Author Archives

Longreads
The staff of Longreads.

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

ALSIP, ILLINOIS - MARCH 22: A faded photograph is attached to the headstone that marks the gravesite of Emmett Till in Burr Oak Cemetery on March 22, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

This week, we’re sharing stories from Wright Thompson, Fred Kaplan, Tori Marlan, Casey Gerald, and Sarah Everts.

Sign up to receive this list free every Friday in your inbox.

1. The Barn

Wright Thompson | The Atlantic | July 22, 2021 | 7,350 words

“In 1955, just past daybreak, a Chevrolet truck pulled up to an unmarked building. A 14-year-old child was in the back. Hi name was Emmett Till.”

2. Why Did We Invade Iraq?

Fred Kaplan | New York Review of Books | July 1, 2021 | 3,828

“The most complete account we are likely to get of the deceptions and duplicities that led to war leaves some crucial mysteries unsolved.”

3. Penniless: Why a Victoria Man Has Gone Two Decades Without Money

Tori Marlan| Capital Daily | July 14, 2021 | 6,687 words

“His last purchases—beer, cigarettes, pot—occurred 18 years ago, he says, on his 31st birthday. He claims he hasn’t spent any money since. It’s true, his friends have told me. No money at all.”

4. Leon Bridges After Dark

Casey Gerald | Texas Monthly | July 19, 2020 | 10,772 words

“On the eve of his third album release, the Grammy-winning artist talks with unparalleled candor about the toll of stardom—and how his best friends saved his life.”

5. Smell You Later: The Weird Science of How Sweat Attracts

Sarah Everts | The Walrus | July 14, 2021 | 4,999 words

“It’s strong reactions like mine to jar fifteen that rouse belief in human sex pheromones, odorous chemicals that catalyze copulation. Insects have them, amphibians have them, mammals have them, so why wouldn’t we?”

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

View of the planet Venus from space. (Getty Images)

This week, we’re sharing stories from Sam Biddle, Leah Sottile, Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson, Megan I. Gannon, and Justin Brake.

Sign up to receive this list free every Friday in your inbox.

1. The Future Dystopic Hellscape is Upon Us

Sam Biddle | The Intercept | July 5, 2021 | 12,142 words

“The rise and fall of the ultimate doomsday prepper.”

2. How a Trail in Rural Oregon Became a Target of Far-Right Extremism

Leah Sottile | High Country News | July 1, 2021 | 6,150

“A story about a community divided, about extremism and bigotry, about powerful people who try on a working-class identity like a costume.”

3. The Endless Robbing of Native American Graves

Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson | The Washington Post Magazine | July 12, 2021 | 6,114 words

“We have taken Native lands and tried to eradicate Indigenous societies, yet it’s not only what we’ve done to the living that is so deplorable. It’s what we’ve done, and continue to do, to the dead.”

4. Hot Streak

Megan I. Gannon | Popular Science | June 29, 2020 | 2,620 words

Venus is similar to Earth in size and composition, but extreme conditions made it a hellscape. Devoted researchers want to know what caused the planets’ wildly divergent paths. Now they finally have their chance.

5. KTAQMKUK

Justin Brake | Maisonneuve | June 29, 2021 | 7,269 words

“TallBear, a citizen of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate in South Dakota, says thinking about building healthy relations instead of solidifying an identity is a more ethical approach for those trying to make sense of their Indigenous ancestry.”

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Getty Images

This week, we’re sharing stories from Jill McCabe Johnson, Stacey Anderson, Megan Pillow, Barry Blanchard, and Elizabeth Rush.

Sign up to receive this list free every Friday in your inbox.

1. The Night Gary Drove Me Home

Jill McCabe Johnson | Slate | June 16, 2021 | 2,422 words

“It is not a normal thing to do—to acknowledge to yourself that you may have slept with a serial killer.”

2. Beijing Calling: Suspicion, Hope, and Resistance in the Chinese Rock Underground

Stacey Anderson | Rolling Stone | June 24, 2021 | 7,800

“China has produced some of the most vital indie rock on the planet. But can the scene survive gentrification, government crackdowns, and a hit TV show?”

