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The Interpretation of Murder

Chapter One

There is no mystery to happiness.

Unhappy men are all alike. Some wound they suffered long ago, some wish denied, some blow to pride, some kindling spark of love put out by scorn—or worse, indifference—cleaves to them, or they to it, and so they live each day within a shroud of yesterdays. The happy man does not look back. He doesn't look ahead. He lives in the present.

But there's the rub. The present can never deliver one thing: meaning. The ways of happiness and meaning are not the same. To find happiness, a man need only live in the moment; he need only live for the moment. But if he wants meaning—the meaning of his dreams, his secrets, his life—a man must reinhabit his past, however dark, and live for the future, however uncertain. Thus nature dangles happiness and meaning before us all, insisting only that we choose between them.

For myself, I have always chosen meaning. Which, I suppose, is how I came to be waiting in the swelter and mob of Hoboken Harbor on Sunday evening, August 29, 1909, for the arrival of the Norddeutsche Lloyd steamship George Washington, bound from Bremen, carrying to our shores the one man in the world I wanted most to meet.

At 7 p.m. there was still no sign of the ship. Abraham Brill, my friend and fellow physician, was waiting at the harbor for the same reason as I. He could hardly contain himself, fidgeting and smoking incessantly. The heat was murderous, the air thick with the reek of fish. An unnatural fog rose from the water, as if the sea were steaming. Horns sounded heavily out in the deeper water, their sources invisible. Even the keening gulls could be only heard, not seen. A ridiculous premonition came to me that the George Washington had run aground in the fog, her twenty-five hundred European passengers drowning at the foot of the Statue of Liberty. Twilight came, but the temperature did not abate. We waited.

All at once, the vast white ship appeared—not as a dot on the horizon, but mammoth, emerging from the mist full-blown before our eyes. The entire pier, with a collective gasp, drew back at the apparition. But the spell was broken by the outbreak of harbormen's cries, the flinging and catching of rope, the bustle and jostle that followed. Within minutes, a hundred stevedores were unloading freight.

Brill, yelling at me to follow, shouldered through to the gangway. His entreaties to board were rebuffed; no one was being let on or off the ship. It was another hour before Brill yanked at my sleeve and pointed to three passengers descending the bridge. The first of the trio was a distinguished, immaculately groomed, gray-haired, and gray-bearded gentleman whom I knew at once to be the Viennese psychiatrist Dr. Sigmund Freud.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, an architectural paroxysm shook New York City. Gigantic towers called skyscrapers soared up one after the other, higher than anything built by the hand of man before. At a ribbon-cutting on Liberty Street in 1908, the top hats applauded as Mayor McClellan declared the forty-seven-story redbrick and bluestone Singer Building the world's tallest structure. Eighteen months later, the mayor had to repeat the same ceremony at the fifty-story Metropolitan Life tower on Twenty-fourth Street. But even then, they were already breaking ground for Mr. Woolworth's staggering fifty-eight-story ziggurat back downtown.

On every block, enormous steel-beam skeletons appeared where empty lots had been the day before. The smash and scream of steam shovels never ceased. The only comparison was with Haussmann's transformation of Paris a half century earlier, but in New York there was no single vision behind the scenes, no unifying plan, no disciplining authority. Capital and speculation drove everything, releasing fantastic energies, distinctly American and individualistic.

The masculinity of it all was undeniable. On the ground, the implacable Manhattan grid, with its two hundred numbered east-west streets and twelve north-south avenues, gave the city a stamp of abstract rectilinear order. Above this, in the immensity of the towering structures, with their peacock-like embellishments, it was all ambition, speculation, competition, domination, even lust—for height, size, and always money.

The Balmoral, on the Boulevard—New Yorkers at the time referred to Broadway from Fifty-ninth to 155th Street as the Boulevard—was one of the grand new edifices. Its very existence was a gamble. In 1909, the very rich still lived in houses, not apartments. They "kept" apartments for short or seasonal stays in the city, but they failed to comprehend how anybody could actually live in one. The Balmoral was a bet: that the rich could be induced to change their minds if the accommodations were sufficiently opulent.

The Balmoral rose seventeen stories, higher and grander than any apartment building—any residential building—had ever climbed before. Its four wings occupied an entire city block. Its lobby, where seals cavorted in a Roman fountain, shone with white Carrara marble. Chandeliers in every apartment sparkled with Murano glass. The smallest dwelling had eight rooms; the largest boasted fourteen bedrooms, seven baths, a grand ballroom with a twenty-foot ceiling, and full maid's service. This rented for the appalling sum of $495 a month.

The owner of the Balmoral, Mr. George Banwell, enjoyed the enviable position of being unable to lose money on it. His investors had advanced $6,000,000 toward its construction, of which he had kept not a penny, scrupulously remitting the entire amount to the builder, the American Steel and Fabrication Company. The owner of this firm, however, was also Mr. George Banwell, and the actual construction cost was $4,200,000. On January 1, 1909, six months before the Balmoral was to open, Mr. Banwell announced that all but two of the apartments were already let. The announcement was pure invention, but it was believed, and therefore within three weeks it was so. Mr. Banwell had mastered the great truth that truth itself, like buildings, can be manufactured.

The Balmoral's exterior belonged to the Beaux-Arts school at its most flamboyant. Crowning the roofline were a quartet of thirteen-foot floor-to-ceiling glass-paned concrete arches, one at each corner of the property. Because these great arched windows gave off the top floor's four master bedrooms, someone standing outside them could have had a very compromising view inside. On Sunday night, August 29, the view from outside the Alabaster Wing would have been shocking indeed. A slender young woman was standing within, lit by a dozen flickering candles, barely clothed, exquisitely proportioned, her wrists tied together over her head, and her throat embraced by another binding, a man's white silk tie, which a strong hand was making tight, exceedingly tight, causing her to choke.

Her entire body glistened in the unbearable August heat. Her long legs were bare, as were her arms. Her elegant shoulders were nearly bare as well. The girl's consciousness was fading. She tried to speak. There was a question she had to ask. It was there; it was gone. Then she had it again. "My name," she whispered. "What is my name?"

Dr. Freud, I was relieved to see, did not look like a madman at all. His countenance was authoritative, his head well formed, his beard pointed, neat, professional. He was about five-foot-eight, roundish, but quite fit and solid for a man of fifty-three. His suit was of excellent cloth, with a watch chain and cravat in the continental style. Altogether, he looked remarkably sound for a man just off a week's voyage at sea.

His eyes were another matter. Brill had warned me about them. As Freud descended the ship's ramp, his eyes were fearsome, as if he were in a towering temper. Perhaps the calumny he had long endured in Europe had worked a permanent scowl into his brow. Or perhaps he was unhappy to be in America. Six months ago, when President Hall of Clark University—my employer—first invited Freud to the United States, he turned us down. We were not sure why. Hall persisted, explaining that Clark wished to confer on Freud the university's highest academic honor, to make him the centerpiece of our twentieth-anniversary celebrations, and to have him deliver a series of lectures on psychoanalysis, the first ever to be given in America. In the end Freud accepted. Was he now regretting his decision?

All these speculations, I soon saw, were unfounded. As he stepped off the gangway, Freud lit a cigar—his first act on American soil—and the moment he did so the scowl vanished, a smile came to his face, and all the seeming choler drained away. He inhaled deeply and looked about him, taking in the harbor's size and chaos with what looked like amusement.

Brill greeted Freud warmly. They knew each other from Europe; Brill had even been to Freud's home in Vienna. He had described that evening to me—the charming Viennese house filled with antiquities, the doting and doted-on children, the hours of electrifying conversation—so often I knew his stories by heart.

From nowhere a knot of reporters appeared; they gathered around Freud and yelled out questions, mostly in German. He answered with good humor but seemed baffled that an interview should be conducted in so haphazard a fashion. At last Brill shooed them away and pulled me forward.

"Allow me," Brill said to Freud, "to present Dr. Stratham Younger, a recent graduate of Harvard University, now teaching at Clark, and sent down by Hall specially to take care of you during your week in New York. Younger is without question the most talented American psychoanalyst. Of course, he is also the only American psychoanalyst."

"What," said Freud to Brill, "you don't call yourself an analyst, Abraham?"

