Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Book of Tongues Cast of Characters (III): Pinkerton, the Pinks, Ed Morrow

Allan Pinkeron and his “Pinks”

Since we’ve spent a fair deal of time on the opposite (considering that my two great fictional loves are the motivations and internal lives of villains and antiheroes), it only makes sense that we should perhaps take a brief moment to talk about “good guys”. But then again, in A Book of Tongues, the forces of law and order are mainly represented by Allan Pinkerton’s Pinkeron National Detective Agency, a state of affairs which hits the ground already dicey, and never really recovers.

It all started back in the 1840s, when former Glasgow cooper Pinkerton—disillusioned by the failure of the British Chartrist movement—came to America, where he was appointed the first police detective in Chicago. In the 1850s, he then partnered with Chicago attorney Edward Rucker to form the North-Western Police Agency, later known as the Pinkerton Agency. Or, as historian Frank Morn writes: "By the mid-1850s a few businessmen saw the need for greater control over their employees; their solution was to sponsor a private detective system. In February 1855, Allan Pinkerton, after consulting with six midwestern railroads, created such an agency in Chicago."

Pinkerton developed several investigative techniques that are still used today. Among them are "shadowing" (surveillance of a suspect) and "assuming a role" (undercover work). Following the outbreak of the Civil War, Pinkerton became head of the Union Army Intelligence Service in 1861–1862, foiling an alleged assassination plot in Baltimore, Maryland, while guarding Abraham Lincoln on his way to his inauguration. His agents often worked undercover as Confederate soldiers and sympathizers, in an effort to gather military intelligence; Pinkerton himself served in several undercover missions under the alias of Major E.J. Allen. Pinkerton was succeeded as Intelligence Service chief by Lafayette Baker. The Intelligence Service was the forerunner of the U.S. Secret Service

As the agency’s scope grew, its ruthless yet only sometimes efficient methods soon attracted the notoreity that Pinkerton—a genius at self-promotion who literally wrote his own pulp history—so craved; the Pinks were soon universally feared as well as somewhat despised, since their services always went to the highest bidder. Pinkertons were often hired to protect banks so large they feared robbery, and also rode shotgun while trains and stagecoaches transported money and other high quality merchandise between cities and towns, making them vulnerable outlaws. Pinkerton agents gained a reputation for resistance to bribery, easily explained less by their high moral standards than by the fact that they were usually both well-paid and well-armed.

In 1871, Congress appropriated $50,000 to the new Department of Justice to form a suborganization devoted to "the detection and prosecution of those guilty of violating federal law." The amount was insufficient for the DOJ to fashion an integral investigating unit, so the DOJ contracted out the services involved to the Pinkertons—thus effectively making the Pinkertons an arm of “the government”, a status which Pinkerton hastened to exploit.

In 1872, Franklin B. Gowen—then president of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad—hired the agency to investigate the labor unions in the company's mines. A Pinkerton agent, James McParland, infiltrated the Molly Maguires using the alias James McKenna, leading to the labor organization’s downfall. The incident was the inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes novel The Valley of Fear.

Perhaps on the strength of this nonfiction-to-fiction crossover success, Pinkerton agents were also hired to track western outlaws Jesse James, the Reno Gang, and the Wild Bunch (including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid). On March 17, 1874, two Pinkerton Detectives and a Deputy Sheriff Edwin P. Daniels encountered the Younger Brothers (associates of James Gang); Daniels, John Younger, and one Pinkerton Agent were killed. The Pinkertons later retaliated by blowing up a house where the James boys were “known to stay”—understandably, since it belonged to their mother, Zerelda. But since they weren’t there at the time, all the Pinks managed to do was blow off Zerelda James’ leg and kill Jesse and Frank’s retarded half-brother; not the world’s most useful P.R. event, in retrospect.

(In 1872, meanwhile, the Spanish Government hired Pinkerton to help suppress a revolution in Cuba, which intended to end slavery and give citizens the right to vote. Pinkeron said “yes, please!”, thus further endearing himself to many, many people who thankfully weren’t of much import, because they didn’t speak English.)