3. Living Memory

Megan Pillow | Guernica Magazine | June 23, 2021 | 5,158 words

“Who, then, are the chroniclers of Black lives in the pandemic?”

4. And Then There Were Twelve

Barry Blanchard | Alpinist Magazine | December 19, 2020 | 4,600 words

“Climbing culture: we come to each other’s aid in times of need. Ethan and Lorne knew they had to stay and help. The four men hunkered down inside the schrund-cave. With each cup of tea they brewed, their spirits rose. They would make it through the night.”

5. First Passage

Elizabeth Rush | Orion Magazine | June 3, 2021 | 4,556 words

“A journey toward motherhood in the age of glacial loss.”

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Black-crowned Night Heron perched against clear blue sky, Long Island, New York (Getty Images)

This week, we’re sharing stories from Lyle C. May, Samuel Braslow, Lindsey Hilsum, Megan Mayhew Bergman, and Anand Menon.

Sign up to receive this list free every Friday in your inbox.

1. Qualified Immunity: How ‘Ordinary Police Work’ Tramples Civil Rights

Lyle C. May | Scalawag Magazine | June 23, 2021 | 2,807 words

“There is little to no accountability behind the closed doors of police work.”

2. Boxer Patricio Manuel, a Transgender Pioneer, Is Still Looking for His Next Fight

Samuel Braslow | ESPN | June 22, 2021 | 6,489

“Manuel sees sports as the latest front in a culture war that fought — and lost — previous battles over same-sex marriage and trans bathroom bills.”

3. More Than Accomplices

Lindsey Hilsum | New York Review of Books | June 10, 2021 | 3,864 words

“How do we determine the agency of female participants in genocidal regimes, where male supremacy often goes hand in hand with ethnic chauvinism?”

4. Seeking Home Aboard the Night Heron

Megan Mayhew Bergman | Audubon | April 23, 2021 | 2,071 words

“The pandemic prodded me to fulfill a lifelong dream of living on a boat. I’m learning the ropes surrounded by the birds of my North Carolina childhood.”

5. The Missing Note

Anand Menon | Tortoise Media | June 2, 2021 | 4,500 words

“Losing family is like losing your sense of social gravity…. Losing four of them almost at once was correspondingly more unsettling, more destabilizing, and subverted my notions as to who I was.”

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Getty Images

This week, we’re sharing stories from Jessica Schulberg, Patrick Strickland, Shanna B. Tiayon, Sarah Berns, and Madeleine Aggeler.

Sign up to receive this list free every Friday in your inbox.

1. Kip Kinkel Is Ready to Talk

Jessica Schulberg | HuffPost | June 13, 2021 | 15,200 words

“At 15, he shot and killed his parents, two classmates at his school, and wounded 25 others. He’s been used as the reason to lock kids up for life ever since.”

2. ‘The Foot Soldiers’: A Neo-Nazi Skinhead Gang Terrorized Dallas in the Late 1980s

Patrick Strickland | Dallas Observer | June 9, 2021 | 6,624

“The racist white nationalist movement has deep roots. Some run directly back to Dallas and the violent Confederate Hammerskins.”

3. If We Can Soar: What Birmingham Roller Pigeons Offer the Men of South Central

Shanna B. Tiayon | Pipe Wrench | June 15, 2021 | 6,574 words

“But there’s a deeper story behind what the birds offered them then and still offer today, with men entering their fifth and sixth decade raising Birmingham Rollers. A why shaped by race, place, and gender. A why that traces the plight of Black men in the U.S., landing us squarely in the prevailing systems of inequality that still exist today.”

4. Love and the Burning West

Sarah Berns | Shondaland | June 9, 2021 | 1,667 words

“She nearly died while fighting a fire. All she could think about was the tragedy of dying while still a virgin.”

5. Benji Is One Down Dog

Madeleine Aggeler | Texas Monthly | June 2, 2021 | 1,900 words

The blue heeler “is one of the most famous canines in America, but he hasn’t let it go to his sweet, soft little head.”

