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Jacob, Rachel, and Leah: An Excerpt From ‘Mount Terminus’

In David Grand’s atmospheric new novel set in pre-Hollywood Los Angeles, a man can’t outrun his dark New York past

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The Rosenblooms were conceived somewhere on the other side of the world. In a country whose name they didn’t know. To mothers and fathers who were most likely dead. Those who told them about their origin could only say with any certainty they had been carried by many caretakers to a port on the shore of the Adriatic Sea, where they were placed on a ship and into the arms of an old rabbi and his wife, who bundled Bloom’s father together with his mother and her twin sister in a bread basket. Each child, so far as the rabbi and his wife knew, had yet been named. From the story of Joseph, the rabbi called the boy Jacob, the sisters, the rabbi’s wife called Rachel and Leah, and they passed down to each of them their family name. When the ship landed, the elderly couple claimed them as their grandchildren. To the gatekeeper, the old man swore on the scrolls of the Torah cradled in his arms they had been born by his two daughters, both of whom, he said, had died in childbirth. Because they were too old and poor to parent the children themselves, the rabbi and his wife carried Jacob, Rachel, and Leah to the Hebrew Orphan Asylum on the lower east end of the city, where they lived for many years.

***

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The three infants had grown so accustomed to sleeping with each other over the course of their long journey, the two girls and the boy wouldn’t be separated at night without a great disturbance upsetting the nursery. Their new guardians allowed them to sleep together in the same crib until they were two, then moved them to the same bed when they were four; at the age of five, they required them to reside in separate wings, but the children met every day between lessons to play in the courtyard, and without fail, they sat side by side when they dined. So Jacob wouldn’t be lonely at night, the girls cut pieces of ribbon from the ribbons holding back the thick curls of their hair, and they pinned the shiny material to the lapel of his jacket, and each night before curfew they placed into his pockets notes inscribed with wishes he was meant to read before the dormitory lights were extinguished. The girls longed for things all children long for: sweets and toys and pets. They desired, too, only things orphans desire: a mother and a father, a room in which to sit alone, for silence lasting days and nights with no end. Jacob never made such wishes, as he only had one, of such great importance, he never dared write it down or articulate it. His only wish was to remain with Rachel and Leah. To never be apart from them. To be reunited with them in his bed.

***

Anyone who had eyes could see in what ways the twins would blossom into great beauties. At the age of nine, they already comported themselves with the poise of young women, and on their own initiative they endeavored to refine their characters so they might better resemble the figures living in the novels they read at night under the glow of street lamps hanging outside their dormitory windows. Leah taught herself to sing and play the spinet; Rachel taught herself how to draw and paint; their eyes, in turn, retained a hopeful glimmer, and projected an intellect neither sharp nor oppressive. On Saturday afternoons, they walked with their sister orphans to the long meadow in the park, where, instead of running wild with the others, they presented themselves for public view at the edge of the promenade. There they watched the men and women of privilege stroll by, evaluated their faces as they passed, read into them what goodness they believed they were capable of. On one such Saturday, the identical sisters, dressed in their identical dresses, attracted the attention of an unaccompanied woman, who, on her approach, saw them point her out of the crowd, then watched them lift a dandelion to their lips, and blow away the downy tuft in her direction.

What, the woman asked, had they wished for?

The girls said they had wished she would stop and talk with them.

Why? asked the woman.

And they told her why.

And what more would you wish for if I handed you all the dandelions in the world?

And they listed all the wishes they had written in the notes they had slipped into Jacob’s pockets. The following day, they were invited to visit the woman’s home. And off they went, and never returned. Without so much as a final note to wish Jacob well, they were gone, and would remain estranged from him for almost a dozen years.

