Horror House Detective
by Michael Gold
forum: Horror House Detective
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

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Horror House Detective


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 she’s going to dump you for some guy with a bigger clip of cash.

My name’s Harold. It’s not the coolest name. People make fun of it, kids especially. You hear the story about Old Weird Harold? And so on. But it’s 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 didn’t 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. It’s 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 Mom’s dream came crumbling down. I dropped out of college. Only good thing about school was I met this nice Southern girl, named Ravidinsky. Polish. I’ll 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 Dad’s work. I was surprised that I liked it so much.

The reason I’m 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 isn’t like the rest of the city. The area’s very pretty. The houses are set far apart. There’s 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 it’s still inside the city line.

I met up with Donny by accident at The T-Bone, the late-night diner. It’s 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. It’s a little more expensive, a little better-kept than the rest. But it’s 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 couldn’t make it. Her girlfriend was in trouble. Like I couldn’t 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 wasn’t 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. I’m 23 years old; you’d think the old man would let me alone. He doesn't ask any questions, but he’s got this way of making me feel guilty just by looking at me.

The diner counter felt warm and uncomfortable. The air conditioning was out again. Early May, and we’re 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 someone’s paw slammed into my shoulder. I don’t like being touched. I wheeled around on the stool and was ready to hit the creep who started in.

“Schrieber! How is it you’re so skinny, but you got those big arms?”

Even though I saw it was Donny, I still wanted to hit him. I don’t like it when anybody calls me Schrieber. I have enough of a burden with Harold. Schrieber is over the top.

“I don’t 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 Donny’s 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 don’t want to admit it.

“I want to eat my bagel. Alone. Call our office in the morning.”

“Schrieber, I’ve 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? That’s 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 there’s a house. Beautiful old place. It’s 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. They’re tired of the property and they’ll sell it, cheap. I’m advertising the house in the paper, but I’ll give you a crack at it.”

I knew the Gardens pretty well. Dad had built a half dozen houses there.

“Nothing in the Gardens sells cheap. What’s 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. It’s huge and it’s a total wreck.”

“You and your Dad can fix anything up.”

“Donny, we’d have to knock it down to the foundation and start over completely. That’s 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 don’t need me, Donny.”

“Come on, Harold. Come see it with me. I’ll buy you a steak dinner.”

“I want New York Strip, rare and bloody. And I name the place.”


“And we both bring a date.”

“OK, OK. Let’s go.”

“Let me finish my bagel and coffee.”

We drove our own cars to the Gardens. I didn’t 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.

“You’re 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 wouldn’t move.

“Just give me a sec, Harold.”

“The lock’s frozen. You’ll 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 hadn’t opened the lock. He kicked the door.

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 wasn’t 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. It’s 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.”

“There’s something else I want to show you.”

Through a long hallway, Donny’s 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 offended me.

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 couldn’t 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 wasn’t neat enough for his taste.

I heard something breathing behind the desk at that end of the room.

“You hear that, Donny?”

“Yeah. It’s probably a raccoon.”

“It sounds a lot bigger than that. Let’s get the hell out of here.”

“You haven’t 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 Donny’s chest.

“Jesus Christ, Harold! Get this thing off of me!”

In the dark I couldn’t even find the thing’s 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 Donny’s face. Its head looked like it had been wrapped in newspapers. But I couldn’t 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 Donny’s 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 mummy’s 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 didn’t hear Donny. I found him with the flashlight. Lying on the floor, he didn’t 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 groaned.

“Donny, I’m going to get help.”

He turned over and curled up his knees as if to get a better sleeping position.


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 Donny’s mouth. I made my hands into a single fist and hammered it on Donny’s 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 lieutenant’s badge looked like it was on fire.

“I know.”

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 lieutenant’s contempt for me grew, if such a thing was possible.

“You’re a funny guy, Schrieber.”

“I don’t like it when people call me that.”

“Get used to it. You’re 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 didn’t kill Donny Troy.”

“Hey, Brennan, you hear that? Schrieber didn’t kill Donny Troy,” the lieutenant said to the standing detective. “Let’s just let him go now. The murder’s 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 didn’t get in a car and drive all night to Pennsylvania?”

The lieutenant looked at me with narrow eyes. I looked at his badge. His name was Hope. This wasn’t a good sign.

“It’s original, I admit that. I can’t figure it out. But I don’t have to, Schrieber. We can put you at the scene. You’ve got claw marks on your face. So I figure you and Troy got into some kind of fight and he fought like hell. Troy’s a big man, bigger than you. But you’re 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 Marines.”

”How’d you get a hold of that?”

