The first things that get you are the
heels. Red spikes hit the wood floor like bullets. Each step
explodes in your ears.
Then theres a pause, a very short
blessing. The heels have run up against a boundary, like a
couch or a wall. The feet turn and the bullets rattle against
your skull once more. Your eyes lock on the heels with murder
Ah, yes, the eyes, those betrayers.
For no sooner than your eyes have closed in on the heels like
lasers, they cannot stay there for more than a collection
of seconds. Because the ankles, then the calves, and then
the curve of the thighs invite your eyes ever upward. And
you curse yourself because you know whats coming next.
The bikini is fire-engine red, to match
the spiked heels. And its not just any bikini. Shes
wearing just the barest snippet of cloth over her thighs and
chest. The protrusions emanating from the chest are impossibly
high for a woman of 45, almost even with the shoulders. The
chest is somebody elses idea of pure sex. Hefners,
The trouble starts with the stomach.
Its not exactly flat. It blooms out, to be kind. Theres
some flab there. I dont know much else besides construction,
but I did know that bikini was all wrong for her.
Flabby stomach or no, I had been trapped
by another tomato. My wife was going to kill her and me, I
was pretty sure. I wasnt sure who would be first.
The name of the tomato was Jenna. For
those who dont know me, I use the word tomato
to describe women who are very good looking and yet have an
obnoxious quality about them. Some people might call these
women divas. Whatever name you want to use, they make you
want to run for the hills.
Jenna wore her brown hair in a shag,
coming to just above her green eyes. She laughed too loud
and too much. The constant drink in her right hand gave away
the reason for the laugh.
In the left hand, permanently attached,
was a hot-pink cell phone. Jenna sold high-end real estate
in the city. She spent most of the day stomping back and forth
through the kitchen and the living room, trying to close deals
and talking to her friends.
My wife and I took a share in a beach
house on Fire Island so my four boys would have a fun summer.
We bought the share in a town called Seaview. Boring, I know.
But we thought it would be safe for the boysRichie,
14 years old, Max, 11, Jon, 9 and Mark, 7.
The other towns on the island, like
Ocean Beach and Ocean Bay Park, have too many bars and single
twenty-somethings and drunks and who knows what else. We wanted
the boys to have fun, not spend time with people and things
they didnt understand.
So now here I had put our sons in a
place they didnt understand.
My sons hated Jenna, but they couldnt
stop staring, even Mark. My wife, Helen, hated her even more.
We knew we would have to live with her and her friends for
the rest of the summer.
Jenna first met my family and me at
the house the afternoon of the first weekend of our rental,
Fourth of July. I was hoping we could stay that whole week
and just sit on the beach, watch a few sunsets, go swimming
and take long walks. After that I wanted to let them stay
and play at the beach during the week while I went to work
in Queens. Then I would come see them on the weekends. I wanted
nothing more ambitious than that.
So, where do you people live?
Queens. Yuck! was what
My first thought was to pop her in
the mouth. She didnt understand me? Let her understand
a fist. Ive hit men for smaller insults.
But doing it to her would mean trouble.
With cops, of course. But more so in my mind. Ive never
punched a lady. Never. And I had to reluctantly concede that
I wasnt going to start now.
Then she turned everything around on
You are kind of cute, in an ape-y
sort of way. You have that puppy dog face. And those shoulders!
I just looked at her.
My wife, Helen, was in the kitchen,
silently getting lunch ready for our family. Her face rose
up from the cutting board. She had been chopping up iceberg
lettuce for the boys turkey sandwiches.
My wife is a tough lady in many ways.
Her father was a cranky old guy. She put up with a lot from
him, but she walked out on him when she was 19. Her dad wanted
her to move from their home in South Carolina to Florida and
run his new house for him. Her mom had died seven years before.
But Helen wouldnt have it. She got into a college in
the suburbs of New York City and ran off. Thats where
She told me that story on one of our
first dates. I admired her for it. Shes generally pretty
quiet, but shes like a general with the boys and the
house. This, however, was an entirely new situation. She wasnt
sure what to do.
I could picture Helen, wearing her
black cats eye glasses, swiveling around and pointing
the foot-long axe of a kitchen knife at Jenna and saying something
really nasty. I saw it all happen, and then it vanished. Her
tongue was about set to yell, but her innate quiet held her
back. My wife kept her thoughts inside. She saved the anger,
put it away in the bank for another time, probably keeping
it for me.
I didnt breathe any kind of sigh
of relief. The next time Helen heard something obnoxious from
Jenna, her comeback might be that much worse. And I would
still be in the doghouse.
I rented the house over the phone at
the last minute. OK, I admit itit was a bad move. But
I wanted to get the boys to the beach for July and August.
The Queens streets are hot and angry
in the summer. The Queens where I grew up and where I live
is the kind of place where if you cough in the subway, somebody
is very likely to say, Cover your mouth and go back
to your own country.
Queens means people throwing their
plastic bags away by tossing them into the wind so they get
caught in the branches of trees. Except for a few bumps in
the road, the borough is one long flat plain extending to
Kennedy Airport, and the streets bake under the sun. Drivers
fly through stop signs and yellow lights, ignoring nervous
old people who edge out to try to cross the street, then stumble
back to the safety of the sidewalk as fast as they can. Some
dont make it to the curb.
Women fight about who was first on
line at the fruit stand. Bums on the street shout at pregnant
women, Youre fat! Junior high school girls
get into fights after school. They try to stab each other
in the neck with house keys.
Boys run after each other and beat
their friends on the back with juvenile fists. High school
kids walk the streets with baseball caps turned backwards,
their pants hanging down below their hips, escorting pit bulls
that look like their muscles have been pumped with steroids,
to show theyre tough. Minor-league drug dealers hang
around the candy stores with a long stare that can freeze
Helen and I wanted to move, but we
didnt have the cash to run to the suburbs. Im
in business with my dad, building houses. But its a
tough life. The cash flow is uneven. My wife took a part-time
job at the local hospital to help pay the bills. We have four
sons, who have large appetites.
So the rental was an effort to help
my family right now, to do my job as a protector. The rental
was sitting there in the newspaper, un-rented, and unloved,
for months. It looked like a big, fat steak to me. And I wanted
Schreiber, lunch is ready.
She didnt call me Harold or Daddy,
her usual names for me. Now I knew I was dead meat as far
as my wife was concerned. Whenever she called me by my last
name she was mad at me.
The Schreiber family ate quickly in
silence, except for Mark, who said, Mom, when are you
going to make your special cookies?
Theyre in the fridge, sweetie.
My boys all smiled, temporarily relieving
the tension. Helen makes cookies with nuts and chocolate chips
melted and spread through a thick dough thats more like
a brownie than a thin cookie. This is no mass-market cookie.
Its a cookie that attracts my sons friends from
all over the neighborhood. People have asked my wife to sell
the cookies, but she refuses.
That would spoil things,
she has said to these people.
After the quiet excitement of the cookies
was over, my four sons took turns eating their turkey sandwiches,
punching each other in the arm and calling each other names.
Pong-head, pass the mustard,
Richie said to Max.
Pong-head yourself! Maxie
shouted back. But he passed the mustard. Jon laughed.
You stink, Max said to
After a while it didnt matter
who did the saying, just what was said. My sons are very witty.
My wife took turns staring at me, Jenna
and her plate. Jenna was on her cell, jabbering away about
a real estate deal and drinking something pink from the widest
martini glass I had ever seen.
Thats so dramastic! Im
majorly interested! she said into the phone. I think
she was trying to say Fantastic. Or maybe it was
dramatic. Anyway, it sounded weird.
