This town is what I call a tomato. She looks great on the outside,
even beautiful at times. But when you taste her lips, it feels
like somebody just died. You know shes going to dump you
for some guy with a bigger clip of cash.
My names Harold. Its not the coolest name. People
make fun of it, kids especially. You hear the story about Old
Weird Harold? And so on. But its a solid name, a lot better
than my last name. By calling me Harold, my parents tried to make
me classy like a British schoolboy, but it didnt take.
I build houses. My Dad runs the business. He and I have been
working together about three years.
Mom wanted me to be a doctor. She shoved all this medicine crap
at me in high school and I swallowed the stuff whole. Boy, did
I take it.
At the local college, I loved my courses in history and English.
One of my favorite classes was in the history of the city, from
the streets to the newspapers to the politicians. We studied the
big personalities, from mayors to publishers, preachers to sinners,
great moralists to prominent deviants, who sometimes were all
mixed up in one soul. I aced the course. Its important to
know the enemy.
But then I ran into a wall called organic chemistry. In class
the symbols and equations started coming at me like bees drunk
on tequila. I wanted to stand up on my chair and scream my lungs
out. I wanted to take a baseball bat to the chalk board. Instead
I drummed my pencil on the counter in the lab and thought about
how to get the hell out of there.
So Moms dream came crumbling down. I dropped out of college.
Only good thing about school was I met this nice Southern girl,
named Ravidinsky. Polish. Ill get to her later.
I thought about joining the Marines. The local recruiter wanted
me to. He said I looked like I would make a good soldier. But
I let my mother talk me out of it. Another mistake made because
of Mom. So I took up Dads work. I was surprised that I liked
it so much.
The reason Im writing about this is what happened when
Donny Troy tried to sell us on building a house on some property
in the Gardens. The Garden district isnt like the rest of
the city. The areas very pretty. The houses are set far
apart. Theres a large private park in the middle of the
neighborhood, and football fields worth of green grass. The quiet
would scare you. A lot of the big money boys live there, but its
still inside the city line.
I met up with Donny by accident at The T-Bone, the late-night
diner. Its on the main boulevard, which runs like a giant
knife wound through Queens. The T-Bone is about a ten minute drive
from my house in one direction and the Gardens are in the other.
We live in a section called the Flats. The name says a lot about
the neighborhood. The Flats is middle class, mostly row houses,
some stand-alone homes. The kids still play stickball in the street,
and freeze tag and Johnny-On-The-Pony. Our house is on a corner
lot. Its a little more expensive, a little better-kept than
the rest. But its still in the Flats and not in the Gardens.
Midnight, and my date had washed out. She was a girl from the
local union office, Irene Something. Nice legs, but a little too
tight in the brain. She called me at seven, when I had just come
out of the shower. It had been a long, hot day on the job and
I wanted to look nice for Irene. I have some pride. Irene told
me she couldnt make it. Her girlfriend was in trouble. Like
I couldnt figure out that dodge.
So I took a couple of quick pops at the bar down the street.
The place bored me. The action on Thursday night is like nothing.
Two old-time rummies were sitting at the end of the old oak bar
drooling. Looking at them was fascinating. Like I told you, this
tomato will break your heart every time.
I wasnt ready to go home and hear my Mom snoring all through
the house. And my Dad, he might be waiting up for me in the kitchen,
reading the paper or drinking coffee. Im 23 years old; youd
think the old man would let me alone. He doesn't ask any questions,
but hes got this way of making me feel guilty just by looking
The diner counter felt warm and uncomfortable. The air conditioning
was out again. Early May, and were having a heat wave. This
tomato of a town gives you a slap anytime.
I was eating a bagel with a slab of cream cheese when someones
paw slammed into my shoulder. I dont like being touched.
I wheeled around on the stool and was ready to hit the creep who
Schrieber! How is it youre so skinny, but you got
those big arms?
Even though I saw it was Donny, I still wanted to hit him. I
dont like it when anybody calls me Schrieber. I have enough
of a burden with Harold. Schrieber is over the top.
I dont know, Donny, but either one is big enough
to smack you right in the eye.
When we were in seventh grade, winter term, Donny had organized
a bunch of boys to chase me after school. It had something to
do with my last name. So I turned and threw a rock and hit Donny
flush in the face. He rushed me, the other kids cheering him on.
I rounded my fist at him like a comet, the shoulder following
through like Dad taught me.
Donny went down in the snow. He looked confused. I narrowed my
eyes at Donnys crowd and pulled my fists up near my face.
They walked off, quiet and dumb. After that, Donny made himself
my best friend. Though we spent time together, I never let myself
trust him. I already have a best friend. His name is Al. A man
should not have two best friends.
Very good, my man, very good. Can I talk to you about something?
This would ordinarily stand as an invitation for me to leave.
But I felt trapped. We let these things happen, even if we dont
want to admit it.
I want to eat my bagel. Alone. Call our office in the morning.
Schrieber, Ive got a hot property to sell. I want
you to see it.
I smiled, which scared him. Maybe because I had my hand curled
into a fist when I said it.
Call me Schrieber again, Donny.
What is it with you? Thats your name.
My name is Harold. Just leave it at that.
He made a mock bowing gesture. Yes, my lord.
What do you want?
In the Gardens theres a house. Beautiful old place.
Its on a corner lot, set off from the other houses. Lots
of grass on all sides. But the owners let it go. A guy named Craft
is representing the family. Theyre tired of the property
and theyll sell it, cheap. Im advertising the house
in the paper, but Ill give you a crack at it.
I knew the Gardens pretty well. Dad had built a half dozen houses
Nothing in the Gardens sells cheap. Whats the address?
1236 Yale Place. The original developer had named
the streets for Ivy League schools. He thought that would attract
the snobby rich. What a jerk.
I smiled again. I know the place, Donny. Its huge
and its a total wreck.
You and your Dad can fix anything up.
Donny, wed have to knock it down to the foundation
and start over completely. Thats a lot of money right there.
But this deal is perfect for you guys.
I took a bite of my bagel, got cream cheese on my chin. I wiped
it off with the paper napkin and took a quick load of my coffee.
You dont need me, Donny.
Come on, Harold. Come see it with me. Ill buy you
a steak dinner.
I want New York Strip, rare and bloody. And I name the
And we both bring a date.
OK, OK. Lets go.
Let me finish my bagel and coffee.
We drove our own cars to the Gardens. I didnt want to be
stuck in a car with Donny.
Not only was the house at Yale Place a mess of falling gables
and crumbling brick, but it seemed as if the city had abandoned
the place too. The normally reliable orange street light was busted
out and had never been replaced.
The structure was three stories high and it was a beauty when
it had first been born into the world. But now, it looked like
an old hooker dressed in rags begging on the street.
Donny was out of his car first and working on his sales pitch
before my engine had even turned off.
Youre gonna love this place, Harold.
Donny, cut it. Tell me why I should like this deal.
He simultaneously gestured and hustled to the front door. The
door had ruts punched in the wood. I was thinking that some kids
must have taken some shots at the door, with something heavy.
It could have been a tire iron.
Donny fumbled with the key and the lock resisted his advances.
The key stuck in the lock and wouldnt move.
Just give me a sec, Harold.
The locks frozen. Youll need to bust it out
to get in.
No, I can get in. I did it this afternoon.
After five minutes of time I could have better spent staring
down my father, Donny still hadnt opened the lock. He kicked
I found a fallen brick in the hedge next to the steps leading
up to the front porch. Donny saw me and stepped aside, a little
mad about what I was going to do, but shamed into letting me do
it. I slammed the brick down on the knob and it broke off. The
inside piece fell the other way and the lock was broken.
The house wasnt a house. It was more like a random arrangement
of pieces of wood. There were holes in the floorboards. The staircase
had a banister but no steps. You could see into the basement from
the foyer. It looked like a black hole.
Donny sprayed his flashlight in front of him. He stepped into
the kitchen, the flashlight guiding us. The floor was mostly intact.
