A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood



Scene Title A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood
Synopsis Zoe's visit to see Aaron Rodgers about one of the Brill paintings does not conclude as planned.
Date February 24, 2009

Morningside Heights

Morningside Heights was and is still known for its high density of educational institutions. Most of the neighborhood is owned by Columbia University; the rest is shared with Barnard College, the Manhattan School of Music, the Teachers College, Columbia Greenhouse nursery school, and a variety of religious seminaries.

In addition to places like the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and Morningside Park, the neighborhood boasts a variety of restaurants and clubs, excellent bookstores, and Mondel Chocolates, selling handmade chocolate candies even today.

Before the bomb, Morningside Heights was dominated by students. That is still the case today, but their majority is now far smaller — with Morningside being one of the neighborhoods least affected by the explosion, it has become a very popular place to live. Housing is extremely expensive, but people are willing to pay through the nose for a place they know is safe and sound — at least in structural terms. Population density is high; like everywhere else in the city, so is crime, although Morningside's biggest problems are theft and embezzlement. Along with the consequences of college parties and/or pranks.

Apartment 403 at building 1772 on West 112th street in Morningside Heights is a non-descript and upper-middle class residence in a once classy neighborhood. While the scars of social decay the bomb left on this region of New York have not hit nearly as hard as other portions of the beleagured city, the faded spray of graffiti on the brick walls of this apartment complex would never have come to pass in an era before the collapse of New York's infrastructure.

Nor would the power be out.

It's perhaps a mixed blessing when Zoe Porter arrives at the residence of one Aaron Rodgers that the wealthy, yet reclusive art collector's home is suffering from one of the many rolling blackouts that have been plaguing New York City for nearly a month now.

Without electricity, the four-story ascent by stairs to Rodgers' top-floor apartment is a long and tiring one, made mostly in the dark and the ambient glow of red security lightning powered purely by batteries. In this fourth-floor hall, there is no sound. Not the background hum of half a dozen refrigerators, nto the static of televisions all playing different channels, not even the noise of families and neighbors spending this warm afternoon discussing the situation at the apartment.

No, building 1772 is quiet, cryptlike in its silence. And the door to apartment 403, weathered and old, is like all of the others.

Still, and quiet.

Zoe swallows a little. This makes her very nervous, and she's starting to wonder if maybe she oughtn't have told her Lindy-thug to stay in the car. Of course, if the man deems it necessary, he'll get out of the car anyway, but that doesn't reassure Zoe very much. Curling a gloved hand into a fist, she knocks smartly on the door. "Mr. Rodgers?" she calls out earnestly.

There's a creak when Zoe knocks on the door, and when that door swings inwards into the apartment it's obvious that something is amiss. There's no sound coming from apartment 403, just that quiet stillness the rest of the floor has. With the lights off, the diffuse gray light from a clody day is filtering through the apartment windows dully, with a view of the brick walls and windows of an adjacent apartment seen directly outside.

From the doorway, Zoe can see the apartment's living room, lined with paintings on the walls of landscapes and portraits, all in different styles ranging from classical to modernist. Prominently displayed over an antique chaise lounge is what — presumably — is a reprint of the classic Andy Warhol Soup Can painting.

But no other noise, just the creak of old hinges.

Zoe blinks, and stares at the print for a moment, before stepping inside, fueled by curiosity that obvious lacks any semblance of self-preservation. Digging into her purse, she pulls out a pen flashlight, holding it in a clenched fist as she begins to look around. With no reply given, Zoe takes careful steps, making sure to check the floor before she steps, but unable to help being drawn to what's on the walls. She offers yet another, "Hello? Is anybody home?

Porter's voice rings off of the walls, and her shoes clunk hollowly against the hardwood floors, soon coming muffled as her feet track over an antiquated looking throw rug. Moving into the apartment, there's something in the air, a pungent scent that while faint, is remarkably foul. From the middle of the sitting room, it's clear that no one is in the small kitchen, though from the bowls on the floor, it's obvious mister Rodgers has a pet of some kind.

Scanning the large sitting room, Zoe spots an old console-style television used as a mantle-piece for photographs of a tiny, brownish-tan dog — a shih-tzu. No pictures of family, just of a dog, a somewhat lonely existence. A pair of doors flank the television, one open and leading into a darkened bathroom, the other closed.

It's only the sudden brush of cold air that catches Zoe's attention from that door, to one of the windows overlooking the alley, open just a fraction of an inch, letting in the bitter chill from outside.

No answer, and no sound of yapping dog, either. Poor little thing. Frowning, her face contorts in a visage of disgust at the smell, her hand going to her nose instinctively. But against instinct, she decides to try and follow the foul stench to its source, her expression growing more nauseous as edges closer to where the scent indicates ground zero is.

The bedroom, regrettably, seems to be the source of this pungent aroma. As Zoe reaches out to curl one gloved hand around the doorknob, she finds some very faint resistance keeping the door closed, like a shoe or a handbag resting on the other side. As the door pushes open, that horrible smell grows worse, a nearly overpowering stench of decay that floods outwards from the bedroom, along with the horrible sound of buzzing flies.

Recoiling from the wave of nausea that rolls up from the opening of the door, Zoe's eyes are welcomed by a horrifying scene of violence. An old man lies on the floor at the foot of the bed, blankets wrapped around his legs, still dressed in the flannel pajamas he must have worn to bed. Blood has turned a brown-red, pooled beneath the back of his head where a fireplace hook has been driven into his skull, still jutting up from where it penetrates bone, flesh and hair. Flies and maggots cover the old man's body, the buzzing insects filling the bedroom.