Helen looked over at Jenna and mouthed
the words, Slut. Whore. I smiled, which was the
wrong move. My wife turned to me and narrowed her brown eyes
I rushed the boys through lunch and
had them run out to the beach. I jumped into the waves, violating
all the rules about not swimming after eating. Richie, my
oldest, stayed on our towel. 14 years old, hes talking
up every girl he sees and acting like hes too cool to
hang out with his family. Max, Jon and Mark threw themselves
into the water, paddling after me like little puppies.
Max got to me before the other boys.
He likes to be first and hes desperate to be near me.
His big brother has little interest in him.
The boys and I floated along for a
while on the salt water, the sun blazing away. We were very
relaxed and happy.
Then Max and Jon decided to body surf
and I let them go. Mark swam with me a few feet away.
A dark mass floated under Mark, just
a few feet away. You have to be a father to understand the
fear that ran through me. This thing looked to be about 10
feet long. I thought shark, but I was wrong.
Mark saw it too and started to cry.
Dont move! I yelled
at him. I knifed through the water to him and held him near
The mass floated up and I could see
it. It was purple with a huge pot-belly shape, a pulsating
quiver of jellyfish.
I held Mark and kicked away from the
pot-belly shape. Mark cried really hard. It was a monster
to him. The tentacles floated out toward us. I kicked harder,
but the tentacles kept extending. I held my precious son in
front of me and away from the beast.
It kept coming. I found the sea bottom,
and stood up with Marks arms around me. Jon and Max
saw us get out of the surf about 100 feet away and they swam
toward our blanket.
I thought we were safe. Something touched
my leg. There was a moment when the day seemed to freeze.
Then it hit me. A sting like a knife through the Achilles
tendon almost jolted me off my feet. I grunted. Mark screamed.
I couldnt move my leg.
Mark, run for the beach! Find
In a foot of surf, my seven-year old
boy did the right thing.
I fell down in the water and nearly
broke my spine on the hard surface of the beach. I got hit
around the kidney with another lash. My nerves blew up.
By this time, Richie had seen me. He
ran to the lifeguards and they ran over. Two boys, maybe 19,
but almost as broad as me, dragged me out of the water.
A guy like me does not get helped out
of the water. A guy like me does not need help from lifeguards.
The physical pain ran deep. The humiliation ran deeper.
I remember my eyes shut tight against
the sun. I heard lots of breathing around me.
Whats wrong with him?
Jellyfish stings. Thing must
have been big, somebody else said, close to me.
Dad, are you OK?
That was 11-year old Max, crowding
close to me. I could hear his voice coming like a hollow whine
through the din of onlookers.
Get back! one of the boy
Hes going into shock. We
have to get him out of here, the lifeguard said to his
buddy, from deep in a black hole in the sand.
* * *
You look even cuter when youre
Vulnerable. I think the word
is vulnerable, I said slowly. I felt like I was talking
with gauze on my tongue. How was it that Jenna would be the
first person I saw when I woke up?
I said that.
How did I get here?
Jennas enormous chest thrust
I asked the lifeguards to bring
you in, she cooed. I had the town doctor treat
you. Your wife wants to take you to the hospital across the
bay, but I think thats a bad idea.
Where is my wife?
Right here, Schreiber.
Helen stood behind Jenna, hands on
hips, and ready to kill.
Jenna turned around.
I need to speak to my husband.
Im trying to help him.
I need to speak to my husband.
Alone. For my wife, that was restraint. Shes full
of iron but too polite to do what they do in the movies, where
they say, Get out, through clenched teeth.
Jenna looked at the ceiling fan. My
wife stared at her with knives in her eyes.
This is so flusterating!
Jenna scooped up the remains of her
pink martini glass and stomped out of the room on those red
heels, shooting bullets in the wood, and yelling, Its
Through the haze, I could see my wife
approaching. Her hands were plastered with red sauce.
She saw me looking at them. I
was preparing dinner. Spaghetti with tomatoes and meatballs.
Look, Harold, I know youre
not feeling well. I think we should get out of here. This
isnt a good situation and now youve been bitten
by a jellyfish.
You need to see a doctor.
Searching through my host of responses,
I kept thinking of the money I had sunk into this house share.
Ill be OK.
Youre not OK now.
I just need to rest.
How am I going to handle the
kids alone with you laid up? If we go back to Queens, I can
get your parents to baby-sit the boys for a few days.
I dont know if I should
travel right now. And what about the share?
Forget the share. You think were
having a good time? Mark, Jon and Max are terrified.
What about Richie?
Hes OK. He says he wants
to fight the jellyfish.
I looked at her. The sun streamed through
the bedroom window. Her brown eyes and brown hair looked like
chocolate melting in a yellow wrapper. The silver spokes in
her cats eye glasses lit up like little stars. She was
quite pretty. Angry, but pretty.
Lets give it a few days.
Then well see if we should stay or go.
* * *
A day later, I was feeling a lot better.
I walked stiffly to the refrigerator looking for breakfast
cereal. It was about five in the morning. I usually get up
early. Ive had trouble sleeping since we started having
Sprawled unconscious on the couch next
to the kitchen was an unfamiliar female, wearing tight jeans
and a belly shirt, silver-sparkle high heels still attached
to her feet.
I shook hard wheat flakes out of the
box into a blue glass bowl. That woke up Silver Heels.
Hello, sailor, floated
up in a dreamy haze from the couch.
I looked over at the heels. They swung
down, slow and shaky, to the target practice floor.
Her cheeks were puffy, the eyes barely
open. Yet, despite all, they held a glint of mischief.
She had tomato written
all over her.
I tried to head her off immediately.
Listen, Im sure youre
a very nice person. But Im a married man, with four
She fell off the couch. The thud echoed
through the main room.
And there she lay, not moving. I thought
about trying to lift her back on the couch, a midnight-black
leather job (totally inappropriate for a beach house, of course),
then thought about how that would look to my wife. I let her
stay there, watching the rise and fall of her back as she
breathed deeply face down into the wood planks of the living
The wheat cereal tasted especially
Jenna broke into the room a few moments
later, wearing a pink silk nightie. Just what I needed.
She shouted at me, Harold, whats
I pointed at the tomato on the floor
with my cereal spoon.
Your friend is drunk. She fell
off the couch.
Why didnt you help her
get up? Jenna put her hands
on her nightie hips and said, and I dont know if she
was kidding, Youre not using the seven habits
of highly effective people.
The seven habits of highly effective
people. Its a book. You should read it. Its important.
(The Seven Habits of Highly Effective
People was first published in 1989. Its a self-help
book, written by Stephen R. Covey. It has sold more than 15
million copies in 38 languages since it was first published
One of the habits is put first
things first. Lauras need to be put back on the couch
is greater than your need to eat your cereal.
Youve got to be kidding
me. Shes dead weight and shes a person whos
not my wife.
Youre very flusterating,
Harold. Youre not the person I thought you were.
I continued to eat my cereal.
My 14-year old, Richie, walked out
the boys bedroom at that moment and took a look at Laura.
Ha, ha, ha!
You, whats your name?
Richie. Ive told you like
Can you help me get Laura back
on the couch? I cant do it by myself.
Rich looked at me. I looked at him.
OK, he told Jenna, but this is going to
What kind of kid are you?
The kind that wants money for
Youre in the wrong miasma
I piped up. I think you mean
Jenna gestured for Richie to come over.
They tried lifting Laura back on the couch, but she was way
The body sank back down into the floor.
Quickly exhausted, Jenna wiped her forehead and said, Isnt
milieu the French word for toilet?
Toilet means toilet, Richie
said. Milieu means environment, or setting.
How did you know that, you little
How do you know how to speak
like an idiot?
My 14-year old son had defeated the
woman who had humiliated me and fought off my wife in one-to-one
You should read the seven habits
of highly effective people, Jenna said to him. Youre
creating a lose-lose situation here. You need to focus more
on the win-win. Help me try to lift up Laura again.