"I don't call myself American," Brill replied. "I am one of Mr. Roosevelt's 'hyphenated Americans,' for which, as he says, there is no room in this country."

Freud addressed me. "I am always delighted," he said in excellent English, "to meet a new member of our little movement, but especially here in America, for which I have such hopes." He begged me to thank President Hall for the honor Clark had bestowed on him.

"The honor is ours, sir," I replied, "but I'm afraid I hardly qualify as a psychoanalyst."

"Don't be a fool," said Brill, "of course you do." He then introduced me to Freud's two traveling companions. "Younger, meet the eminent Sándor Ferenczi of Budapest, whose name is synonymous throughout Europe with mental disorder. And here is the still more eminent Carl Jung of Zurich, whose Dementia will one day be known all over the civilized world."

"Most happy," said Ferenczi in a strong Hungarian accent, "most happy. But please to ignore Brill; everyone does, I assure you." Ferenczi was an affable sandy-haired fellow in his late thirties, brightly attired in a white suit. You could see that he and Brill were genuine friends. Physically, they made a nice contrast. Brill was among the shortest men I knew, with close-set eyes and a wide flat-topped head. Ferenczi, although not tall, had long arms, long fingers, and a receding hairline that elongated his face as well.

I liked Ferenczi at once, but I had never before shaken a hand that offered no resistance whatsoever, less than a joint of meat at the butcher's. It was embarrassing: he let out a yelp and yanked his fingers away as if they had been crushed. I apologized profusely, but he insisted he was glad to "start learning right away American walls," a remark at which I could only nod in polite agreement.

Jung, who was about thirty-five, made a markedly different impression. He was better than six feet tall, unsmiling, blue-eyed, dark-haired, with an aquiline nose, a pencil-thin mustache, and a great expanse of forehead—quite attractive to women, I should have thought, although he lacked Freud's ease. His hand was firm and cold as steel. Standing ramrod straight, he might have been a lieutenant in the Swiss Guard, except for his little round scholarly spectacles. The affection Brill clearly felt for Freud and Ferenczi was nowhere in evidence when he shook Jung's hand.

"How was your passage, gentlemen?" asked Brill. We could not go anywhere; our guests' trunks had to be collected. "Not too wearisome?"

"Capital," said Freud. "You won't believe it: I found a steward reading my Psychopathology of Everyday Life."

"No!" Brill replied. "Ferenczi must have put him up to it."

"Put him up?" Ferenczi cried out. "I did no such—"

Freud took no notice of Brill's comment. "It may have been the most gratifying moment of my professional life, which does not perhaps reflect too well on my professional life. Recognition is coming to us, my friends: recognition, slowly but surely."

"Did the crossing take long, sir?" I inquired idiotically.

"A week," Freud answered, "and we spent it in the most productive way possible: we analyzed each other's dreams."

"Good God," said Brill. "I wish I had been there. What were the results, in the name of heaven?"

"Well, you know," Ferenczi returned, "analysis is rather like being undressed in public. After you overcome initial humiliation, is quite refreshing."

"That's what I tell all my patients," said Brill, "especially the women. And what about you, Jung? Did you also find the humiliation refreshing?"

Jung, almost a foot taller than Brill, looked down on him as if at a laboratory specimen. "It is not quite accurate," he replied, "to say the three of us analyzed each other."

"True," Ferenczi confirmed. "Freud rather analyzed us, while Jung and I crossed interpretative swords with each other."

"What?" Brill exclaimed. "You mean no one dared to analyze the Master?"

"No one was permitted to," said Jung, betraying no affect.

"Yes, yes," said Freud, with a knowing smile, "but you all analyze me to death as soon as my back is turned, don't you, Abraham?"

"We do indeed," Brill replied, "because we are all good sons, and we know our Oedipal duty."

In the apartment high above the city, a set of instruments lay on the bed behind the bound girl. From left to right, there were: a man's right-angled razor, with a bone handle; a black leather riding crop about two feet in length; three surgical knives, in ascending order of size; and a small vial half full of a clear fluid. The assailant considered and picked up one of these instruments.

Seeing the shadow of the man's razor flickering on the far wall, the girl shook her head. Again she tried to cry out, but the constriction of her throat reduced her plea to a whisper.

From behind her came a low voice: "You want me to wait?"

She nodded.

"I can't." The victim's wrists, crossed and suspended together over her head, were so slight, her fingers so graceful, her long legs so demure. "I can't wait." The girl winced as the gentlest possible stroke was administered to one of her bare thighs. A stroke, that is, of the razor, which left a vivid scarlet wake as it traced her skin. She cried out, her back curved in exactly the same arch as the great windows, her raven hair flowing down her back. A second stroke, to the other thigh, and the girl cried out again, more sharply.

"No," the voice admonished calmly. "No screaming."

The girl could only shake her head, uncomprehending.

"You must make a different sound."

The girl shook her head again. She wanted to speak but couldn't.

"Yes. You must. I know you can. I told you how. Don't you remember?" The razor was now replaced on the bed. On the far wall, in the wavering candlelight, the girl saw the shadow of the leather crop rising up instead. "You want it. Sound as if you want it. You must make that kind of sound." Gently but implacably, the silk tie around the girl's throat drew tighter. "Make it."

She tried to do as she was bid, moaning softly—a woman's moan, a supplicating moan, which she had never made before.

"Good. Like that."

Holding the end of the white tie in one hand and the leather crop in the other, the assailant brought the latter down upon the girl's back. She made the sound again. Another lash, harder. The sting caused the girl to cry out, but she caught herself and made the other sound instead.

"Better." The next blow landed not on her back but just below it. She opened her mouth, but at the same moment the tie was drawn still tighter, choking her. Her choking, in turn, made her moan seem more genuine, more broken, an effect her tormentor evidently liked. Another blow, and another and another, louder and faster, fell on all the softest parts of her body, rending her garments, leaving glowing marks on her white skin. With every lash, despite the searing pain, the girl moaned as she had been told to do, her cries coming louder and faster too.

The rain of blows stopped. She would have collapsed long before, but the rope from the ceiling, tied to her wrists, kept her upright. Her body was now scored with lacerations. Blood ran down in one or two places. For a moment all went dark for her; then the flickering light returned. A shiver passed through her.

Her eyes opened. Her lips moved. "Tell me my name," she tried to whisper, but no one heard.

The assailant, studying the girl's lovely neck, loosened the silk binding around it. For one instant she breathed freely, her head still flung back, the waves of black hair flowing to her waist. Then the tie around her throat went taut again.

The girl could no longer see distinctly. She felt a hand on her mouth, its fingers running lightly over her lips. Then those fingers drew the silk tie yet tighter, so that even her choking stopped. The candlelight went out for her again. This time it did not return.

"There is train below river?" asked Sándor Ferenczi incredulously.

Not only did such a train exist, Brill and I assured him, but we were going to ride it. In addition to the new tunnel across the Hudson River, the Hoboken tube boasted another innovation: full baggage service. All a voyager arriving in the United States had to do was mark his luggage with the name of his hotel in Manhattan. Porters stowed the trunks in the train's baggage car, and handlers on the other end did the rest. Taking advantage of this amenity, we walked out onto the platform, which overlooked the river. With the setting of the sun, the fog had lifted, revealing the jagged Manhattan skyline, studded with electric lights. Our guests stared in wonder: at the sheer expanse of it, and at the spires piercing the clouds.

"It's the center of the world," said Brill.

"I dreamt of Rome last night," Freud replied.

We waited on pins and needles—at least I did—for him to go on.

Freud drew on his cigar. "I was walking, alone," he said. "Night had just fallen, as it has now. I came upon a shop window with a jewelry box. That of course means a woman. I looked around. To my embarrassment, I had wandered into an entire neighborhood of bordellos."

A debate ensued on whether Freud's teachings dictated defiance of conventional sexual morality. Jung held that they did; indeed, he maintained that anyone who failed to see this implication had not understood Freud. The whole point of psychoanalysis, he said, was that society's prohibitions were ignorant and unhealthy. Only cowardice would make men submit to civilized morality once they had understood Freud's discoveries.

