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Seven inches of rain had fallen in Central Park. Worms inched out of warm mud in a doomed search for dry ground. Homeless men and women had long since gathered whatever possessions they had in makeshift bundles and made their way out of the park in soggy shoes and sneakers.
One of the homeless, a woman named Florence who was prone to delusions, wandered off the no-longer-discernable path and into the lake where she drowned, clutching a photograph of two dogs.
Signs were posted for people to stay out of the park, though the park seemed no more a victim of the deluge than the rest of the island of Manhattan.
But it would be all right, everything would be under control, if the weather got no worse. But it did get worse. Much worse.
The hard-driving September rain slapped against Dexter Hughes's rain poncho as he stepped over the river that rushed wildly next to the curb on the north side of Eighty-seventh Street. Thunder crashed in the 9 a.m. morning dimness. It was music; loud, drums, brass. Music.
He paused to catch his breath and to make sure his St. Paul medal was still around his neck and that none of his wares had escaped from the bulging plastic Bloomingdale's bags he held.
Nothing was lost. Dexter smiled. Yes, it was his kind of day. The radio had said it would probably be the heaviest rain the city had experienced in more than a century. Eight inches, maybe more, today alone.
The malodorous water rushed along the street next to the curb in front of him. An empty plastic pill bottle bobbed down the river. Dexter could make out a blue disposable razor, a filthy work glove, a discarded Metrocard, a mangled white ballpoint pen and the inch-high upper torso of a Betty Boop figurine.
Half a block away he could make out men and women running, leaping, hunching over with purses, newspapers and umbrellas over their heads. It was going to be a good day.
He pushed open the door of the Brilliance Deli and stepped inside. The narrow aisle leading to the six tables in the rear was thick with people exuding heavy, musty dampness, jammed together waiting for a break in the rain, a break that wasn't coming. They drank coffee, ate muffins and bagels and donuts, made calls on their cell phones, lost their tempers. Waited.
Dexter looked at Achmed, the deli's owner, who paused in his rush from grill to cash register. Dexter caught his eye and Achmed nodded his approval.
Dexter called out, "Umbrellas five dollars, rain ponchos three dollars."
He had picked up three dozen umbrellas and the same number of ponchos from Alvino Lopez at a graffitti-covered garage on 101st Street. He would have charged a dollar more if the merchandise did not carry the distinctive smell of motor oil.
Arms stretched out, eager for his wares. Dexter served out rain gear to cash-filled hands.
Rain beat down on the awning in front of the Brilliance. So did runoff water from the roof of the three-story brick building. A hole in the awning looked like an open faucet.
The sight was a godsend for Dexter, a sign to those huddled inside the deli that they needed protection.
Under his poncho, Dexter was a stick figure, as black and narrow as one of his umbrellas. Once, not all that many years ago, Dexter Hughes had commanded combat companies in battle in two wars. In the second of those wars, a small steel ball, one of hundreds released from a single bomb, had screeched through the night and torn out his right eye, taking part of the socket with it. Friendly fire tragedy. The army had fitted him with a state-of-the-art eye that looked natural enough if his good eye happened to be facing the same direction as the artificial one.
"Umbrellas imported from the South American rain forests, five dollars," Dexter called over the rain and voices. "Ponchos from Central America that defy rain, three dollars."
He shrugged inside his poncho to demonstrate how the water flew off. Customers nearby took a step back and then moved forward again. Ten- and twenty-dollar bills were held out.
"Umbrella." "Poncho." "Umbrella and a poncho, ten dollars. I need change, single dollar bills."
Hands were still reaching. Dexter shoved bills in his pockets. The Bloomingdale's bags grew lighter.
"That's it," said Dexter, giving out change for a twenty to a man who reeked of wet tobacco.
His bags empty, Dexter was considering a run back to the garage on 101st for more goods. Few wanted the rain to continue, but Dexter was one of the few.
"What the hell?" came a man's voice.
"Oh my God," said a woman.
"What is it?" said another woman. "What?"
They were looking over Dexter's shoulder. He turned and saw red rain gush through the tear in the awning.
Dexter could smell it. He had smelled it in two wars. Blood. He knew the look of blood in water, the dark, languid look.
The people in the deli and outside of it under the awning were talking. He sensed that Achmed had made his way through the crowd.
Dexter stepped out into the rain, avoiding the bloody stream. He looked up, blinking through the downpour.
Three stories above him, Dexter could see a man standing at the edge of the roof, something in his hand. The man was wearing a dark GI raincoat. The man's eyes met Dexter's. A torrent of blood and water poured from a drainage spout on the roof just beneath the man, who slowly straightened and turned. Then the man was gone.
Dexter wouldn't be going back to pick up more umbrellas and ponchos and he wouldn't be waiting around for the police. He had had more than enough encounters with the police, thank you.
Dexter turned and headed into the deluge, resisting the urge to look over his shoulder and up at the roof behind him.
Dexter knew the man on the roof and the man on the roof knew him.