They tried. My other sons, Max, Jon
and Mark, hearing all the noise, scrambled out of the boys
bedroom in their little summer pajama shorts like clowns jumping
out of a little clown car.
Jenna looked up and saw a win-win situation.
You three little bozos. Come
here. I need you.
Max looked hurt. I knew he would never
forget the insult. He hangs on to everything. In fact, he
wrote it down later in his black-and-white school composition
notebook. He always writes as if the words really matter.
Go bozo yourself, Jon told
Jenna. Nevertheless he tried to help.
Jenna grunted and whined. Max temporarily
forgot the insult and the boys all laughed as they got to
grab a grown-up womans leg here or an arm there and
tried to lift Laura back to the couch. It was great fun, but
they got nowhere.
All right now, Ill help,
I asked Jenna to step aside. I took
Lauras torso and told the boys to get an arm or a leg.
We had a good hold of her now.
Now youre using the seven
habits, Harold, Jenna said approvingly. Youre
We were in the middle of lifting our
new house guest onto the couch when my wife came out of the
bedroom. My blood ran cold.
If Helens eyes had been daggers
I would have been gushing blood from the chest and shoulder.
Hi, honey! I said in my
Schreiber, I need to speak with
you right away.
She is just one bundle of bitch,
Richie, Jon and Mark snickered. Max
looked at Jenna, open-mouthed. In many ways hes the
most innocent of all of them. He cant believe that people
are capable of being so nasty.
My boys and I put Laura on the black-leather
couch, as carefully as we could. I marched off to our bedroom.
I wondered if my wife had built an electric-chair in there
somewhere. Because if she had, I was going to sit in it, with
the power turned on full blast.
* * *
Another habit of highly effective people
is to seek first to understand, then be understood. The author
of the book, Stephen Covey, says that you need to listen to
a person and empathetically understand their situation before
giving them advice.
If you dont listen empathetically,
your advice may be rejected. Alas, I did not know this at
the time. Otherwise, I could have avoided the prolonged miasma
with my wife.
Harold, this is getting out of
control. I want to leave.
I can handle it.
You may be able to handle it.
But the boys and I are not doing well.
The boys are fine.
Helen stared at me for what seemed
like several minutes.
Schreiber, you dont know
what youre doing.
In the end, we agreed to stay at the
house. My wife agreed to stay mad at me.
* * *
That night the martinis flew out of
glasses and into parted lips. Jenna decided to have a small
party. Laura lay prone on the couch for most of the day. She
woke up in time to drink.
The party further endeared my wife
to me. I wish I had listened to her. Our little family would
have avoided a mountain of trouble if we had left when Helen
asked to go.
A guy, about 25, walked in first. His
dirty blonde hair, parted in the middle, reached past his
shoulders. He didnt have on a shirt.
Following the seven habits of highly
effective people, he decided to be proactive. He hit the refrigerator
first, took a cold light beer off the bottom shelf.
With the beer open, he looked around,
as if for the first time. My sons looked at him as if he had
arrived from outer space. He looked back, somewhat unbelieving
Hey, little dudes! He saluted
them. Then he saw me.
Hi, Ace. These belong to you?
No, I rented them from the police.
He looked somewhat doubtful. Then he
smiled. Aw, youre messing with me, Ace. Four boys,
man. I should bow down to you.
And he did just that. Shirtless got
down on his hands and knees and bowed down to me four times.
My boys snickered.
You got a name? I asked.
That was a mistake.
My three younger boys crowded around
him, excited, bubbling about his name. For some reason, this
made him their hero.
Only Richie held back, muttering, Cloud,
Laura woke up out of her stupor and
smiled. Hey, Cloud. I missed you.
Ive been running around,
Yeah, Ill bet, Laura
said. How many beds have you been running in?
OK, OK, thats enough of
that talk. This is a family show. I gestured at my sons.
Cloud tipped his beer at me. Right,
My wife entered the room at that moment.
She decided to stay close to the enemy. I knew the tactic.
Stay in sight and shoot threatening looks at everyone with
the hope of dampening spirits so the party would break up
Jenna came in too, carrying vodka and
rum bottles from the package store.
Cloud, this so dramastic!
What does that mean? Richie
demanded of her.
Youll learn when youre
in the right metric.
I may have to kill you,
Richie said, unless you learn how to speak English correctly.
Helen nodded approvingly. It was the
happiest I saw her all night.
Jenna didnt take it well.
You really hurt me. You dont
know how fragile I am. I dont even know how fragile
Another boy came in shortly after.
He too was shirtless, but had short black hair and blue eyes.
He was about 25 years old, I guessed. Richies comment
was soon forgotten.
Hi, Bobby Black! Laura
and Jenna said at the same time. Bobby Black looked like a
Ralph Lauren modelcool and deadly.
Hey. Can I have a drink?
Bobby ignored my family and me. I respected his proactive,
go-for-the-gold attitude. He had obviously read the seven
Jenna poured drinks for Laura and
the two man guests.
It was about eight-thirty. Helen and
I tried to send the boys to bed. We wrestled with all of them
to get them into their pajamas. They fought and shouted. Max,
Jon and Mark protested, but we got them into their bedroom.
Richie was the only I couldnt
muscle or convince. He stayed up, with the party. My wife
decided to give me another slit eyed look of hatred.
I couldnt get used to that. It
hurt every time I saw it. I was beginning to see it a lot.
I wondered how I could use the 7 habits to help ease the situation.
According to Jenna, visualization is an important part of
the 7 habits.
You must think about the end you want
to achieve. Of course, she had a drink in her hand and she
didnt say it that way.
She said this, You gotta got
think about what you want, Harold. Then, grab it by the nuts.
The party revved up. Jenna turned on
the musicstrictly club stuffloud, with a strong
Cloud filed four drinks down his throat
in 15 minutes. Cloud was definitely putting first things first.
He decided to dance on the dining room table abutting the
living room. Laura joined him, wearing a new belly shirt and
those silver heels.
Im pretty sure I looked at them
both with my mouth open. My wife made an evil face and looked
at me. She flew off to our bedroom.
Richie and I stared as Cloud and Laura
went into a private rhythm only they seemed to understand.
The table shook as they bounced up and down on it. I wondered
if the beast would buckle.
Jenna and Bobby clapped along. I decided
I needed a drink. I went to the bar and poured myself a vodka
with purple Kool-Aid. I took a gulp, trying to forget what
was going on behind me. Beside the welcome burn of the vodka
in my throat, the Kool-Aid tasted too sweet, too much like
candy. It hurt my teeth.
I put the drink down and turned around.
My 14-year old son was gone.
Have you seen my son? I
asked Bobby, who was dancing with Jenna by this time.
He went out the front door, Daddy,
he said, mocking me without breaking a step with Jenna.
I made a mental note to punch him in
the mouth later. I put first things first and decided to be
proactive. So I ran out of the house looking for Richie in
the midst of a Fire Island Saturday night.
The crowds on the walks were thick
with kids. Seaview is between Ocean Beach and Ocean Bay Park.
You cant drive a car on the island, so everybody walks
everywhere. Twenty-something professionals from Manhattan
get together in big groups and rent houses for the summer.
They walk all night from town to town, looking for alcohol
I found myself in the middle of several
packs of people shuffling casually and slowly in the darkness,
laughing, talking, planning the night out. The moon was the
only significant light for me. Fire Island has no street lights
outside of the main towns.
I tried running around them, but just
off the three-foot wide walks are strands of hedges, brush,
sand and poison ivy. There isnt much room to maneuver.
I had to slow down to the kids pace.
I called his name. Some kids in front
of me said, Yeah! But they were just goofing around.
