On The Fourth Measure



By: Hunter Christian


The city


Sodium light gathered within ground-cover fog,

A nineteenth century wharf, its empty warehouses, and a curious dog,

The inquisitive German Shepherd led his master; untethered, to a lifeless body,

warm to the touch, halfway sunken, still partially afloat in a gravesite bog,

A lifeless hand was presented, proudly presented to his startled master,

as it dangled loosely from the dog’s salivating mouth’s clutch,

And so, the backstory goes as such


The city


Its red light district’s red lights

in unison come to life,

All shades and blinds had been lowered and drawn,

The mystery's five integral actors:

The Governor, the Grifter, the Barfly, the piano, the Pawn:

The five actors cross paths,

on the fourth measure, in three-quarter time at dawn,

The veteran tapper taps – A speak easy, the piano, its player,
cracking knuckles with a yawn –

The Steinway & Sons Model D Victorian Grand,

A witness to myriad intrigue, the occasional three-fourths time jig, or perhaps, just an ordinarily spurious con


The Piano


Grandiose in its stature, aged yet elegant, its ornate details abound,

from its acoustic innards – its haunting sounds –

bellowing up from its extraordinary brawn –

Its presence, its prevalence, its girth, its massive stance – impressive at first glance,

the music, the beat, the rhythm, the drenched bodies that dance,
their feigned romance,

The music it sends aloft, and all the ambiance it imparts,

as the witching hour approaches the inevitable dawn;

smoke in a smoky dance hall parts –

and then with measured caution,

as jazz rhythms echo off of the dance hall's walls,

Entering into the smoky room, the pensive Pawn,

All the while, the slumbering sun, reluctantly awakening,

readies its warmth for the eminent dawn


The Pawn, drops a gold eagle into a brandy snifter;

to the ready the Grifter –

The Grifter, who is a transient vagabond,

a barrelhouse and brothel pianist, a wayward drifter,

for a bed and a whore’s invitation,

the Grifter, never idle, would stealthily sidle,

to spike a mark’s drink with laudanum,

Anyplace, anywhere, anytime; for a price, and at any location,

the Grifter would gladly employ his deadly vocation


Tap, tap, tap in common time now,

the fourth measure bellows and echoes,

When in walks the Governor – investigating the hall for a come-hither lover,

as canvassing eyes scan the room for a wanton crime undercover,

Yes! The Governor, seeking the Grifter;

in disguise as the pianist and the undercover lover!


An alto sax sends aloft into smoky and velvety air,

inveterate carnal aphrodisiac whispers,

as cool steely eyes suspiciously stare, while acutely aware,

the identity of at least one of the undercover lovers,

undoubtedly, half of the tandem consists of the state's undercover Governor,

surprisingly still, not a single member of the press is present to uncover the scandal,

that even the most scrupulous of reporters would kill to expose, to personally handle


Within swaying bodies, upon wanton ears – cool jazz soothes and simmers,

The wanton bodies of the Grifter and the Governor,

a dancing duo of unabashed sinners,

Their lustful words – rise like vows, like verbal keepsakes;

debauchery long held and tawdry, deeply dyed-in-the-wool,

and to hell with the costly stakes


Alas, the Pawn awakes,

the occupant of a corner stool,

an integral member of a mysterious cast,

until half past,

the hour of reckoning, where upon the forlorn piano,

tap, tap, tap, the Barfly taps jazz hands upon white and ebony keys,

as the Grifter's ready relief,

With calculating nerve and smooth cool,

The Barfly sits on the bench tapping keys,

clumsily playing a crowd favorite called, “The Unsteady Fool,”


On the fourth measure –

Tap, tap, the ingénue tapper taps, lost of melodic acumen,

less a pianist than a character of moderate leisure,

a person who covets, who treasures,

a scheme of adult role play,

where for a meager wage, upon life's proverbial stage,

the Barfly finds substance in a secondary role well played


On the fourth measure, beating incessantly in time;

the rhythm, the beat, yes the mystery too, of a curiously indignant crime,

when on a mark, an antique clock chimes, indicating the caper's start,

The Grifter knocks off from patent leather shoes, dirt, sawdust, and grime,

Springing into action, the confident Grifter deceivingly lures;

the eagerly willing Governor,

a heart beating in tune with the music's sensual beat,

The motive rings true as motives surely do,

so onward goes the night's seedy chore,

The Governor; quietly demure,

follows the Grifter through the hall's swinging double doors,

Time ticks on, as the night creeps cautiously toward the waiting dawn


The music continues to play,

warm dancing bodies wantonly sway;

the rhythm, the beat, the time – three-fourths,

The plan's success demands the actors stay the course,

So, without a hint of cold feet nor remorse,

the actors speak their lines, as they hit their marks,

still no single actor steps up to be the production's star,

the integral five, amidst the ambiance of the smoke, the jazz, the rhythm, the bar,

heady libations pour, downward unto a saw dusted floor –

no one there the wiser, unaware of the events afoot, the coming deeds to be done,