“The desk man’s younger brother went to your high school, graduated same year as you. So why didn’t you go into the Marines, Schrieber? Didn’t think you could take it?”

It was my turn to look somewhere else again. I chose the door. I imagined the looks on the cop’s faces if I said my Mom talked me out of it.

“I got into college.”

“But you screwed that up, too, right? Couldn’t make it? So the frustration builds and builds through the years. And hanging around your old neighborhood doesn’t help. So finally you just let it all loose on your buddy, your oldest friend.”

“He’s not my oldest friend. And you have a problem,” I said. “That’s the worst motive I ever heard.”

“Give me time. I’ll come up with a better one.”

I’d 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 Donny Troy.”

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.”

“You’re on thin ice now.”

“I’m on thin ice? I’m 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.

“Nice shot.”

“I’ve got other ones.”

“Me, too.”

Sergeant Brennan, leaning against the wall, came over and punched me in the chest. I wished I had a name like that.

Brennan’s 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 I’ll 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 knife.

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 cousin’s shop at a 20 percent discount.

We didn’t speak for what seemed like a long time.

First thing he said was, “Your mother called the ambulance. She told them she’s 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. He’s a very good man.”

Tommy Mallon was an ex-cop and the family’s lawyer. I wished I had a name like Mallon.

“Tommy says it’s a good sign they’re giving you bail.”

“I’ve 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 don’t.”

He looked at me for seconds and turned away. “I don’t 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? He’s 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 what’s inside.”

“Yeah, that’s pretty clear.”

“Let’s go home.”

I sat in our living room for three days. Dad wouldn’t 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 wasn’t allowed to call him back. Mom was terrified to be around me, so she stayed in the hospital. I wasn’t allowed to go to the hospital either, because of Mother’s delicate condition.

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 Mother’s 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 couldn’t 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, Al.”

“Hey, Harold. How are you? I’ve been trying to call you. I heard about Donny and you in the Gardens.”

“I know. I didn’t 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.”

”That’s crazy, Harold. It’s a crime scene. I don’t know who’ll kill you first—the police or your old man.”

“We have to go there. We gotta find out who—or what—killed Donny. That’s the only way I’m going to clear this whole thing up.”

“You want to go now? I gotta go to work.” Al worked in his Dad’s concrete business. The Manning family’s house and business was in the Flats, like ours.

“No, no. We’ll go tonight. My Dad’s got a Masonic meeting. He won’t be around.”

“I don’t know, Harold. This sounds nuts.”

”I’ll pick you up at midnight.”


I hung up the phone.

Police tape is intimidating until you cut it with your Mom’s 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 know.”

“I can think of about a dozen other ways we could have done this better.”

“Like what?”

“We should have called Joe and Howie, get the boys together for this.”

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 of newspapers.

“I’m glad I bought a gun,” Al said.

“Me, too.” I don’t own a gun. Dad won’t 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, don’t move.”

“What’s wrong?”

“The floor feels like there’s 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 wasn’t 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 beast’s footfalls made squishy sounds on the floor, as if he had shoes full of water. I don’t know why I came to think of the creature as male, but it’s 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. Aren’t we all?

Then he looked up, and fixed his eyes on me. I looked back. He narrowed his vision at me, like he wasn’t sure what he was seeing. I realized he didn’t see all that well.

I drew my mother’s 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 Mom’s special, very sharp knife.

From across the room, I could see Al, staring at the creature. Al’s 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.

Al’s 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 don’t want to treat our guests in this fashion.”

The three of us turned in the direction of the voice.

The voice came from the door of the library. I put my flashlight on it.

“Sir, I’m 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 Rupert’s newspaper head.

“Gentlemen, please put down your weapons. Rupert is quite harmless.”

“He ate a good chunk of a man’s face four nights ago. I think he’s 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. It’s as if you are urinating in my very own fireplace. Tut, tut.”

I was trying to listen, but the creature’s 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 Einstein’s theory of relativity to the discovery of radium. A tennis champion from 1914 held his trophy in a photo stuck on the man’s 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 man’s 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. You’re missing floors, and stairs. The chairs in here are completely ruined.”

“That may be true. Nevertheless, it is home to Rupert and me.”

“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 processes.”

“That doesn’t 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?”

Drew nodded.

“And they were born in the muck of that pool behind us. The newspapers were the material they were formed from.”

“Now, I don’t know what you’re talking about, Harold,” Al said.

Drew nodded in approval. “Harold, very good. A proper English name.”

“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 figure out.

“Al, we’re made of genes, DNA. That’s the material nature had to work with in making us. All nature had to work with here was the paper in the house.”