I walked to Ocean Beach. I looked in the ice cream parlor.
He wasnt there. I walked back to Ocean Bay Park. I looked
on the shoreline fronting the bay. Small boats hung on the
beach, silent and dark.
I was forced to admit to myself that
he might be in one of the bars. I started searching them.
I went to Flynns first, in Ocean Bay Park. Its
on a point fronting the bay side of the island. The place
was stacked wall to wall with hot, grasping, clumsy boys and
girls eager to help them. It took me 20 minutes just to walk
I tried the line of bars in Ocean Beach.
I saw a boy, half in the tank, pour a drink all over his thigh
to impress a girl. She wasnt. I saw another boy who
had pinned a girl to the wall of a joint. She didnt
seem to mind. I saw boys and girls playing drinking games
at wooden tables. But I didnt find my son, my 14-year
old word warrior.
I walked back to our rental, then passed
it. I decided to sit on the beach and think about how to find
Richie. After about 20 minutes, I saw a mound lying near the
dunes, packed with beach grass. I walked over. The hair was
covering the eyes. I kneeled down and brushed the hair away.
It was my son, sleeping. I picked him up. Im used to
hauling lumber, so his weight wasnt much of a problem.
As soon as I picked him up, he woke
up, looked at me.
Richie, why did you run off like
I didnt want to see anybody
embarrass themselves. Even people I dont like.
I set him down. As soon as I did, I
noticed another mound further on down the beach. Richie and
I walked over to see what it was.
Its a funny thing about dead
bodies. Theyre all jangled up. The elements have an
immediate run at them. This one, at the waters edge,
had wet sand all over it. The body was facing straight up,
as if staring at the stars. The body had seaweed entwined
around the soft belly, which was cold and bare.
It was a woman. I brushed the hair
away from the face and I recognized her right off. The mouth
was frozen forever in shock, like it couldnt believe
what had happened. The eyes were still open and the face still
It was Laura, Jennas best friend.
That must have been one hell
of a party, Richie said.
I looked her over. Even in the dark,
you could see some things out of the ordinary. There were
holes in both of her shoulders, about two inches wide. The
skin was completely gone there. The muscle underneath poked
out of the holes. I looked at her arms. They had similar holes
with the flesh pulled up, both front and back.
I thought of my options at this point,
none of them good.
* * *
She killed my best friend!
Jenna pointed her very long index finger
at my wife.
My wife shot me a look that said death.
Fighting for her life, my wifes
I had nothing to do with your
friend. I didnt even want to be here. And we wouldnt
be, if Schreiber had listened to me.
Jenna, using one of the first principles
of highly effective people, took the proactive stance. She
came at my wife, her finger and her chest marching as one
unit, purple slip of a nightie thrusting forward, pushing
slowly but inevitably across the living room floor at the
midnight hour. She stopped just inches from Helen, who was
wearing her cats eye glasses and long white cotton pajamas,
with placid yellow flowers on them.
You took your big kitchen knife,
and you stabbed Laura, over and over again.
My wife appraised Jenna coolly. She
said nothing. She stared back.
Jenna repeated the accusation.
Helen stared at Jenna, her eyes squinting
now behind the cats eye glasses.
Jenna stared back, until she broke.
Ahhhh! This is so flusterating!
Jenna yelled and walked away.
This isnt helping your
case, Mom, Maxie said, ever the serious, legalistic
one in his little short pajamas with cowboy lassoes on them.
Id like to not visit you
in jail, Helen, Richie said.
Well have to smuggle your
kitchen knife into prison so you can still make your amazing
cookies, Jon said. But I wonder how well
get the chocolate chips and flour inside. The guards would
never go for that.
Mark looked up at the ceiling, as if
to God. Not finding any answers, he stared at Jenna with quiet
I looked at them all, then the police
officer who had joined us in the room. I had never been so
depressed. And I dont get depressed easily. I wished
I could go bowling. That always makes me feel better. I would
have pretended Jennas face was on the first pin.
After we found Lauras body, Richie
and I walked to the police station in Ocean Beach and told
the police what had happened. I still believe in straight-forward
honesty. Perhaps thats wrong, considering all the greed
and craziness of the world. But I didnt have any reason
to believe that anyone in my family would be implicated in
the beautiful ladys death. And I had to put first things
The station was a plywood shack. Two
police officers were sitting behind a desk writing reports
on drunken kids and someone who had been hit by a bicycle.
One cop looked up. Hello. What
can I do for you? He looked tired, but friendly.
I wasnt used to politeness from
cops. Fire Island isnt like Queens. I kept telling myself
I didnt know quite what to say.
I was trying to turn all the thoughts over in my mind, thinking
about how to frame a sentence that would mean something yet
not sound too shocking.
We found a dead body on the beach,
in Seaview, Richie said.
Really? The other cop perked
up. You sure shes dead? Sometimes here people
just get dead drunk and sleep on the beach. Theyre not
Shes as dead as a whore
at 8 oclock in the morning, Richie said.
Where did you get that from?
He shrugged. I read it in a book.
I just wanted to try it out at the right time.
This may not be the right time,
I told him.
The cops were impressed by Richies
Jack, why dont you go?
Ill fill out the rest of the paper work.
You sure? Your shift is almost
Dont sweat it. Go.
We went. Officer Jack took a flashlight.
The walk was short. We marched like soldiers. The sand was
cool through our sneakers.
I walked with Officer Jack over the
rickety wooden steps over the dunes and through the waves
of sand to the spot where Laura was. The officer flashed his
light on the face, then saw the holes in the rest of the body.
Shes pretty dead,
Officer Jack said.
Ive never heard of somebody
who was pretty dead. Richie was about to say something
else. I poked him in the ribs with my elbow. He shut up.
Officer Jack radioed in his location
to his partner in the Ocean Beach shack, then called the Suffolk
We waited about 45 minutes for the
Suffolk cops to arrive. They had to take a boat across the
bay, then drive in a slow golf cart on the boardwalks to get
to the beach.
After the crime scene people arrived
with their little evidence-gathering tools and baggies and
floodlights, Officer Jack asked us where we were staying.
I gave him the address. The three of us walked back to the
When we came in, Officer Jack knocked
on Jennas door. She answered the knock by staying in
bed and murmuring incoherently in that sullen, sleepy way
we all have. Her boy Bobby was with her.
Who is it, Jen? he asked
in a dream-time slur.
Ocean Beach police, Officer
Jack said in a dull voice.
A blur called Bobby ran like a cannonball
out of the bedroom. He knocked Officer Jack down and flew
toward the door. I tackled him around his knees.
The noise woke up my wife and boys.
The three younger ones came running out of their bedroom to
see their father wrestling with a half-naked man in the living
Officer Jack was pretty mellow considered
he had just been assaulted by a drunk in his underpants.
Mr. Schreiber, let the young
man go. Sit down on the couch, young man.
I let Bobby go. He tried to run out
the door again. This opportunity was too great for my boys.
They were raised playing football in the street. They yelled
and ran and jumped on Bobby, gang-tackling the poor schmuck
and punching him over and over again in the ribs. He looked
like a deer trying to run away from a bunch of tigers. It
was one of our happiest moments as a family that whole weekend.
Except for my wife, who killed me again
with just a look.
OK! Enough! Officer Jack
shouted. He had finally lost his cool, with good reason.
Bobby, chastised and beaten, sat down
on the black leather couch. He looked as if he wanted to swim
inside the beast.
Officer Jack composed himself. Why
did you try to run away? Officer Jack said to Bobby.
He smiled weakly. No reason.
Well, well have to find
out about that. The Suffolk County Police will do a search
on you in their database when I call them.
Thats when Jenna stumbled out
of the bedroom, drunk.