Brill and Ferenczi vigorously disagreed. Psychoanalysis demanded that a man be conscious of his true sexual wishes, not that he succumb to them. "When we hear a patient's dream," said Brill, "we interpret it. We don't tell the patient to fulfill the wishes he is unconsciously expressing. I don't, at any rate. Do you, Jung?"

I noticed both Brill and Ferenczi sneaking glances at Freud as they elaborated his ideas—hoping, I supposed, to find endorsement. Jung never did. He either had, or affected having, perfect confidence in his position. As for Freud, he intervened on neither side, apparently content to watch the debate unfold.

"Some dreams do not require interpretation," Jung said; "they require action. Consider Herr Professor Freud's dream last night of prostitutes. The meaning is not in doubt: suppressed libido, stimulated by our anticipated arrival in a new world. There is no point talking about such a dream." Here Jung turned to Freud. "Why not act on it? We are in America; we can do what we like."

For the first time, Freud broke in: "I am a married man, Jung."

"So am I," Jung replied.

Freud raised an eyebrow, nodding, but made no reply. I informed our party that it was time to board the train. Freud took a last look over the railing. A stiff wind blew in our faces. As we all gazed at the lights of Manhattan, he smiled. "If they only knew what we are bringing them."

Chapter Two

In 1909, a small device had begun to spread widely in New York City, accelerating communication and forever changing the nature of human interaction: the telephone. At 8 a.m. on Monday morning, August 30, the manager of the Balmoral lifted his mother-of-pearl receiver from its brass base and placed a hushed and hurried call to the building's owner.

Mr. George Banwell answered the call sixteen stories above the manager's head, in the telephone closet of the Travertine Wing's penthouse apartment, which Mr. Banwell had kept for himself. He was informed that Miss Riverford from the Alabaster Wing was dead in her room, the victim of murder and perhaps worse. A maid had found her.

Banwell did not immediately respond. The line was silent for so long the head manager said, "Are you there, sir?"

Banwell replied with gravel in his voice: "Get everyone out. Lock the door. No one enters. And tell your people to keep quiet if they value their jobs." Then he called an old friend, the mayor of New York City. At the conclusion of their conversation, Banwell said, "I can't afford any police in the building, McClellan. Not one uniform. I'll tell the family myself. I went to school with Riverford. That's right: the father, poor bastard."

"Mrs. Neville," the mayor called out to his secretary as he rang off. "Get me Hugel. At once."

Charles Hugel was coroner of the City of New York. It was his duty to see to the corpse in any case of suspected homicide. Mrs. Neville informed the mayor that Mr. Hugel had been waiting in the mayor's antechamber all morning.

McClellan closed his eyes and nodded, but said, "Excellent. Send him in."

Before the door had even closed behind him, Coroner Hugel launched into an indignant tirade against the conditions at the city morgue. The mayor, who had heard this litany of complaints before, cut him off. He described the situation at the Balmoral and ordered the coroner to take an unmarked vehicle uptown. Residents of the building must not be made aware of any police presence. A detective would follow later.

"I?" said the coroner. "O'Hanlon from my office can do it."

"No," replied the mayor, "I want you to go yourself. George Banwell is an old friend of mine. I need a man with experience—and a man whose discretion I can count on. You are one of the few I have left."

The coroner grumbled but in the end gave way. "I have two conditions. First, whoever is in charge at the building must be told immediately that nothing is to be touched. Nothing. I cannot be expected to solve a murder if the evidence is trampled and tampered with before I arrive."

"Eminently sensible," replied the mayor. "What else?"

"I am to have full authority over the investigation, including the choice of detective."

"Done," said the mayor. "You can have the most seasoned man on the force."

"Exactly what I don't want," replied the coroner. "It would be gratifying for once to have a detective who won't sell out the case after I have solved it. There's a new fellow—Littlemore. He's the one I want."

"Littlemore? Excellent," said the mayor, turning his attention to the stack of papers on his large desk. "Bingham used to say he's one of the brightest youngsters we have."

"Brightest? He's a perfect idiot."

The mayor was startled: "If you think so, Hugel, why do you want him?"

"Because he can't be bought—at least not yet."

When Coroner Hugel arrived at the Balmoral, he was told to wait for Mr. Banwell. Hugel hated being made to wait. He was fifty-nine years old, the last thirty of which had been spent in municipal service, much of it in the unhealthy confines of city morgues, which had lent his face a grayish cast. He wore thick glasses and an oversized mustache between his hollow cheeks. He was altogether bald except for a wiry tuft sprouting from behind each ear. Hugel was an excitable man. Even in repose, a swelling in his temples gave the impression of incipient apoplexia.

The position of coroner in New York City was in 1909 a peculiar one, an irregularity in the chain of command. Part medical examiner, part forensic investigator, part prosecutor, the coroner reported directly to the mayor. He did not answer to anyone on the police force, not even the commissioner; but neither did anyone on the force answer to him, not even the lowliest beat patrolman. Hugel had little but scorn for the police department, which he viewed, with some justification, as largely inept and thoroughly crooked. He objected to the mayor's handling of the retirement of Chief Inspector Byrnes, who had obviously grown rich on bribes. He objected to the new commissioner, who did not appear to have the slightest appreciation of the art or importance of a properly held inquest. In fact, he objected to every departmental decision he ever heard of, unless it had been made by himself. But he knew his job. Although not technically a doctor, he had attended a full three years of medical school and could perform a more expert autopsy than the physicians who served as his assistants.

After fifteen infuriating minutes, Mr. Banwell at last appeared. He wasn't, in fact, much taller than Hugel but seemed to tower over him. "And you are?" he asked.

"The coroner of the City of New York," said Hugel, trying to express condescension. "I alone touch the deceased. Any disturbance of evidence will be prosecuted as obstruction. Am I understood?"

George Banwell was—and plainly knew it—taller, handsomer, better dressed, and much, much richer than the coroner. "Rubbish," he said. "Follow me. And keep your voice down while you're in my building."

Banwell led the way to the top floor of the Alabaster Wing. Coroner Hugel, grinding his teeth, followed. Not a word was spoken in the elevator. Hugel, staring resolutely at the floor, observed Mr. Banwell's perfectly creased pin-striped trousers and gleaming oxfords, which doubtless cost more than the coroner's suit, vest, tie, hat, and shoes put together. A manservant, standing guard outside Miss Riverford's apartment, opened the door for them. Silently, Banwell led Hugel, the head manager, and the servant down a long corridor to the girl's bedroom.

The nearly naked body lay on the floor, livid, eyes closed, luxurious dark hair strewn across the intricate design of an Oriental carpet. She was still exquisitely beautiful—her arms and legs still graceful—but her neck had an ugly redness around it, and her figure was scored with the marks of a lash. Her wrists remained bound, thrown back over her head. The coroner walked briskly to the body and placed a thumb to those wrists, where a pulse would have been.

"How was she—how did she die?" Banwell asked in his gravelly voice, arms folded.

"You can't tell?" replied the coroner.

"Would I have asked if I could tell?"

Hugel looked under the bed. He stood and gazed at the body from several angles. "I would say she was strangled to death. Very slowly."

"Was she—?" Banwell did not complete the question.

"Possibly," said the coroner. "I won't be certain until I've examined her."

With a piece of red chalk, Hugel roughed a circle seven or eight feet in diameter around the girl's body and declared that no one was to intrude within it. He surveyed the room. All was in perfect order; even the expensive bed linens were scrupulously tucked and squared. The coroner opened the girl's closets, her bureau, her jewelry boxes. Nothing appeared to be amiss. Sequined dresses hung straight in the wardrobe. Lace underthings were folded neatly in drawers. A diamond tiara, with matching earrings and necklace, lay in harmonious composition inside a midnight-blue velvet case on top of the bureau.

Hugel asked who had been in the room. Only the maid who had found the body, the manager answered. Since then, the apartment had been locked, and no one had entered. The coroner sent for the maid, who at first refused to come past the bedroom door. She was a pretty Italian girl of nineteen, in a long skirt and a full-length white apron. "Young lady," said Hugel, "did you disturb anything in this room?"

The maid shook her head.

Despite the body on the floor and her employer looking on, the maid held herself straight and met her interrogator's eyes. "No, sir," she said.