“That’s 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 our presence.

“I don’t know why,” I said, “but I think I know how. There’s an energy source feeding the pool. You remember, Al, we saw that yellow light coming from the pool?”

”Yeah,” he said.

“That’s the energy source. The heat from the pool creates energy. The heat acted on the paper in some way I don’t understand. It created life.”

“OK. I don’t really get it,” Al said. “But how do they eat?”

Drew rolled his eyes at the ceiling.

“The energy in the pool feeds them.”


“I’m not sure. I’m 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 didn’t 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. It’s important to know as much about the enemy as possible.

When I scanned Rupert’s neck, my flashlight dangled in front of his eyes. He stopped growling and put his hands in front of his eyes. There it was—a 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 didn’t 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 Mom’s kitchen knife. Al’s 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 situation.

“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 Rupert’s long arm. I wondered who would be quicker. I didn’t want to find out.

“As long as your brother is ready to fight, I’m holding on to this gun,” Al said.

The heat in Rupert’s 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 Mom’s 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 Rupert’s newspaper face. Black blood ran out of the wound on Rupert’s cheek.

Drew punched his brother square on the left side of his face. Black blood ran from the corner of Rupert’s white eye. He collapsed to his knees, and his shoulders shrunk in on themselves.

“We can’t do this now,” Drew told the brother. Again, I noted the language. “We’re 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, refined way.

The beast stood up straight, his white eyes narrow and mean. He didn’t 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 left.

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 isn’t 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. Drew’s paper hand was drying out. That’s 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, I’m in charge style, Drew tried to take me down like a principal lecturing a seventh-grade kid who’s just been caught throwing a spitball.

“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.”

“I’m sorry,” Al said, “but this isn’t going to cut it for us.”

Drew turned on him and I saw the power he had in him. I just didn’t know where it came from.

“You two pitiable, misdirected fools are dismissed.”

Mom’s extra-special sharp kitchen knife would go unused this night.

“This isn’t over, pulp-man,” I said.

Drew looked at me with that superior face again. I wanted to soak his smile in black ink.

“I’m afraid it is. Or you two will be dead. Now, go. Rupert is in a foul mood. You don’t have much time.”

I didn’t 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 didn’t 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 doesn’t?”

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. I’ve 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 didn’t 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 Rupert’s 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 Rupert’s face as we stepped over him.

“Eat some light, pulp-man,” I said. Rupert’s 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 didn’t 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. It’s been a little slow here.”

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 looking.

“In business, it’s important for partners to trust each other. Without trust, you have nothing. Don’t insult me by lying.”


“Harold, why did you go to the house?”

“I don’t think I need to explain myself to you.”

My father came forward in his seat, again quietly.

“This isn’t a case of you living under my roof and going out at all hours. I’ve never said anything about that. You’re a man now. You show up ready to work in the morning, it’s 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.

“Don’t leave the house until I tell you to,” my father said in a dry voice. “You’re going to screw everything up.”

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 his goodwill.

I ate breakfast. I ate lunch. I sat in the living room and looked at Mom’s 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 couldn’t imagine the conversations we might have.

Finally, at 1 o’clock, 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.

“Hi, Norman.”

“Harold, hey! You surprised me.”

“I’ve been doing that a lot of that these days.”

“What’s that?”

“Never mind. Come on in. We can sit on the couch in the living room. My mother’s not home.”

“How are you doing?”

”I’m in my Dad’s business now. What’s going on with you?”

“I’m majoring in accounting. It’s solid.”

“That’s a smart move.”

“I didn’t come over to chat. I mean, I did, but I came over for a reason.’

“Yeah, what’s that?”

“Do you remember Helen?”

“No. Sorry.”

“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. What’s her last name? Wasn’t she Polish, or Russian or something?”


“Helen Ravidinsky, that’s it. Brown hair, brown eyes.”

“Like you.”

“Yeah. She was Polish, but she came from some screwy place. South Carolina or something like that.’

“Right, Harold. She’s got a little Southern accent. Her voice has a bit of a twang, but she’s not one of these Southern fried girls, if you know what I mean.”

“You mean she’s respectable.”

“I mean she’s from the South, but she’s 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.”

“What’s that, Harold? I never heard you talk so politely.”

“I picked it up from a guy I met. Strange guy.”

“Strange how?”

“Strange enough.”

“Well, Harold, I have to go. I have a class at 2 pm. Business statistics.”

“Sounds like a barrel of monkeys.”

