SEVEN: Fulton Street – Lower East Side, 1937
With his grip still tight around the woman’s neck, Kaspar Delancey knew instantly that he had made a mistake. For just one night before, he was kissing the very same girl outside the gloomy bar. Warm vermouth still lingered on her lips. And the kiss was genuine, too. How could things have gone so quickly from one extreme to the other? He could feel the bone and cartilage caught between the gnarled fingers of his left hand. He recalled her neck as having the most pleasing aroma to it: something like fresh cut wildflowers and talcum powder. He eased his hand, and the broken, bloodied body tumbled and rolled over itself down the hotel’s elaborate spiral staircase before coming to a stop like a heap of wet laundry. It was by far the worst act he’d ever perpetrated, but lately, and more and more often now, Kaspar Delancey was finding himself forgetting such frivolous details. Details as inconsequential as murder.
He cut through an alley. The wet steam smelled of fried pork and wonton soup. Chicken feet and steamed buns. He climbed all six stories of the rickety fire escape. The cat trap of rusted metal teased him as it seemed to bend with his every move. His window was left wide open, the threadbare curtains flapped sharply in the night air. Kaspar peered into the room with caution, making sure no one was waiting for him. The first image that came into his mind was that of his own father armed with a heavy cue ball wrapped in a woolen sock. But his drunk, abusive father had been dead for more than fifteen years, so why was the memory still haunting him? Cracked, dilapidated walls revealed ramshackle wooden boards and mouse holes. His apartment was just as empty as it should have been, but the floor was cold and wet. The building must have flooded again. He knew he should speak to the landlord, but Kaspar had been distancing himself more and more from him of late. The two of them used to consider one another friends, but now it was all Kaspar could do to avoid the fat little French man on a daily basis. Climbing the fire escape had been his latest in a line of furtive returns. In a city as dense, shady and filth-ridden as New York, it was child’s play to go unnoticed if one wanted to.
The floorboards breathed the water in and out of their cracks like blood surfacing from a fresh cut. Just like from the neck of—? Hmm. He couldn’t believe it, but her name was already gone from his memory. His first instinct was to soak up the water with some bed sheets, but Kaspar had long been out of clean sheets so the wet floors would go ignored. Perhaps, he thought, flooding the entire building would be the only way out of the mess he’d created for himself. But just as he contemplated the many ways he’d already discovered to get away with murder, he spotted a note under the door. Kaspar hadn’t been in his apartment for a couple of nights now, so he didn’t know when the paper had been slipped through the splintered crack.
He captured it with his one good hand. Because of the water, some of the ink had bled to the paper’s edges but he could still make out the chicken-scratched message left for him. Though a creature of whim and chicanery, Kaspar Delancey still could not help himself from believing every fact ever presented to him. Most of what Kaspar knew was from what others had told him. The letter he held in his grip was no different. He understood all five words written on it:
GET OUT OF MY CITY.