Decaffeinated Corpse

PROLOGUE

IN 1862 New York instituted its first gun control law, banning rifles to discourage hunting within the city limits. Over one hundred and fifty years later, at least one hunter failed to be discouraged.

Strolling along the wet, wide sidewalk of Sixth Avenue, this particular hunter found stalking prey a simplistic pursuit. Actually overtaking it, however, was a trickier matter. Unlike mouse or bird or lesser mammal, this prey wasn’t small, and it wasn’t weak. This prey was at least six feet in height and possessed muscles enough to fight back should it feel threatened.

Street after street, the two walked, pursuer and pursued, the little covert parade taking them from quiet Perry to bustling Bleecker then picturesque Grove, by pizzerias, novelty shops, bistros, bookstores, and boutiques.

The setting sun had swept in a passing storm, killing the reassuring warmth of the clear October day. Having failed to dress for the weather, the hunter shivered. The newly purchased windbreaker and Yankee cap were thin protection against the rapidly plunging temperature. But conditions weren’t all bad. The location, at least, was an advantageous place to tail a pedestrian.

The narrow, winding lanes of this small historic district weren’t nearly as congested as other parts of Manhattan— downtown’s glass-and-steel Financial District, for instance, or the sardine-packed sidewalks of Midtown with its hordes of tourists stopping dead to take cell phone photos of twenty-story digital billboards and send them god knew where.

Here in this quaint little town within a town, genteel residents roved at their leisure, walking groomed dogs, carting home groceries, clustering on corners to chat with neighbors. All obstacles were easy enough to dart around in pursuit of the moving target, and the elegant brick row houses provided ample doorways to hide should the prey decide to double back.

But the prey never did. Not once did he glance over the shoulder of his fine suede jacket. With the compact umbrella now collapsed at his side, the dashing, accomplished, ebony-haired entrepreneur strode forward with confidence, even arrogance, like a bullet seeking a bull’s-eye. He walked the way he lived his life, unmindful of the people around him, his primary concern penetrating the path ahead.

Before one last corner was turned, toward the Village Blend, the hunter pulled on the ski mask, then shoved down all remaining reservations, along with the bill of the brand new Yankee cap. Reaching into a jacket pocket, chilled fingers found cold courage—the hard handle of an unlicensed .38.

My little leveler, the hunter thought, less than a pound of metal, but with it the balance of power is about to tip in my favor . . .

ONE

FOR some of my customers, Greenwich Village is more a time than a place. They remember my neighborhood when Bob Dylan was young, when Allen Ginsberg howled poetry, Andy Warhol shot avant-garde films, and Sam Shepard waited tables while scribbling award-winning plays.

A few really old school hipsters like to go back even further (with or without the help of modern chemistry), to the days when rents for a one-bedroom flat were one hundred dollars a month, instead of the current two thousand, and Edward Albee was making a living delivering telegrams while he wrote Zoo Story. They see a young Marlon Brando, in black leather cruising the cobblestone streets on his motorcycle, and James Dean whiling away his hours at the Rienze coffeehouse that was once on MacDougal.

I certainly understand the appeal of mental time travel. Back then, the Village was the “Paris of New York,” a passionate little bohemia, where hundreds of artists toiled in garret studios beside working-class immigrants. Poets scribbled all day and recited their