Whats goin on?
Shes quoting Marvin Gaye
songs, Richie pointed out helpfully.
Hi, Jack. What are you doing
She knows the cops and the lifeguards.
This is great, Jon said.
Your friend is dead, Officer
Jack said, deciding to be proactive, as Jenna lurched toward
the couch where Bobby sat.
Laura, I said, desperately
trying to find the win-win scenario.
Jenna shook her head slowly as if trying
to shake something loose. Laura, Laura. How?
We dont know, Officer
Jack said. She may have been stabbed.
Jenna sat down on the couch next to
Bobby and started to cry for several minutes. Bobby, in his
under pants, hugged her.
Max brought our landlord a glass of
water. Hes always trying to help the mean ones.
We all stood there, embarrassed and
feeling sorry for Jenna, until she turned on my wife.
Wheres the knife, Helen?
Jack, thats the murder weapon!
My wife looked at Jenna. Her cats
eye glasses fluttered very slightly.
And Cloud is missing! She probably
killed him too!
Jack had no idea what was going on.
He let the two women face off for a few tense moments.
Jenna, he finally said
gently, putting his hand on her bare shoulder, we need
evidence to charge anyone with a crime.
Then he turned to my wife. Mrs.
Schreiber, may I have the knife Jennas talking about?
Helen walked slowly to the kitchen
sink. She silently dug into the silverware cabinet and withdrew
the knife in question. It shone brightly in the yellow light
of the house. Then Helen wrapped the blade in a yellow cloth
towel so no one would get hurt.
She brought it over to Officer Jack
as if she were carrying a wounded friend, holding it with
the blade turned inward, even though it was covered in cloth.
My sons looked sad. This knife had
cut and prepared thousands of meals and helped slice un-countable
numbers of cookies.
Helen gave the knife to Officer Jack
with the blade pointed down and away from him. He took the
knife with what seemed to be great respect. Then he slipped
it into a clear plastic half-gallon freezer bag he had taken
from the kitchen, belonging to my wife, no doubt.
Thank you, Mrs. Schreiber. Well
examine the knife as part of the investigation.
Her eyes, framed by her black glasses,
were cast down to the floor. Helen asked, Will I get
If the investigation shows that
the knife was not part of Lauras death, you will get
your knife back.
Officer Jack turned quietly away toward
the door. He walked a few steps with the freezer bag, then
turned around toward us.
Mrs. Schreiber, dont try
to leave the island until we give you the say-so. Jenna, well
check out the situation. Well see what we turn up.
Youre majorly under-promiscuating!
she yelled at Jack.
How does she sell so much real
estate? 11-year old Max whispered to his brothers.
Sex, you big pong-head,
Richard whispered back.
I think you mean under-promising,
I said quietly to Jenna.
Well do what we can,
the officer said. In the meantime, you come with me.
He motioned to Bobby to get off the
Can I get dressed?
Sure. Jenna, bring this boys
clothes out from the bedroom so he can get dressed.
Jenna did so. When Bobby walked out
the door with Officer Jack, she yelled at him, Helen
Schreiber should be under arrest, not Bobby! What an un-justice!
No one tried to correct her.
* * *
In our bedroom, I tried to put my arms
around Helen, to comfort her. She turned her back to face
When you get hit with the silent treatment,
it sends a chill through you. It means the other person doesnt
want to think of you as human at that moment.
I knew I had to do something. After
I thought Helen was asleep, I got out of our bed and put my
clothes on again. I walked out to the beach with a flashlight,
to the spot where Richie and I had found Lauras body.
The crime scene people had gone. There
was no police tape. The ocean doesnt understand crime.
The waves just keep coming.
I sat down on the beach for a long
time, about ten feet from the surf. I looked at the moonlight
spraying over the mirror of water beyond the breakers.
Our Fourth of July weekend was a shambles.
I had indirectly put my wife in legal trouble of the worst
kind. My boys had been exposed to all sorts of adult issues.
That just about covered things.
A fiery sting exploded in my foot,
through my left shoe, up to my kneecap. I crab-walked backwards
as fast as I could.
I felt like my leg had been lit up
like a Vegas Strip casino at 6 pm. My leg vibrated from the
pain. My head got jolted backwards into the sand, then sideways.
I ate part of the beach and swallowed some sand. I started
to choke. The sand turned into mud into my mouth. I tried
to cough it out.
Something dragged me back toward the
surf. Another sting filled my leg with dynamite.
The water soaked me through. I pushed
down on the shore and tried to move back to the beach. The
thing wrestled with my leg, got a good tight lash around it.
The black water and the dark night both got into my eyes.
My heart exploded with panic.
I felt two hands grab mine and pull.
Whoever it was pulled hard against the beast holding onto
my leg. I was being pulled in two different directions. It
was tug of war with Harold as the rope.
I started kicking, blindly, at the
thing dragging me into the water. I got a few good kicks in,
and a few more stings too.
The person pulling my hands yelled
with everything he had and jerked me hard backwards like he
was running. This guy was pretty strong. The lash around my
leg slipped off just enough.
I was being dragged again, as far away
from the surf as possible, up near the dunes and beach grass.
I wasnt in any position to complain. My leg felt as
if it were cut in two and my ribcage felt like it was trying
to strangle my heart.
The guy put me down behind a dune.
My breath came in short gulps, like a kid whos taken
in too much seawater.
I vomited up some sand. I leaned sideways
and just retched for what seemed like several minutes. My
breath came in little stabs at the air.
I sat up.
Ace, I thought you were gone.
I coughed some more. Wet sand came
out of my nose and mouth.
Cloud, Cloud, was all I
could get out.
We sat there in silence for a few minutes.
I breathed the air. The pain in my leg was a burning dead
Where did you go?
He thought for a minute. I couldnt
save Laura, he said, sick with dread. The thing
got her. We never saw it.
Laura and I were making out on
the beach. The water was coming up on us. Laura wanted it
I stayed silent.
She was on top of me one minute.
Then she was just gone. I went in after her.
Im not feeling too great
here. I dont understand.
I retched again, my hands planted on
the beach for many minutes. Cloud sat next to me and watched.
When I recovered, Cloud said, I
grabbed her hand, but the jelly had her, man. I saw it take
her in his arms and hug her tight. He stung her good. All
over. Every sting looked like a little lightning bolt.
She was screaming and I tried
to grab her. A wave hit me in the knees and I fell, man. I
got stung too. That was it.
What do you mean?
I tried to get her out, man,
I tried. He started to cry. It ate parts of her,
man. It took chunks out of her with its arms.
I stared hard at a dune.
Why did you run off?
I didnt know what to do,
Ace. I didnt know what to do.
He put his head between his knees.
I looked hard at the ocean. The throbbing
pain from the stings began to ease off a bit.
I know what to do.
What? What? he cried.
We have to catch that thing and
You dont understand. The
thing is huge. Its got tentacles and its huge.
You saw what it did to Laura.
Thats why we have to kill
Cloud started to cry again.
We cant, man. Its
too big. Its too strong.
I looked at him. Nobody steals
our lunch money.
What does that mean, Ace?
Its a Queens expression.
Somebody takes something from
you. You take it back. They punch you. You punch back. Harder.
Im from Queens.
Whats the difference?
I dont know. But this thing
is going down. Now, are you going to help me or not?
He looked doubtful. I guess.
Dont talk to me like that,
Cloud. I need muscle. Strength. Resolve. No doubts. Like Batman.
Like Captain America.
He looked at the water and laughed
grimly. Youre pretty nuts.
Yes, absolutely. Are you going
to help me?
Cloud got quiet again. He wiped the
tears from his cheeks. Yeah.
Good. Lets work on a plan.
