He Had it Coming
It was a murder, but not a crime.
There was a faint chill in the air that morning. Not enough to make me wish that I'd grabbed a shawl, and it faded to a comfortable breeze as soon as I'd stepped down from the Brooklyn Bridge, but it was a silent scolding nonetheless: it was still far too early for me to be out and on my own. But I couldn't chance a chaperone, and the timing was essential, if not crucial. And, without the cool water below to produce a whipping wind, the early spring atmosphere wasn't as gloomy as it had been at the turn of the year.
I could feel my dark hair flutter in the light breeze, long strands flying in my face, stinging my eyes. With a quick brush of my hand, I pushed my hair behind my ears. It might not have been cold enough to wear a shawl, but I'd been foolish in leaving a hat behind. After all, it was still March. And, while New York saw all seasons, it was a puzzle to figure how the weather would react: one day it might be sunny and warm, the next a bitter reminder of the harsh and cruel winters.
Shivering a bit, I kept my sewing basket close to my chest. My grip on the wicker handle was tight, the knuckles on my hand white from the force of the hold. It was my cover as well as my purpose; if I happened to be stopped by anyone—prospective customer or, perhaps, a police officer, even—I could always say that I was on my way to sell my piecework in another borough. This was my third trip over, the third time I've made this journey, and I hadn't been stopped before—but it never hurt to be prepared.
As long as they didn't look beneath the freshly tatted lace I had placed on top; I wasn't quite sure that I could explain away the liberal amounts of arsenic hidden at the base of the basket. Just in case, I'd made sure to bring along a small vial of vinegar and a clump of chalk as a precaution. It was the fashion of the wives (and the mistresses) of the social elite to mix arsenic with vinegar and chalk and take it in order to keep their precious complexions pale. Vain women, privileged women, they couldn't stand to appear tanned and ruddy, as if they had to demean themselves by working for their means.
I would never do it. My skin was pale by nature and, despite my afternoon strolls when Mama allowed me to peddle my lace, I was fortunate enough to have few blemishes. I would have made a beautiful bride… if circumstances had been different, of course.
Besides, after seeing what happens when arsenic is ingested, I know I would never be brave enough to swallow the poison willingly. Not that he had taken it willingly—he hadn't. For all the brains he thought he had—and, I scoffed, they amounted to precious little—he wasn't as dumb as that. Cocky perhaps, and definitely foolish to trust the girl he thought he knew so well that he accepted the arsenic-tainted mug with a half-smirk and a barbed comment. But the stomach pains he suffered, the wicked headaches, and the amount of vomit he produced when I administered his first dose a few weeks ago was enough to make me vow never to deal with arsenic again.
Of course, that vow wouldn't hold true until after today. I hadn't come this far and gone this far to give up now. I couldn't. With enough of the dreaded poison hidden in my basket to be certain that this third dose would be the final one, the fatal one, I kept my prim and proper and entirely false—yet entirely expected—smile in place on my pretty face. There was steel behind that grin, and certainty written in my eyes.
He was going to die today. With one gulp and a steady hand, I would become a murderess. He would be gone and I… I would be free.
I was looking forward to it with considerably more relish than I should.
The wind picked up then, the hem of my long brown skirt whirling at my feet, wrapping around my ankles as I hurried forward. A piece of rubbish was picked up in the gust, drifting right in front of me, falling and settling in my path. Pausing, I glanced curiously at it before recognizing it for what it was: the front page of another day's New York World.
I felt my stomach tighten in disgust, my skin crawl at the mere sight of the newsprint. Without a second thought, I stepped on the headline with my heeled shoe, twisting my foot savagely until the newspaper was torn and ravaged underneath my heel.
It lay there, defeated, when I finally lifted my foot back up. The paper shredded, the print and the photos mangled to the point where I couldn't recognize it for what it was. My heart was racing, my breath heavy yet shallow in my chest, but I felt the tension release as I calmly, purposely, walked away. Clearing my throat with a little cough, pushing my hair back into its proper place, I adjusted my grip on my basket one more time.
I was ready.
I was still ready when I made it to 61 Poplar Street.