It was white marble, almost certainly northern Italian.
Look at this floor. Its gorgeous!
It also has mouse droppings.
That can be cleaned up easily.
The floor under Donny buckled a little. He re-balanced himself
like a subway rider.
Donny, this place is unstable. And we should go.
Theres something else I want to show you.
Through a long hallway, Donnys flashlight escorted us into
the library. We walked on the sub-floor. The fine oak that must
have been here had probably been stripped out long ago.
The library was bigger than my house. Thousands of moldering
books still stood on the shelves. Finely crafted chairs were placed
in a square in the middle of the room. The chairs had been lubricated
with water and mold. The fabric on many of them had been eaten
away, revealing the wood foundations underneath. That anyone had
been allowed to let the chairs to go to this level of degradation
Thousands of newspapers were stacked around the room as well,
tied in bundles. The piles varied in height. Some went to six
feet. Others were about two to three feet high. It seemed as if
the owner couldnt decide that the papers should have a uniform
height. The stacks looked like little newspaper families waiting
for the bus.
The newspapers were wet too. On the far side of the room, several
of the piles of newspapers had fallen off a book shelf. The books
and papers were all mixed together in a soggy, pulpy mass.
The room reminded of a pair of guys I had read about once. I
think they were called the Collyer Brothers. They collected newspapers
for years, decades, until their whole house was filled with papers.
My father talked about them when he walked into a house that wasnt
neat enough for his taste.
I heard something breathing behind the desk at that end of the
You hear that, Donny?
Yeah. Its probably a raccoon.
It sounds a lot bigger than that. Lets get the hell
out of here.
You havent seen the recreation room. It was a palace.
He took a step deeper into the library. The thing behind the
desk rocketed past the chairs. It knocked over Donny and his flashlight.
I was standing next to him, so I fell over too.
As I scrambled to get up, I heard the thing roar and tear into
Jesus Christ, Harold! Get this thing off of me!
In the dark I couldnt even find the things head.
I tried to find the flashlight.
Harold, help me!
I dipped around the floor and picked up the flashlight from the
moldy carpet. I put the light on Donny. The thing was trying to
eat Donnys face. Its head looked like it had been wrapped
in newspapers. But I couldnt spend much time thinking about
appearances. Donny was screaming. Blood ran down his face from
his forehead and cheeks.
The light stopped the thing from chewing on Donnys head.
It crouched and stared at me. The creature, or whatever it was,
seemed to be covered in newspaper. Headlines and sentences and
photographs ran over its body like they had been tattooed there.
The paper was wrapped tightly around its whole body, from head
to toe, like a mummy. The beast lunged and took me down too.
I jammed the flashlight in the mummys jaw. It clawed me
on the cheek. I hit it in what I thought was the area of the ear.
The mummy fell back, breathing in that heavy way again.
Then the bastard ran for me and tried to leap on my chest. I
ducked and used its momentum to throw it against the wall of books.
The sound of the impact was like a rifle shot.
The heavy breathing started again. The sound trailed away from
us. I used the light to try to get a line on the thing, but whatever
it was had retreated to some other part of the house.
I didnt hear Donny. I found him with the flashlight. Lying
on the floor, he didnt look like he was having a good time.
Blood was trailing from his eyes. There were bite marks through
his shirt, exposing the flesh underneath. Chunks of flesh had
been dug out of his chest.
I felt his wrist for a pulse. I thought there was a faint one,
but I remembered I was no doctor. Organic chemistry class had
taken care of that.
My next thought was: How am I going to explain this?
Donny, Im going to get help.
He turned over and curled up his knees as if to get a better
I turned Donny on his back. His cheeks had sunk in. He lay there
very still, among the wet carpet, the piles of out-of-date newspapers
and the collapsing book shelves.
I tried chest compressions, but no air escaped from Donnys
mouth. I made my hands into a single fist and hammered it on Donnys
chest, for several minutes. I even tried mouth-to-mouth resuscitation,
God help me, and listened for the sound of a breath.
Life comes in many colors, but death is usually black and white
to the police. I sat in a steel chair in the 112th precinct house
and thought of what I could possibly say to the two brick-like
faces looking at me in the room. They were big seeds in this tomato
of a town.
Your buddy was torn up pretty bad, a tough-guy lieutenant
said to me, as he strolled around the room. Under the fluorescent
light, the lieutenants badge looked like it was on fire.
The lieutenant sat down across the table from me, while his friend,
a sergeant, stayed standing. He had a look that said to me he
already knew who had killed Donny. This conversation was just
a little detail.
Any thoughts on who did it?
Many thoughts ran through my mind. I considered how they would
react if I told them a clawed beast wearing wet newspapers like
saran wrap had killed Donny Troy.
There was a guy in the house.
Yeah? What did he look like?
It was pretty dark. It was hard to get a good look. He
had very sharp fingernails.
The lieutenants contempt for me grew, if such a thing was
Youre a funny guy, Schrieber.
I dont like it when people call me that.
Get used to it. Youre going to be hearing it a lot.
I looked up at the ceiling.
Nobody going to help you up there, the other detective
said. He leaned against a confident wall.
I didnt kill Donny Troy.
Hey, Brennan, you hear that? Schrieber didnt kill
Donny Troy, the lieutenant said to the standing detective.
Lets just let him go now. The murders been solved!
Brennan laughed. He laughed in a way that chilled me. It was
the laugh of a kid who had pulled a prank on another kid, maybe
something like stepping on the back of his sneaker, or mashing
a snowball in his mouth.
Why would I come here on my own to tell you my friend was
murdered? How come I didnt get in a car and drive all night
The lieutenant looked at me with narrow eyes. I looked at his
badge. His name was Hope. This wasnt a good sign.
Its original, I admit that. I cant figure it
out. But I dont have to, Schrieber. We can put you at the
scene. Youve got claw marks on your face. So I figure you
and Troy got into some kind of fight and he fought like hell.
Troys a big man, bigger than you. But youre stronger.
I can see it in your arms. Cannons. What, do you lift weights?
I build houses. We haul a lot of lumber.
Your high school yearbook says you wanted to go into the
Howd you get a hold of that?
The desk mans younger brother went to your high school,
graduated same year as you. So why didnt you go into the
Marines, Schrieber? Didnt think you could take it?
It was my turn to look somewhere else again. I chose the door.
I imagined the looks on the cops faces if I said my Mom
talked me out of it.
I got into college.
But you screwed that up, too, right? Couldnt make
it? So the frustration builds and builds through the years. And
hanging around your old neighborhood doesnt help. So finally
you just let it all loose on your buddy, your oldest friend.
Hes not my oldest friend. And you have a problem,
I said. Thats the worst motive I ever heard.
Give me time. Ill come up with a better one.
Id had enough and I let them have it.
I run a successful business with my father. He came up
from the street. In the ghetto he grew up in, the sewage ran in
the gutters. He worked in a slaughterhouse when he was just 14
years old. He had to drop out of school to bring home money to
feed his nine brothers and sisters. My father worked too hard
on me for me to throw it away on something as stupid as killing
The lieutenant was unimpressed. He lit a cigarette.
You actually say that like you mean it. He must have taught
you how to lie good too. You have to lie in business all the time.
Youre on thin ice now.
Im on thin ice? Im on thin ice? I really
punched his buttons there.
With the cigarette trapped between his teeth, Hope hit me in
the jaw. I tasted the blood running out of the side of my mouth.
Ive got other ones.
Sergeant Brennan, leaning against the wall, came over and punched
me in the chest. I wished I had a name like that.
Brennans was a clean hit and it put me on the floor. I
took a deep breath and stayed there for a minute. The concrete
was nice and cool.
Get up, Schrieber.
I did as I was told.
The most horrifying sight I caught from the holding pen was a
single look from my father. Before the guard let him in to the
cell, he took hold of my eyes and gave me a visual slap Ill
never forget. I felt like a piece of tough meat in the slaughterhouse
Dad used to work in as a boy. The tough meat gets the sharpest
He motioned for me to sit down on the bunk. I did and he sat
next to me. The light from outside the cell bounced off his hairless
head. That head was a granite rock, the eyes like uncut diamonds.