* * *
Jenna moved out. She took a room in
the Ocean Beach Hotel, over one of the big bars, called The
Palm. My wife reported that Jenna said she did not want to
live with a murderer.
We dont want to live with
you either, Richie told her. You murder the English
language every day.
Your odor permenates my nostrils.
I cant stand you or your family.
You mean permeate. If youre
going to insult me, get your words straight.
Ah, my oldest son, ever the diplomat.
Jenna stalked out on her red heels, tussling with one of those
huge luggage carts on wheels you see in the airport.
Helen was just a little less tense
after Jenna left. She had a less than credible murder charge
hanging over her, but were the type of people that dont
like any uncertainty. As for me, I was more tense. Jenna said
she was going to charge the Schreiber family for every day
she was in the hotel. I had a beast to kill, and I didnt
think I should have to pay for it.
During the day, the boys enjoyed themselves
for a change. Officer Jack had closed the beach for several
hours to see if there was anything else the Suffolk cops could
find out about Lauras murder. I was glad. The jelly
couldnt get anyone else, at least for another day.
So I kept the boys away from the beach
and they didnt seem to mind. First, even though I was
limping from the new jelly stings won the night before, I
took the boys to play basketball at the village court. Then
we went for a walk through a nature preserve. You walk on
a boardwalk through trees and swampy water. There were lots
of dragonflies. The boys were pretty interested in it, even
Richie. He seems to be calmer in a more natural setting than
After dinner, at sunset, we built a
huge sand castle and watched the sun go down to the west.
You can just barely see the tip of downtown Manhattan from
the beach if you look really hard. Richie searched for driftwood.
I enjoyed it, but I knew there was
a giant jellyfish out there lurking. I did a little reading
about jellies in an online science magazine after I talked
to Cloud the night before. They can grow up to 300 pounds.
Theyre increasing in number, due to the warming of the
oceans. They dont have a brain. But this one certainly
seemed to have something more going on in that mass of tissue.
As the sun went down in a shower of
red, Officer Jack walked up to our blanket and sat down.
Hey, you mind if I sit down?
Not at all, Officer.
My boys stayed cool and stared at the
ocean. So did Helen, hiding behind her cats eye glasses.
That kid, Bobby, I found out
why he tried to run off last night.
Hes wanted for penny stock
fraud by the Manhattan prosecutors office.
Where is he now?
Sitting tight in the Suffolk
Well, that takes care of one
of your loose ends.
Yeah, but the main question is
who killed Laura?
Maybe the question isnt
who, but what.
Im not sure what you mean
I looked at the white caps. Its
Officer Jack, being Officer Jack, let
another one slide by. He was one mellow cop. But then, he
spent most of his days and nights patrolling a barrier beach
with the summer wind at his back and his most serious problem
public drunkenness. Even a murder didnt seem to pull
much intensity out of him.
We did some tests on your wifes
Did she kill a brownie by accident?
Jon asked. I was raising a brood of sarcastic children and
I wasnt sure how I felt about that.
Officer Jack decided he didnt
need to show respect to a nine-year old wise guy by acknowledging
the comment. He talked to me.
Theres nothing to indicate
the knife was involved in the killing.
Do you know what your next move
The Suffolk County Medical Examiner
is going to take a look at the body and do an autopsy. Were
going to wait for his investigation. That could take up to
I thought to myself, We dont
have that much time.
On the blanket, my wife nudged me.
Officer, my wife would like to
know if she can have her knife back.
Uh, Im sorry, Mr. Schreiber,
but the knife has been impounded. Youll need to fill
out some paperwork to get it back, if you want it back.
I dont understand.
Officer Jack took an apologetic tone.
Even though the knife is innocent, its now in
an evidence room in the Suffolk County police system.
Helen stared at the officer and grimaced
like a man betrayed by his best friend. It was a difficult
moment. My boys looked at the sand.
How do you get a knife out of
jail? Maxie, see if you can come up with a plan for that,
Max, not getting the joke, wrote the
idea down in his black and white notebook and said, Ill
see what I can do.
Helen smiled a little at that one.
Officer, would you do our family
a little favor?
Would you please tell Jenna that
my wife didnt kill her friend?
Officer Jack wrote the request down
in his book, and said, Ill see what I can do.
Max nodded, approving of the officers technique.
I didnt want Jenna to move back
in. I just wanted her to ease up on my wife.
That didnt happen.
After dinner, we got a note from Jenna,
delivered by a well-tanned man wearing a shirt and no jeans.
It was a bill for her stay at the hotel so far, about $300
for one day. She was being very pro-active, but was failing
in the win-win principle. Nevertheless, she was a highly effective
person, as seen in the effect the bill had on my wife.
Harold, lets get out of
here, Helen said to me. Theres no reason
to stay now. We can go home.
There are a couple more things
I have to do, I said.
Helen looked as if she were going to
choke me. Were leaving tomorrow morning, Schreiber.
* * *
After we had put the boys to bed, Helen
went off to sleep. I begged off going to bed, saying I wanted
to watch some TV. Then I sneaked out of the house to find
Jellies can grow tentacles up to 80
feet long and weigh 300 pounds. The jelly that attacked Laura
had apparently eaten some of Lauras flesh. Had jellies
evolved into carnivores?
Whatever the case, I knew I needed
a lot of protection. Earlier in the day I looked in the kitchen
to look for weapons I could use against the jelly. Helen had
a toaster oven, a waffle iron, a frying pan and several knives.
I hadnt spent much time looking at my wifes kitchen
utensils. It never seemed important before. I didnt
think the toaster oven would do much. I considered the weight
of the waffle iron and how I could swing it in the water.
I held the frying pan. A frying pan might not hurt a jelly
much. It didnt even have a head. I might have trouble
with the knives. Helen was already mad about losing one knife.
I couldnt risk losing another. I took the spatula.
I met Cloud at the cabana behind Jennas
house. He brought everything I asked for fins, a thick
rubber scuba suit for the body and the head, with a face mask
so I could see clearly as possible in the dark water.
At the scuba shop, the sales clerk
knew Cloud as Jennas friend. So, at my suggestion, Cloud
put the rental on her credit card.
Cloud also brought me two tasers, which
he got across the bay at the gun shop in Bay Shore. I was
suddenly grateful for gun dealers.
Cloud and I walked to the beach, carrying
the gear and the spatula. The shore was dark, except for a
swath of beach lighted by a three-story house with a deck
facing the ocean.
On the beach, I dropped the spatula
in the sand next to me. I got dressed in the scuba suit and
fins. I tucked one of the tasers in my scuba belt and held
onto the other. Then I kneeled down to pick up the spatula
and put it in my scuba belt.
How do I look?
Like a guy who doesnt know
what hes doing.
Thats never stopped me
Just because youre sarcastic
doesnt make it any less true.
That may be the most intelligent
thing youve ever said. Wish me luck.
Stay here and spot me.
What does that mean?
Call the cops if anything goes
Youre giving me a lot of
room on this, Ace.
You betcha. I patted him
on the face, gently. Use your best judgment.
I went down to the waters edge.
The ocean lapped gently at my fins. I took off the mask to
spit into the side facing my eyes. I dont know why I
was supposed to do that, but I had seen divers do it on TV.
I was about to put the mask back on,
when a tentacle whipped around my leg and pulled me off my
feet. The mask tumbled out of my hands.
The great beast took me on a roller-coaster
ride out beyond the breakers for about 30 seconds. The tentacle
stung, but the rubber suit shielded me from getting seriously
The ride put me into a kind of trance,
though. When youre going fast in the water, its
really easy to get disoriented. Thats what happens to
body surfers who get pulled into the curl of a wave and smashed
into the sand. You cant see very well and youre
not sure where you are. Water is pouring into your mouth and
the only thing you know is that you better close your throat
I was being curled into the jellys
body. It got very quiet for a few seconds. I couldnt
see very well under the water. My mask was missing. But I
could appreciate the mass in front of me. The thing was very
large. And it had no face. If the thing had a face I would
have found some comfort.