Just on the north side of Poplar Street, two short blocks away from the Brooklyn Bridge, the four story building with the red bricks and the stone trim was imposing and proud. I remember the first time I saw it, the first time I snuck across the boroughs with a cache of arsenic safely tucked away. The Brooklyn Lodging House reminded me a bit of him, the way it stood there as if it owned the very street it was perched on.
There were many windows, some open in the early spring breeze, and I wondered if he was looking outside. It was still early, and I could only imagine how frantically the newsboys inside were preparing for another day hawking the headlines out on the street. Not him, though; he didn't have to hurry, and he didn't have to rush. I knew for sure that the distribution center would keep closed until he led the way to the gates, his cane in one hand and a worn slingshot in the other.
I cast my gaze over the building, privately assuring myself that this would be the last time I had to cower before the structure, the last time I let him run my life like this. Like I'd done twice before, I came here not to stare at the place that housed him—housed my lover, housed my enemy—but to finally put an end to it all.
A strait of stairs led right up to the wooden door at the center of the building. It was the visitors' entrance, and the entrance for the staff. But there was another way in, one that I had discovered by chance the first time I brazenly crossed into Brooklyn by myself. Down the alley on the east side of the House, there was another entrance for the boys who stayed there. It was that entrance that I headed to next.
There was no nerves, no regret, as I stuck my chin out in utter defiance and approached the hidden doorway. Holding tightly to my basket with my right hand, I formed my left hand into a loose fist and knocked as loudly as I could. I needed the sound to carry, to be heard from inside the vast building.
This was the third time I'd made this same journey and, as I waited for one of the boys inside to answer my knock, I marveled on that. Over the course of the last eight months he'd found countless reasons to take the trip into Manhattan but I'd never been expected to leave the safety of my good Jewish neighborhood. Still, when I first met him there, he didn't act surprised. He never let me see him anything less than superior—
—no… no. That's not true. There was the one time but…
I shook my head. What did it matter now?
It took some time before the battered wooden door—not nice, not like the light-colored, polished door out front—swung inward. As I had meant to do, I had timed my arrival precisely. It was still early enough that the boys were washing up and getting dressed; it would be difficult enough for them to even notice me there, let alone remember when he finally fell. And, of course, he would still be there. Cocky and sure, he wouldn't leave the lodging house until all the all other boys had left first.
It was a small boy—seven years old, or a young eight—who answered the door. His buttons done up wrong, and one cracked shoe still in his hand, it was easy to see that he'd been sent by the older boys to see who was at the door. Wiping his nose as he opened it up, his big brown eyes widened when he saw that I was the one standing there. He immediately tried to stand straight, flattening down his dark and unruly hair with a grubby palm.
I gave him a small smile, motherly and affectionate. It amazed me how easily I was able to fake the emotions.
Underneath the dirt and grime still on his cheeks, I could see his face turning red. He held up his hand, wordlessly telling me to stay where I was, before he disappeared back onto the landing and hurried back up the stairs. He was running to find the boy I was after, running so that he could give the message before I had to wait any longer.
He knew who I was there to see, they all did. I was there to see the same boy all of the pretty young girls came to see.
I didn't have long to wait. His cane in hand, one of his faded red suspenders hanging off of his thin shoulder, he was strutting down the steps before I'd had the chance to steel my resolve and prepare myself for what I was going to do. However, as soon as I got one glimpse—just one—of the smirk that split his handsome face, my stomach tightened in that familiar feeling of revulsion and I knew what I had to do.
My grip on that basket tightened so much that I could barely feel the blood flowing to my fingertips.
disclaimer: The characters used in this story are the property of Disney. They are used with the intent to create entertainment, not profit.
end note: And that's that for the prologue. Hopefully you all figured out who the person is in this chapter. Much more will be detailed in the second chapter. This is just the opening teaser. As Dane Cook says, I'm going to 'Tarantino' the story. I'm going to tell you the ending (above) and then start from the beginning to tell you what happened. Fun times.
eta 03/27/09: This is the first chapter of the rewrite; after deleting all of the nine chapters previously written, I'm redoing this as I feel like I could work it a lot better now. I plan on following the story that was here before, changing only a few things in the order and adding a little bit more to make it flow better. I want to flesh out the characters a little more and set the scene a little better. I hope I was able to pull it off, so far.