***

To dull the loneliness Jacob felt in Rachel and Leah’s absence, he immersed himself in his studies, and he discovered one day in the Asylum’s library the writings of the Cambridge scryer, John Dee. He grew increasingly fascinated by Dee’s pursuit to devise a numeric code in which one could see the pure verities that underlay the visible world. He dreamed of a universe in which it was possible to prove there was a mystical unity in all creation, and marveled over the thought of an obsidian mirror the old scholar acquired from a soldier who claimed Aztec priests had found within it the angels of God.

For two years, Jacob spent his free time absorbed by the principles of optics he’d discovered in Dee’s writings, in the drawings of Goethe, the treatises of Newton, and when his enthusiasm for this field was brought to the attention of one of the orphanage’s trustees, he was introduced to a man named Jonah Liebeskind, an inventor and craftsman, who made his living shaping lenses for cameras and naval telescopes. Mr. Liebeskind was a fastidious bachelor who saw the smallest imperfections in all things. In objects. In architecture. In the manners of men. In the appearance of women. His intention, he would one day explain to Jacob, was not to be unkind by pointing out the deficits in people and the objects they created, he simply could not tolerate mediocrity.

He said to Jacob the afternoon they met if he were willing to work hard and do everything in his power to live up to his standards, if he was willing to pledge to him his diligence, and promise he would attempt to rise above his circumstances, he would make Jacob his apprentice. To this, Jacob agreed. In return, he was given a room of his own in Mr. Liebeskind’s splendid home, a key to the garden, a pair of coveralls to be worn in the machine shop, a new suit to be worn on days they made their deliveries, an additional suit, even more refined, to be worn to shul on the high holidays, to the theater, where they would spend each Sabbath eve, to the museum, where they would spend each Sabbath day studying art, and always to dinner.

Mr. Liebeskind was fond of saying, We will not be unseemly Jews. We will not look nor speak like men spawned from the gutter. We will rise above. He settled for nothing less. Sartorial perfection. Clean hands. Buffed nails. Hair groomed. Shoes shined. Posture erect. Words pronounced without guttural inflection. Manners. Always manners. Always serving the aesthetics of grace. Jacob adopted Mr. Liebeskind’s regimen. A small sacrifice to make for a room of his own and for the opportunity to handle such beautiful tools. In a night and a day, the upright Mr. Liebeskind transformed him from an unkempt boy into a pristine little man, and in ten years’ time, all the while playing his role accordingly, Jacob absorbed everything Mr. Liebeskind imparted to him. He learned from him all there was to know about the properties of glass and shaping lenses, the mechanisms of photographic equipment, the physical nature of light, the internal workings of reflecting telescopes. His mentor had an impeccable eye for painting and believed there was no reason why he and Jacob, with a forthright application of ingenuity, couldn’t, one day, craft lenses and mechanisms that would make it possible for the photographers to whom they sold their equipment to be as great as Hals and Van Dyck. Tiepolo. Poussin. Guardi. He dreamed of traveling abroad like proper gentleman, to meet with other opticians, to research their methods of shaping lenses, but they were always too consumed with work to take time for a holiday.

With Mr. Liebeskind’s permission, Jacob dissected the early projection devices his mentor had acquired over his lifetime; the components of his magic lanterns, the spinning carousel of his zoetropes, the synchronized disks of his phenakistoscope, the mandalas of his Wheel of Life; and with the little money he earned from Mr. Liebeskind, he bought materials with which he recreated from designs he’d seen illustrated in the journal Phantasmagoria, an electrotachyscope and a phasmatrope. In this same journal, he read one night before bedtime an article about Thomas Edison’s search for a film stock which would be compatible with his motion picture projector; at present, when the delicate film spooled through his machine, it consistently snapped in two or caught fire. Jacob visited the patent office to study the blueprints of Edison’s Kinetescope, and saw in the drawings, the flaw wasn’t, as Edison claimed, with the tensile strength of the celluloid, or the degree of heat at which it burned, but with the engineering of the projector itself. The instant Jacob looked at it, he saw the wondrous flaw, and in the instant that followed, its remedy occurred to him as if it were handed down from heaven by the angels of God the Aztec priests witnessed in Dee’s obsidian stone.