His arms and shoulders still contained generous amounts of muscle
underneath his finely-cut navy suit, bought from a cousins
shop at a 20 percent discount.
We didnt speak for what seemed like a long time.
First thing he said was, Your mother called the ambulance.
She told them shes going into shock. They took her to Parkway
Hospital for observation.
This was going to be rough.
I put up the business and the house for your bail. The
judge says you seem an unlikely flight risk. You did come in to
the precinct house to report it. That carried some weight. We
called Tommy Mallon. Hes a very good man.
Tommy Mallon was an ex-cop and the familys lawyer. I wished
I had a name like Mallon.
Tommy says its a good sign theyre giving you
Ive heard that.
Dad turned and faced me square in the bunk. You know how
much this is going to cost us?
I gave the same look back to him. No, I dont.
He looked at me for seconds and turned away. I dont
either. But it could be a lot.
Dad, I did not kill Donny Troy.
He sucked in a deep breath.
I believe you, Harold. But what were you doing with Donny
Troy? Hes an idiot.
He wanted to sell us on a property at Yale Place.
Harold, again, Donny Troy is an idiot.
I get it, Dad.
What was the property?
1236 Yale Place.
The Paper Mansion?
The family was called Paper?
No, Harold. The family that owned the place was called
Drew. We call it the Paper Mansion because of whats inside.
Yeah, thats pretty clear.
Lets go home.
I sat in our living room for three days. Dad wouldnt let
me go to work. Al Manning, my best friend, had heard about Donnie
and me, and he had called for me several times at our office,
my Dad told me. I wasnt allowed to call him back. Mom was
terrified to be around me, so she stayed in the hospital. I wasnt
allowed to go to the hospital either, because of Mothers
I read the papers, every single article, in every single section,
except for the style page. I looked at the sunshine blaze through
our picture window. I tried to ignore Mothers plants, which
were set all around the living room shelves. I wished I had a
dog. A golden retriever would be good. It might distract me from
the house on Yale Place.
I kept thinking about that night. It clawed at my mind. What
was that thing that attacked us?
On the fourth day, I started pacing the living room. After two
hours, I couldnt stand to even be inside my skin. I called
Al. Al and I knew each other from first grade. He could punch
and he could play basketball. We had talked about going into the
Marines together. His mother talked him out of it too. What is
it about these Moms?
Hey, Harold. How are you? Ive been trying to call
you. I heard about Donny and you in the Gardens.
I know. I didnt kill Donny. You know that.
I wanted to kill him a few times.
You up for a project?
What kind of project?
* * *
I need to go back to the house.
Thats crazy, Harold. Its a crime scene. I dont
know wholl kill you firstthe police or your old man.
We have to go there. We gotta find out whoor whatkilled
Donny. Thats the only way Im going to clear this whole
You want to go now? I gotta go to work. Al worked
in his Dads concrete business. The Manning familys
house and business was in the Flats, like ours.
No, no. Well go tonight. My Dads got a Masonic
meeting. He wont be around.
I dont know, Harold. This sounds nuts.
Ill pick you up at midnight.
I hung up the phone.
Police tape is intimidating until you cut it with your Moms
kitchen knife. I sliced off just two edges so we could wrap the
tape back on the front door without announcing that somebody had
broken into a crime scene. As Al and I felt our way through the
hallway, flashlights in hand, I thought of that old movie where
Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein.
We walked through the long hall where Donny and I had been four
nights before. The sub-floor squeaked as we went.
This is stupid, Al whispered.
I can think of about a dozen other ways we could have done
We should have called Joe and Howie, get the boys together
He was right, but you get too many guys involved and things get
loud. People talk.
The door to the library had police tape across it as well. I
cut just enough. When we went in, the huge room felt empty.
A sound like a whirlpool bath came to us from behind the stacks
Im glad I bought a gun, Al said.
Me, too. I dont own a gun. Dad wont allow
one in the house.
We treaded very slowly and carefully to the whirlpool sound,
weaving our way through the newspaper stacks. About five feet
from the sound, the floor melted away like muddy sand at the edge
of the ocean.
I took another step and my shoe almost came off in the muck.
Al, dont move.
The floor feels like theres something wet and sticky
on top of it.
We trained our flashlights on the muck. A pool of water, about
three, four feet across stirred in front of us.
You gotta be kidding, Al said.
Al, throw a penny in it.
So he did. It sank. I took a bundle of newspapers and threw it
in the pool. It wasnt the quietest thing I ever did. The
water and muck swallowed it up. A bright yellow pinprick of light
seemed to be coming from the bottom of the water. We crouched
down to look at the sinking newsprint.
You see that, Al?
Yeah. Very strange.
A low growl traveled across the room. I pointed to Al to move
away from the pool. You could duck-walk like Groucho Marx through
the maze of newspaper stacks. Al sneaked behind the stacks about
two feet away from the book shelves. I headed in the opposite
direction, around the other side of the library.
The growl grew louder.
We could hear the thing move toward the pool. He knew the territory
and his walk was confident. The beasts footfalls made squishy
sounds on the floor, as if he had shoes full of water. I dont
know why I came to think of the creature as male, but its
my prejudice, I guess.
As he arrived at the little pool, he stopped making sounds. I
was about five feet away from him, behind a stack of papers, with
only my head above the pile.
The creature was sniffing and digging at the side of the pool.
He seemed disappointed with something. Arent we all?
Then he looked up, and fixed his eyes on me. I looked back. He
narrowed his vision at me, like he wasnt sure what he was
seeing. I realized he didnt see all that well.
I drew my mothers kitchen knife from my suit, as quietly
as possible. I briefly considered throwing it at his forehead,
but discarded the idea. If we engaged in close quarters combat
again, I would need Moms special, very sharp knife.
From across the room, I could see Al, staring at the creature.
Als mouth was open wider than the time I saw him eat three
hamburgers at once at the T-Bone Diner, and the gun in his right
hand was shaking like the Tilt-A-Whirl ride.
Als rattling attracted the creature. The thing turned from
me and lunged at Al. He fired and missed. The beast landed in
front of Al and got into a fighting crouch.
I jumped over the row of newspapers, turned on my flashlight
and waved my knife. The creature turned toward me. Al steadied
himself and got ready to shoot.
Now, Rupert, you dont want to treat our guests in
The three of us turned in the direction of the voice.
The voice came from the door of the library. I put my flashlight
Sir, Im afraid you have temporarily blinded me. Please
lower your flashlight.
I did, but then I had some trouble taking in the sight of the
person behind the voice. He walked toward us.
The door was about 50 feet from where we were standing. It took
the voice at least 10 seconds to get to us. The creature stayed
in his crouch, eyes on Al, who kept his gun aimed at Ruperts
Gentlemen, please put down your weapons. Rupert is quite
He ate a good chunk of a mans face four nights ago.
I think hes much more than that.
The voice arrived. And damn it all, he was also wrapped in newspaper,
from head to toe.
If someone came into your home unannounced, what would
you do? Rupert, the second newspaper creature said, go
play in the pool. Rupert made one growl in protest, then
jumped across the floor, dove in his little pond and disappeared.
Who the hell are you? I asked, gently.
You, sir, have no manners. You trespass in my house, twice.
You bring weapons. Its as if you are urinating in my very
own fireplace. Tut, tut.
I was trying to listen, but the creatures appearance was
dizzying. Even in the dark, with a simple flashlight illuminating
him, this second thing looked as bizarre as Rupert. He had the
shape of a man, but his skin was newspaper. Headlines and news
stories and pictures wrapped around him. On his forehead, the
headline described the election of William McKinley to the presidency
in 1896. On the right side of his chest, two headlines crossed
unevenly. One of the headlines featured a masthead of the old
New York Courier, a newspaper that died in 1929, when it merged
with the Sentinel.