"Did you bring anything in, take anything out?"

"I'm no thief," she said.

"Did you move any article of furniture or clothing?"


"Very good," said Coroner Hugel.

The maid looked to Mr. Banwell, who did not dismiss her. Instead, he addressed the coroner: "Get it over with."

Hugel cocked an eye at the owner of the Balmoral. He took out a pen and paper. "Name?"

"Whose name?" said Banwell, with a growl that made the manager cower. "My name?"

"Name of deceased."

"Elizabeth Riverford," Banwell replied.

"Age?" asked Coroner Hugel.

"How do I know?"

"I understood you were acquainted with the family."

"I know her father," said Banwell. "Chicago man. Banker."

"I see. You wouldn't have his address, by any chance?" asked the coroner.

"Of course I have his address."

The two men stared at each other.

"Would you be so good," asked Hugel, "as to provide me the address?"

"I'll provide it to McClellan," said Banwell.

Hugel began grinding his molars again. "I am in charge of this investigation, not the mayor."

"We'll see how long you're in charge of this investigation," answered Banwell, who ordered the coroner for a second time to bring his business to a close. The Riverford family, Banwell explained, wanted the girl's body sent home, a duty he would be seeing to immediately.

The coroner said he could by no means allow it: in cases of homicide, the decedent's body must by law be taken into custody for an autopsy.

"Not this body," answered Banwell. He instructed the coroner to ring the mayor if he required clarification of his orders.

Hugel responded that he would take no orders except from a judge. If anyone tried to stop him from taking Miss Riverford's body downtown for an autopsy, he would see that they were prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. When this admonition failed appreciably to move Mr. Banwell, the coroner added that he knew a reporter for the Herald who found murder and obstruction of justice highly newsworthy. Reluctantly, Banwell yielded.

The coroner had brought his old, bulky box camera with him. This he now put to use, replacing the exposed plate with a fresh one after each smoky detonation of his flash-light. Banwell remarked that if the pictures made their way to the Herald, the coroner could be sure he would never be employed in New York or anywhere else again. Hugel did not reply; at that moment a strange whine began to fill the room, like the quiet cry of a violin stretched to its highest note. It seemed to have no source, coming from everywhere and nowhere at once. It rose louder and louder, until it became almost a wail. The maid screamed. When she finished, there was no sound in the room at all.

Mr. Banwell broke the silence. "What the devil was that?" he asked the manager.

"I don't know, sir," replied the manager. "It's not the first time. Perhaps some settling in the walls?"

"Well, find out," said Banwell.

When the coroner finished his photography, he announced he was leaving and taking the body with him. He had no intention of questioning the help or the neighboring residents—which was not his job—or of waiting for Detective Littlemore. In this heat, he explained, decomposition would rapidly set in if the corpse was not refrigerated at once. With the assistance of two elevator men, the girl's body was taken down to the basement in a freight elevator and from there to a back alley, where the coroner's driver was waiting.

When, two hours later, Detective Jimmy Littlemore arrived—not in uniform—he was flummoxed. It had taken some time for the mayor's messenger boys to find Littlemore; the detective had been in the basement of the new police headquarters still under construction on Centre Street, trying out the pistol range. Littlemore's orders were to make a thorough inspection of the murder scene. Not only did he find no murder scene, he found no murderee. Mr. Banwell would not speak with him. The staff also proved surprisingly untalkative.

And there was one person whom Detective Littlemore did not even get a chance to interview: the maid who had found the body. After Coroner Hugel left but before the detective arrived, the manager had called the young woman to his office and handed her an envelope with her month's pay—minus one day, of course, since it was only August 30. He informed the girl he was letting her go. "I'm sorry, Betty," he said to her. "I'm really sorry."

Before anyone else was up, I examined the Monday morning newspapers in the opulent rotunda of the Hotel Manhattan, where Clark University was housing Freud, Jung, Ferenczi, and myself for the week. (Brill, who lived in New York, did not require a room.) Not one of the papers carried a story about Freud or his upcoming lectures at Clark. Only the New Yorker Staats-Zeitung ran anything at all, and this was a notice announcing the arrival of a "Dr. Freund from Vienna."

I never intended to be a doctor. It was my father's wish, and his wishes were supposed to be our commands. When I was eighteen and still living in my parents' house in Boston, I told him I was going to be America's foremost scholar of Shakespeare. I could be America's hindmost scholar of Shakespeare, he replied, but fore or hind, if I did not intend to pursue a career in medicine, I would have to find my own means of paying Harvard's tuition.

His threat had no effect on me. I didn't care at all for the family's Harvardiana, and I would be happy, I told my father, to complete my education elsewhere. This was the last conversation of any length I ever had with him.

Ironically, I was to obey my father's wish only after he no longer had any money to withhold from me. The collapse of Colonel Winslow's banking house in November 1903 was nothing compared to the panic in New York four years later, but it was good enough for my father. He lost everything, including my mother's bit. His face aged ten years in a single night; deep creases appeared unannounced on his brow. My mother said I must take pity on him, but I never did. At his funeral—which compassionate Boston avoided in droves—I knew for the first time I would go on in medicine, if able to continue my studies at all. Whether it was a newfound practicality that drove my decision or something else, I hesitate to say.

It was I, as things fell out, on whom pity had to be taken, and Harvard that took it. After my father's funeral, I notified the university that I would be withdrawing at year's end, the two-hundred-dollar tuition being now far beyond my means. President Eliot, however, waived the fee. Probably he concluded that Harvard's long-term interests would be better served not by giving the boot to the third Stratham Younger to trudge through the Yard, but by forgiving the demi-orphan his tuition in expectation of future rewards. Whatever the motivation, I will be forever grateful to Harvard for letting me stay on.

Only at Harvard could I have attended Professor Putnam's famous lectures on neurology. I was a medical student by then, having won a scholarship, but was proving an uninspired doctor-to-be. One spring morning, in an otherwise dust-dry account of nervous diseases, Putnam referred to Sigmund Freud's "sexual theory" as the only interesting work being done on the subject of the hysterical and obsessional neuroses. After class, I asked for readings. Putnam pointed me to Havelock Ellis, who accepted Freud's two most radical discoveries: the existence of what Freud called "the unconscious" and the sexual aetiology of neurosis. Putnam also introduced me to Morton Prince, who was then just starting his journal on abnormal psychology. Dr. Prince had an extensive collection of foreign publications; it turned out he had known my father. Prince took me on as a proofreader. Through him, I got my hands on almost everything Freud had published, from The Interpretation of Dreams to the groundbreaking Three Essays. My German was good, and I found myself consuming Freud's work with an avidity I had not felt for years. Freud's erudition was breathtaking. His writing was like filigree. His ideas, if correct, would change the world.

The hook was sunk for good, however, when I came across Freud's solution to Hamlet. It was, for Freud, a throwaway, a two-hundred-word digression in the middle of his treatise on dreams. Yet there it was: a brand-new answer to the most famous riddle in Western literature.

Shakespeare's Hamlet has been performed thousands upon thousands of times, more than any other play in any language. It is the most written-about work in all of literature. (I do not count the Bible, of course.) Yet there is a strange void or vacuum at the core of the drama: all the action is founded on the inability of its hero to act. The play consists of a series of evasions and excuses seized on by the melancholy Hamlet to justify postponing his revenge on his father's murderer (his uncle, Claudius, now King of Denmark and wed to Hamlet's mother), punctuated by anguished soliloquies in which he vilifies himself for his own paralysis, the most famous of them all beginning, of course, To be. Only after his delays and missteps have brought about ruin—Ophelia's suicide; the murder of his mother, who drinks a poison Claudius prepared for Hamlet; and his own receipt of a fatal cut from Laertes' envenomed sword—does Hamlet at last, in the play's final scene, take his uncle's triply forfeited life.

Why doesn't Hamlet act? Not for lack of opportunity: Shakespeare gives Hamlet the most propitious possible circumstances for killing Claudius. Hamlet even acknowledges this (Now might I do it), yet still he turns away. What stops him? And why should this inexplicable faltering—this seeming weakness, this almost cowardice—be capable of riveting audiences around the world for three centuries? The greatest literary minds of our era, Goethe and Coleridge, tried but failed to pull the sword from this stone, and hundreds of lesser lights have broken their heads on it.