He spent the next year constituting his own projector, experimenting with a system of feeds and loops, sprockets and pulleys, and when it was completed, what he had produced was unique; a singular item, deceptively simple, a replacement mechanism that would make it possible for any motion picture projector in the world to work unmanned. In keeping with his character, the evening after he observed the successful operation of Jacob’s invention, Jonah Liebeskind—as if he had recognized at that moment he was on the cusp of declining into the middling state of mediocrity he so abhorred—died peacefully in his sleep, leaving not the slightest indication on his face he’d struggled to stay alive.

To Jacob, who had proved himself over the years a devoted acolyte, Mr. Liebeskind willed his splendid home, his machine shop, his tools, his collection of optical devices, and the type of small fortune a fastidious bachelor accumulates after so many years of hard work without holidays. And once again, Jacob found himself alone, without friends or companions, better off only in riches.

With a small portion of the money left to him by his mentor, Jacob bought a suit more refined than the suit he wore to shul on the high holidays, and, dressed in this fine suit, he traveled to see Edison, who, after studying Jacob’s patent for The Rosenbloom Loop, had agreed to sit for a demonstration. When presenting his invention to the great man, Jacob said, See, sir, see how simple and elegant. And he showed how simply and elegantly his timing mechanism intermittently halted and reengaged the scrolling film, how it left just the right length of slack for the sprockets of Edison’s Kinetescope to move the frames of celluoid between the projector’s bulb and lens without snapping apart or catching fire. And at this sight, Edison remarked, Now, why hadn’t I thought of that?

At which point in time, Jacob’s modest riches were transformed into lasting wealth.

***

In Jonah Liebeskind’s machine shop, Jacob manufactured his mechanism, and continued to attend to Mr. Liebeskind’s longstanding clients. And as the old man’s regimen had served him well thus far, he continued it on his own. He dressed in coveralls when working in the machine shop; when making deliveries, he dressed in his delivery suit; for dinner he dressed in his finest attire. On Friday nights after Sabbath prayers, he sat for a theater performance, sometimes two; on Saturdays he perused the wings of the museum. For many years he kept to these routines, and in doing so began to inhabit the character of his deceased mentor. More and more he resembled the fastidious bachelor whose work left him no time for holidays. And then, one Sabbath afternoon, a dozen years after he had watched Rachel and Leah slip away through the narrow opening of the Asylum’s doors, an event he had long ago stopped hoping for befell him. On a bench in the museum, a sketch pad on her lap, a nub of charcoal in her hand, she sat, drawing, recreating in her own style Tiepolo’s The Rest on the Flight into Egypt. There she was, the same little girl, now grown into the woman she had once pretended to be.

Jacob watched for a long while, well aware as he observed her in what ways he had become a man she wouldn’t recognize, so precise and regimented, tailored and mannered, manicured, as upright as a soldier. For so long now, the boy she was familiar with had long since vacated his body. Even if he wanted to, he knew he wouldn’t be able to summon him back. He rounded the stone bench on which she sat and continued to stare at her. He regarded with wonderment the movement of her hand and the shape of her lines, the curve of her wrist, and as soon as he formed her name on his lips, tears swelled in his eyes. He thought for a moment, he should walk on and hide his face, but she sensed his presence and turned to see him crying in the silent manner he sometimes cried as a child, and upon seeing him this way, she recognized him. Jacob? she said. Is it you? Is it really you?

That she knew his face without a moment’s hesitation left him unable to speak.

My dear, dear, Jacob, she said. It’s Rachel.

Yes, I know, he said. Of course, I know. How could I not?