Patches of newsprint swirled all over the thing. His stomach
tended to focus on science stories, from Einsteins theory
of relativity to the discovery of radium. A tennis champion from
1914 held his trophy in a photo stuck on the mans knee.
From head to toe, he looked like one of those Paper Mache projects
you did in first grade, with the paper soaked in glue and water
and plastered on a balloon to make a model planet.
I was a little jangled, and so was Al. I drew in a breath, exhaled
quickly like I was smoking. I tried to ignore the mans appearance.
I looked in his eyes, which were like milk, with a black inky
center, and talked to him like someone who had done a bad job
on a building project. I knew how to do that.
This house has been abandoned for years. Take a look around
you, pal. The place is falling apart. Youre missing floors,
and stairs. The chairs in here are completely ruined.
That may be true. Nevertheless, it is home to Rupert and
That thing killed a man.
Rupert was simply defending his territory.
And who are you? Do you have a name?
Again, manners, you barbarian. We must work on those. Ah,
well, I see I shall have to introduce myself. My name is Drew.
Al stepped into it. Drew, you ever look in the mirror?
You look a little different than most of us.
Ah, yes, my appearance. I suppose I must explain myself
to you two troglodytes.
That would be nice, said Al, who could not stop staring.
I was doing the same. I noticed that Drew had very sharp teeth,
like Rupert, and the longest fingernails I had ever seen.
Drew sat down in a casual way on one of the rotting chairs and
crossed his legs like a talk show host.
Sit down, gentlemen.
We sat. My chair was wet. I thought of my suit pants. I thought
of the dry cleaning bill.
Drew continued to look at us, while Al and I trained our flashlights
on his face.
Please, sirs, lower your flashlights.
We complied. Drew continued to sit silently, letting the drama
build. Al and I were starting to lose our patience.
Who, what are you? I said.
I am a product of nature. I am the result of certain organic
That doesnt tell us a whole lot, Al said.
Yes, of course. With my superior intelligence, I should
have known you would not understand. This house is not just where
Rupert and I live. It is our mother, our nurturer.
What is he talking about? Al shouted at me. I think
he wanted to shoot Drew on the grounds of pomposity alone.
I remembered something from organic chemistry. Drew and
Rupert are brothers, right?
And they were born in the muck of that pool behind us.
The newspapers were the material they were formed from.
Now, I dont know what youre talking about,
Harold, Al said.
Drew nodded in approval. Harold, very good. A proper English
I have to hear this Harold stuff from a guy made of newspapers?
I thought, and then tossed it away. We had bigger problems to
Al, were made of genes, DNA. Thats the material
nature had to work with in making us. All nature had to work with
here was the paper in the house.
Thats completely nuts, Al said.
That may sound nuts to you, as you say,
Drew said, but your friend is substantially correct.
But why? Al asked. Why did this happen here?
Drew shook his head as if he had suffered too much already in
I dont know why, I said, but I think
I know how. Theres an energy source feeding the pool. You
remember, Al, we saw that yellow light coming from the pool?
Yeah, he said.
Thats the energy source. The heat from the pool creates
energy. The heat acted on the paper in some way I dont understand.
It created life.
OK. I dont really get it, Al said. But
how do they eat?
Drew rolled his eyes at the ceiling.
The energy in the pool feeds them.
Im not sure. Im guessing they either drink
from the pool, or absorb the energy in the water through their
newspaper skin somehow.
Drew smiled a little newspaper smile and looked gravely at Al.
I didnt like that look.
It told me something.
A low growl came from the pool. Rupert hurled himself out of
the water, beads of moisture flowing off his newspaper head and
shoulders. At the edge of the pool, he crouched and showed his
teeth, which had the look of tiny knives. Veins of news stories
flowed through his molars.
I cast my eyes on the rest of him with my flashlight. His calves
were massive explosions of muscle. The shoulders were thick expanses
of animal. Over the corded muscle ran editorials screaming for
the United States to fight in World War I and 1920s news columns
about immigration threats to the country. Rupert looked like a
National Football League linebacker. If you put that together
with the teeth and the claw-like fingernails, Rupert presented
a very powerful front. He was much bigger than Drew. I looked
him up and down. Its important to know as much about the
enemy as possible.
When I scanned Ruperts neck, my flashlight dangled in front
of his eyes. He stopped growling and put his hands in front of
his eyes. There it wasa critical weakness of Rupert and
Drew. I bet they were blind in light. They were born in darkness,
raised in darkness. Light was useless, even dangerous to them.
Rupert didnt look happy. He looked at the library ceiling,
escaping the beam from my flashlight. He leaped from the pool
to the soles of my shoes in one quick move. I fingered Moms
kitchen knife. Als revolver came out of his pocket like
he was getting ready to shoot pigeons.
Drew saw it all and quickly moved to take back control of the
Rupert, this is not the time! he shouted. I took
note of the precise language Drew used. Perhaps there would be
a time when he would unleash his brother on us.
Al, may I call you Al? Al, violence is not the answer.
Al had the gun at his side, just out of reach of Ruperts
long arm. I wondered who would be quicker. I didnt want
to find out.
As long as your brother is ready to fight, Im holding
on to this gun, Al said.
The heat in Ruperts head made him start shaking. The beast
crouched on all fours just feet from Al and me. He got on his
feet and brought up his chest like a gorilla. He loosed his arms
like he was going to fly. The neck seemed to grow larger.
Rupert let loose with an animal scream that bounced off the ceiling
and ran around the walls. Al and I scrunched down like we were
driving in a car that had hit a tree.
Drew sat there and let his brother scream. Low in his chair,
Al kept the gun pointed at Rupert. I took Moms knife out
and grasped it firmly.
Enough! Drew yelled, cutting Rupert off in mid-yowl.
Then Drew rose up out of his chair. He raked his nails across
Ruperts newspaper face. Black blood ran out of the wound
on Ruperts cheek.
Drew punched his brother square on the left side of his face.
Black blood ran from the corner of Ruperts white eye. He
collapsed to his knees, and his shoulders shrunk in on themselves.
We cant do this now, Drew told the brother.
Again, I noted the language. Were going to come to
an understanding with these men. And, my dear brother, you are
going to stop this.
Rupert looked at his brother with what I understood to be anger
and sadness at the same time. Even though Rupert was clearly bigger,
Drew had something on him; he was more vicious in his elegant,
The beast stood up straight, his white eyes narrow and mean.
He didnt like being second to his brother, that was certain.
Then Rupert walked slowly from us, his feet squishing on the floor
again. He walked to the door of the library, opened the door and
Drew sat down in his chair in the dark. Al and I kept our flashlights
pointed at his waist, so we could see him without blinding him.
He thought he was again in command of the situation. I guess
he was. I had made another mistake.
Now, gentleman, we are quite finished, I believe.
What does that mean? I asked. Sometimes I ask a question
because I want to find out more about that person, even if I already
know the answer.
Drew rolled his white eyes. You are to leave now and never
come back. I did everything I could to keep Rupert from tearing
you both apart. I succeeded this time. Next time, you will not
be that lucky.
Wait a second, I said. This isnt going
to have a clean finish, like you want. The cops have got me hung
up on a murder charge for what your brother did.
Drew spread his fingers out like five points and looked at his
hand for a moment, as if he had just gotten a manicure. Al noticed
it and looked at me. Drews paper hand was drying out. Thats
why the brothers had to stay close to the pool. They needed water,
just like we did, only in a more obvious way.
Putting his two paper hands together in the classic pyramid,
Im in charge style, Drew tried to take me down like a principal
lecturing a seventh-grade kid whos just been caught throwing
Now, Harold, we have our own problems here. We have to
worry about our survival, every day, and stay hidden, away from
the armies of dirty men like you. Your world is not our world.
Im sorry, Al said, but this isnt
going to cut it for us.
Drew turned on him and I saw the power he had in him. I just
didnt know where it came from.
You two pitiable, misdirected fools are dismissed.
Moms extra-special sharp kitchen knife would go unused
This isnt over, pulp-man, I said.