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 06: Model Loulou Robert (L) and Roberto Eggs, President of Louis Vuitton North Europe, take part, along with Dumba (C), a female African elephant, in a ceremony to switch on and unveil the Christmas decorations by luxury brand Louis Vuitton for the Galeries Lafayette department store on November 6, 2012 in Paris, France. (Photo by Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images)

This week, we’re sharing stories from Jesse Eisinger, Jeff Ernsthausen, and Paul Kiel, Arno Kopecky, Isaac Würmann, Vanessa Angélica Villarreal, and Laura Spinney.

Sign up to receive this list free every Friday in your inbox.

1. The Secret IRS Files: Trove of Never-Before-Seen Records Reveal How the Wealthiest Avoid Income Tax

Jesse Eisinger, Jeff Ernsthausen, Paul Kiel | ProPublica | June 8, 2021 | 5,717 words

“ProPublica has obtained a vast cache of IRS information showing how billionaires like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Warren Buffett pay little in income tax compared to their massive wealth — sometimes, even nothing.”

2. Three Days in the Theater of Old-Growth Logging and Protest

Arno Kopecky | Hakai Magazine | June 1, 2021 | 6,100

“A drama 150 years in the making is playing out as logging companies and police clash with First Nations and protesters over one of British Columbia’s last remaining stands of unprotected old-growth forest.”

3. The Men in Apartment 4C

Isaac Würmann | Maisonneuve | May 11, 2021 | 5,738 words

“When Isaac Würmann’s relationship began to crumble, he started seeking out examples of queer love elsewhere. It turns out, he didn’t have to look far.”

4. La Cancion de la Nena

Vanessa Angélica Villarreal | Oxford American | June 1, 2021 | 6,937 words

“He sits on the edge of the bed to compose and work through songs, facing an amp, while I curl into his velvet-lined guitar case and listen…I have called up this memory so many times I feel the gauze of fiction starting to overlay its details. But it is a memory so dear, I reanimate it against the heaviness of the present—my father, full of promise and possibility, years before the shell he would become, now shut away in my childhood bedroom in the graying light of ever-closed blinds.”

5. The Elephant Vanishes: How a Circus Family Went on the Run

Laura Spinney | The Guardian | June 8, 2021 | 5,455 words

“Today, many circus elephants in Europe are reaching old age. Campaigners want them placed in specially built sanctuaries, where they can enjoy retirement with their own kind. But their owners insist that for the elephants, being separated from their human “families” would be traumatic.”

‘What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?’

Illustration by Zoë van Dijk

This is an excerpt from The Atavist‘s issue no. 115, “The Snitch,” by Jordan Michael Smith.

Jordan Michael Smith | The Atavist | May 2021 | 5 minutes (1,356 words)

 

CHAPTER 1

Carle Schlaff wanted more out of his job. As an FBI agent, he’d spent more than ten years working low-level drug cases in the bureau’s Denver office. He eventually moved up to investigating organized crime—only to be transferred to the violent-crimes squad and made the liaison to a low-security prison called Englewood, in Littleton, Colorado. It was the sort of job that was good for a rookie, not a veteran. “I was kinda pissed,” Schlaff said.

The Atavist is Longreads‘ sister publication. For 10 years, it has been a digital pioneer in long-form narrative journalism, publishing one deeply reported, elegantly designed story each month. Support The Atavist by becoming a magazine member.

Schlaff was 42, with two kids, an easy smile, and an unpretentious manner. He was the type of FBI agent who read crime novels in his spare time. He’d grown up watching Hawaii Five-0. He wanted to take down mob bosses, catch serial killers, expose international drug cartels.

In August 2002, Schlaff’s luck changed: He learned that a prisoner at Englewood named Scott Kimball knew about a murder plot. Schlaff and a colleague met with Kimball in a small interview room at the prison. Kimball was 36 at the time, a weathered, stocky man who wore a goatee and had a long scar in the center of his forehead. He shared a cell with Steve Ennis, a young drug dealer. Kimball claimed that Ennis had talked about recruiting someone to kill witnesses preparing to testify against him.

