Authors: Peter de Jonge
For my father,
with affection and respect
â¦dusk do sprawl.
At 9:37 on Thanksgiving eve, nineteen-year-old Francesca Pena steps fromâ¦
Freemans, styled like a ramshackle hunting lodge, is packed toâ¦
Detective Darlene O'Hara licks the cranberry sauce off her thumbâ¦
The next evening O'Hara and Krekorian stand outside Samuel Gompersâ¦
Saturday, O'Hara and Krekorian focus their crime-solving talents on aâ¦
Thumbing the photograph of Pena in her coat pocket, O'Haraâ¦
Krekorian lives twenty miles up the Palisades in the Rocklandâ¦
They decide to leave the car where it's parked andâ¦
Three hours later, just before midnight, O'Hara and Krekorian watchâ¦
Krekorian does a U-turn on LaGuardia, and with his sirenâ¦
Across the river, a milky dawn puddles up over Brooklynâ¦
From the ME's office, Lowry and Grimes proceed directly toâ¦
By the end of that night, Lowry has O'Hara andâ¦
O'Hara has Hall close down the job, then calls Jackâ¦
The door to apartment 5B is still unlocked and partlyâ¦
At two in the morning, unable to watch any longer,â¦
When O'Hara returns to the Seven, the air in theâ¦
Saturday morning, buoyed by a night and a half ofâ¦
If you don't think women are suckers, check out theâ¦
New York Hardcore Tattoos and Piercing is bowling-lane tight andâ¦
O'Hara stuffs the copy of Pena's tattoo into her coatâ¦
Breaking in a new box of Advil is rarely attemptedâ¦
The portion of 106th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam isâ¦
Practice is making O'Hara a better liar. At 6:05 a.m.â¦
“David,” asks O'Hara, “why are you paying your respects fromâ¦
Tuesday night O'Hara gets out of the subway again atâ¦
Bruno is fourteen pounds of empathy. He knows right awayâ¦
When O'Hara and Krekorian get to McLain's temporary new homeâ¦
The following evening, at ten minutes before midnight, O'Hara getsâ¦
On a prime retail stretch of Ludlow, just south ofâ¦
Monday morning, while Daniel Delfinger places his glasses on theâ¦
The picture O'Hara drops on Juergen Muster's gray enamel worktableâ¦
O'Hara picked the Empire Diner because it's just up theâ¦
O'Hara looks down at the uneven surface of her kitchenâ¦
Wincing at the light and siren pulsing from her dash,â¦
Outside is a riot of emergency responseâambulances, squad cars andâ¦
“Turkey on a Kaiser roll,” says O'Hara. The swarthy, hollow-eyedâ¦
Wednesday at eight in the morning, jackhammers start breaking upâ¦
When O'Hara runs down the steps and sees the sizeâ¦
Over the next couple of hours, O'Hara becomes highly knowledgeableâ¦
O'Hara pushes back out through the vestibule, to the curb,â¦
On Thursday morning Muster's Amazonian receptionist unlocks the oxidized steelâ¦
O'Hara's silence worries Krekorian. “Lowry had a whole department workingâ¦
Building 972, on the west side of Second Avenue, betweenâ¦
Eventually, techs arrive to secure the crime scene. They replaceâ¦
To get out of the neighborhood without a ruckus, O'Haraâ¦
The cabins are set in a row on the bankâ¦
Three weeks later, an hour before dawn, Rick Helmsford, theâ¦
From Fort Greene, O'Hara takes the BQE to the Grandâ¦
On a sticky morning in late August, O'Hara leans againstâ¦
When Aarons's voice drops off the line, O'Hara feels theâ¦
At 9:37 on Thanksgiving eve, nineteen-year-old Francesca Pena steps from the cramped vestibule of a crappy little apartment building in the East Fifties and hurries north. Model thin and shielded from the cold by only a vintage Adidas warm-up jacket, she leans into the icy wind that seems to hurl cars downtown and squints at the dreary commerce. This stretch of Second has never amounted to much. Tonight, with everyone on the way to families or bracing for their arrival, it's essentially shut down. The only exceptions are a candy store franchise that just changed hands and an Irish pub with an advertised happy hour that runs from ten in the morning to seven at night.
Pena turns west at Fifty-second and with long athletic strides traverses another cheerless block. She passes six-story walk-ups, a basement dry cleaner, another cheerless pub, and the headquarters for the Salvation Army. As always, she winces at the gap-toothed sign with its missing
S L V TION
. An NYU sophomore on a track and cross-country scholarship, she has run through all kinds of neighborhoods, good and bad, but none as unsettling as this shabby bit of midtown fringe, where every endeavor feels dwarfed and mocked by the value of the
real estate beneath it. As an antidote to the creepiness as much as the cold, Pena slips a chocolate malt ball into her mouth and picks up her already brisk pace. From Third on, the start of Midtown proper, there are no more random tenements or one off businesses. There are only franchises and banks and office towers, and as Pena hurries through the emptied-out block, her bloodred jacket and short glistening black hair are the only colors. Thanks to the hotels, Lexington, at least, is well lit, and on the far corner is the glowing entrance to the IRT. When the signal turns, Pena bounds across the street and down the greasy steps, and after an expertly timed swipe of her Metro-card, pushes through the turnstile like a finish line. She barely has time to throw away her used-up card before a southbound 6 train fills the station, and when she climbs up onto Bleecker, she's so glad to be downtown, the air feels ten degrees warmer and for the first time in what seems like hours, she is aware of the night sky. Seeing that she has fifteen minutes to spare, she makes a quick detour to Tower Records, where she grabs the latest No Doubt CD for Moreal and the latest Britney for Consuela, and after enduring a withering eye roll from the pierced cashier, heads south again.