And now, her eyes, too, filled with tears. They fell from the soft bulb of her chin and ran rivulets through the pitch, down the arm of the virgin mother, over the lines forming the newborn’s head. He sat beside her and took her hand, and for a long time they remained there, silent, expressing their awe with searching looks, looking at each other with immense curiosity, imagining in their recollection of one another how they must have appeared in the intervening years. After a long while, she expressed her regret for not having said goodbye to him the day they departed the orphanage. She said how often she’d thought of Jacob, described in what ways she continued to feel his absence as if he were a phantom limb. She told him she had returned to the Asylum after she and Leah had settled into their new lives. She had hoped to find him there, but he had already moved on, and, she thought, perhaps he was angry with her for having been so selfish and unfeeling, angry enough to have irreversibly broken the bond they shared. That she sat beside him now, Jacob told her, was all that mattered. And on they continued to study one another until she no longer saw the boy she once knew and began to apprehend what he had become. Touching the corners of his eyes with her charcoaled fingers, she said, Look at you. So young, yet so old. She could intuit how alone he had been. She could see in the lines that had begun to prematurely form on his face at what an unnatural rate he had grown into a man, and she promised him in that instant, We will never be apart again.

***

Every Saturday they met at the bench set before Tiepolo’s painting, and every Saturday Jacob asked why Leah hadn’t come to see him, and every Saturday, Rachel made excuses for her sister, until she could make no more. Leah, she confessed, hadn’t visited him not because she didn’t have the desire to see him, but because she was unaware she and Jacob had been reunited. Rachel, in short, had no way of telling her, as it had been some years since she had been estranged from her sister. This Jacob couldn’t begin to comprehend. It was incomprehensible to Rachel as well, but it was the truth. Jacob asked how such a thing was possible? And Rachel described the ways in which their adopted mother, Alexandra Reuben, had deliberately and maliciously undermined Rachel and Leah’s devotion to one another. From the moment they moved into their new home, Alexandra favored Rachel; she appealed to her better self; enticed her with gifts and rewards, with love and affection. When Rachel conducted herself well in company or performed well at school, when she met her potential, her mother praised her and held her up as exemplary. Leah, on the other hand, could do nothing to satisfy her. No matter how much effort Leah put into her music, her appearance, the manners with which she conducted herself, Alexandra voiced displeasure. Disheartening displeasure. No matter how well her sister played or sang at her recitals, Alexandra escorted her through the reception hall with her arm entwined in hers and in the most anodyne tones made apologies to her friends for her daughter’s inferiority. If Leah expressed an opinion in company about a book she had enjoyed or about a fashion she found appealing, Alexandra twisted her words and revised her sentiments to make them sound foolish and uninformed. Once their adopted mother had successfully undermined Leah’s confidence, she began to appeal to her baser instincts; she imparted to her dark secrets and gossip about the men and women who visited their home; and when she did so, she expressed, on the one hand, her disgust with the improprieties perpetrated by members of their closed circle, while, on the other hand, she whispered her tacit approval. About a young woman traveling unescorted by a man of standing, or about a mistress engaged in an affair with a married man, she might say: They should feel the blackest shame choke at them in the darkest hour of the night. Of course, she would say in the same breath, one must consider, how does a young woman not unlike yourself, Leah, rise above her lowly position?

It wasn’t enough for Alexandra to merely encourage Leah to commit her own acts of transgression, she went so far as to manufacture them for her, by whispering, in the strictest confidence to her fellow matrons, lies about her own daughter’s exploits with strange men. Rachel and Leah dismissed their mother’s cruel and unscrupulous behavior as that of an unhappy woman too long alone and uncared for. They tried to take pity on her, but as time passed, as the sisters’ obscurity fell into relief and became more and more a distant memory, Leah’s resolve to deflect her mother’s fictions weakened, and she began to believe in and embody the character Alexandra invented for her. Taboo began to fascinate her. She began to imagine, to speak of ways in which she could challenge the limits of propriety, and soon thereafter she started to embrace her mother’s vision of her. While Rachel studied or painted, Leah dressed provocatively for evenings out with young men; she returned late in the evening. When this didn’t provoke the proper response, she extended her stay out until the early morning. When Alexandra continued to show her indifference, Leah didn’t return for days at a time; and then, not long after she turned sixteen, she fulfilled her mother’s expectations of her, and didn’t return at all. Rachel lost her sister to the city streets. Her own image of herself, the sound and smell of herself, her own flesh, disappeared into the shadows; the most intimate and integral part of her had become estranged. And this absence weighed upon her, she told Jacob. Expressing itself in darker and darker visions of the world.