I didn't like Freud's Oedipal answer. In fact, I was disgusted by it. I didn't want to believe it, any more than I wanted to believe in the Oedipus complex itself. I needed to disprove Freud's shocking theories, I needed to find their flaw, but I could not. My back against a tree, I sat in the Yard day after day for hours at a time, poring over Freud and Shakespeare. Freud's diagnosis of Hamlet came to seem increasingly irresistible to me, not only yielding the first complete solution to the riddle of the play, but explaining why no one else had been able to solve it, and at the same time making lucid the tragedy's mesmerizing, universal grip. Here was a scientist applying his discoveries to Shakespeare. Here was medicine making contact with the soul. When I read those two pages of Dr. Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams, my future was determined. If I could not refute Freud's psychology, I would devote my life to it.

Coroner Charles Hugel had not liked the peculiar noise that came from the walls of Miss Riverford's bedroom, like an immured spirit wailing for its life. The coroner could not get that sound out of his head. Moreover, something had been missing from the room; he was sure of it. Back downtown, Hugel rang for a messenger boy and sent him running up the street for Detective Littlemore.

Yet another thing Hugel did not like was the location of his own office. The coroner had not been invited to move into the resplendent new police headquarters or the new First Precinct house being built on Old Slip, both of which would be equipped with telephones. The judges had got their Parthenon not long ago. Yet he, not only the city's chief medical examiner but a magistrate by law, and far more in need of modern utilities, had been left behind in the crumbling Van den Heuvel building, with its chipping plaster, its mold, and, worst of all, its water-stained ceilings. He abhorred the sight of those stains, with their brownish-yellow jagged edges. He particularly abhorred them today; he felt the stains were larger, and he wondered if the ceiling might crack open and fall down on him. Of course a coroner had to be attached to a morgue; he understood that. But he emphatically did not understand why a new and modern morgue could not have been built into the new police headquarters.

Littlemore ambled into the coroner's office. The detective was twenty-five. Neither tall nor short, Jimmy Littlemore wasn't bad-looking, but he wasn't quite good-looking either. His close-cropped hair was neither dark nor fair; if anything, it was closer to red. He had a distinctly American face, open and friendly, which, apart from a few freckles, was not particularly memorable. If you passed him in the street, you were not likely to recall him later. You might, however, remember the ready smile or the red bow tie he liked to sport below his straw boater.

The coroner ordered Littlemore to tell him what he had found out about the Riverford case, trying his best to sound commanding and peremptory. Only in the most exceptional matters was the coroner placed directly in charge of an investigation. He meant Littlemore to understand that serious consequences would follow if the detective did not produce results.

The coroner's magisterial tone evidently failed to impress the detective. Although Littlemore had never worked on a case with the coroner, he doubtless knew, as did everyone else on the force, that Hugel was disliked by the new commissioner, that his nickname was "the ghoul" because of the eagerness with which he performed his postmortems, and that he had no real power in the department. But Littlemore, being a fellow of excellent good nature, conveyed no disrespect to the coroner.

"What do I know about the Riverford case?" he answered. "Why, nothing at all, Mr. Hugel, except that the killer is over fifty, five-foot-nine, unmarried, familiar with the sight of blood, lives below Canal Street, and visited the harbor within the last two days."

Hugel's jaw dropped. "How do you know all that?"

"I'm joking, Mr. Hugel. I don't know Shinola about the murderer. I don't even know why they bothered sending me over. You didn't happen to lift any prints, did you, sir?"

"Fingerprints?" asked the coroner. "Certainly not. The courts will never admit fingerprint evidence."

"Well, it was too late by the time I got there. The whole place was already cleaned out. All the girl's things were gone."

Hugel was incensed. He called it tampering with evidence. "But you must have learned something about the Riverford girl," he added.

"She was new," said Littlemore. "She only lived there a month or two."

"They opened in June, Littlemore. Everyone has lived there only a month or two."


"Is that all?"

"Well, she was a real quiet type. Kept to herself."

"Was anyone seen with her yesterday?" asked the coroner.

"She came in around eight o'clock. Nobody with her. No guests later. Went to her apartment and never came out, as far as anybody knows."

"Did she have any regular visitors?"

"Nope. Nobody remembers anybody ever visiting her."

"Why was she living alone in New York City—at her age and in so large an apartment?"

"That's what I wanted to know," said Littlemore. "But they clammed up on me pretty good at the Balmoral, every one of them. I was serious about the harbor though, Mr. Hugel. I found some clay on the floor of Miss Riverford's bedroom. Pretty fresh too. I think it came from the harbor."

"Clay? What color clay?" asked Hugel.

"Red. Cakey, kind of."

"That wasn't clay, Littlemore," said the coroner, rolling his eyes, "that was my chalk."

The detective frowned. "I wondered why there was a whole circle of it."

"To keep people away from the body, you nitwit!"

"I'm just joking, Mr. Hugel. It wasn't your chalk. I saw your chalk. The clay was by the fireplace. A couple of small traces. Needed my magnifying glass before I saw it. I took it home to compare with my samples; I got a whole collection. It's a lot like the red clay all over the piers at the harbor."

Hugel took this in. He was considering whether to be impressed. "Is the clay in the harbor unique? Could it come from somewhere else—the Central Park, for example?"

"Not the park," said the detective. "This is river clay, Mr. Hugel. No rivers in the park."

"What about the Hudson Valley?"

"Could be."

"Or Fort Tryon, uptown, where Billings has just turned over so much earth?"

"You think there's clay up there?"

"I congratulate you, Littlemore, on your outstanding detective work."

"Thanks, Mr. Hugel."

"Would you be interested in a description of the murderer, by any chance?"

"I sure would."

"He is middle-aged, wealthy, and right-handed. His hair: graying, but formerly dark brown. His height: six foot to six-foot-one. And I believe he was acquainted with his victim—well acquainted."

Littlemore looked amazed. "How—?"

"Here are three hairs I collected from the girl's person." The coroner pointed to a small double-paned rectangle of glass on his desk, next to a microscope: sandwiched between the panes of glass were three hairs. "They are dark but striated with gray, indicating a man of middle age. On the girl's neck were threads of white silk—most probably a man's tie, evidently used to strangle her. The silk was of the highest quality. Thus our man has money. Of his dexterity, there can be no doubt; the wounds all proceed from right to left."

"His dexterity?"

"His right-handedness, Detective."

"But how do you know he knew her?"

"I do not know. I suspect. Answer me this: in what posture was Miss Riverford when she was whipped?"

"I never saw her," the detective complained. "I don't even know cause of death."

"Ligature strangulation, confirmed by the fracture of the hyoid bone, as I saw when I opened her chest. A lovely break, if I may say, like a perfectly split wishbone. Indeed, a lovely female chest altogether: the ribs perfectly formed, the lungs and heart, once removed, the very picture of healthy asphyxiated tissue. It was a pleasure to hold them in one's hands. But to the point: Miss Riverford was standing when she was whipped. This we know from the simple fact that the blood dripped straight down from her lacerations. Her hands were undoubtedly tied above her head by a heavy-gauge rope of some kind, almost certainly attached to the fixture in the ceiling. I saw rope threads on that fixture. Did you? No? Well, go back and look for them. Question: why would a man who has a good sturdy rope strangle his victim with a delicate silk? Inference, Mr. Littlemore: he did not want to put something so coarse around the girl's neck. And why was that? Hypothesis, Mr. Littlemore: because he had feelings for her. Now, as to the man's height, we are back to certainties. Miss Riverford was five-foot-five. Judging from her wounds, the whipping was administered by someone seven to eight inches above her. Thus the murderer's height was between six foot and six-foot-one."

"Unless he was standing on something," said Littlemore.


"On a stool or something."

"On a stool?" repeated the coroner.

"It's possible," said Littlemore.

"A man does not stand on a stool while whipping a girl, Detective."

"Why not?"

"Because it's ridiculous. He would fall off."

"Not if he had something to hold on to," said the detective. "A lamp, maybe, or a hat rack."

"A hat rack?" said Hugel. "Why would he do that, Detective?"