In late June, 1884, Pinkerton slipped on a pavement in Chicago, biting his tongue as he did so. He didn't seek treatment and the tongue became infected, leading to his death on July the first. At the time, he was working on a system that would centralize all criminal identification records, a database now maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The Agency continued ever onwards, pursuing Pinkeron’s original methodology. On July 6, 1892, during the Homestead Strike, Henry Clay Frick called in a force of 300 Pinkerton detectives from New York and Chicago to protect the mill and replacement workers. This resulted in a fight in which 16 men were killed (7 Pinkertons and 9 Strikers), and to restore order, two brigades of the state militia were called out.

The next year, Anti-Pinkerton Act was passed, and since then federal law has stated that an "individual employed by the Pinkerton Detective Agency, or similar organization, may not be employed by the Government of the United States or the government of the District of Columbia."

In 1895, detective Frank Geyer restored the Pinkertons’ reputation somewhat by tracking first known American serial killer H.H. Holmes to Toronto, Canada, where he also uncovered the bodies of the three murdered Pitezel children. This lead to Holmes’ arrest and execution, but also exposed the fact that the Agency had previously apprehended Holmes just a year before in Boston, on an outstanding Texas warrant for horse theft.

Over the course of the twentieth century, the Pinkertons slowly drifted away from spying and union-busting, eventually dropping their criminal investigation work altogether, and removing the word “detective” from their letterhead and becoming primarily involved in protection services. In 2003, Pinkerton's was acquired—along with longtime rival the William J. Burns Detective Agency (founded in 1910)—by Securitas AB, and the two were folded together to create Securitas Security Services USA, Inc., one of the largest security companies in the world. Securitas and several other major security companies are now under union organization, through the SEIU (Services Employees International Union).

Here’s a .jpg of the Pinkertons’ famous logo, the Unsleeping Eye:

Since he was still alive at the time, I thought it only fitting to involve Allan Pinkerton directly as one of the characters in A Book of Tongues. I see him as reasonably young and energetic at this point, having just emerged from the furnace of the War, and extremely excited by the possibilities attendant on finally being able to track, apprehend and control hexes. It only makes sense that he’d be concentrating on hexslingers rather than human outlaws, since there’s almost no fair degree of competition between the two (especially in terms of attracting positive media attention). Physical template: Maybe Gerard Butler, but definitely in his slightly puffy Law Abiding Citizen mode rather than his ripped-to-hell-and-back 300 mode. So just try superimposing Butler’s face onto this:

Ed Morrow

Pinkerton Detective Agency man Edward Rumsfield Morrow is, on first sight, about as close as we come to a “hero” in A Book of Tongues. Granted, he spends a lot of his time A) lying through his teeth and B) letting Chess and the Rev ride rough-shod over everything in sight, but that’s the nature of his game: He’s gone undercover with the West’s currently most-feared hexslinger, and spends much of his time standing within easy killing distance of a man who’ll pretty much shoot you for looking at him, the Rev, or virtually anything else in a manner he considers funny. When the chips are down, however, this is definitely the guy you want in your corner—someone who’s perceptive, sympathetic and loyal to a fault.

It goes without saying (though I’m saying it anyhow) that Morrow is also the default audience POV character here--the person whose innate decency allow us to be slowly tricked, much as he himself is, into feeling something for far less agreeable characters like the Rev and Chess. And in Chess’s case, eventually, that understanding comes to extend far further beyond the bounds of propriety than a big, straight dude may initially care for—but while I can certainly appreciate the results, I’ve actually come to find the mechanics of Chess and Morrow’s odd little workaday partner/friendship far more interesting, overall.

Finally: Though Morrow originally derived much from a minor character in 3:10 to Yuma named Jackson, the physical template he’s since come to resemble most is that of Liev Schreiber, probably best-known at this point either for playing Sabretooth in X-Men Origins: Wolverine or knocking up Naomi Watts (twice!). He was also the latest iteration of hapless political Cylon Raymond Prentiss Shaw, in Jonathan Demme’s unjustly overlooked/decried 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate, and I always see Ed as slightly more Raymond than Victor Creed, except in the sideburns department.

Here’s some mainly-shirtless Liev Schreiber goodness, to see us out:

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