“I would be willing to do some undercover work for you guys,” Kimball told Schlaff and his colleague.

If the offer seemed blunt, it was because Kimball already knew how the FBI operated. After being arrested for check fraud in Alaska in 2001, he told authorities that his cellmate, Arnold Wesley Flowers, planned to order the murders of a federal judge and a prosecutor, along with a witness in the case against him. (Flowers was facing fraud charges of his own, according to court records.) The FBI worked with Kimball and an undercover agent to record Flowers organizing the hits with help from his girlfriend. In March 2002, the couple were charged with murder for hire, witness tampering, and attempting to murder federal officials.

There was more: Kimball told the FBI that another Alaska prisoner, Jeremiah Jones, had bragged about murdering Tom Wales, a prominent assistant U.S. attorney shot to death through a window of his Seattle home in October 2001. While it investigated the matter, out of concern for his safety, the FBI transferred Kimball to his native Colorado in April 2002. Now, at Englewood, it seemed that Kimball had yet more valuable intelligence to offer.

Before Schlaff went chasing Kimball’s story, though, he wanted to know what type of person he was dealing with. He didn’t mind so much if someone had committed nonviolent crimes, but he didn’t want to work with an informant who could be easily discredited. “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?” Schlaff asked Kimball.

Kimball admitted that in addition to his crimes in Alaska, he’d committed fraud in Montana and served time there. He excelled at check forgery, Kimball said, but he wanted to go straight. It sounded plausible to Schlaff, who’d reviewed Kimball’s record—he didn’t have any convictions for violent crimes—and had checked for outstanding warrants.

Schlaff scribbled down on a notepad what Kimball told him. After leaving Englewood that day, he made contact with the Drug Enforcement Agency and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which were both working the Ennis case. Kimball was soon reactivated as an informant, with Schlaff as his handler. Their goal was to foil the alleged murder plot, and charge Ennis for orchestrating it.

All the pieces were falling into place: This was exactly the kind of case Schlaff had been craving.

It takes a thief to catch a thief, as Schlaff likes to say—that’s the logic behind using jailhouse snitches. In the United States, the practice has a history as troubling as it is long. Incentivized by the promise of reduced sentences, better prison conditions, and financial compensation, criminal informants sometimes offer cops and prosecutors bad information, which can lead to wrongful convictions and other miscarriages of justice. And too often, authorities treat informants as if their lives matter less than the work of law enforcement.

In recent years, there have been efforts to reform the way authorities handle informants. But back when Kimball started working with the FBI, there was less communication among law enforcement agencies and relatively minimal scrutiny of an informant’s history. It was easy to miss the kind of facts from a person’s past that might have made authorities think twice before using them as an informant.

It takes a thief to catch a thief, as Schlaff likes to say—that’s the logic behind using jailhouse snitches. In the United States, the practice has a history as troubling as it is long

Born in Boulder in 1966, Kimball was ten when his parents divorced, after his mother came out as gay. Around that time, according to Kimball and his brother, a neighbor began molesting them. Kimball told me the abuse continued until he was in his teens. The neighbor was ultimately sentenced to seven years in prison for sexual abuse of a minor. According to people who knew him as a young man, Kimball seemed haunted by his past. He once tried to end his life but only managed to wound himself—the source of the scar on his forehead.

By early adulthood, Kimball had a long rap sheet. In 1988, he received his first felony conviction for passing bad checks. In another instance, he was charged with running an illegal outfitting business in Montana, helping out-of-staters hunt elk, bear, moose, and deer. Kimball continued to commit nonviolent offenses, the kind that Schlaff later saw on his criminal record. There were other allegations against Kimball, far more unsettling ones, but due to a series of decisions made by law enforcement, finding them would have required some digging.

In June 1993, Kimball married a woman named Larissa Mineer. They moved to Spokane, Washington, and had two sons. Though they divorced in 1997, they maintained a relationship until December 1999, when, Mineer alleged, Kimball raped her at gunpoint. Kimball claimed he hadn’t harmed or threatened Mineer—according to a police report, he said that his ex was trying to sway a custody dispute over their sons in her favor. After Mineer failed a polygraph, the police decided not to file charges. (Polygraphs have been deemed unreliable by the American Psychological Association and the National Academy of Sciences, but law enforcement still use them to quickly ascertain whether someone might be telling the truth.)

