell," Jonathan snapped, tossing it back in his face.

"Now, Jonathan," Mr. Bell said, restraining him.

He pushed the well-meaning arm away.

"Would you give us a moment?" Cal said to the lawyer.

The man nodded, saying to Jonathan, "I'll be right outside if you need me."

The boy glared up at Cal. "You killed my parents."

"Like I made you drink, I suppose," Cal said, sitting down.

"I heard you. In the office, while you were stealing my father's papers."

"Your father's papers? The papers in that safe belonged to Hockley steel. They were as much my father's as they were his, therefore, no theft was made. The only exception being your father's will, of course," he said, smiling pleasantly.

"That's not my father's will. You forged it."

"Come now; don't be so bitter. Clearly, you've had a considerable reduction in status, but I'm sure a young man as clever and resourceful as yourself will make the best of it," he said with the faintest tinge of sarcasm as he stood up to leave.

"You're a good liar, or just a lucky one. But you haven't won. Not yet," Jonathan said, his voice controlled and determined.

"I resent that implication, Mr. Hawthorne. Besides, a real man makes his own luck." Cal favored him with a superior smile as he left the room.

Jonathan flopped onto his back in frustration.

"He's a charming piece of work." Jonathan looked up to see Sheila crossing the room.

"What are you doing here?"

"Your father wanted you to have this, should anything happen to him," she said, handing him a small key with the number 518 stamped into the surface.

"What is it?" he said, turning it over in his fingers.

"It's for a safety deposit box. At least, that's what he told me, sir."

"You don't have to call me sir. You've probably got more money right now than I do," he said with a small grin.

"That being the case, my brother sent along some of his old clothes. They may be a little large, but they're clean," she said, thrusting a bundle into his arms.

"Thank you."

She nodded and turned to leave.

"I know I got you fired, and I'm sorry," he said quickly.

She stopped and looked at him appraisingly.

He reached over to his bedside table and handed her his pocket watch. "Here. If you can't use it, you can always pawn it."

She took it from him and looked it over. "Your father gave this to you, didn't he?" she said.

He nodded, and shrugged like it didn't really matter.

She handed it back. "You keep it. I don't need it, and it's all you have left. Thank you just the same."

Mr. Bell entered the room to say goodbye as she left.

Jonathan stood on the platform at the train station, dressed in the clothes Sheila's brother had given him and holding a ticket to Chicago, courtesy of the 50 dollars in the safety deposit box. He had gone back to the butcher's shop to pay for the use of the horse and cart, but Sheila's brother had flatly refused the money. Jonathan was impressed at how much more gentlemanly the butcher was than the 'gentlemen' he was used to, and had told him so. The man had roared with laughter, and said, "Don't you forget it," before going back inside his store. No, Jonathan wouldn't forget that, not with Cal's example to remind him.

He leaned against a mountain of baggage and sighed. The safety deposit box had also contained a pencil set and a pocketknife, so he could always draw for money if he couldn't find any other work. It was a little nerve wracking living off God's good humor, but he felt free in a way he had never known before. Not in that destructive, out of control way he had felt before, but in a right, confident way.

He couldn't go around calling himself Jonathan Hawthorne anymore, it sounded so pompous. Jack was a nickname for Jonathan, right? That sounded regular. Mother's maiden name had been Rothbert… no. But Grandmother's had been Dawson. Jack Dawson. That had a nice ring to it. The train pulled up to the platform, and Jack Dawson boarded, headed for a new life.

The End

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