Drew looked at me with that superior face again. I wanted to
soak his smile in black ink.
Im afraid it is. Or you two will be dead. Now, go.
Rupert is in a foul mood. You dont have much time.
I didnt see that we had much choice in the matter. I gestured
to Al with my head that we should go. He had been ready to fight,
and I was honored by his fierce drive to do the job. Al didnt
like to give up, and this was giving up. I knew that we would
have to come back, but we needed to plan things better. We had
a better understanding of the situation now. We would be better
prepared next time.
Al and I got up. We walked to the library door. Al turned. I
just have to ask one more thing, he said.
Oh, what do you want now? Drew pouted.
How is it that you know how to talk and your brother doesnt?
Drew smiled. I was born in paper and surrounded by it.
I thought it would make sense to try to understand what the printed
symbols on all these pages meant. Ive read everything in
this room. My brother chose another way.
On our way out the front door, Al and I heard a hissing sound
from above. Rupert was crouched above the small space between
the door and the ceiling, his feet on the door molding. He was
ready to kill us, I knew. Both Al and I backed away from the door.
We didnt want Rupert to land on us.
Al clicked the safety off his gun for the fourth or fifth time
this night. Before he had a chance to shoot, I aimed the flashlight
at Ruperts eyes and left it there.
Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Rupert yelled and threw his
hands over his paper eyes without thinking where he was. He fell
off the molding onto the sub-floor. I kept the flashlight on Ruperts
face as we stepped over him.
Eat some light, pulp-man, I said. Ruperts voice
turned into a demonic cry that would pierce your skin. It sounded
like a rat after its been poisoned.
He was still screaming in that unholy pitch as we walked out
the door and off the property.
After all that action, I thought about getting a beer at some
new joint I heard about on the boulevard. But I had to get to
our house before my father did. I took the roads very fast and
Al didnt say a thing. I dropped him off, then sped home,
thinking I would beat Dad into bed.
My old man was waiting for me in the kitchen. A cup of coffee
sat in a saucer. The paper lay unread. Before I met Rupert, I
thought that only my father could use a newspaper as a weapon.
He glanced at the headlines and dismissed them, pushing the paper
to the far end of our kitchen table. The cup of coffee smelled
very good. Dad slowly picked up the cup and drank from it, quietly.
Then he set it down without saying a word. His eyes picked me
up and drop-kicked me down a flight of stairs. He would have made
an excellent assassin.
The silence was suffocating.
You went out.
To the house.
I called Al to get a drink. Its been a little slow
My father gestured for me to sit down next to his place at the
head of the table. He folded his hands in front of the saucer.
He appeared to stare at the table, but I knew where he was really
In business, its important for partners to trust
each other. Without trust, you have nothing. Dont insult
me by lying.
Harold, why did you go to the house?
I dont think I need to explain myself to you.
My father came forward in his seat, again quietly.
This isnt a case of you living under my roof and
going out at all hours. Ive never said anything about that.
Youre a man now. You show up ready to work in the morning,
its none of my business what you do at night."
"So why do you wait up for me?"
"Your mother worries when you'll be home. But this is very
different. You have a murder charge against you. You went to a
crime scene. This is illegal.
How do you know this?
One of the Masons followed you, at my request.
You put a tail on me? Talk about trusting your partner!
You created the lack of trust in the first place, Harold.
And what is it about the Masons? Maybe they really are
a secret society, like some of those conspiracy nuts say.
My father looked at the floor. We do what we have to do.
This is survival.
It was my turn to look at the floor.
Dont leave the house until I tell you to, my
father said in a dry voice. Youre going to screw everything
The next day was torture by ten thousand ticks of boredom on
the clock. Time itself seemed to stop. The sun came through the
picture window. Men and women in suits walked to the train, for
work. A few neighborhood kids in tee-shirts and ripped sneakers,
cutting school, walked by on the way to the stores on the boulevard.
One caught me looking at them. He gave me the finger. I returned
I ate breakfast. I ate lunch. I sat in the living room and looked
at Moms purchased sculptures of white porcelain dachshund
puppies. She preferred them to real dogs.
My mother was still in the hospital, the only good news going.
If she were home, I couldnt imagine the conversations we
Finally, at 1 oclock, something happened. A guy I had known
from the local college stopped by. He tried to knock on the door,
but I had already opened it.
Harold, hey! You surprised me.
Ive been doing that a lot of that these days.
Never mind. Come on in. We can sit on the couch in the
living room. My mothers not home.
How are you doing?
Im in my Dads business now. Whats going
on with you?
Im majoring in accounting. Its solid.
Thats a smart move.
I didnt come over to chat. I mean, I did, but I came
over for a reason.
Yeah, whats that?
Do you remember Helen?
She was in sociology class with us.
You borrowed her notes?
Oh, yeah. And I got a better grade on the final than she
did. Now I remember, kind of. Whats her last name? Wasnt
she Polish, or Russian or something?
Helen Ravidinsky, thats it. Brown hair, brown eyes.
Yeah. She was Polish, but she came from some screwy place.
South Carolina or something like that.
Right, Harold. Shes got a little Southern accent.
Her voice has a bit of a twang, but shes not one of these
Southern fried girls, if you know what I mean.
You mean shes respectable.
I mean shes from the South, but shes not really
Southern. She asked me to give you this note. I ran into her on
the train going from school.
Thank you, Norman. You are a gentleman.
Whats that, Harold? I never heard you talk so politely.
I picked it up from a guy I met. Strange guy.
Well, Harold, I have to go. I have a class at 2 pm. Business
Sounds like a barrel of monkeys.
Norman rolled his eyes. Its all that and more.
He handed me the note and I walked him out the front door.
When Norman had left, I looked over the note from Helen Ravidinsky.
The paper was folded ever so neatly in a blue card. I was glad
it wasnt pink. This girl wasnt a delicate flower.
The perfume on it was subtle and not overpowering. This girl had
some class. I couldnt believe she was interested in me.
When you get down to it, Im a sweat bomb. I carry lumber.
I put in sub-floors. I pour concrete. I work with construction
The note told me that she had heard about the trouble Id
had with organic chemistry. She wrote that she had barely made
it through organic chemistry, but she had passed. Helen was studying
to become a nutritionist.
Anyway, Helen wrote, she didnt mean to go on, but she wondered
what had happened to me after I left school. Did I want to meet
her for coffee? She lived with her older sister in a neighborhood
on the boulevard, just outside the Flats, and I could reach her
at night at this phone number.
I was tempted to call her, but not with this trouble on my head.
I put the thought of the Ravidinsky girl away, as much as I could.
Now my clock was set back to boredom. There was an unfinished
piece of chair waiting for me in the basement. Dad had a little
workshop down there. So I closed myself off from the world and
worked on cutting and shaping legs for the chair.
Dad came home early from a job, at about five oclock. I
heard him moving around the kitchen, making coffee and putting
something in the oven for us to eat. I heard the phone ring, and
let him get it.
About a half-hour later, he walked down the stairs. I tried to
ignore him by concentrating on tapering one of the chair legs
like the curve of a womans calf. He tapped me on the shoulder.
Hi. He was his usual cheery self. But under the circumstances,
I didnt blame him.
Dad breathed in like he didnt want to get any more air.
There are some men here to see you, from the police department.
Let me guess.
Said their names were Hope and Brennan.
I know who they are.
They said someone broke into the Bennett mansion. The police
tape was cut from the front door.
Oh, hell what?
I suddenly remembered that Al and I had forgotten to re-attach
the tape. We were so rattled by Rupert the Pulp Mans attempt
on our lives that we left it dangling. Brilliant.
The detectives didnt wait for an invitation. They rumbled
down the stairs, their feet smashing into the wood slats on the
steps. My father turned toward them. His shoulders stiffened as
if ready for a fight.
Lieutenant Hope. Sergeant Brennan. Nice to see you again.
Screw you, Schrieber. Now I got you on a murder rap and
disturbing a crime scene.