With her eyes darting about, Zoe can see the spatters of blood covering the walls, and another pool of dried blood on the floor near to the door where she pushed the limp body of a stiff and blood-stained canine corpse aside.

It is not a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

Zoe backpedals as fast as she can from the hall, turns and races to the open front door. Once there, she falls to the floor, only the protection of her trousers preventing her from skinning her knee as she wretches up the contents of her stomach. Once finished, she weakly reaches into her pocket, and plucks out her cellphone to dial the number for the chauffeur downstairs. And soon as she picks up, she whispers in a hoarse voice to the thug, "I need you to come up here - please." and clicks off without even waiting for a reply.

Looking back into the apartment with wide, horrified eyes, Zoe is left to the uncomfortable silence of the apartment's fourth floor for but four excruciatingly long minutes before the thundering sound of footsteps comes barreling down the hall, followed by a dark-haired man in a sleek suit with a pistol drawn, rushing towards where Zoe crouches on the ground. "What's — " The stench hits him, and the enforcer brings a hand over his mouth, staggering back from the apartment, "Christ" he hisses out, eyes widening to match Zoe's expression.

Looking up and down the hall, the now sickened man murmurs against his palm, "what the fuck happened? Jesus Christ that smells like a fucking corpse." Clearly he's had his fair share of exposure to them to recognize that stink of decay on contact.

"It is," Zoe says still on her knees, "It is a fucking corpse." She never uses that language. "I - I don't know what to do." She looks ready to start bawling like a baby right there, because that is a million times more gross than she will ever after to deal with in her archive, which at the moment she wishes she could go into, shut the door, and never come out again. "Who do we have to call? The police?"

The thug snorts, shaking his head, "Yeah, right, cops." From the tone of his voice, that was sarcasm, "Is the painting inside, did you see it anywhere?" He tucks his pistol back into the holster inside of his jacket, retrieving a handkerchief at the same time, using it to cover his nose and mouth as he leans into the doorway, looking from one side of the apartment to the other. "Fuck, how long has he been dead?"

There's no sense of compassion or respect for the corpse, just cold and business-like demeanor, not even a shred of compassion for the girl curled up on the floor. He just steps around the puddle of stomach contents seeping into the hallway's carpet, looking around the apartment's living room, unable to pick out the painting from the others on the wall.

Zoe shakes her head. "No, I - " she gets up. "I could touch something…" Weakly, she follows him in, starts looking around in earnest. "I wouldn't get much anyway." She doesn't want to stay here. She really doesn't want to stay here. How could she be asked to do this?

With her bodyguard moving into the apartment first, Zoe's apprehension about returning to the scene of the crime is rewarded by the returning stink of the corpse's decay. Her bodyguard's slow movements thorugh the house seem practiced, reaching into his jacket pockets to pull on leather gloves, carefully looking at the open window, then into the horrifying scene of violence in the bedroom, shaking his head slowly after taking it in.

"Any of these it?" He motions to the paintings hanging on the walls, but none of them are a Brill, not even close to the pulp style of his artwork. Most of them likely far more expensive.

That's when it clicks for Zoe; nothing is stolen. All of these expensive paintings hanging on the walls, all of the antique furniture, nothing has been touched. The only oddity is the empty space above the sofa, where a painting looks like it should hang, but is conspicuously missing.

Zoe shakes her head. "No…" a pause. "But there, right there? Is the just about the size of the canvas, if it'd been framed." she shakes her head. "Obviously someone either wants these paintings badly, or wants to make sure Linderman doesn't have them at all." She makes a face. "I'd rather not have to do a reading unless I'm asked to. Can you make sure the team collects something from the living room and bedroom in case I'm asked to do so?" Because she really, really doesn't want to go through the Herculean effort of coming into contact with anything here and now.

Flicking his brown eyes over to Zoe, the bodyguard nods and reaches into his jacket, producing a cell phone, not a gun. Pressing one of the speed-dial buttons, he paces out of the living room, phone tucked under his chin. "Yeah, this is Jacobs. We're up at the apartment, guy's dead and the painting is gone. Send a crew up here, we should clean this place down, get Timms on the horn down at the precinct and have him hold up anyone coming to check this out."

looking back over his shoulder,t he bodyguard eyes the bedroom, "Guy's been dead a few days, at least. No fucking idea where the painting is. Bag some stuff so Porter can have a look at it if you don't find anything." A moments pause, and the bodyguard nods, "Yeah, gotcha."

The phone is flipped shut, and Jacobs looks Zoe up and down quietly, "We don't have to stick around. You wanna' get brought back? Ain't no reason to linger here, they're sending some people over."

Zoe nods. "Yes, please." she says, and collecting her dignity - what little's left of it now that her Lindy-thug has seen her chucking up her lunch, she winds her way out of the apartment, quite content to not look back and never, ever come here again.

No, there's no reason for Zoe Porter to come back — not here. Whatever happened to the Brill painting that Mister Rodgers had in his possession, it's a mystery to the archivist and to Daniel Linderman. Someone wanted the painting bad enough to kill, and whoever it was clearly had the intent on making certain that no one figured out where it went.

Odds are Zoe Porter will never come back here again…

…outside of the very real possibility of reliving it one last time…

From the eyes of a murder weapon.

February 24th: Third Wheel
Previously in this storyline…
A Wheel To Run In

Next in this storyline…

February 24th: Inarticulate
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