"To make us think he was taller."

"How many homicide cases have you investigated?" asked the coroner.

"This is my first," said Littlemore, with undisguised excitement, "as a detective."

Hugel nodded. "You spoke with the maid at least, I suppose?"

"The maid?"

"Yes, the maid. Miss Riverford's maid. Did you ask her if she noticed anything unusual?"

"I don't think I—"

"I don't want you to think," snapped the coroner. "I want you to detect. Go back to the Balmoral and talk to that maid again. She was the first one in the room. Ask her to describe to you exactly what she saw when she went in. Get the details, do you hear me?"

On the corner of Fifth Avenue and Fifty-third Street, in a room no woman had ever entered, not even to dust or beat the curtains, a butler poured from a sparkling decanter into three etched-crystal goblets. The bowls of these goblets were intricately carved and so deep they could hold an entire bottle of claret. The butler poured a quarter inch of red wine into each.

These glasses he offered to the Triumvirate.

The three men sat in deep leather armchairs arranged around a central fireplace. The room was a library containing more than thirty-seven hundred volumes, most of which were in Greek, Latin, or German. On one side of the unlit fireplace stood a bust of Aristotle atop a jade-green marble pedestal. On the other was a bust of an ancient Hindu. Over the mantel was an entablature: it displayed a large snake curled into a sine wave, against a background of flames. The word charaka was engraved in capital letters underneath.

Smoke from the men's pipes caressed the ceiling high above them. The man in the center of the three made a barely perceptible motion with his right hand, on which he wore a large and unusual silver ring. He was in his late fifties, elegant, gaunt in the face, and wiry in build, with dark eyes, black eyebrows below his silver hair, and the hands of a pianist.

In response to his sign, the butler put a spark to the hearth, causing a thick set of papers therein to catch and burn. The fireplace glowed and crackled with dancing orange flames. "Be sure to preserve the ashes," said the master to his servant.

Nodding his assent, the butler silently withdrew, closing the door behind him.

"There is only one way to fight fire," continued the man with pianist's hands. He raised his goblet. "Gentlemen."

As the two other men raised their crystal glasses, an observer might have noticed that they also wore a similar silver ring on their right hands. One of these other two gentlemen was portly and red-cheeked, with muttonchop sideburns. He completed the elegant man's toast—"With fire"—and drained his glass.

The third gentleman was balding, sharp-eyed, and thin. He said not a word but merely sipped his wine, a Château Lafite of the 1870 vintage.

"Do you know the Baron?" asked the elegant man, turning to this balding gentleman. "I suppose you are related to him."

"Rothschild?" the balding man replied blandly. "I've never met him. Our ties are with the English branch."

Chapter Three

For Freud's first destination in America, Brill chose Coney Island, of all places. We set off by foot for the Grand Central Station, just down the block from our hotel. The sky was cloudless, the sun already hot, the streets clogged with Monday morning traffic. Motorcars accelerated impatiently around horse-drawn delivery wagons. Conversation was impossible. Across from the hotel, on Forty-second Street, a colossal scaffold had been erected where a new building was going up, and the pneumatic drills set up a deafening clatter.

Inside the terminal, it was suddenly quiet. Freud and Ferenczi stopped in awe. We were in a fabulous glass and steel tunnel, six hundred fifty feet long and a hundred feet high, with massive gas-fueled chandeliers running the entire length of its curved ceiling. It was a feat of engineering far surpassing Mr. Eiffel's tower in Paris. Only Jung seemed unimpressed. I wondered if he was well; he looked a little pale and distracted. Freud was shocked, as I had been, to learn they were about to tear the station down. But it was built for the old steam locomotives, and the era of steam had come to an end.

As we descended the stair to the IRT, Freud's mood blackened. "He is terrified of your underground trains," Ferenczi whispered in my ear. "A bit of unanalyzed neurosis. He told me so last night."

Freud's humor did not improve when our train lurched to a violent halt in a tunnel between stations, its lights flickering out, plunging us into a pitch, hot darkness. "Buildings in the sky, trains in the earth," said Freud, sounding irritated. "It is Virgil with you Americans: if you cannot bring the heavens down, you are determined to raise hell."

"That is your epigraph, no?" asked Ferenczi.

"Yes, but it was not supposed to be my epitaph," answered Freud.

"Gentlemen!" Brill cried out without warning. "You still haven't heard Younger's analysis of the paralyzed hand."

"A case history?" said Ferenczi enthusiastically. "We must hear it, by all means."

"No, no. It was incomplete," I said.

"Nonsense," Brill upbraided me. "It's one of the most perfect analyses I've ever heard. It confirms every tenet of psychoanalysis."

Having little choice, I recounted my small success, as we waited in the stifling dark for the train to return to life.

I graduated from Harvard in 1908, with a degree not only in medicine but also in psychology. My professors, impressed by my industry, brought me to the attention of G. Stanley Hall, the first man ever to receive a Harvard psychology degree, a founder of the American Psychological Association, and now the president of Clark University in Worcester. Hall's ambition was to make the upstart, fabulously endowed Clark the leading institution of scientific research in the country. When he offered me a position as an assistant lecturer in psychology, with the ability to begin my medical practice—and get out of Boston—I accepted at once.

One month later, I had my first analytic patient: a girl, whom I shall call Priscilla, sixteen years old, delivered to my office by her distraught mother. Hall was responsible for the family's decision to bring her to me. More than that I can't say without revealing the girl's identity.

Priscilla was short and heavy but had a pleasing face and an uncomplaining character. For a year she had been suffering from bouts of acute shortness of breath, occasional incapacitating headache, and a total paralysis of her left hand—all of which baffled and embarrassed her. Hysteria was plainly indicated by the paralysis, which afflicted the whole of her hand, including the wrist. As Freud had pointed out, paralyses of this kind do not conform to any genuine dermatone innervation and hence can claim no real physiological basis. For example, genuine neurological damage might cause certain fingers to be incapacitated, but not the wrist. Or the use of the thumb might be lost, leaving the other digits unaffected. But when a paralysis seizes an entire body part across all its differentiated neural reticulations, it is not physiology but psychology that must be consulted, for this kind of seizure corresponds solely to an idea, a mental image—in Priscilla's case, the image of her left hand.

The girl's doctor had naturally found no organic basis for her complaints. Nor had the chirologist, brought in from New York; his prescription had been rest and a complete withdrawal from active endeavors, which had almost certainly exacerbated her condition. They had even called in an osteopath, who of course accomplished nothing.

After ruling out the various neurological and orthopaedic possibilities—palsy, Kienböck's lunate disease, and so on—I decided to attempt psychoanalysis. At first I made no headway. The reason was the presence of the girl's mother. No hints were sufficient to induce this good woman to leave doctor and patient to the privacy psychoanalysis requires. After the third visit, I informed the mother that I would not be able to help Priscilla, or indeed to receive her in future as my patient, unless she—the mother—absented herself. Even then I could not at first make Priscilla talk. Following Freud's most recent therapeutic advances, I had her lie down with her eyes closed. I instructed her to think of her paralyzed hand and to say whatever came into her mind in association with this symptom, giving voice to any thoughts that entered her head, no matter what they were, no matter how seemingly irrelevant, inappropriate, or even impolite. Invariably, Priscilla responded only by repeating the most superficial description of the onset of her sufferings.

The critical day, as she always told the story, had been August 10, 1907. She remembered the exact date because it was the day after the funeral of her adored elder sister, Mary, who had been living in Boston with her husband, Bradley. That summer, Mary died of influenza, leaving Bradley with two infant children to take care of. On the day after the funeral, Priscilla had been charged by her mother with writing acknowledgments to the many friends and relatives who had expressed their condolences. That evening, she experienced sharp pains in her left hand—her writing hand. She saw nothing unusual in this, both because she had written so many letters and because she had felt occasional pain in that hand for the last several years. That night, however, she awoke unable to breathe. When the dyspnea subsided, she tried to go back to sleep but could not. By morning, she was suffering the first of the headaches that would plague her for the next year. Worse, she found her left hand completely paralyzed. And in that condition it had remained, hanging uselessly from her wrist.