I would say the obvious thing, like prove it,
but in this case I dont think its necessary.
No, its not, said Hope, because youre
What do you want? My father looked at me, his mouth
open. He seemed shocked by my lack of respect.
Were going to the house and were taking you
with us. Were going to take fingerprints off the police
tape, walk through the crime scene in the library and make sure
you didnt tamper with the evidence. Then were going
to arrest you again.
The boys muscled my father out of the way by walking into him
like he wasnt there. He let them, quickly stepping to the
side, his powerful shoulders slumping.
Lets go upstairs. Brennan walked up first,
then Hope gestured for me to go. He followed. Its a classic
restraining moveone man in front, one in the back. I gave
Hope some mental credit. He wasnt a total idiot.
In the kitchen, the two men squeezed me between them, then began
to walk me out the door. My father, having arrived last, got upset.
My son is innocent until proven guilty. And hes allowed
legal counsel right now.
My father then did something I never expected. Im
going with you.
Lieutenant Hope looked like he had been stuck in the eye by a
Dad waved his finger at the men. This isnt North
Korea. And you arent the secret police. Youre not
going to haul my son off to some old abandoned house and shoot
him or beat him up or do God knows what out there. Im calling
our lawyer. And Im going with you to the Drew place.
When Dad said the Drew place again, I understood that I had missed
a very big thing about this case. My history course from college
had taught me something that was relevant to the Paper Mansion,
but I had forgotten it, until now. And I was really angry at myself
because I realized that the pulp-man named Drew had lied about
an important thing, and I hadnt figured that out in time.
Brennan grimaced and Lieutenant Hope fingered his gun. I wanted
to tell my father right there, You see the two brick-heads
Ive been dealt?
You cant, Mr. Schrieber, Hope said. Harold
is not going to be taken off to some dead-end place. Hes
going with us to the crime scene. Suddenly, Im Harold
to these balloon faces.
I, I dont trust you, Dad said. It took a lot
for him to say that.
Were leaving, sir, Lieutenant Hope announced,
and youre not coming with us.
Its OK, Dad. Its better this way.
Im calling our lawyer, Tommy Mallon, and Im
going over there.
Im telling you, Mr. Schrieber, in the clearest language
possible. You will be arrested for disturbing a crime scene.
You cant do this, Lieutenant. Im getting the
lawyer on the phone.
You do that.
We walked out of the house, the two police goons close by my
arms, with Dad furiously dialing the phone for Tommy Mallon.
They pushed me into the back seat.
Shut up, Brennan said.
I love it when you talk to me that way.
He didnt say a word. Id beaten him for the moment.
While Hope drove, I fingered Moms extra-sharp kitchen knife
in my jacket pocket. Theyd forgotten to frisk me. Despite
my breezy attitude toward the cops, I was worried. This wasnt
the way I planned to return to the Drew house. I had something
very different in mind for dealing with the pulp men, and it certainly
didnt involve these two knuckleheads. Again, we were going
By the time we closed in on 1236 Yale Place, the sun had melted
past the horizon, trailing streaks of orange to the west.
Heres the tape you cut, Hope told me as the
goons muscled me through the door.
You guys dont know what youre getting into.
Brennan punched me in the back of the head.
What a great guy you are, Brennan. Will you send me flowers
in the morning?
He punched me again.
The house seemed even more dilapidated, even though Al and I
had been there just the night before. The sub-floor sagged beneath
our steps. A smell of deep decay seemed to envelop the hallways.
The dark and the stench and the falling-apart house seemed to
unnerve my police friends a little. They were quietly trying to
step on stable ground. I took the opportunity to say something.
This is a mistake. We should be coming in here with a SWAT
team. We need automatic weapons, flash grenades, night vision
You need to seriously shut up, Schrieber, Hope said.
Floodlights. We need floodlights.
Just remember that Im warning you.
Brennan turned to me in the dark and hit me in the stomach with
a very angry fist. I started to go down. Then Brennan clubbed
me on the cheek with the flashlight. I landed on the sub-floor.
There was a gash on my face. Blood was flowing generously down
my face to my neck. The bastard had ruined my shirt.
The blow to the stomach had left me pretty unbalanced. The two
cops sort of half-carried me by my elbows to the library, the
scene of my crime.
Brennan was elected to open the door to the library, while the
lieutenant held me up. He brushed away the police tape I had cut
and failed to re-attach to the moldings by the door. Once we stepped
inside, the room was possessed of a profound silence.
Brennan and Hope walked over to where they had found Donnies
mutilated body. They dumped me into one of the ragged chairs.
My head was full of stars, but I cared a lot about what was going
to happen next. I just couldnt move very well.
The detectives pointed their flashlights at the outline of Donnys
body and knelt down to inspect it further. I didnt understand
what they could be looking for. But it didnt matter.
There are moments in our lives when we realize with great insight
that we have made a terrible mistake. Unfortunately, these often
take place when we are in mortal danger. Theres very little
we can do about making corrections at this point.
I realized this as Rupert and Drew leaped from the upper shelves
of the library onto the heads of the two detectives.
Brennans flashlight came tumbling down. One of the pulp
men dug his long nails into Brennans back and knocked his
head on the floor with great enthusiasm, over and over. Brennan
The other pulp man was punching and biting into Hopes shoulder
and chest. Hope was screaming too.
Off in some distant land, I observed with clinical detachment
that these two men were going to be killed. After that I would
be killed. If I somehow got out of the library alive, I would
be arrested for killing the two detectives. No matter how you
looked at it, I had to keep them alive, despite the great odds
against this outcome. So I had to organize myself quickly. I picked
up Brennans flashlight and pointed it like a gun at one
of the pulp men.
From the chair, I shouted out, Franklin Hancock Drew, Junior!
You urinated in your fiancées fireplace! The
man pummeling Brennan stopped and looked my way. Brennan wrestled
with himself on the floor and moaned, then grew silent
I popped the flash in the creatures eyes. It was Drew.
He covered his face. Rupert stopped killing Lieutenant Hope for
a few seconds as well.
What did you say? Drew asked.
You told me your name, Mr. Drew. But I didnt realize
you were telling me your last name. Your full name is Franklin
Hancock Drew, Jr. You inherited a newspaper from your father and
published it until 1929. It was called The New York Courier. You
were a big-money guy, in high society. But you got very drunk
one night and came late to a party at your fiancées
house. You urinated into a roaring fire place, in front of the
whole crowd. You disgraced yourself and embarrassed your fiancée.
She broke off the engagement. Then you ran your newspaper into
the ground with wild spending sprees and expensive publicity stunts
which didn't pan out.
I had distracted Drew long enough. He liked hearing about himself.
Brennan recovered a little bit. He shot Drew and hit him on the
side of the chest. Black blood flew outward like little meteors.
I took a little of it on my lips. It was like eating oil.
Drew staggered a little, but remained standing. Brennan shot
him again, this time in the leg. Drew turned and clawed the gun
out of Brennans hand. Brennan gasped. Drew turned Brennan
around on all fours and grabbed his head with both forearms. He
was going to break the cops neck.
Desperate to save the brick-heads life and mine, I clubbed
Drew with the flashlight. He didnt see it coming, so I was
able to knock him off Brennan.
Rupert had torn gashes in Hopes chest and leg. Hope was
lying on the floor, helpless. The great beast was going in to
the lieutenants face with his teeth, like he had done to
Donny. So I took Moms kitchen knife out from the pocket
of my jacket and stabbed Rupert in the back of the neck.
We heard the rat-being-poisoned scream again, but Rupert wasnt
dead. He was very strong. He rolled over onto his back with Moms
kitchen knife still in him. So I brought the flashlight down onto
his face, again and again, the light blazing. He screamed and
screamed, like a car alarm that wont turn off. I slammed
him hard a dozen times with the light driving into every corner
of his eyes, and he finally shut up.
Pulp boy, you are a pain in the ass! I shouted at
Rupert, even though he was probably dead or dying.
You are such a barbarian, Mr. Schrieber. You have no manners.