In 2000, Kimball landed in prison in Montana, convicted of violating probation, which he’d been serving for a fraud offense. After a year in lockup, Kimball was transferred to a halfway house, but a month later he went on the lam. Mineer alleged that he came back to Washington, broke into her home, and then kidnapped and raped her. This time the Spokane police issued a warrant for his arrest. But when Kimball was picked up for fraud in Alaska in 2001, and then became an FBI informant, the kidnapping and assault charges went away. (The FBI said it did not request that local law enforcement drop the charges.)

As a result, when Schlaff looked up Kimball’s record, none of Mineer’s accusations were on it. The escape from the halfway house was there, but Schlaff wasn’t too worried about that—Kimball had been near the end of his sentence when he’d slipped away. Schlaff spoke to Colton Seale, an FBI special agent in Alaska, who said that Kimball had been helpful in the case against Flowers and his girlfriend. Seale, who is now retired from the FBI, told me that he has no memory of whether he knew about Kimball’s kidnapping and assault charges at the time.

At worst, Schlaff thought, he was working with a petty con artist. “He was a typical wise guy,” Schlaff told me. “He had an answer for everything.” But Kimball wasn’t a child molester or a murderer. He seemed like the type of informant who might be good before a jury.

The truth was something else entirely.

 

Read the full story at The Atavist

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Photo shows the aftermath, at east corner of Greenwood Avenue and East Archer Street, of the Tulsa Race Massacre, during which mobs of white residents attacked black residents and businesses of the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma, US, June 1921. (Photo by Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)

This week, we’re sharing stories from Victor Luckerson, Tristin Hopper, John Drescher, Steve Shorney, and Pamela Petro.

Sign up to receive this list free every Friday in your inbox.

1. The Women Who Preserved the Story of the Tulsa Race Massacre

Victor Luckerson | The New Yorker | May 28, 2021 | 2,882 words

“Today, the work done by Parrish in the nineteen-twenties and Gates in the nineteen-nineties forms the bedrock for books, documentaries, and a renewed reparations push that, a century after the massacre, is experiencing a groundswell of support.”

2. Why So Many Children Died at Indian Residential Schools

Tristin Hopper | The Vancouver Sun | May 29, 2021 | 1,700

“This week saw the discovery of something outside Kamloops, B.C., rarely seen in North America, much less in any corner of the developed world: Unmarked and previously forgotten graves, all belonging to children who died at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.”

3. Nikole Hannah-Jones, a Mega-Donor, and the Future of Journalism

John Drescher | The Assembly | May 30, 2021 | 3,00 words

“UNC-Chapel Hill’s largest journalism-school donor warned against Nikole Hannah-Jones’ hiring. Their divergent views represent a new front in the debate over objectivity and the future of the field.”

4. ‘I Took Part in the Psilocybin Trial and It Changed My Life’

Steve Shorney | The Independent | May 30, 2021 | 5,663 words

“I had seen an alternative reality, another way of being, and knew beyond anything I’d known before that day that life is extraordinary. And in that moment I felt happier, more alive, and more Me than I imagined was possible.”

5. Cooking Backwards

Pamela Petro | Guernica Magazine | May 24, 2021 | 4,044 words

“On becoming a kitchen archivist.”

Even the Steam Had a Shadow

Natasha Pulley | The Kingdoms | May 2021 | 1516 words (6 minutes)

***

1
Londres, 1898 (ninety-three years after Trafalgar)

Most people have trouble recalling their first memory, because they have to stretch for it, like trying to touch their toes; but Joe didn’t. This was because it was a memory formed a week after his forty-third birthday.

He stepped down off the train. That was it, the very first thing he remembered, but the second was something less straightforward. It was the slow, eerie feeling that everything was doing just what it should be, minding its own business, but that at the same time, it was all wrong.

