The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (with bonus content)

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (with bonus content) by Michael Chabon Read Free Book Online

Book: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (with bonus content) by Michael Chabon Read Free Book Online
Authors: Michael Chabon
untie ropes.…”
    “All that’s easy stuff. A fellow can learn such tricks in prison.”
    “Well, if you did something really grand, then … something to amaze them.”
    “An escape.”
    “We could throw you out of an airplane tied to a chair, with the parachute tied to another chair, falling through the air. Like this.” Thomas scrambled up from his bed and went over to his small desk, took out the blue notebook in which he was composing
, and opened it to a back page, where he had sketched the scene. Here was Houdini in a dinner jacket, hurtling from a crooked airplane in company with a parachute, two chairs, a table, and a tea set, all trailing scrawls of velocity. The magician had a smile on his face as he poured tea for the parachute. He seemed to think he had all the time in the world.
    “This is idiotic,” Josef said. “What do I know about parachutes? Who’s going to let me jump out of an airplane?”
    Thomas blushed. “How childish of me,” he said.
    “Never mind,” said Josef. He stood up. “Weren’t you playing with Papa’s old things just now, his medical-school things?”
    “Right here,” Thomas said. He threw himself on the floor and rolled under the bed. A moment later, a small wooden crate emerged, covered in dust-furred spider silk, its lid hinged on crooked loops of wire.
    Josef knelt and lifted the lid, revealing odd bits of apparatus and scientific supplies that had survived their father’s medical education. Adrift in a surf of ancient excelsior were a broken Erlenmeyer flask, a glass pear-shaped tube with a penny-head stopper, a pair of crucible tongs, the leather-clad box that contained the remains of a portable Zeiss microscope (long since rendered inoperable by Josef, who had once attempted to use it to get a better look at Pola Negri’s loins in a blurry bathing photo torn from a newspaper), and a few odd items.
    “It’s nice under here. I’m not a claustrophobe. I could stay under here for weeks.”
    “Wasn’t there …” Josef dug deep into the rustling pile of shavings. “Didn’t we used to have—”
    “What?” Thomas slid out from under the bed.
    Josef held up a long, glinting glass wand and brandished it as Kornblum himself might have done. “A thermometer,” he said.
    “What for? Whose temperature are you going to take?”
    “The river’s,” Josef said.
    At four o’clock on the morning of Friday, September 27, 1935, the temperature of the water of the River Moldau, black as a church bell and ringing against the stone embankment at the north end of Kampa Island, stood at 2.2° on the Celsius scale. The night was moonless, and a fog lay over the river like an arras drawn across by a conjuror’s hand. A sharp wind rattled the seedpods in the bare limbs of the island’s acacias. The Kavalier brothers had come prepared for cold weather. Josef had dressed them in wool from head to toe, with two pairs of socks each. In the pack he wore on his back, he carried a piece of rope, a strand of chain, the thermometer, half a veal sausage, a padlock, and a change of clothes with two extra pairs of socks for himself. He also carried a portable oil brazier, borrowed from a school friend whose family went in for alpinism. Although he did not plan to spend much time in the water—no longer, he calculated, than a minute and twenty-seven seconds—he had been practicing in a bathtub filled with cold water, and he knew that, even in the steam-heated comfort of the bathroom at home, it took several minutes to rid oneself of the chill.
    In all his life, Thomas Kavalier had never been up so early. He had never seen the streets of Prague so empty, the housefronts so sunken in gloom, like a row of lanterns with the wicks snuffed. The corners he knew, the shops, the carved lions on a balustrade he passed daily on his way to school, looked strange and momentous. Light spread in a feeble vapor from the streetlamps, and the corners were flooded in shadow.

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