***

Jacob promised Rachel he would find Leah, and when he did, he would set things right and care for them both. Rachel’s shame, however, was too great to immediately agree to this course of action. She feared facing Leah again. She was unaware of it at the time, but was now convinced she had played a part in alienating her sister from the small, precious world they had entered together. She could have spoken her mind, but chose not to. She could have defied Alexandra, but didn’t. She could have fought more obstinately against her self-interest, but she didn’t want to lose her favored position in her mother’s heart, or, for that matter, put at risk the comforts of her mother’s home. It was evident to her now in hindsight, the many ways she had betrayed her sister. She had spent a great deal of time trying to imagine the life Leah had been leading, and she wasn’t convinced she wanted to become acquainted with its details. If I were Leah, she said to Jacob, I would be unforgiving, perhaps, even vengeful.

Despite Rachel’s reservations, Jacob felt obligated to discover what had become of Leah. He had the means to look after her, and, if she were willing, he intended to extend his hand. On the bench in the museum, he and Rachel had fallen in love. He wanted to marry her, and she wanted to marry him, and Jacob, who, for so many years had missed both sisters equally, couldn’t imagine a wedding without Leah. Wouldn’t she feel greater shame, he asked Rachel, if they didn’t search for her, to tell her of their plans, to have her present on the day were joined? If they didn’t make the effort to search her out, wouldn’t it then be impossible to reconcile with her? To this, Rachel reluctantly agreed. Jacob hired an investigator, who instructed them some weeks later to visit the Freed Music Hall and take in an evening performance. On a Friday night, they sat together at the foot of the orchestra, and from there watched descend from the rafters on the seat of a swing whose ropes were twined in vines, Leah, singing the role of the ingénue, Eloise, a sylph whose songs were composed with melodies sweet and light, with lyrics laden with double meanings that left the gruffest men in the audience rapt with celestial and indelicate thoughts of streams and meadows, and Eloise, as she had been billed: dressed in white linen, her red lips spread in a girlish smile, golden locks curled over the nape of her neck, her bust bulging forth against the constraint of a corset, her pink fingers pulling up a silken slip to her naked thigh.

The reunion that evening was more pleasant than Jacob and Rachel anticipated. It appeared all of Rachel’s fears were unfounded. Leah warmly embraced her. She shed tears over the time lost between them, but over a meal in a nearby tavern, she insisted she had no regrets. She assured them she was content. In fact, she couldn’t have been more enthusiastic when speaking of the life she had chosen for herself. She had traveled to many cities, performed before a great number of audiences. Foolish men regularly sent expensive gifts to her dressing room, and Samuel Freed, for whom the Hall was named, paid her a salary that afforded her a fine suite in a hotel not very far from the park’s promenade where she and Rachel had stood so many times as young girls. She had missed Rachel, she said, but she couldn’t bear to complicate the fragile world she occupied with Alexandra, so she decided when she left home to spare Rachel any trouble she might cause her. She was confident they would be together again, when the time was right.