A topless Kate Moss, still freezing her tits off at thirty-one, presides over the intersection of Houston and Lafayette. Pena, very nearly as alluring, crosses under her, setting off flash-bulb smiles from the cabbies lined up at the BP station. Safely across, she turns east on Prince. She passes the side of a building plastered with posters for sports drinks, bands, and video
games, then hugs the high brick wall that borders the cemetery from Mulberry to Mott.
Compared with midtown, Nolita is barely reduced by the holiday exodus. Cars and pedestrians snake through the clogged streets, smokers huddle outside the bars, and as always there's a crowd waiting to get into CafÃ© Habana. East of Elizabeth, however, the street goes black. On Bowery, the restaurant wholesalers are battened down as if for a storm. Cold, and anxious for her walk to be over, Pena turns east onto Rivington. Half a block later, at the end of a short tight alley, she spots her destination: the four-month-old restaurant/bar called Freemans.
Freemans, styled like a ramshackle hunting lodge, is packed to the fake rafters, but Pena's friends have staked out prime real estate at the corner of the bar. Like Pena, Uma Chestnut, Mehta Singh and Erin Case are NYU undergrads. Standing side by side, they are so photogenic and multihued that if you cropped out the three-thousand-dollar designer bags and serious jewelry, they could be showcasing their racial diversity for a college catalog. In a sense they are.
Pena's arrival sets off a high-pitched eruption of girly glee. When it subsides, Chestnut, who believes with some justification that she reigns over everything below Fourteenth Street, sets off a second by announcing “Cocktails!” Singh, who is taller, curvier and darker than Pena and possesses an equally electric smile, asks for a Sidecar, and the porcelain-skinned Case, whose pink cable-knit sweater is somewhat misleading, a Beefeater Martiniâdirty. “Dirty indeed,” says Chestnut, whisking an intentionally greasy bang off her forehead. “And how about you, Francesca?”
“A Malibu and Seven,” says Pena. “You can take the girl out of the barrio, but you can't take the barrio out of the girl.”
“Why would anyone want to,” says Singh.
The girls present their fake IDs, and Chestnut places the orders, including her own signature Lower Manhattan. When all the cocktails have been mixed, signed for and delivered, Case carefully raises her tiny infinity pool of gin and vermouth. “To Thanksgiving,” she says. “Everyone's favorite excuse for a five-day bender.”
“And to all your relatives who got seasick on the
,” adds Pena. This sets off enough laughter that cocktails have to be steadied before they can be sipped again.
Time flies. Particularly when you're young and beautiful and getting wasted. For four hours, the four pals don't stop cracking each other up, and while occasionally a brave boy dares to breach the perimeter, they mostly flirt with each other. And although Chestnut's father just had a retrospective at MOMA and Singh's is the largest commercial landlord in New Delhi and Case was raised like a hothouse flower in eighteen rooms on Park Avenue, it's Pena, the scholarship girl from western Massachusetts, who is the undisputed star of the group. It is her approval and messy snorts of laughter the others vie for.
Chestnut, Singh and Case have elaborate Thanksgiving dinners to wake up for the next morning. By 2:30 a.m., they're inclined to call it a night. But not the long-distance runner Pena, who by way of explanation nods discreetly toward an older guy at the end of the bar.
“Tell me you're joking,” says Singh. “He looks like rough trade.”
“Doesn't he, though?”
“You're coming with us if we have to drag you out,” says Case.
But Pena crosses her arms and shakes her head like a stubborn toddler, and after a final flurry of hugs and kisses, Chestnut, Singh, and Case have no choice but to abandon her. As soon as they're out the door, Pena's posture stiffens. In the tiny bathroom near the kitchen, she splashes her face with cold water, and when she returns to the bar, so-called rough trade has strategically relocated to the neighboring stool.
“I've been watching you all night,” he says. “Am I finally going to get a chance to talk to you?”
“Any reason?” asks the deflated suitor. But he does it so softly and with such diminished confidence that Pena, who had already turned to the bartender and ordered a Jack and Coke, pretends not to hear him as she takes the drink to a small table in the far corner. As the last customers trickle out, she sits with her back to the bar and nurses her drink for almost an hour. Finally, as a busboy gathers bottles and glasses from the empty tables, she pushes out of her seat and navigates the short alley to Rivington and the half block east to Chrystie.
At 3:30 a.m at the end of 2005, the corner of Rivington and Chrystie was still among the darkest and least trafficked on the Lower East Side. At 3:30 Thanksgiving morning, it might as well be the dark side of the moon. Pena knows there's no point even trying to hail a cab until she walks the two long
freezing blocks to Houston. After three queasy steps, she realizes she is about to pay the price for mixing all those ridiculous cocktails, and crouches between two parked cars.
“You OK?” asks a voice behind her.
“Get the fuck out of here,” she snarls, and retches some more.