It was early in the morning, and cursedly cold. Vapour hissed on the black engine right above him. Because the platform was only a couple of inches above the tracks, the double pistons of the wheels were level with his waist. He was so close he could hear the water boiling above the furnace. He stepped well away, feeling tight with the certainty it was about to lurch forward.

The train had just come in. The platform was full of people looking slow and stiff from the journey, all moving towards the concourse. The sweet carbon smell of coal smoke was everywhere. Because it was only just light outside, the round lamps of the station gave everything a pale glow, and cast long, hazy shadows; even the steam had a shadow, a shy devil trying to decide whether to be solid or not.

Joe had no idea what he was doing there.

He waited, because railway stations were internationally the same and they were a logical place to get confused, if there was ever a logical place. But nothing came. He couldn’t remember coming here, or going anywhere. He looked down at himself. With a writhe of horror, he found he couldn’t even remember getting dressed. His clothes were unfamiliar. A heavy coat lined with tartan. A plain waistcoat with interesting buttons, stamped with laurel patterns.

Most people have trouble recalling their first memory, because they have to stretch for it, like trying to touch their toes; but Joe didn’t. This was because it was a memory formed a week after his forty-third birthday.

A sign on the wall said that this was platform three. Behind him on the train, a conductor was going along the carriages, saying the same thing again and again, quiet and respectful, because he was having to wake people up in first class.

‘Londres Gare du Roi, all change please, Londres Gare du Roi …’

Joe wondered why the hell the train company was giving London station names in French, and then wondered helplessly why he’d wondered. All the London station names were French. Everyone knew that.

Someone touched his arm and asked in English if he was all right. It made him jump so badly that he twanged the nerve in the back of his skull. White pain shot down his neck.

‘Sorry – could you tell me where we are?’ he asked, and heard how ridiculous it sounded.

The man didn’t seem to think it was extraordinary to find an amnesiac at a railway station. ‘London,’ he said. ‘The Gare du Roi.’

Joe wasn’t sure why he’d been hoping for something other than what he’d heard the conductor say. He swallowed and looked away. The steam was clearing. There were signs everywhere; for the Colonial Library, the Musée Britannique, the Métro. There was a board not far away that said the Desmoulins line was closed because of the drilling below, and beyond that, elaborate iron gates that led out into the fog.

‘Definitely …

London in England?’ he asked eventually.

‘It is,’ the man said.

‘Oh,’ said Joe.

The train breathed steam again and made the man into a ghost. Through all the bubbling panic, Joe thought he must have been a doctor, because he still didn’t seem surprised. ‘What’s your name?’ the man asked. Either he had a young voice, or he looked older than he was.

‘Joe.’ He had to reach for it, but he did know; that was a thump of a relief. ‘Tournier.’

‘Do you know where you live?’

‘No,’ he said, feeling like he might collapse.

‘Let’s get you to a hospital then,’ the man said.

So the man paid for a cab. Joe expected him to leave it at that, but he came too and said there was no reason why not, since he wasn’t busy. A thousand times in the following months, Joe tried to remember what the man had looked like. He couldn’t, even though he spent the whole cab ride opposite him; all he remembered later was that the man had sat without leaning back, and that something about him seemed foreign, even though he spoke English in the hard straight way that old people did, the belligerent ones who’d always refused to learn French and scowled at you if you tried to call them monsieur.

It was maddening, that little but total failure of observation, because he took in everything else perfectly. The cab was a new one, all fresh leather and smelling of polish that was still waxy to touch. Later, he could even remember how steam had risen from the backs of the horses, and the creak of the wheel springs when they moved from the cobbles outside the station to the smoother-paved way down Rue Euston.

But not the man. It was as though the forgetfulness wasn’t so much an absence of memory, but a shroud that clung to him.

It was as though the forgetfulness wasn’t so much an absence of memory, but a shroud that clung to him.

The road looked familiar and not. Whenever they came to a corner Joe thought he knew, there was a different shop there to the one he’d expected, or no building at all. Other cabs clopped past. Brown fog pawed at the shop windows. The sky was grey. In the background, he wondered if the man wasn’t being kind at all but taking advantage of things somehow, but he couldn’t think what for.