The man limped away from the edge of the roof. The black man in the yellow poncho had met his gaze. They had recognized each other. Then the black man had moved away into the almost painful slam of thick, demanding rain.
A half century of stones on the roof mixed with the detritus of broken beer bottles, shriveled condoms, and discarded syringes that were carried away in the red river. The potted plants lined up against the knee-high walls were overflowing and adding black dirt and chemicals to the rushing water.
The flat rooftop had a simple drainage system that allowed rainwater to run off to prevent ponding, which would damage the roof covering. Around the outside edge of the rooftop were low places that served as funnels. The funnels or scuppers emptied into holes in the parapet wall toward both the street and alley. Inside these scuppers were rusting screens to catch debris. From time to time, particularly after a hard rain, someone would clear away the debris from the screen. The woman that the man had just killed had been on the roof to clear those screens.
The man was transfixed, nearly hypnotized, knowing he should move, get away. He had a lot left to do and very little time. Instead he stared down at the dead woman.
She was spread-eagled, dress hiked up, skin exposed. There was a look of horror on her face, horror and pain. Her hair was beaten back, clamped to her head. She looked almost bald. Her open mouth was filled with water that bubbled as if from an overfilled pool.
The man hadn't known what he would feel when he killed her. He'd hoped that he wouldn't regret it, wouldn't be haunted, wouldn't shake or weep. He wanted to savor the moment. He wanted elation, satisfaction, not this dull, dreamy sensation echoing to the beat of thoughtless, demanding rain.
He lifted his head and closed his eyes. Rain pelted his face. He drank, gulped with thirst, broke the spell, folded the knife and pocketed it.
He took one last look at the mutilated body sprawled on the stones of the roof. It was time to go. He was satisfied.
He limped toward the door.
About half the students of Wallen School on West End Avenue had not shown up for classes that morning. All the teachers had made their way, some coming from Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, places where they could afford the rent on teachers' salaries and still have something left over so they could eat.
Wallen, grades K through 12, had a strict policy and exclusive criteria for admission. If you could afford the tuition, which was twenty-seven thousand a year, you were in.
Wayne O'Shea, thirty-four, who the students called Brody behind his back because of his faint resemblance to the actor Adrien Brody, was one of those who made the daily pilgrimage from Brooklyn. He had been doing it for the past six years, long enough for his salary to climb up to a living wage. Wayne was gay, which was not a drawback at Wallen, where the faculty included two blacks, three Hispanics, one gay man, and a bearded Muslim who were proudly displayed for prospective parents.
First period, English Literature II, had gone as he had expected. Only seven students, the ones who lived within fifteen minutes of the school, sat in a gray state of dream unable to resist the sight of the torrent, easily able to resist D. H. Lawrence. Wayne couldn't blame them. He himself had gone from avid champion of Lawrence when he was in college to bored adult when Lady Chatterly's Lover came around on the reading list.
Five minutes before class ended, Gayle Swoops, whose father was a famous rapper, was lazily trying to come up with an answer to the question Wayne had posed. It should have been easy. Wayne had no specific answer in mind.
There was a thud and crash in Alvin Havel's chemistry lab next door. Nothing unusual. From time to time, students, especially those coming in in the morning still high from some new designer drug, were known to drop some fragile things and knock over other not-so-fragile things.
Neither Gayle nor any of the other students, drummed into oblivion by rain and Lawrence, had noticed.
"Give it a try," Wayne said in an attempt to rescue Gayle Swoops. "As Lawrence once said, 'When one jumps over the edge, one is bound to land somewhere.'"
Through the speakers in the hall outside the classrooms and throughout Wallen, the gentle two notes of a mallet against a hollow wooden box announced the end of class. The students slowly rose. A few smiled at Wayne. They all had a long day ahead of them.
Ten minutes between classes. Wayne, casual, hands in pockets, ambled into the uncrowded hall, the voices and footsteps of the students muted by polished oak floors and thick. dark-stained wooden walls.
The chemistry lab door was closed. It was common for either Wayne or Alvin to seek each other out between classes to exchange a few words of support or a witty and not always kind observation about one of the kids or one of the other teachers.
Alvin was straight, thirty-seven, married, two daughters, and a wife who made more money than he did. Alvin had been working forever at night to finish his PhD and find a college-level job, preferably in New York, but anywhere but Wallen Prep would do. If it happened, Wayne would miss him. When he opened the door to the chemistry lab, Wayne was certain it would never happen.
Alvin was seated, head turned on the steel-topped desk facing Wayne. Alvin wore a mask of blood. A pencil jutted out of his left eye. Another pencil was plunged into his neck.
Wayne stood there for a few seconds, registering what he saw before him. He swayed, felt dizzy.
"Little fucking bastards," Wayne, who never cursed, said, and took a step toward the desk. The door behind him opened. Voices.
Wayne started to turn, felt acrid bile rise in his throat.
Then he passed out.