The jellys tentacles wrapped
around me. I should have been dead from the stinging in a
matter of moments. But the suit was thick and the beast didnt
have the intelligence to find my unmasked face.
The grip got tighter. It seemed as
if the jelly was a python and it thought I could be squeezed
Water was flowing into my nostrils
and mouth. I had no air. I tried pushing against the jelly,
but the texture of its surface just gave way to my hands.
I didnt know what else to do,
so I punched the jelly in what I imagined to be its face.
I kept punching, punching, punching. It was very liberating.
My hand smashed through part of the
jellys mass. A drifting tentacle touched me delicately
on the cheek. It felt like razor wire. The shock lit up my
face like a heavyweights punch. I hit the blob again
Jellies have nerve receptors that can
sense light and smells. Maybe they can feel pain too.
The next few seconds felt slow. I hated
the slowness of time grinding forward. The seconds clicked
off and I felt the tentacles release me. I pushed away and
up as fast as I could.
I got up to the surface and sucked
at the air, a blessed relief.
I was facing open water and turned
around. The light from the big beach house oriented me. I
was about 50 yards out. I swam back to shore. The sting on
my face was starting to swell up.
As I walked out of the surf, I found
my mask half-buried in sand. I brought the mask up to my chest
and hugged it, as I sat down on the beach, the waves lapping
at my fins.
Cloud wasnt there. The kid was
always running off when there was trouble.
I breathed long and hard, and looked
out at the ocean. I considered the options. One of the tasers
was gone. I must have lost it on the ride with the jelly.
I still had one left in my belt.
During these times, after a stressful
event, some people may thank their own personal gods that
theyre still alive. I didnt. I was ticked off.
The bastard was still out there and I hadnt done my
I cleaned the mask with sea water and
spit. I placed it on my swollen face. I checked to make sure
I still had the other taser. I put my hands around my scuba
belt. My wifes spatula was still in place. I felt good
The water was clean and cool. The sand
slipped out from under me and gave way to the ocean and the
soulless beast prowling around for something to eat.
I swam out about 50 yards. I was starting
to feel stupid because it was dark and I had no real way to
find a 300 pound jelly except by dog paddling around and glancing
down into the murk of the sea.
The Atlantic Ocean isnt supposed
to have jellies this size. The Pacific does, in increasing
numbers. The Atlantic used to be a little more civilized,
but not anymore.
I heard someone shouting from the beach,
but it sounded like a small voice. I tried to track it. The
tentacles were around me then. The stings landed like bullets
from a machine gun, but were dulled by the suit.
Id had enough. I took out the
taser and jammed into it the blobs body, blasting away.
The jelly lit up with sparks. It looked confused. The tentacles
drooped a little. I took the taser to it, but I ran out of
The tentacles rose up. I had nothing
left. So I stabbed the jelly with the spatula. This little
kitchen implement is really handy when it comes to attacking
Two tentacles lashed me in my rubber-covered
head. That just made me mad. I plunged the spatula into its
mass again and again.
One time when I had pulled the spatula
back, a tentacle tried to sting it. A little flick of fire
came down my arm. The spatula dropped into the deep, forever
So I took my other arm and dug into
the jelly, grabbing hunks out of its body. The frenzy was
in me now and I just clutched at it over and over. I was in
a fever to kill.
As I was fighting the blob I was vaguely
aware of other voices, excited voices, shouting from the beach.
Are you alright, sir?
A Suffolk County cop was shouting at
me through a bullhorn from a police boat about five feet away.
Gasping, I squeezed out, Just
killing a large jellyfish!
Im not sure you can do
that, he yelled.
Right, right, but this thing
killed a girl!
How do you know that? he
shouted at me. The bow of the boat was almost on top of me.
I was about to answer something incoherent
when a nest of tentacles stung the cop. He dropped his bullhorn
into the water and fell backwards into the boat.
Another cop pulled a gun to shoot the
Get out of the way! he
I didnt listen. I thought I was
spent, but I just dug in and started scratching out its jelly
flesh. The tentacles flew at me. Massive stings bounced off
the rubber suit.
I got inside the blobs skin.
The thing has no spine, no brain. I just kept ripping away
at jelly matter. The cop continued to yell.
Get away from the fish!
he yelled from the bow of the boat.
Hes not a fish! I
Perhaps it wasnt the right time
for a science lesson. A tentacle whipped out of the sea and
burned the officer in the neck. He fell into the water, gurgling
I ripped out more pieces of jelly flesh.
Then I remembered the cop. He had fallen on the other side
of the jelly, and he had been stung badly. I got around the
back of him, clasped my arms around his chest and started
pulling him toward the shoreline.
A tentacle grabbed my leg and started
to sting. I felt a burn, but kept going. The cops on the boat
put a wide yellow light on the jelly and shot. The stinging
tentacle let go of me. The cops bullets sounded like
little puckers in the water. At first I thought a submachine
might help speed up the process of killing the beast, but
then I figured it might not.
I dragged the officer out of the surf
and laid him down at the waters edge, then ripped off
my mask. The officer wasnt breathing. I slammed my fists
down on his chest. Nothing. I pushed seawater out of his lungs.
I gave him mouth to mouth resuscitation. Nothing. His mustache
bothered me. I pushed more seawater out of his lungs.
People had surrounded us in the dark.
Among the voices shouting with excitement and fear were all
of my sons. The loud drama of the police activity on the beach
was far too much for them to resist.
Dad! Dad! Dad! Mark, the
little one, was shouting. Breathe harder!
My breath flew into his mouth, heap
upon heap of oxygen. I flailed at his lungs, fighting against
time and brain death.
Get back, pong heads! That
could only be Richie, yelling at the crowd.
I punched the cops chest as hard
as I could. One cough came out.
I breathed into his mouth again. He
turned himself over and spit out what seemed like a gallon
of seawater. Breath came and went from him in quick jabs.
His neck was bulging out and bleeding where the jelly had
We gotta get this man to a hospital,
I said, more quietly than I wanted. One of the island cops
called in the emergency number on his walkie-talkie. Now we
would have a spectacle.
My own cheek started to burn. I took
off my scuba glove and felt blood mixed with the salty sea
Officer Jack leaned into me. You
Yeah, I think so.
You should have told me about
My cheek throbbed. You wouldnt
have let me go.
Damn right, he said, half-smiling.
This was a really crazy, dumb thing to do.
Yeah, Ace. Yeah, Ace. I ran and
told the cops, Cloud said, crowding in, shaking my hand.
But what you did was cool enough.
My sons gathered around me, edging
Cloud out, gave me a hug. Except for Richie, of course. He
hung back, seeing that I was OK and giving his younger brothers
the chance to show emotion. Hugs are not usually within the
spectrum of a 14-year old boys behavior.
My wife watched from the perimeter
of the crowd, nodding. I looked at her, tried to hug her with
my eyes. The cats eye glasses were hard to see in the
dark, so I never did see what she was feeling.
How are they doing out there?
I asked Officer Jack.
Theyre still shooting at
* * *
The hospital in Bay Shore treated my
facial wound and drained the toxin out of the cheek. My boys
insisted on coming with me across the bay, so of course Helen
escorted all of us there and back to Fire Island on the water
taxi for one last night to sleep in Jennas house.
Before we left the next day, I begged
my wife for a couple of hours to clean up some business. I
checked in with Officer Jack. My sons came with me while Helen
cleaned up the kitchen and packed. The cop I had pulled out
of the surf was doing OK. Hed been flown to the County
Medical Center by helicopter. The cop, name of Young, was
in guarded condition, but breathing on his own.
