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Available November 1, 2009
An excerpt from Cincinnatus
...continued

Which Lewis, not for the first time that morning, wondered himself.

He drained the last of his soda and waited. He normally didn’t drink soda, but while driving from Miami with the sun on his neck, the heat roiling from the leather seats, he found himself craving one.

When he stopped to ask directions, he’d picked up a bottle of Double Cola. Jacksonville D.C. Bottling Company. Your Local Flavor, Your Local Favorite.

Lewis looked from the soda bottle to a sign announcing “NO TOURS TODAY,” then turned to watch the man on the bike, who he felt sure was Edward Leedskalnin.

The man stopped ten feet shy of Lewis and climbed off the bike.

He was, as the article had promised, all of five feet tall. And skinny.

Wiry-looking though—muscular, not frail. But even if he was all muscle, he couldn’t have weighed much more than a hundred ten pounds.

Smaller, Lewis realized, than his wife, Lucy, whose voice he now heard in his head once again: Fool’s errand.

Lewis stepped forward to greet Leedskalnin. Which was when he saw the bicycle’s tires. They were metal. Bent in spots, accounting for the wobbliness. Who, in this day and age, rode a bike with metal tires?

“Good afternoon,” Lewis said. “I hope you don’t mind—”

“No tours today, I am sorry. You see sign?” The little man spoke in a high-pitched voice and a heavy European accent, something close to German, with long, sibilant ‘s’s and rolled ‘r’s that made ‘sorry’ come out sounding almost like ‘soddy.’

He had dark, thinning hair, combed back from his forehead, bright, piercingly blue eyes set in a rectangle of a face with prominent cheekbones, a prominent jaw, and what looked to be permanent frown lines at the corners of his mouth.

Not a man who did a lot of smiling.

“I’m not looking for a tour,” Lewis said. “I was hoping to ask you a few questions—Mr. Leedskalnin, isn’t it?”

Leedskalnin grabbed the books from the wire basket on the front of the bike—three thick volumes with brown cloth bindings, paper flaking at the edges.

“Yes. I am Edward Leedskalnin.” He pronounced the ‘w’ in Edward like a ‘v’: Edvard. The ‘nin’ at the end of his last name with a ‘y’: nyin. Edvard Leedskalnyin. “But I am busy today, I am sorry. Come back tomorrow. I give tour. Excuse me.”

“But—”

Leedskalnin headed for the building beyond. The soles of his shoes clanged against the rock path as he went. They were metal too. Lewis watched the little man walk to the front door of his home, which looked even stranger up close than it looked from the road. An eight-foot rock wall surrounded the place. A two-story tower at one corner looked down on the vegetable garden outside the wall and the field and scrub beyond. The place looked like a miniature version of a European castle, one that had been picked up whole out of the French countryside and dropped in the middle of tropical Florida.

A castle, forty-five minutes south of Miami.

Lewis had a hard time believing it. And he wanted nothing more than to turn his back on his brother’s errand, on the odd collection of stones lying in the yard and the little man who’d gathered them.

He had a bad feeling. A feeling like none of this was going to come to any good.

In the shadow of the giant stones, Lewis remembered the first time he’d heard Leedskalnin’s name. A week ago, back in Cincinnati.

His brother, Powel, had sent for him, and Lewis dutifully headed from the factory to the executive offices on the eighth floor.

“Got something I want to show you,” Powel said, and stood up from behind his big cherry desk. He handed Lewis a newspaper, the Redland District News.

The headline read: MAN BUILDS CORAL CASTLE FOR LOST LOVE.

In the photo below it, Leedskalnin wore a suit, stood in this very yard, and gestured toward the stones behind him.

Lewis looked up from the newspaper. “Okay,” he said. “This fellow built a castle.”

“Read it,” Powel said. “The whole thing.”

Lewis continued, learning about Edward Leedskalnin and the monument he’d spent the last twenty years of his life constructing. The article talked about the huge stones and how Leedskalnin had quarried and moved them all on his own. Lewis scoffed; such a thing wasn’t possible.

To get rocks that big out of the ground cleanly you’d not only need heavy equipment, you’d need some highly skilled workmen. Coral was prone to breaking. No way for one man to work that much stone.

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