Malcom Cheswith had ambition. He someday wanted to be a renowned Cajun and Creole chef, but for now he was a short-order cook. Malcom could be patient. Things would take a turn for the better soon.
In the meantime, whenever possible, Malcom made magic in the small space that passed for a kitchen in Doohan's Bar on Catherine Street. Malcom could barely turn around in the kitchen, even though he was weasel thin from the years of drenching kitchen heat and the gift of his mother's genes.
There was no real reason for him to be there this early in the morning with the rain coming down in thick, dark curtains. The few morning regulars there were not eaters. Doohan was the morning bartender. Doohan was also the owner of Doohan's, but whatever he could pull in without paying a barkeep was more money for the mortgage, which Doohan had been having trouble meeting. Malcom was on half salary for the morning, a grudging concession by Doohan, who didn't want to lose his short-order cook.
One reason the very fat Doohan didn't want to lose his cook was that Doohan appreciated fine cooking and was a willing consumer and critic when Malcom decided to prepare something special. This morning Malcom was preparing Eggs Sardou; poached eggs and creamed spinach on artichoke bottoms with hollandaise sauce. Malcom was practicing his culinary skill and Doohan would normally be practicing his gluttony. Today, however, he had no appetite.
There were three customers in the dark bar, which smelled more than faintly of beer and where music was never played. Later, more customers, mostly cops who were working out of the courthouse a few blocks away on Worth Street, would join the blue-collar retirees, who, like Doohan, were comfortable with the smell and the silence.
Thunder rattled the window where the neon Miller Lite Beer sign flickered for an instant. The bar went dark. One of the regulars, Frank Zvitch, did not flinch. He adjusted his railroad engineer's cap, waited, and when it was clear the lightning had stopped and the lights would stay on at least for a while, he resumed the story he was telling and nursed his beer.
Today Frank talked to Anthony DeLuca, who stood no more than five foot two and wore flannel shirts and suspenders to remind people that he had been a longshoreman. Over the years, Anthony had told his stories so often that he couldn't be sure if they had happened to him or if he had picked them up by watching Pop Doyle too many times in On the Waterfront. Whenever possible, Anthony demonstrated his permanent slouch and the fact that one arm, his right, was shorter than his other. Unlike Frank, Anthony kept the frosty mugs of frothy beer coming. He held his drink well, never got drunk, not even close.
Malcom looked up from time to time as he cooked, wiped his brow and consumed glass after glass of cold tap water that today tasted a bit suspicious. Doohan was standing by the window, his back to Malcom, looking out even though it was nearly impossible to see through the thick sheets of rain.
The sauce was almost ready. Malcom, born in Chicago, had been lured by the kitchens of New Orleans and tales of a brother who had acted in theaters in Dublin, Canberra, London, Toronto and the American South. But Malcom had been pulled by necessity and a now dead, sick sister to Manhattan. Hopefully he could leave one day. Malcom's Eggs Sardou could be a step in the right direction.
When Malcom looked up again, Frank and Anthony were listening to each other and Doohan was stepping out the door into the rain.
Through the steamy window flowing with rivulets, he could make out the almost cartoon outline of Doohan. He was wearing no raincoat. Next to him was another shape, a man, taller than the bar owner, erect, about Malcom's height, wearing a raincoat and hood. Were they arguing? The taller man started to move away, but Doohan grabbed his arm, or it looked to Malcom as if he were grabbing the tall man's arm. It looked like a struggle. Doohan looked at the window. His eyes would have met Malcom's had Doohan been focused beyond the window.
Lightning. The tall man's face hidden by the hood; Doohan's face open, white, panicked. The few hairs on his head plastered to his scalp, a Zero Mostel imitation.
The tall man took another step away into the torrent. Doohan again pulled at the tall man's sleeve. The tall man tried to get away but he slipped on the sidewalk. Both men tripped through the front door of the bar, Doohan still holding on to the sleeve of the tall man. What Malcom and the regulars at the bar saw next was incredible, unbelievable and also the last thing they ever saw.
The world ended.
The explosion came from Malcom's right. The wall began to crumble and squeal. Frank and Anthony just managed to get off their bar stools as the ceiling groaned and began to fall slowly like an elevator in slow motion. There was a second explosion and Malcom was thrown back against the grill. He put a hand behind him to steady himself as the building screeched. His hand rested on the searing grill. He smelled burning flesh but knew that he had a far bigger problem than a scorched palm.
Pots, pans toppled. Sauce spilled. Artichokes flew. Malcom tried to remain standing, tried to make his way to the narrow kitchen door without falling. He failed.
The building was imploding. He could no longer see Frank or Anthony nor the bar or the window or Doohan or the tall man. Malcom went down when the refrigerator rose toward him and the floor came up at a rollercoaster angle.
Then there was an instant of silence.
Then there was a settling groan of walls, ceiling, tilted furniture and a section of the bar falling with a delayed thud.
Then there was a voice.
Then there was the rain.
Copyright © 2007 by CBS Broadcasting Inc. and Alliance Atlantis Productions, Inc.