You have no taste.
I turned around, on my knees, knife-less. Drew stood before me
a few feet away, a little hunched and bleeding that bizarre black
blood, but standing, which meant he could do quite a bit of damage.
I stood up.
Youre right about all that, Mr. Drew. But you let
your own son kill a man the other night. You talk about manners.
Mr. Schrieber, despite your crude appearance, I am impressed
at your deductive powers. How did you know?
No grown-up brother would let another brother treat him
the way you did last night. But a son will take a lot of crap
from his father. Believe me, I know.
You should see the way Im going to treat you, Harold.
Hope let loose a shot from the floor. It took off a piece of
Drews shoulder. Splintered newsprint flew into my face.
Drew staggered and laughed.
Then he put his hands on my throat and shoved me up against one
of the newspaper stacks, which fell over. Hope shot his weapon
again, but missed. Brennan started firing too, but we were lost
in stacks of newspaper.
I fell onto the stack, Drew over me. I tried pinching the underside
of his wrists with my thumbs to open up his hands, a trick that
works in ordinary fights, but not with Drew. I kneed him in the
crotch, which stopped him from choking me long enough for me to
slug him in the throat. It felt like layers and layers of tissue
Drew, reflexes in control now, brought his hands to his own throat.
I hit him in the stomach. It was like punching a phone book.
Drew laughing and bleeding black blood all over my pants, punched
me flush on the mouth. The dry cleaning bill for the pants kept
going up. I tasted the old paper of Drews hand on my tongue.
Somebody turned on the lights. How did the lights still work
in this creeped-out joint? Drew screamed and covered his eyes.
I threw him over and punched him in the throat, which seemed like
the softest part of him. He moaned and I hit him again.
Whats going on here?
I stopped hitting Drew. Hi, Dad.
I was almost embarrassed, like when youve been caught stealing
from the liquor cabinet when youre 16.
Oh, my God. What is that thing?
Dad, meet Franklin Hancock Drew, Jr., child of privilege,
former newspaper publisher and now creature of the night.
That doesnt even begin to sum it up, you pitiable
lunk-head, Drew said, still covering his eyes.
Brennan pulled himself up into a sitting position. He was bleeding
badly. Chest heaving, but aiming the gun as steady as he could
at Drew, the brick-head didnt know when to quit. I admired
I still needed one thing from Drew before Brennan shot him, so
I said: Why did you try to kill us the other night? Why
did you have your son kill Donny Troy? You could have hidden away
when we came in.
You trespassed, you big blob of meat. We had every right
to kill you and your friend. This is my home, my home!
But the history books say you were buried in Paris.
The press can make up anything. Journalists are quite creative.
I should know. I was born in New York. I wanted to be buried in
Youre under arrest, Mr. Drew, Brennan said,
weakly. I looked over at Hope. Mumbling, he was fighting to stay
Drew, still covering his eyes, said, That wont be
necessary, officer. Youre going to be dead. As will be everyone
else in this room.
Brennan shot at Drew twice, missing both times, but killing the
Suddenly free from blindness, Drew jumped on Brennan again. The
gun skipped out of the brick-heads hand.
I leaped over a newspaper stack and tried to pull Drew off the
brick-head. Drew had been shot three times, but was still wickedly
I had distracted Drew long enough for Brennan to hit him in his
newspaper nose. That allowed me to get my arms around Drews
neck and push two fingers into his throat. He started to gag and
rolled over. Then he put his hands together like a hammer and
socked me in the chin.
Drew took me down on the floor and laughed that crazy laugh of
his again. First I kill you, then I kill your father.
Something broke inside me. I wanted to say, Pulp man, youre
dead. But the words didnt come out. What did come
out was my right fist, slugging. I hit Drew in the face. I hit
him in the eye. That staggered him and I rose up. He recovered,
but somebody hit him from behind with a heavy object. Drew took
it smack on the back of his head. I was pleased. In the dark,
I could make out the outline of my father, holding a table lamp
on the follow-through, his slaughterhouse arms still deadly.
I hit Drew flush on the nose. I bashed him in the space between
his eyes. I hit him in the throat. He took it all in. Despite
the pulp-mans great strength, he was a little shaky.
You common worm, he gasped. You little nothing.
I hit him in the throat again. I put everything I had into the
punch. He went down, his knees buckling in a crazy-leg dance.
My father put a flashlight in Drews eyes. The pulp-man
spoke something softly, as if to a lover. We couldnt hear
I withdrew Moms kitchen knife from the back of Ruperts
neck. I used it to cut up the cords holding the newspaper bundles
together. My father understood and we took the cords to bind up
Drew and Rupert both.
Rupert was almost certainly dead and definitely not moving. But
we didnt want to take any chances. You should lock up every
detail. You never know when some little thing is going to go wrong
on you, like detached police tape. Dad had taught me that. Now
I worry about the little details every day.
My arms were very sore and my hands felt like they had been iced
in a meat locker, but we did the job. Thats what he had
trained me to doalways finish the work.
Brennan pulled himself up into a sitting position, leaned against
a newspaper stack. He was bleeding and possibly going into shock.
My father tried to comfort him, but the brick-heads eyes
were going blank. Hope didnt look good at all. Every time
he breathed, blood came out of his nose and mouth. I felt like
I had just kissed another tomato.
In the pure sunlight, the house looked dried out. The wood had
lost its flexibility. The brick was spewing red dust in the warm
wind. I pointed and the wrecking ball took its first swing. It
didnt take long for the mansion to come down.
After the house was leveled and the debris cleared away, my father
and I walked to the area that was the library. Drews pool
lay still. One of the science professors at my old local college
said it was a geothermal vent.
To find out why anyone would ask that their body get dumped in
a geothermal vent, I decided to try to find Drew's will. I looked
for it in the New York Municipal Building's Hall of Records, the
New York Public Library and the New York Historical Society.
I found Drew's will at the Historical Society archives. It took
hours to find in the huge file about Mr. Drew.
The will contained Drew's dictation for the disposal of his remains.
Drew had directed that upon his death his body should be delivered
to the pool. At the time I didnt know if Drew knew what
would happen to his body when it was dumped in the water. And
the will didnt account for a son. Drew had no heirs when
he died. So I wondered where the son came from.
At the Historical Society archives, I also found the architectural
drawings for Drew's house. It clearly directed that the house
would be built around the pool. The pool was a source of conversation
and debate among Drews friends, among other things. The
historical record didn't indicate whether Drew ever put himself
in the pool and bathed there.
The science professor had begged my father and me to let him
study the pool. We listened, politely and patiently, and told
him no. Dad had the pool filled in with dense concrete, supplied
by Al Mannings family business.
There are some things you dont want to know,
I told the professor.
However, there were still some important things I wanted to find
out. So I went to the 112th precinct to see the newly minted Lieutenant
Brennan. The official police report had Brennan and Hope fighting
off the two perpetrators and saving my father and me. Thats
the way things go in this tomato town. But I realized it was for
the best. I didnt need publicity. I needed a girl.
The charges against me were quietly dropped. Everything was kept
out of the papers. Hope survived Ruperts attack, barely,
and would need months of rehabilitation. My Dad sent him a big
chocolate heart and lots of sports and bikini magazines.
The basement holding cell at the 112th precinct was becoming
quite familiar to me. Trace the outlines. The thin bed is tight
against the wall, the dark concrete feeling cool even through
The only change in the room was the five foot high plastic barrel
tub in the middle of the room. In it stood Drew, handcuffed in
the front like Houdini because his hands were too dangerous floating
free. A metal ring pulled at Drews waist, attached to a
wall of the cell. The cops had set up some special rigging for
their unusual prisoner.
The pulp man needed the tub of water to keep him from drying
out. Brennan told me police-contracted biologists were putting
nutrients into the water to try to replicate the nutrients in
the pool in Drews library, to keep him fed.
I saw that Drews lethal fingernails had been cut to the
very edge of his newspaper flesh, and his teeth had been filed
down to little squares. That made me smile.
