A passage from The Alienist by Caleb Carr

From Chapter 4:

As a boy in New York Cyrus had seen his parents literally torn to pieces during the draft riots of 1863, when angry hordes of white men and women, many of them recently arrived immigrants, expressed their unwillingness to fight for the causes of the Union and slave emancipation by laying hold of any blacks they could find—including young children—and dismembering them, burning them alive, tarring them, whatever medieval tortures their Old World minds could conceive. A talented musician with a splendid bass-baritone voice, Cyrus had been taken in by a pandering uncle after his parents’ death, and trained to be a “professor,” a piano player in a brothel that proferred young black women to white men of means. But his youthful nightmare had left him rather reluctant to tolerate bigoted abuse from the house’s customers. One night in 1887 he had come upon a drunken policeman taking his graft in trade, which the cop apparently thought included brutal blows from the back of his hand and taunts of “nigger bitch.” Cyrus had calmly gone to the kitchen, fetched a large butcher knife, and dispatched the cop to that special Valhalla reserved for fallen members of the New York City Police Department.

alienist-wp_caleb carr

Enter Kreizler once again. Expounding a theory he called “explosive association,” he had revealed the genesis of Cyrus’s actions to the judge in the case: during the few minutes involved in the killing, Laszlo said, Cyrus had returned in his mind to the night of his parents’ death, and the well of anger that had been left untapped since that incident came gushing forth and engulfed the offending policeman. Cyrus was not insane, Kreizler announced; he had responded to the situation in the only way possible for a man with his background.


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