already set into motion,

a crime that needn't require a loud and conspicuous gun,

hidden well amongst a speak easy's nightly commotion,

brought to fruition with a dastardly notion


A story unfolds with no heroes, only foes,

So, upward the tandem goes,

The Grifter, the transient drifter, with the Governor in tow,

Up one flight, then up two, upward passing the third,

lastly, the tandem finds the fourth


Alas! The key, the lock – its cylinder tumbles until it clicks open,

the Grifter flings open the creaky old door,

blood red painted, with layer upon layer of paint beneath,

The room number, 444

A flickering gas light flickers in the adjacent and dimly lit corridor,

chills hit the waiting Pawn to the core,

ajar remains the blood red door


The Grifter enters the dark room,

offering an invocation, an invitation in gesture –

In the cold motel room, haunted by an ominous gloom,

the Governor kneels on bended knees before,

The Governor's secret lover, the Grifter, to provide sexual pleasure,

in perfect rhythm, in perfect time, on the fourth measure –

from a vantage-point of calm leisure,

The Pawn, on queue, abandons the stool at the bar;

never missing a beat, never too near, nor, never too far –


The Grifter signals its time,

as the Pawn enters from behind

and, while still undercover, thrust into the neck of the Governor,

a letter opener, like a bayonet, plunging all the way through,

plunging in straight, plunging in true,

The Pawn and the Grifter, conspiring executioners, assassins and killers,

Never to be mistaken for society's sturdiest of pillars,

hired murderers working in perfect concert, in perfect unison, and in perfect tune,

The Grifter, the vagabond, the vagrant,

with a penchant for debauchery wildly flaunted, often flagrant,

the ne’er-do-well turned lover,

to the Governor,

drops the dying Governor to the crimson soaked rug,

lying the limp body down ominously, upon an aged teakwood floor,

The hour ticking to a quarter-past four,

The tandem takes on the task of hiding the result of their fatal chore


Two faces paint on masks devoid of emotion –

so as to illicit no commotion,

the Grifter and the Pawn,

exit the warehouse turned no tell motel, and underground nightclub,

into the fading dawn,

by way of an alleyway door,

down a rickety old fire escape,

carrying with them, their chore,

tightly rolled up in that crimson soaked rug

the rug that once lay on the motel room's grimy floor,

The hour: half-past four


With the Governor's newly appropriated mansion under construction –

the Governor, and the Governor’s family, were given quarter in the city on the taxpayers dime;

An old nineteenth century brownstone embraced by the sensuous yet calming aroma of lavender, lilac, and mother-of-thyme -

stood in nicely for the Governor's residence

Its fascia adorned elegant stained glass windows, ornate sandstone window casing, and flower boxes that holdfast the myriad purple flowers,

The brownstone's modest grounds were secured by a stout wrought-iron fence,

and nestled beneath the cool shade of a middling aged red maple, rested an idyllic courtyard where the home's residents could ease their minds for hours and hours


At a quarter of nine, the old brownstone's ornate knocker knocks,

A mid-morning caller knocks several more times,

When no one answers, the caller insists once more,

by pulling a silver chain to awaken a rusty ole chime,

In no time, a curious character opens the home's large front door

The detective speaks, “My condolences dear sir, I fear that I am the bearer of ominous news;”

“Your dear wife, the Governor, is dead,”

the detective continues on as his eyes fall downward to his shiny black shoes,

“We think it was a political assassination,”

The Governor’s husband, in perfect control of his senses,

removes his eyeglasses with a white handkerchief,

wiping the tears clear from its lenses,

While displaying no unduly maudlin melodrama, no peculiar stoicism, no false pretenses,

The husband's behavior does not elude to anything out of place or amiss,

“I shall keep you apprised of anything new,” the detective insists,
“If you have no questions sir, I bid you good morning and adieu,”


The brownstone's foyer, its herringbone tile floor

becomes the production's stage; a segue closing the final scene;

With a push, and locking of the front door,

a pensive murmur begins to build while rising aloft,

echoing off the walls and herringbone floor,

building, building, building up, from a murmur to a roar,

concluding loudly as an expletive laced crescendo,

“good riddance you filthy whore”!


As if on queue, out from the parlor comes the Pawn, yes the Pawn!

Following right after, the Grifter enters the foyer too!

The Governor’s widower hands a paper bag wrapped brick shaped object to each of the actors,

“Here's the five thousand we agreed upon, and here's another five thousand for you,”

The time: nine twenty-two
The temperature: sixty-two
The day: the first Tuesday in June
The year: 1922





  • Author: HChristian74 (Offline Offline)
  • Published: October 29th, 2017 23:57
  • Comment from author about the poem: This piece has been a labor-of-love at times. Written, edited, rewritten, ignored, chopped, reworked, and more, On The Fourth Measure is one of my writings that I feel deserved the attention to detail that an amazing editor and confidant finally help realize. I hope that you enjoy this write as much as I enjoy sharing with the literary community. HC
  • Category: Unclassified
  • Views: 25
  • User favorite of this poem: josh_hayeslip.
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  • Laura🌻

    Enjoyed the write. Worthy of your time and effort! Liked the surprise at the end. Is this historical fiction or a true event in history?

    • HChristian74

      Thank you for being a dedicated colleague. This write is 100 percent fiction as far as I am aware of, nothing exactly like this happened or influenced the piece. Your feedback is kind and always excitedly welcomed.


      • Laura🌻

        You’re welcome HC!
        After reading your write about Willowbrook,
        I thought this was a
        slice of history
        I was not aware of!
        Your writings are passionately written.
        They deserve a reader’s
        attention! Looking forward to reading your next
        All the best...

      • Tony36

        Great write

        • HChristian74

          Thank you for reading and responding.


          • Tony36


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