These and other such facts she would constantly repeat to me. Long silences would follow. No matter how forcefully I assured her that there was more she wanted to tell me—that it was quite impossible for there to be nothing in her head at all—she steadfastly insisted that she could think of nothing else to say.

I was tempted to hypnotize her. She was plainly a suggestible girl. But Freud had unequivocally rejected hypnosis. It used to be a favored technique, in the early period when he was still working with Breuer, but Freud had discovered that hypnosis was neither lasting in effect nor productive of reliable memory. I decided, however, that I might safely attempt the same technique Freud deployed after abandoning hypnosis. That is what led to the breakthrough.

I told Priscilla that I was going to place my hand on her forehead. I assured her there was a memory that wanted to come out, a memory of central importance to everything she had told me, without which we would understand nothing. I told her that she knew this memory very well, even if she did not know she knew it, and that it would emerge the moment I laid my hand on her forehead.

I did the deed with some trepidation, for I had put my authority at risk. If nothing came of it, I would be in a worse position than I had been before. But in fact the memory did emerge, just as Freud's papers suggested it would, at the very moment Priscilla felt the pressure of my hand against her head.

"Oh, Dr. Younger," she cried out, "I saw it!"


"Mary's hand."

"Mary's hand?"

"In the coffin. It was terrible. They made us look at her."

"Go on," I said.

Priscilla said nothing.

"Was there something wrong with Mary's hand?" I asked.

"Oh no, Doctor. It was perfect. She always had perfect hands. She could play the piano beautifully, not like me." Priscilla was struggling with some emotion I could not decipher. The color of her cheeks and forehead alarmed me; they were almost scarlet. "She was still so beautiful. Even the coffin was beautiful, all velvet and white wood. She looked like Sleeping Beauty. But I knew she wasn't asleep."

"What was it about Mary's hand?"

"Her hand?"

"Yes, her hand, Priscilla."

"Please don't make me tell you," she said. "I'm too ashamed."

"You have nothing to be ashamed of. We are not responsible for our feelings; therefore no feeling can cause us shame."

"Really, Dr. Younger?"


"But it was so wrong of me."

"It was Mary's left hand, wasn't it?" I said at a venture.

She nodded as if confessing a crime.

"Tell me about her left hand, Priscilla."

"The ring," she whispered, in the faintest voice.

"Yes," I said. "The ring." This yes was a lie. I hoped it would make Priscilla think I already understood everything, when in reality I understood nothing. This act of deception was the only aspect of the entire business that I regretted. But I have found myself repeating the same deception, in one form or another, in every psychoanalysis I have ever attempted.

She went on. "It was the gold ring Brad gave her. And I thought, What a waste. What a waste to bury it with her."

"There is no shame in that. Practicality is a virtue, not a vice," I assured her with my usual acuity.

"You don't understand," she said. "I wanted it for myself."


"I wanted to wear it, Doctor," she practically shouted. "I wanted Brad to marry me. Couldn't I have taken care of the poor little babies? Couldn't I have made him happy?" She buried her head in her hands and sobbed. "I was glad she was dead, Dr. Younger. I was glad. Because now he was free to take me."

"Priscilla," I said, "I can't see your face."

"I'm sorry."

"I mean I can't see your face because your left hand is covering it."

She gasped. It was true: she was using her left hand to wipe away her tears. The hysterical symptom had disappeared the instant she regained the memory whose repression caused it. A year has now passed, and the paralysis never recurred, nor the dyspnea, nor the headaches.

Reconstructing the story was simple enough. Priscilla had been in love with Bradley since he first came to call on Mary. Priscilla was then thirteen. I will shock no one, I hope, by observing that a thirteen-year-old girl's love for a young man can include sexual desires, even if not fully understood as such. Priscilla had never admitted to these desires, or to the jealousy she felt toward her sister as a consequence, which irresistibly led in the child's mind to the dreadful but opportunistic thought that, if only Mary were dead, the way would be open for her. All these feelings Priscilla repressed, even from her own consciousness. This repression was doubtless the original source of the occasional pains she felt in her left hand, which probably commenced on the day of the wedding itself, when she first saw the golden ring slipped onto her sister's finger. Two years later, the sight of the ring on Mary's hand in the coffin excited the same thoughts, which very nearly emerged—or perhaps, for a moment, did emerge—into Priscilla's consciousness. But now, in addition to these forbidden feelings of desire and jealousy, there was the utterly impermissible satisfaction she took in her sister's untimely death. The result was a fresh demand for repression, infinitely stronger than the first.

The role played by the thank-you letters is more complex. One can only imagine how Priscilla must have suffered at the sight of her bare left hand, ungraced by a wedding ring, repeatedly conjoined with the act of expressing sorrow at her sister's demise. Possibly this was a contradiction Priscilla could not bear. At the same time, the laborious writing may have provided a physiological underpinning for what followed. In any event, her left hand became an offense to her, reminding her of both her unmarried state and her unacceptable wishes.

Three objectives therefore became paramount. First, she must not have such a hand; she must rid herself of a hand that had no wedding ring where a wedding ring should be. Second, she had to punish herself for her wish to replace Mary as Bradley's wife. Third, she had to make the consummation of this wish impossible. Every one of these objectives was accomplished through her hysterical symptoms; the economy with which the unconscious mind performs its work is marvelous. Symbolically speaking, Priscilla rid herself of the offending hand, simultaneously fulfilling her wish and punishing herself for having it. By making herself an invalid, she also ensured that she could no longer take care of Bradley's children or otherwise, as she so tactfully put it, "make him happy."

Priscilla's treatment, from start to finish, took all of two weeks. After I reassured her that her wishes were perfectly natural and beyond her control, she not only shed her symptoms but became fairly radiant. News of the invalid's cure spread through Worcester as if the Savior had brought sight to one of Isaiah's blind men. The story people told was this: Priscilla had fallen ill from love, and I had cured her. My placing a palm on her forehead was imbued with all sorts of quasi-mystic powers. While this made my reputation and caused my medical practice to thrive, there were less comfortable consequences too. There came a rush of thirty or forty would-be pyschoanalytic patients to my office, each of whom claimed to be suffering from symptoms disturbingly similar to Priscilla's and all of whom expected a diagnosis of unrequited love and a cure through the laying on of hands.

The train was pulling into City Hall station when I finished. We had to change there for the BRT at Park Row, where an elevated would take us all the way to Coney. No one commented on Priscilla's case, and I began to think I must have made a fool of myself. Brill saved me. He told Freud I deserved to know what "the Master" thought of my analysis.

Freud turned to me with, I hardly dared to believe it, a twinkle in his eyes. He said that, a few minor points aside, the analysis could not have been improved on. He called it brilliant and asked my permission to refer to it in subsequent work. Brill clapped me on the back; Ferenczi, smiling, shook my hand. This was not the most gratifying moment of my professional life; it was the most gratifying moment of my entire life.

I had never realized how splendid City Hall station was, with its crystal chandeliers, inlaid murals, and vaulted arches. Everyone remarked on it—with the exception of Jung, who suddenly announced that he was not coming with us. Jung had made no comments either during or after my case history. Now he said he needed to get to bed.

"Bed?" Brill asked. "You went to bed last night at nine." While the rest of us had retired well past midnight after dining together in the hotel, Jung had gone to his room as soon as we arrived and had not come down.

Freud asked Jung whether he was all right. When Jung replied that it was only his head again, Freud instructed me to take him back to the hotel. But Jung declined assistance, insisting he could easily retrace our steps. Hence Jung took the train back uptown; the rest of us went on without him.

When Detective Jimmy Littlemore returned to the Balmoral Monday evening, one of the doormen had just come on duty. This man, Clifford, had worked the graveyard shift the night before. Littlemore asked if he knew the deceased Miss Riverford.

Apparently Clifford had not received the order to hold his tongue. "Sure, I remember her," he said. "What a looker."

"Talk to her?" asked Littlemore.

"She didn't talk much—not to me, anyway."

"Anything special you remember about her?"

"I opened the door for her some mornings," said Clifford.

"What's special about that?"

"I'm off at six. The only girls you see at that hour are working girls, and Miss Riverford didn't look like a working girl, if you know what I mean. She would have been going out at, I don't know, maybe five, five-thirty?"