Maxie wrote down Youngs name
and badge number to send him a get-well card. He seemed to
be getting a little smarter about whom to treat nicely.
The Suffolk County cops dragged
your little friend in from the water, Officer Jack said,
not quite believing it.
What little friend?
Hes sitting on the beach
now. They netted him and dragged him onto the sand and shot
him hundreds of times.
Oh, my God.
They were never really sure he
was dead. It can be hard to tell with a jelly. And they were
pretty upset about the jelly stinging one of their men.
I guess this means it was OK
with the Suffolk Police for me to go after him.
Jack waved me off. Nobody mentioned
that to me. Its not like you were trying to kill a bald
Dad, can we go see him?
I dont know, Mark, I dont
Dad, come on! We want to see
My cheek burned.
Lets go, lets go!
Jon ran out the door first and Maxie
and Mark followed. I walked with Richie and Officer Jack over
the sandy sidewalks to the little wood steps moaning in the
wind over the dune. And there, plopped on the first slope
on the beach was the beast I had fought the night before.
A few dozen kids and adults were staring at it.
Dont get too close,
I shouted at the boys. The tentacles can still sting.
He was about the size of a small car
and must have weighed 300 pounds. The size of the thing can
throw off your sense that were the kings of the planet.
This is a Nomura Jellyfish,
Officer Jack explained. Theyre found in the Sea
Wow. How did this guy get so
far away from home?
Dont know. Maybe some jellyfish
eggs hitch-hiked on a freighter coming into New York. We called
the Marine Biology guys at Stony Brook University to come
down here to take a look.
The beast was sliced up with hundreds
of bullets, which you could see through its translucent flesh.
You could also see dozens of the hunks I had torn out of the
Their stings dont usually
inflict so much harm. This one seems to have evolved in a
No kidding, Richie said.
It eats human flesh.
Well, were not sure of
that, Officer Jack said. The Stony Brook people
will help figure out the biology of the jelly.
(I got a call from Officer Jack several
weeks later. He said the Stony Brook team, working with the
Suffolk County Police, had confirmed that the jelly did in
fact kill Laura. Some of the tentacles on the Nomura had hooks
that could slice and sink into flesh. Nobody had ever seen
a jelly that could do that before. Pieces of human skin and
muscle fibers had been found in the jellys stomach.
Lauras DNA matched up to the contents they found inside
the jellys digestive system. Even though there was never
another sighting of a Nomura Jellyfish there, we never went
swimming at Fire Island again.)
Hey, theres Mom,
Helen marched down the wooden beach
stairs and waved her largest kitchen knife at us.
Schreiber, I told you, were
This isnt leaving. This
Helen got very close to me, close enough
to hold my hand. Underneath the cats eye glasses, there
seemed to be something resembling anger. My wife raised the
knife to about the level of my chest. Officer Jack, my sons,
the rest of the crowd all looked stunned.
The knife went higher in the air, as
if it would be launched like a javelin. It came down in a
perfect arc and landed solidly in the flesh of the jelly,
in the farthest part of the body from the tentacles.
You lost my best knife. You lost
How did you know about that?
I couldnt find it when
I was packing up. I can only imagine what you did with it.
Mom, the spatula sleeps with
the fishes, Richie said.
You had to fight a giant jellyfish
to prove youre a man?
Aw, Mom, lighten up. You can
always get another knife set, Jon said.
Yeah, I think Targets holding
a special knife sale just for you, Helen, Richie said,
My wife took the knife out of the jelly
and waved it at all of us.
Im not going to Target.
Im going to Fortunoffs. No, no. Williams-Sonoma.
I want a deluxe set.
OK, Mom, Maxie said.
Schreiber, youre paying.
Helen waved the knife in another arc at my sons and me. And
you all are coming.
Aw, no, Mom, all the boys
said at the same time.
She plunged the knife into another
part of the jelly.
Oh, yes, you are, all of you.
And I dont want to hear it. Now were leaving.
Helen looked as satisfied as I had
ever seen her. The crowd around us applauded Helens
little show of steel as the Schreiber men bowed their heads
and shuffled off the beach.
We packed quickly and quietly. The
boys walked with their backpacks stuffed with toys, softballs,
mitts and games. Maxie carried his notebook and a basketball.
Richie carried a jelly jar and a piece of driftwood he had
found on the beach. Jon held a book of Buddhist philosophy
and Mark a science fiction book and his DVD case.
On the walk to the ferry, we ran into
Jenna. Officer Jack had alerted her that we were leaving.
Over her bathing suit, she was wearing
a black tee-shirt with the name of a punk rock band I had
never heard of. I was relieved she had dressed more modestly.
I wanted to be civil, and yet, not.
But I didnt get the chance.
So the evil doers are going.
We are, Jon said.
I heard you cut off some animals
testicles because you thought it killed Laura.
The three younger boys all giggled.
I cant take any more of
this, Richie said.
I know she did it, Jenna
said, pointing at my wife.
Maxie looked in his notebook. It
was a jellyfish. A jellyfish has tentacles, not testicles.
Your summer rentals been
evoked, Jenna said.
Thats revoked. Your summer
rentals been revoked! Jon yelled.
How would you know, you little
tweezer? Jenna said.
I never miss a thing.
Tweetie, did she say tweetie?
All the boys huddled together.
Tweetum? Jon asked.
Twit? Mark said.
She said tweezer, Richie
decided. You meant to say tweener, pong-head. And Jon
is no tweener. Maxie is.
Whatever, Jenna said in
Youre not using any of
the seven principles here, Maxie said quietly.
Oh, yes I am, Jenna said
insistently. Im sharpening the saw.
Yes, Richard said, but
sharpening the saw is supposed to be about balanced self-satisfaction.
And theres nothing balanced about you.
You are all so self-involved.
You dont know anything about the principles. Besides,
Im dispensing with you all. Im getting rid of
you and youre paying for the whole summers rental.
Maxie mumbled something. Nobody heard
What did you say, you little
Maxie searched through his notebook,
leafing quickly through the pages, talking to himself, eyes
wide with panic when he couldnt find what he was looking
for. He settled on one page and smiled.
Umm, actually, you cant.
Thats a breach of contract.
What? Jenna screamed.
If you want us out, you have
to refund my dads money.
This is ridiculous.
Its in the contract. You
signed it, Maxie said in a low voice, never looking
up from his notebook.
I dont accept what youre
saying, Jenna said, cocking one hand on her ample hip.
Youre a stinky-head,
Mark said to Jenna.
A clownie, Jon told her.
A meatball, Maxie joined
Youre done. Face it,
Richard said, glaring at Jenna. My wife smiled quietly behind
her cats eye glasses.
This isnt over, Jenna
Youre right. Its
not, I said. My lawyers are going to look into
your business relationships with your boyfriend Bobby Black.
I believe hes been arrested for penny-stock manipulation.
The Manhattan District Attorney will be very interested in
This is so flusterating. Im
not wasting any more time on you, Jenna said, sticking
her nose in the air. She stomped off to her house.
And there it was, our golden moment
as a familyexactly what I had hoped would happen on
our vacation. The Schreibers had realized one of the seven
principles. We had just engaged in a carefully selected recreational
activity togetherinsulting our landlord.
What can we do to her?
Dad, her house would burn down
in a matter of minutes, Richie said. A few vodka
bottles and matches are all we need and the house is history.
Yeah, lets burn her house
down! the three younger boys all shouted.
I laughed and said, While that
would be lots of fun for all of us, its not what we
Aww, the boys all said
together in a fake moan.
Some monsters you can kill. Others
you have to let walk around in red heels. But you can sue