Norman rolled his eyes. “It’s 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 wasn’t pink. This girl wasn’t a delicate flower. The perfume on it was subtle and not overpowering. This girl had some class. I couldn’t believe she was interested in me. When you get down to it, I’m a sweat bomb. I carry lumber. I put in sub-floors. I pour concrete. I work with construction unions.

The note told me that she had heard about the trouble I’d 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 didn’t 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 o’clock. 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 woman’s calf. He tapped me on the shoulder.

“Hey, Pop.”

“Hi.” He was his usual cheery self. But under the circumstances, I didn’t blame him.

Dad breathed in like he didn’t 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.”

“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 Man’s attempt on our lives that we left it dangling. Brilliant.

The detectives didn’t 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 don’t think it’s necessary.”

“No, it’s not,” said Hope, “because you’re freakin’ guilty.”

“What do you want?” My father looked at me, his mouth open. He seemed shocked by my lack of respect.

“We’re going to the house and we’re taking you with us. We’re going to take fingerprints off the police tape, walk through the crime scene in the library and make sure you didn’t tamper with the evidence. Then we’re going to arrest you again.”

The boys muscled my father out of the way by walking into him like he wasn’t there. He let them, quickly stepping to the side, his powerful shoulders slumping.

“Let’s go upstairs.” Brennan walked up first, then Hope gestured for me to go. He followed. It’s a classic restraining move—one man in front, one in the back. I gave Hope some mental credit. He wasn’t 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 he’s allowed legal counsel right now.”

Hope laughed.

My father then did something I never expected. “I’m going with you.”

Lieutenant Hope looked like he had been stuck in the eye by a pencil. “What?”

Dad waved his finger at the men. “This isn’t North Korea. And you aren’t the secret police. You’re 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. I’m calling our lawyer. And I’m 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 hadn’t 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 I’ve been dealt?”

“You can’t, Mr. Schrieber,” Hope said. “Harold is not going to be taken off to some dead-end place. He’s going with us to the crime scene.” Suddenly, I’m Harold to these balloon faces.

“I, I don’t trust you,” Dad said. It took a lot for him to say that.

“We’re leaving, sir,” Lieutenant Hope announced, “and you’re not coming with us.”

“It’s OK, Dad. It’s better this way.”

“I’m calling our lawyer, Tommy Mallon, and I’m going over there.”

“I’m telling you, Mr. Schrieber, in the clearest language possible. You will be arrested for disturbing a crime scene.”

“You can’t do this, Lieutenant. I’m 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.

“Thanks, boys.”

“Shut up,” Brennan said.

“I love it when you talk to me that way.”

He didn’t say a word. I’d beaten him for the moment. While Hope drove, I fingered Mom’s extra-sharp kitchen knife in my jacket pocket. They’d forgotten to frisk me. Despite my breezy attitude toward the cops, I was worried. This wasn’t 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 didn’t involve these two knuckleheads. Again, we were going in unprepared.

By the time we closed in on 1236 Yale Place, the sun had melted past the horizon, trailing streaks of orange to the west.

“Here’s the tape you cut,” Hope told me as the goons muscled me through the door.

“You guys don’t know what you’re 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 goggles.”

“You need to seriously shut up, Schrieber,” Hope said.

“Floodlights. We need floodlights.”

“Shut up.”

“Just remember that I’m 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 Donnie’s 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 couldn’t move very well.

The detectives pointed their flashlights at the outline of Donny’s body and knelt down to inspect it further. I didn’t understand what they could be looking for. But it didn’t 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. There’s 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.

Brennan’s flashlight came tumbling down. One of the pulp men dug his long nails into Brennan’s back and knocked his head on the floor with great enthusiasm, over and over. Brennan was screaming.

The other pulp man was punching and biting into Hope’s 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 Brennan’s 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 fiancée’s 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 creature’s 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 didn’t 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 fiancée’s 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 Brennan’s hand. Brennan gasped. Drew turned Brennan around on all fours and grabbed his head with both forearms. He was going to break the cop’s neck.

Desperate to save the brick-head’s life and mine, I clubbed Drew with the flashlight. He didn’t see it coming, so I was able to knock him off Brennan.

Rupert had torn gashes in Hope’s chest and leg. Hope was lying on the floor, helpless. The great beast was going in to the lieutenant’s face with his teeth, like he had done to Donny. So I took Mom’s 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 wasn’t dead. He was very strong. He rolled over onto his back with Mom’s 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 won’t 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.

“You’re 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 I’m going to treat you, Harold.”

Hope let loose a shot from the floor. It took off a piece of Drew’s 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 paper.

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 Drew’s 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.

“What’s going on here?”