I was accompanied by Brennan, who told me the police doctor was
giving Drew tranquilizers around the clock. Even with Drews
hands and waist restrained, walled off behind ungiving iron bars,
the cops took no chances with the pulp-man breaking out.
The tranquilizers should help make him agreeable in answering
your questions, Brennan said.
We stood outside the cell. I couldnt stop myself from staring
at his forehead, announcing McKinleys presidential win in
1896. History buff that I am, I wanted to read the story under
Ah, its the big block of meat, with his stooge. You
sicken me, Drew said in a slightly thickened voice.
I see you remember our last meeting, Frankie, I said,
with you ending up on the floor.
He splashed water at us with his handcuffed hands. We drew back
and the water hit the floor. Even with tranquilizers in his newspaper
veins, the pulp-man was still pretty lively.
You killed my son! he rasped at me.
Self-defense, Brennan said in a stiff police manner.
Stitches tattooed his cheek, like mine. Brennans breathing
was a little shallow, but he was mostly whole.
Why did you lie about that, by the way? Why tell us hes
your brother? I asked.
You said that. I didnt. But it was a good way to
obscure who we were.
The pulp man stood in the water, his shoulders bending suddenly
down. He looked exhausted. How is this going to end?
We dont know exactly, the detective said. We
cant try you in public court. Youd cause a riot. This
kind of thing throws society off-balance. We cant have that.
Why is he here? Drew said, nodding in my direction.
I have a few questions, I said.
You always have questions, barbarian.
Always. Theres no record of you having a son.
I know what youre going to say. I did have a son.
There was a quite beautiful common girl I met in Paris. I received
the finest education there. I used to buy bread from this girl.
She worked in a bakery, near my rooms. We spent some afternoons
together, and some mornings too. She had my son, my only child.
Theres no record of him, I said.
No, of course, there wouldnt be. I already had a
According to the history, late in life you married a woman
from the Lefaux family. They owned a European news service and
several newspapers. They were very wealthy. How did you keep your
son from them?
Things are easy when you are rich, you uneducated peasant.
When he had grown up, I set Rupert up in one of my new mansions
in New York. We gave him a management job at the Courier, under
a different last name than mine.
What happened to him?
Alas, he was killed in a fall from a horse while riding
in the park. I had him buried near my father in the Green-Wood
cemetery in Brooklyn.
So, how did he end up in the pool with you? Brennan
Before I died, I had him dug up.
Im sorry? I said, not sure of what I had just
Youre slow, Harold, too slow. In the weeks before
I died, I decided I wanted my boy with me, through eternity. A
team of my people exhumed him and transported his body back to
my mansion. They put him in the pool.
So, you had no idea what would happen if you two went into
the pool together?
I suspected the pool had interesting properties. There
was that curious yellow light at the bottom. And it was warm all
year round. I had scientists study its constituent elements. There
was a thick, heated stew of oxygen and nitrogen and other minerals
in there. But no, I did not know what was going to happen. I just
wanted a final resting place that was interesting and comforting
to me in life.
But that didn't happen. You were given life again somehow.
You came out of the pool with the same mind. But Rupert couldnt
Alas, something happened to him in the pool. He became
something else. More of an animal than a man. But he was still
I dont get why the place was up for sale, I
Drew looked tired and sad. We had a series of caretakers
through the decades, after Rupert and I were resurrected. We needed
a representative, to hide us from the outside world, to protect
us. I had to defend the pool, at all costs. It was our food source.
If we were discovered, we would die.
So you had a caretaker recently?
Drew sighed a long sigh. He was still the wealthy man of ease
and luxury in his mind, far above peasants like us, with dirt
under our fingernails at the end of the day. Drew didnt
want to think about us, let alone answer our questions. The tranquilizer
helped, though, making him somewhat compliant.
We paid the caretakers a lot of money. We had four or five,
I forget how many. I forget their names. But, the last one, Craft,
was not such a good employee.
Craft was not happy with his working conditions. I had
grown tired of telling him to take care of the house, and watching
out for Rupert. I was paying Craft a lot of money, too much money.
But that wasnt enough for him.
He kept the house functional for awhile, right, like all
the other caretakers? Craft paid the property taxes, paid the
electric bill, kept the lights running for when he needed them
on. But the place fell apart on you. You couldnt get repair
work done. The contractors would see all those newspapers. They
might find the pool in the library and there would be too many
I had to protect the pool. After some time, I cared about
the pool more than anything. One must prioritize, after all.
I gotta ask this question, Brennan said. Why
were all those newspapers in the house?
Rupert and I loved our newspaper, our wonderful and sacred
Courier. We couldnt bear to part with any of the copies.
Rupert collected them when he worked at the paper, kept them near
us in the library. We continued collecting them after we came
back out of the pool. We built a shrine, made of our newspapers,
and then other papersthe Tribune, the Herald, the Times,
the Post, the News. If the caretakers ever tried to throw them
away, we would be angry.
How did Craft feel about this? I asked.
Drew turned to Brennan. Must I answer these ridiculous
Brennan nodded his head yes. Drew sighed again.
Craft contacted a real estate broker. He said he was the
selling agent, so he would get the money from a purchase.
How did you find this out?
I read the newspapers. Drew said in his best superior
voice. They still come to the house. Craft made sure of
You read the newspaper. What does this have to do with
selling the house? Brennan asked.
Drew looked besieged. I answered for him. Donny Troy was
representing Craft. He took out an ad in the real estate section
of the paper to sell the property. Thats how Drew found
out about Crafts move. He read about it in the newspaper.
What happened to Craft? Brennan said.
Drew stared at the ceiling. I knew that look. I had Rupert
take care of him.
Brennan and I looked at each other.
Wheres Craft now? I asked.
Drifting with the winds, fool. Im tired of all your
questions, Harold. Please leave me alone. My head hurts.
I had asked one too many questions, my usual problem. Brennan
signaled for us to go.
You get what you needed? he asked.
I wanted to know.
Me, too. Of course I cant put it into the official
No, of course not.
Well see if we can find any remains of Mr. Craft,
Brennan said, but Im not optimistic.
Youre welcome to nose around the property, but we
broke down the house to the foundation. The debris is in a lot
in Ozone Park.
I heard. Just doing your job.
We can put a temporary stop work order on the project if
you want look around.
Ill send somebody out to the property and the lot.
Theyll check out the sites and file a report, contact Craft's
Then the cop thought for a few seconds. We still dont
know how Drew and Rupert got to look like mummies, with all those
newspapers plastered to them, Brennan said.
Yeah. My only guess is that at one point, some of the stacks
of newspapers fell in the pool. The bodies, the newspapers, theyll
got mixed up together somehow.
Drew probably doesnt even know, Brennan said.
I didnt have an answer to this last riddle. Brennan escorted
me out of the station. He held the glass door open for me as I
walked out, into the warm wind blowing through the trees in the
late afternoon. I had to shield my eyes from the sun, especially
after spending the time near Drews dark cell.
I straightened out my finely-cut suit and stepped into my car.
I had called that Ravidinsky girl for a date. My mother, home
now, asked if she was rich. I said no, but her Dad owned a dry
goods store in South Carolina, so she had some money.
Its just as easy to marry a rich girl as a poor one,
Mom said as I was getting ready to go.
Right, Ma. I didnt want to talk about it. This
Ravidinsky girl sounded like a winner and I didnt want my
mothers voice to get inside my head.
As I walked out the door, I said to her, Hey, Ma, thanks
for the kitchen knife.
What? What did you do to my knife?
I smiled. Nothing, Ma, nothing at all.
Then she asked about the girl, forgetting about the knife, which
was completely unlike her.
What did you say her name was?
Helen. Helen Ravidinsky.
Polish. Thats no good.
Shes a classy girl, Ma. The real deal. Well-mannered,
This is trouble. Where are you taking her?
Dinner, and a walk in the park.
Then were going bowling.
Are you serious?
Always, Ma, always.
This town is still a tomato, but tonight shes also a lady.