Birds warbled, passers-by waved benevolently at three-card-monte sidewalk scam artists, and policemen walked with a new bounce in their step. Once again, they had a reason to be cheerful: New York, lately the laughing-stock of Miami, Minneapolis, Chicago and other arrivistes in the lethal metropolis scene, had finally salvaged its reputation for ruthlessness and mayhem. Satan was back in Hell's Kitchen, all was right with the world.

It all started last week, when it was revealed that an evil band, headed by a ne'er-do-well known only as "el jefe" had been keeping 55 deaf Mexican immigrants as virtual slaves, forcing them to sell trinkets on the subway. Only days earlier, commuters had assumed that the silent hawkers were merely canny entrepreneurs, feigning disability for small change; now, it turned out they were hapless catspaws. As disheartening as it was to discover that the men and women who had been handing out keychains and gewgaws with a card that said "I Am a Deaf Mute" actually had been deaf all along, and not deceiving anybody, it was bracing to learn that the wicked city still retained its powers. "Watch it," commuters thought, eyeing disoriented tourists with new compassion. "One false move and you could be selling trinkets by nightfall. That's the kind of city this is."

The next day, city sleuths discovered that America's Most Wanted, Andrew Cunanan, the lead suspect for the murder of Gianni Versace, had camped out in NYC in May. Within minutes, everyone had come up with a near-Cunanan experience. On the Upper West Side, young rentboys confessed that they had run into the dashing assassin on a gay cruising strip. At the Bastille Day celebrations, men in feather boas and push-up bras crooned Piaf and fretted that Cunanan, who was rumoured to have shaved his legs and dyed his hair, might be traipsing among them. And even in the exclusive Hamptons, illustrious citizens scrabbled through their photo albums of last year's pool parties and book fetes, searching for an accidental photo of the prime suspect, who, it emerged, had summered in their midst in 1996. By Wednesday, you were no one if you had not looked Cunanan in the face, or at least, if you hadn't thought you might have.

As Thursday dawned to news that Cunanan had offed himself, the populace did not lose heart. After all, the reasoning went, if Elvis was being spotted lurking about decades after his death who was to say that Cunanan couldn't still turn up? Besides, the tedious chain of propriety and lawfulness had been broken. As the reports rolled grimly in - pitbulls on the rampage in the projects, meningitis coursing through the kindergartens, little girls being unceremoniously booted out of the Broadway musical Annie, and a naked lunatic lurking outside City Hall - New Yorkers sighed with relief. The city, at last, was back to normal.

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