Murder at the Fall Line
On the muggy evening of May 1, 1931, President Herbert Clark Hoover pressed a fake button in Washington, D.C., and the new one-hundred-and-two-story Empire State Building was declared officially open.
In New York, the weather was different. Chilled gusts of wind and rain came from the northeast, whipping around the building as if to test its strength. Inside the building, a real switch was engaged and lights began to illuminate the interior.
P. Walter Donne, 52, took that as a signal to jump. His predictions had been ignored, and it had come to this. Editor of the regional Journal of Commerce, he leaned over the eighty-sixth floor observation deck and looked one-thousand feet down. His nostrils flared, and his eyes squinted because of the dank wind at his back. His clenched expression carved grief onto a face standing out chalk white in the deepening darkness.
With a few fast breaths to bolster his courage, Donne climbed up and over the enclosure which was built to prevent anyone from falling by mistake. He hesitated, and then leaped out hard away from the building to avoid obstruction. The strong rear winds curving around the sides drove Donne safely away from the building’s lower facings and numbed him as he saw floor lights come on inside the dark behemoth as he fell faster and faster.
His fall ended with brief thunder when at near ground level he smacked onto the top of a maroon Packard parked on W. 34th Street and lay sprawled on his back in a new depression. The front of his face was not wholly gone, and it had an odd smile.
Some few bystanders began to gather and look at Donne and up at the top of the Empire State Building, which they could not see.
TODAY, 2 JUNE
SOMEWHERE ON THE ATLANTIC SEABOARD
A fall line is the geomorphologic break between an upland region of relatively hard crystalline basement rock and a coastal plain of softer sedimentary rock.
The term fall line was originally used to describe the east-facing cliff called a scarp that stretches from New Jersey south to the Carolinas and separates the hard Piedmont rocks of the Appalachian Highlands from the softer rocks of the Atlantic Plain.
It wasn’t an easy thing to do, but he was plucky. To see the half-man again, Sammy Beguiles, thirteen, sneaked back down the rear delivery alley of the Magnolia Mall just outside Glibner town limits. Memorial Day had been the week before on his birthday.
It was nine at night and hot and muggy, but he felt covered by an icy mist as he thought about the dead man, and he could not help himself. It had an appeal.
Parts of the alley were almost as black as his closed eyes, where bubbles popped in memory of color. Where light wasn’t reflected from somewhere, it was black as a remembered closed bathroom with no windows and Sammy felt his way carefully, his arms angled to both sides like wings.
Up close, Sammy could see by the hint of the lights that the half-man sitting upright on top of a coarse gunnysack behind the Family Drug Store in the mall seemed to wear a grey pin-striped suit with a vest and a large gold watch on his left wrist. There were bruises on his soft, almost boyish face along with a look of utter astonishment. He had a fresh shave; a flesh-colored band aid was on the back of one hand. Tousled brown hair spilled over the body’s forehead. The close-up smell was like iron, and it yielded some evidence that the man had been drinking. There were two sets of large footprints coming in, but none going out.
The young boy wondered about that, but stepping carefully around the body he went farther down the alley and looked around the corner nearest the west end of the mall. He saw only an old derelict looking like a load of Goodwill donation clothing propped up cater-corner across the street.
When the derelict saw him and stood up, Sammy ran the other way.