Not far away, monster towers pumped fumes into that gun-metal sky. They were spidered about with gantries and chutes, and in the flues, tiny flames burned. On the side of an enormous silo, he could just make out BLAST FURNACE 5 stamped in white letters in French. Joe swallowed. He knew exactly what they were – steelworks – but at the same time, they filled him with the dream-sense of wrongness that the Métro signs at the station had done. He shut his eyes and tried to chase down what he knew. Steelworks; yes, London was famous for that, that was what London was for. Seven blast furnaces up around Farringdon and Clerkenwell, hauling steel out to the whole Republic. If you bought a postcard of London, it always looked amazing, because of that towering tangle of pipework and coal chutes and chimneys in the middle of it. It was a square mile that had turned everything black with soot: the ruin of St Paul’s, the leaning old buildings round Chancery Lane, everything. That was why London was the Black City.

But all that might as well have come from an encyclopaedia. He didn’t know how he knew it. He didn’t remember walking in those black streets or around the steelworks, or any of it.

‘Did you get off the same train as me?’ he asked the man, hoping that if he focused on one particular thing, he might feel less sick.

‘Yes. It came from Glasgow. We were in the same carriage.’

The man had a clipped way of talking, but his whole body was full of compassion. He looked like he was stopping himself leaning forward and taking Joe’s hands. Joe was glad about that. He would have burst into tears.

He couldn’t remember being on the train. The man tried to tell him things that had been memorable, like the funny snootiness of the conductor and the way the fold-down beds tried to eat you if you didn’t push them down properly, but none of it was there. He confirmed that Joe hadn’t fallen or bumped anything, just started to look disorientated early this morning. It was nine o’clock now.

Joe had to let his head bow. He’d never been scared like it. He opened the window, just to inhale properly. Everything smelled of soot. That was familiar, at least. On the pavements, droves of men in black coats and black hats poured from the iron gates of the Métro stations. They all looked the same. The cab stopped for a minute or so, waiting at a railway crossing. The train was a coal cargo, chuntering towards the steelworks. The whistle howled as the driver tried to scare off some kids on the line; there were ten or twelve, foraging for the bits of coal that fell off the carriages.

‘You’ll be all right,’ the man said quietly. It was the last thing he said; while Joe was seeing the doctor, he vanished. None of the nurses had seen him go, or seen him at all, and Joe started to think he had got himself to the hospital alone, and that the man had been a benign hallucination.

***

Excerpted from Natasha Pulley’s novel The Kingdoms, published by Bloomsbury.

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Getty Images

This week, we’re sharing stories from Desiree Stennett and Caroline Glenn, Imani Perry, Bethany Marcel, Joshua Hunt, and David Alm.

Sign up to receive this list free every Friday in your inbox.

1. Locked Out

Desiree Stennett, Caroline Glenn | Orlando Sentinel | May 13, 2021 | 9,200 words

A three-part investigative series about how the pandemic exposed Florida’s eviction crisis.

2. Stop Hustling Black Death

Imani Perry | New York Magazine | May 24, 2021 | 4,300

“Samaria Rice is the mother of Tamir, not a ‘mother of the movement.'”

3. How to Tell a Trauma Story

Bethany Marcel | Midnight Breakfast | May 27, 2021 | 1,700 words

“For a decade I’ve been trying to write this story. This is always as far as I get.”

4. Did Paying a Ransom for a Stolen Magritte Painting Inadvertently Fund Terrorism?

Joshua Hunt | Vanity Fair | May 27, 2021 | 5,477 words

“Modern art crime, like the arms trade, still thrives in the shadow of global conflict, which gives rise to criminal networks that make from the detritus of war immensely profitable commodities.”

5. The Marathon Men Who Can’t Go Home

David Alm | GQ | May 21, 2021 | 4,800 words

“Each had come to America with the hope of making life-changing money that they could send back home to their families. What they found was an often desperate existence in their adopted homeland.”