"Where was she going?" asked Littlemore.

"Beats me."

"What about last night? Did you notice anybody or anything unusual?"

"What do you mean unusual?" asked Clifford.

"Anything different, anybody you had never seen before."

"There was this one fella," said Clifford. "Left about midnight. In a big hurry. Did you see that fella, Mac? Didn't look right, if you ask me."

The doorman addressed as Mac shook his head.

"Smoke?" said Littlemore to Clifford, who accepted the cigarette, pocketing it since he wasn't permitted to indulge on duty. "Why didn't he look right?"

"Just didn't. Foreigner, maybe." Clifford was unable to articulate his suspicion with any greater specificity, but he asserted positively that the man did not live in the building. Littlemore took a description: black hair, tall, lean, well dressed, high forehead, mid- to late thirties, wearing glasses, carrying a black case of some kind. The man climbed into a hackney cab outside the Balmoral, heading downtown. Littlemore questioned the doormen for another ten minutes—none remembered Clifford's black-haired man entering the building, but he might well have gone up unremarked with a resident—and then asked where he could find the Balmoral's chambermaids. They pointed him downstairs.

In the basement, Littlemore came to a hot low-ceilinged room with pipes running along its walls and a clutch of maids folding linen. All knew who Miss Riverford's girl was: Betty Longobardi. In whispers, they confided to the detective that he wouldn't find Betty anywhere in the building. She was gone. Betty had left early without saying good-bye to anyone. They didn't know why. Betty was a handful but such a nice girl. She didn't take any lip, not even from the wing manager, the women told Littlemore. Maybe she'd had another fight with him. One of the maids knew where Betty lived. With this information secured, Littlemore turned to go. It was then that he noticed the Chinaman.

Clad in a white undershirt and dark shorts, the man had come into the room carrying a wicker basket overflowing with freshly cleaned sheets. Having deposited the contents of this basket onto a table filled with like items, he was walking out again when he attracted the detective's attention. Littlemore stared at the retreating man's thick calves and sandals. These were not in themselves particularly interesting; nor was his gait, which involved the sliding of one foot after the other. The result, however, was arresting. Two wet stripes were left on the floor in the man's wake, and these stripes were flecked with a glistening dark-red clay.

"Hey—you there!" cried Littlemore.

The man froze, his back to the detective, shoulders hunched. But the next moment he started off again at a run, disappearing around a corner, still carrying his basket. The detective sprang after him, turning the corner just in time to see the man pushing through a pair of swinging doors at the end of a long corridor. Littlemore ran down the corridor, passed through the doors—and gazed out at the Balmoral's cavernous and noisy laundry, where men were laboring at ironing boards, washboards, steam presses, and hand-cranked washing machines. There were Negroes and whites, Italians and Irish, faces of all kinds—but no Chinamen. An empty wicker basket lay on its side next to an ironing board, rocking gently as if recently set down. The floor was thoroughly wet, disguising any tracks. Littlemore pushed up the brim of his boater and shook his head.

Gramercy Park, at the foot of Lexington Avenue, was Manhattan's sole private park. Only the owners of the houses opposite the park's delicate wrought-iron fence had the right to enter. Each house came with a key to the park gates, offering access to the small paradise of flower and greenery within.

To the girl emerging from one of those houses early Monday evening, August 30, that key had always been a magical object, gold and black, delicate yet unbreakable. When she was a little girl, old Mrs. Biggs, their servant, used to let her carry the key in her tiny white purse on their way across the street. She was too small to turn the key by herself, but Mrs. Biggs would guide her hand and help her do it. When the iron gate released, it was as if the world itself were opening up before her.

The park had grown much smaller as she grew up. Now, at seventeen, she could of course turn the key without assistance—and did so this evening, letting herself in and walking slowly to her bench, the one she always sat on. She was carrying an armload of textbooks and her secret copy of The House of Mirth. She still loved her bench, even though the park had somehow become, as she got older, more an attachment to her parents' house than a refuge from it. Her mother and father were away. They had repaired to the country five weeks earlier, leaving the girl behind with Mrs. Biggs and her husband. She had been delighted to see them go.

The day was still oppressively hot, but her bench lay in the cool shade of a willow and chestnut canopy. The books sat unopened beside her. The day after tomorrow, it would be September, a month she had been looking forward to for what seemed an eternity. Next weekend, she would turn eighteen. Three weeks after that, she would matriculate at Barnard College. She was one of those girls who, despite a fervent wish to be living another life, had staved off womanhood as long as she could, through the ages of thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen, clinging to her stuffed animals even while school friends were already discussing stockings, lipstick, and invitations. At sixteen, the stuffed animals had finally been relegated to the upper reaches of a closet. At seventeen, she was lithe, blue-eyed, and heart-stoppingly beautiful. She wore her long blond hair tied with a ribbon in the back.

When the bells of Calvary Church struck six, she saw Mr. and Mrs. Biggs hurrying down the front stoop, rushing off to the shops before they closed. They waved to the girl, and she to them. A few minutes later, brushing tears from her eyes, she set off slowly toward home, clutching her textbooks to her chest, looking at the grass and the clover and the hovering bees. Had she turned to her left, she might have seen, on the far side of the park, a man watching her from outside the wrought-iron fence.

This man had been watching her a long time. He carried a black case in his right hand and was dressed in black—overdressed, in fact, given the heat. He never took his eyes from the girl as she crossed the street and climbed the stairs to her townhouse, a handsome limestone affair with two miniature stone lions mounting an ineffectual guard on either side of the front door. He saw the girl open the door without having to unlock it.

The man had observed the two old servants leaving the house. Glancing left, right, and over his shoulder, he started off. Quickly he approached the house, ascended the steps, tried the door, and found it still unlocked.

A half hour later, the summer-evening silence of Gramercy Park was ruptured by a scream, a girl's scream. It carried from one end of the street to the other, hanging in the air, persisting longer than one would have thought physically possible. Shortly thereafter, the man burst out the back door of the girl's house. A metal object no larger than a small coin flew from his hands as he stumbled down the rear steps. It hit a slate flagstone and bounced surprisingly high into the air. The man nearly fell to the ground himself, but he recovered, fled past the garden potting shed, and escaped from the garden down the back alley.

Mr. and Mrs. Biggs heard the scream. They were just returning, laden with bags of groceries and flowers. Horrified, they trundled into the house and up the stairs as quickly as they were able. On the second floor, the master bedroom door was open, which it should not have been. Inside that room, they found her. The shopping bags fell from Mr. Biggs's hands. A pound of flour spread out around his old black shoes, raising a little cloud of white dust, and a yellow onion rolled all the way to the girl's bare feet.

She stood in the center of her parents' bedroom, clad only in a slip and other undergarments not meant for servants' eyes. Her legs were naked. Her long slender arms were outstretched above her head, the wrists bound by a thick rope, which was secured in turn to a ceiling fixture from which a small chandelier depended. The girl's fingers nearly touched its crystal prisms. Her slip was torn, both front and back, as if rent by the lashes of a whip or cane. A man's long white tie or scarf was wound tightly around her neck and between her lips.

She was not, however, dead. Her eyes were wild, staring, unseeing. She looked on the familiar old servants not with relief but with a kind of terror, as if they might be murderers or demons. Her whole frame shivered, despite the heat. She made to scream again, but no sound came out, as if she had expended all her voice.

Mrs. Biggs came to her senses first and ordered her husband out of the room, telling him to fetch the doctor and a policeman. Gingerly she went to the girl, trying to calm her, unwinding the tie. When her mouth was freed, the girl made all the motions that normally accompany speech, but still no sound came out, no words at all, not even a whisper. When the police arrived, they were dismayed to learn that she could not speak. A still greater surprise lay in store for them as well. Paper and pencil were brought to the girl; the police asked her to tell them in writing what happened. I can't, she wrote. Why not? they asked. Her reply: I can't remember.

Excerpted from The Interpretation of Murder © Copyright 2012 by Jed Rubenfeld. Reprinted with permission by Henry Holt and Company. All rights reserved.

The Interpretation of Murder
by by Jed Rubenfeld

  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Picador
  • ISBN-10: 0312427050
  • ISBN-13: 9780312427054