Excerpt of The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld
(Page 2 of 6)
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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 lustfor height, size, and always money.
The Balmoral, on the BoulevardNew Yorkers at the time referred
to Broadway from Fifty-ninth to 155th Street as the
Boulevardwas 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 buildingany residential buildinghad 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 maids 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 Balmorals 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 floors 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 mans 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 girls 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 weeks voyage at sea.
Copyright © 2006 by Jed Rubenfeld