The Race for Niagara

A young Nikola Tesla races to get the contract to the biggest electric provider ever in America.


1. The New Lab

            I rush down the stairs of my apartment building. I've been waiting for weeks for this letter. About a month ago, I had a meeting with Mr. Westinghouse asking him to back my new company. This is my first check.

            I bump into a small, elderly woman coming down the steps. She swears at me in Hungarian. The poor woman doesn't know I speak Hungarian. I speak eight languages. I have yet to have an opportunity to use them all, though. I was born Serbian and still harbor the accent.

           The little wooden mailboxes sit on top of each other; dark wood lined with bronze.  I scan through them for mine; apartment 3C. I demanded the third apartment. I have a sort of fascination for the number three. It’s the most practical number.

            I open it with an excited yank and three envelopes sit inside. One was for rent, one was a letter from my uncle, and one was postmarked, Westinghouse and Affiliates.

            I ripped it open, laughing like a maniac. The woman behind me calls me a “hímszamár” and slowly putters up the steep staircase. I take out the letter and skim over it. What it says is not important, because at the bottom of the letter is a check made out for ten thousand dollars to a Mr. Nikola Tesla. This is more money than I have ever held in my life.

            I look around the dim lobby nervously. I put the check in my breast pocket and slowly walk out of the musty glass doors on to the New York pavement. I promised Johnson, my business associate, that I would go to the laboratory the second I got this. He’s a very level headed man, and doesn't exactly trust in my ability to stay focused.

            I adjust my eyes to the bright sunlight and walk left down the sidewalk. I pat down my parted hair and try to look inconspicuous. I’m six four and dress fantastically. I’m always conspicuous.

           The sounds of people litter the air. A few spare pigeons walk around me. I like pigeons. They are clever birds; you’ll never see a pigeon on a farm because they have found a place that better suits them. I respect that. I walk eight blocks before I turn left around the building. I often walk three times around the block before entering a building. I’m not sure why, exactly. It’s just a quirk I keep.

            After the third time, I walk into the brownstone structure. My lab is in the basement, which the super has reconstructed for me. I hope I can keep the rent. Johnson worked very hard to get me this place.

            I nod hello to the receptionist, Annabel. She does not like me. I listen to her sometimes and she thinks I'm crazy. Well, I suppose she isn't wrong, exactly.

            I needed this laboratory. When I came to the United States, I only had four cents, a few poems, and a letter of recommendation. I went straight to where I knew I could get a job, the Thomas Edison Electric Company. Edison reluctantly hired me. I only did very menial work. I told him that I could improve on his motor prototype and fought for my Alternating Current Electricity, instead of his Direct Current. He told me that if I could make a better motor than him he would give me fifty thousand dollars. I was enthralled in my work. In about two months, I brought him my prototype and asked for my money. He looked at my face and said, “Tesla, you don’t understand our American humor.” I resigned immediately, and swore that I would disgrace that man.

            I turn to walk down the steps and into the concrete lab. Thin windows hang on the walls and let in streams of light. That’s the first thing I’ll have to fix. We need more light. I turn my head and at least twenty women are sitting in the room, all anxiously twittering their thumbs. They're dressed well and all seem respectable. Why are they in my lab? No one is supposed to be in my lab.

            I’m taken aback a bit. I go to ask why my laboratory has been infested with females, when I see Johnson walk briskly over to me with an exasperated expression.

            “Nikola, you’re late.” He sighs and turns in the same direction I’m standing. He’s a tiny man, with a well-kept mustache and auburn hair. He has small eyes and a rounded nose. He’s a bit chubby. I detest that. Exercise is easy enough. But, Johnson works very hard for me, so I’ll let him be.

            “Late for what?” I demanded. He turns and grabs me by my shoulders.

            “We are interviewing for a secretary! God, Nikola. I've been reminding you about this daily. Do you ever listen to me?”

            I was looking over the laboratory, inspecting all of the equipment. Sometimes, I can visualize an object in three dimensions and look it over with my mind. It’s very convenient for when Johnson is rambling. “What?” I say, empty minded. He makes a disgruntled noise and tells the women that the interviews will be conducted at a table in the back of the large open floor. One, with a large sign on her chest that reads “#1” sits up and follows us.

            She’s taller than Johnson, which automatically throws him off. She has long, platinum blonde hair that’s tied up in ribbons and an outstretched skirt. She has yellow teeth. I don’t like her already.

            I’ve always thought that someday women would rule the world. We will live in a society of “queen bees.” Actually, I’m glad I was born while men were still in charge. I wouldn't have a chance.

            She talks a lot of bullshit about her ambitions and Johnson nods politely. I try to make my boredom obvious. Afterwards, we thank her for her time and allow her to leave. This process goes on, unchanging, for sixteen more women. Some were tall or short. Some were beautiful and some were kind. Some were disrespectful, but they were all boring. I give Johnson annoyed looks and he looks irritated at me. I like irritating Johnson. It’s good to pass the time.

            Number seventeen is a tiny little woman. She couldn't be much older than eighteen. She had short, curly, strawberry hair that she tried to put into a bun, but instead flew out in sprigs and just looks sad. She has big eyes and a happy looking face. When she opened her mouth, she had a thick Irish accent.

            “What’s your name, dear?” Johnson asks. He looks concerned. Children scare him.

            “Eleanor O’Malley, sir.” She said.

            “And, how old are you?”

            “Nineteen, sir.” Johnson looks down, hopelessly. She lets a beat pass before she continues, feverishly. “But, I’m very qualified, sir!” She says, trying to lift his gaze. “My Da taught me how to read and write and I learnt how to be nice to strangers workin’ in his pub. I can organize papers or write letters or lick stamps! Anything, sir.”

            Johnson starts rummaging through his papers. I like her. She’s impressed me, well enough. We could use a little pushy to keep us going. “Look up, Johnson.” I say. “There’s our secretary.”

            He starts to get frazzled. “But, she’s young and” He lowers his voice. “ Isn't very dignified, and-“ I stop him.

            “Send the others home.” He rolls his eyes and Eleanor jumps up excitedly. “Thank you! Thank you, thank you, sir!” She hugs me and I tense up. I don’t like germs. I’m not one for people, actually. Social interactions and such. This is a whole different ball game. I kind of nudge her off and she grins up at me. She couldn't be much more than five feet tall.

            “I promise you won’t regret this!” She says. “Mr. Johnson told us to come in tomorrow morning, nine a.m.! Don’t worry, you won’t have to tell me!” She grins and picks up her maroon hat that’s lying on a chair by the desk where I interviewed her. She stops and laughs again, then leaves in a chaotic burst.







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