Upon hearing of Leah’s success and happiness, Jacob could see in Rachel’s face how greatly relieved she was. She embraced her sister again and told her of their plans, and when Leah heard the news, the two sisters embraced a third time, and Leah said how wonderful and appropriate it was she and Jacob should once again fall into each other’s company by happenstance. Like Rachel, she expressed her profound regrets for having abandoned Jacob in the manner they did, and told him how often she had thought of her beloved companion over the years. Let us all forgive one another, shall we? she said. Let’s say we’ll let the past lay in ruins. In the months leading up to the wedding, Leah was consistently in good spirits and full of good cheer, whether she sat with Rachel in Jacob’s home for dinner or was out with Rachel making preparations for the reception. She graciously arranged with Samuel Freed to hire musicians from the Hall and introduced Rachel to the florist who arranged the flowers in their lobby. Leah went so far as to sit beside Alexandra in grudging silence on the day the young couple stood under the chuppah to exchange their vows. All, it seemed, was reconstituted. All, it seemed, was how it should have been.

***

The newlyweds spent their wedding night in a hotel in the city and the following day rode a steamer upriver into the countryside where they stayed at an inn on the edge of a lake. For several weeks they honeymooned, and it was there, on a walk up a hill overlooking the lake, they discovered the Woodhaven home in which they would live. Leah helped Rachel pack the items she would take with her from Alexandra’s home, and sent stage hands to assist Jacob in dismantling Mr. Liebeskind’s machine shop, to relocate it upriver. On the day the boxes were unloaded, Jacob was called away to the city on business. He would only be gone for three days, but he wanted Rachel to join him. He didn’t want to be away from her for a moment, but she insisted she remain behind to unpack. Jacob traveled by train from Woodhaven and ferried across the river to the naval yard, where he spent the afternoon installing a research telescope into the captain’s quarters of the U.S.S. Maine. The following day, he did the same, and that night he returned to Mr. Liebeskind’s home to find Rachel had changed her mind. She had decided to join him after all. They dined out together then went to bed, and because they had nowhere to be, they stayed wrapped in each other’s limbs for the better part of the following day and night. The next morning when they awoke, Rachel packed their bags and on they went to the train. All this time, at the station, inside the carriage on their journey home, they held each other close, and when they reached the threshold of their new house, Jacob playfully lifted up his new bride in his arms and carried her inside, only to find standing there, Rachel, who looked to Leah in Jacob’s arms.

There was her sister, dressed in her clothes, her hair mussed, her face flushed. All Rachel could say was that she didn’t understand. To which, Leah said, Look at me. Look at me and tell me you don’t know my reasons. Jacob set Leah down and as the two sisters stood before each other in a frozen moment in time, he looked from Leah to Rachel and back again to Leah, and for the life of him, he couldn’t tell them apart. All he could do was look away as Rachel listened to her sister unburden herself of the great unhappiness and hardship she had endured since she was driven out of Alexandra’s home. There was no great success. She had no suite by the park. She was, more or less, kept by Samuel Freed in a small room inside the music hall, where he took from her whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. For years, this had been their arrangement. For years, she had been his favored girl. This was the sacrifice she had made to escape the cruel woman who raised them. Now do you understand? she asked Rachel. Do you not understand why I want you to endure the lasting discomfort of this moment? Rachel was too hurt and dumbfounded to speak. Leah dabbed her finger on the corners of her mouth, righted her skirt, and made her exit. When Rachel found her voice, all she could say to Jacob was, How could you not know it wasn’t me? How could you not know it was her? Jacob had no answer and he was left to wonder if, perhaps, he had known. But how could he?….Yet, how could he not?