I stopped hitting Drew. “Hi, Dad.”

I was almost embarrassed, like when you’ve been caught stealing from the liquor cabinet when you’re 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 doesn’t 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 didn’t know when to quit. I admired him suddenly.

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 New York.”

“You’re under arrest, Mr. Drew,” Brennan said, weakly. I looked over at Hope. Mumbling, he was fighting to stay conscious.

Drew, still covering his eyes, said, “That won’t be necessary, officer. You’re going to be dead. As will be everyone else in this room.”

Brennan shot at Drew twice, missing both times, but killing the overhead light.

Suddenly free from blindness, Drew jumped on Brennan again. The gun skipped out of the brick-head’s 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 strong.

I had distracted Drew long enough for Brennan to hit him in his newspaper nose. That allowed me to get my arms around Drew’s 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, you’re dead.” But the words didn’t 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-man’s great strength, he was a little shaky.

“You common worm,” he gasped. “You little nothing. You nobody.”

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 Drew’s eyes. The pulp-man spoke something softly, as if to a lover. We couldn’t hear it.

I withdrew Mom’s kitchen knife from the back of Rupert’s 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 didn’t 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. That’s what he had trained me to do—always 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-head’s eyes were going blank. Hope didn’t 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 didn’t 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. Drew’s 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 didn’t know if Drew knew what would happen to his body when it was dumped in the water. And the will didn’t 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 Drew’s 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 Manning’s family business.

“There are some things you don’t 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. That’s the way things go in this tomato town. But I realized it was for the best. I didn’t need publicity. I needed a girl.

The charges against me were quietly dropped. Everything was kept out of the papers. Hope survived Rupert’s 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 your shoes.

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 Drew’s 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 Drew’s library, to keep him fed.

I saw that Drew’s 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 Drew’s 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 couldn’t stop myself from staring at his forehead, announcing McKinley’s presidential win in 1896. History buff that I am, I wanted to read the story under the headline.

“Ah, it’s 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. Brennan’s breathing was a little shallow, but he was mostly whole.

“Why did you lie about that, by the way? Why tell us he’s your brother?” I asked.

“You said that. I didn’t. 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?” he said.

“We don’t know exactly,” the detective said. “We can’t try you in public court. You’d cause a riot. This kind of thing throws society off-balance. We can’t 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. There’s no record of you having a son.”

”I know what you’re 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.”

“There’s no record of him,” I said.

“No, of course, there wouldn’t be. I already had a reputation.”

“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 asked.

“Before I died, I had him dug up.”

“I’m sorry?” I said, not sure of what I had just heard.

“You’re 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 couldn’t speak.”

“Alas, something happened to him in the pool. He became something else. More of an animal than a man. But he was still my son.”

“I don’t get why the place was up for sale,” I asked.

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 didn’t 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.”

“How’s that?”

“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 wasn’t 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 couldn’t 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 questions.”

“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 couldn’t 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 papers—the 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 questions?”

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 that.”

“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. That’s how Drew found out about Craft’s 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.

“Where’s Craft now?” I asked.

“Drifting with the winds, fool. I’m 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 can’t put it into the official report.”

“No, of course not.”

“We’ll see if we can find any remains of Mr. Craft,” Brennan said, “but I’m not optimistic.”

“You’re 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.”

“I’ll send somebody out to the property and the lot. They’ll check out the sites and file a report, contact Craft's family.”

Then the cop thought for a few seconds. “We still don’t 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, they’ll got mixed up together somehow.”

“Drew probably doesn’t even know,” Brennan said.

I didn’t 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 Drew’s 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.

“It’s just as easy to marry a rich girl as a poor one,” Mom said as I was getting ready to go.

“Right, Ma.” I didn’t want to talk about it. This Ravidinsky girl sounded like a winner and I didn’t want my mother’s 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. That’s no good.”

“She’s a classy girl, Ma. The real deal. Well-mannered, unlike me.”

“This is trouble. Where are you taking her?”

“Dinner, and a walk in the park.”

“Sounds serious.”

“Then we’re going bowling.”

“Are you serious?”

“Always, Ma, always.”

This town is still a tomato, but tonight she’s also a lady.






copyright 2007 Michael Gold.

Michael Gold:

I live in Queens, NY, with my wife and 14-month old daughter. I have worked as a public relations writer for industrial and technology companies, a reporter for small-town newspapers, and a freelance writer. My last published piece was “The Carbon Police Are Coming For You,” on Silverthought. I read too many comics. Major influences include Kurt Vonnegut, Frank Miller and Kilgore Trout.

link to silverthought.com