***

For many months, Jacob and Rachel lived as if they were in mourning. Rachel covered all the mirrors in black cloth so she wouldn’t be reminded of Leah. She ordered Jacob to the springs near their home where she insisted he be ritually cleansed in the presence of a rabbi. She fasted and prayed, and, in the company of the rabbi’s wife, she, too, visited the springs to immerse her body and cleanse her spirit in the living waters. Only after these rituals and further months of reflection was she prepared to once again accept her husband. Not long after she had managed to achieve some semblance of inner harmony, however, Rachel received from Leah a birth announcement and a photograph of Simon Abraham Reuben, a child whose face resembled Jacob’s, and all she had worked to forget was now undone. She fell into a dark state of melancholy, refused to eat or get out of bed. For weeks she barely uttered a word. One morning Jacob awoke in the room to which his wife had long since banished him, to find Rachel wasn’t in the house. He searched for her everywhere, and eventually discovered at the train station she had departed for the city early that morning. Jacob, instinctively knowing where she had gone, went directly to the music hall, where he learned from a stagehand Rachel had been there and gone. The stagehand had sent her to Samuel Freed’s residence, and there, too, Jacob went, and when he arrived, he walked into the entryway where, to his horror, he saw Samuel Freed sitting at the bottom of a stairwell, weeping over an unmoving Leah whose dead body was still thick from pregnancy. Samuel Freed looked to Jacob and described to him in what raving manner Rachel had barged in. She ran upstairs, lifted Leah’s child out of its crib, and, claiming the boy was rightfully hers, started walking out with it. Leah chased after her. When she reached for the baby, Rachel stepped out of the way, and Leah tumbled down the stairs. She has the child, Samuel told Jacob. You’ll find her, and the boy, and you’ll bring him back to me. Do this, and I’ll show you mercy. Don’t do it, and I swear to you, Rosenbloom, I will see you and your wife destroyed.

All Jacob could think to do was return home to Woodhaven and wait. When three days passed, he began to think the worst. The evening of the third night, however, a carriage pulled into the drive, and out of it Rachel emerged with the bundled infant. His wife’s face wasn’t her own. She glowed with the pride of a new mother, made faces at the babe in her arms, acted as if she, herself, had given birth to it. Jacob went outside and asked the driver to wait a moment. Without disturbing his wife’s fragile state of mind, he escorted her inside and laid her and his son down to rest. When he returned to the cabbie he asked if he would take a message to the telegraph office. He scribbled a note addressed to Mr. Freed, telling him if he wanted the boy he would have to come and collect him. And back inside he went and sat with his wife and Simon until morning. Mr. Freed arrived with his men and a nurse at dawn, and while Rachel slept, Jacob pulled Simon from her arms, walked him outside, and handed him to the woman.

When you next see him, said Freed, he will be a man. He will know who you are. He will know what you’ve done. He will know what she has done. And he will come to claim what’s his. Until then, you and she, will not go near him. Is that understood?

Jacob understood.

Until then, your wife will not be safe from me.

Jacob understood.

Freed motioned his arm at the men who had traveled with him to Jacob and Rachel’s home. You’ll be visited by these men from time to time, and when they come to you, you will give them whatever they ask for. Anything.

Yes, said Jacob. Anything.

If you become disagreeable, said Freed, you see the nurse? I will send her to the police. She will tell them, in no uncertain terms, that your lovely wife is a murderess. Say you understand.

I understand, said Jacob.

I have never been an ideal man for any woman, Rosenbloom. I might not have always treated Leah as I should have, but, whatever my faults, whatever passed between us, I adored that woman more than you can possibly imagine. I was prepared to give her whatever her heart desired.

I am sorry for you, said Jacob. I’m sorry for it all.

Well, Freed said, I am glad we have an understanding.

When Rachel awoke, Jacob told her what he had done. More importantly, he told her what she had done. Leah is dead, he said. A statement Rachel refused to believe. Leah is dead, he said. Again and again he said it, for him to hear as much as for her. He must have said it to her a hundred times, and not even then would she believe him. He could hardly believe it himself. Not until she read in the paper that Leah Reuben who played Eloise at the Freed Music Hall had died under suspicious circumstances, did Rachel accept Leah was gone, at which point she fell into an inconsolable bereavement.

Excerpted from Mount Terminus by David Grand. Copyright © 2014 by David Grand. To be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in March, 2014. Reprinted with permission by The Wylie Agency, LLC. All rights reserved.

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Jacob, Rachel, and Leah: An Excerpt From ‘Mount Terminus’

In David Grand’s atmospheric new novel set in pre-Hollywood Los Angeles, a man can’t outrun his dark New York past

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