by Michael Gold

SUVs collide with a soul dispossessed of a body on the Boulevard of Death.

D I S C U S S I O N  F O R U M  |  R E T U R N  T O  S T  O N L I N E



The SUV was going about 60 miles an hour, blew past a yellow light just turning red and hit the old guy head-on. He flew like paper in the wind.

The SUV kept going, sprinting east on the boulevard. The old guy crashed onto the hood of a parked car in front of the Nosh Diner coffee shop I was sitting in with two of my sons.

Next to me, Larry Hapgood laughed about it. “Did you see the way that guy flew through the air?” he said to me. “What a crazy street. Crazy!”

My sons, Maxie and Mark, and I looked at Larry like he was totally nuts. Maybe he was. When you meet somebody like this, you hope they get help. You hope they get better. But what happened to Larry just made him worse.

Larry was one of my new plywood suppliers. I didn’t know him well, which was why I wanted to see him. I thought bringing some of my boys along might help warm up our relationship, and help me get a better price for my plywood.

I didn’t realize that we were all about to get to know Larry much better.

“Hey, Harold, can you pay for the lunch? Can you pay? You’ll pay, right?”

The fact that an old man was lying on a car hood, probably dead, didn’t seem to bother him much.

I stood up.

“I’ll pay, after we help the guy on the car.”

“Oh, sure, right. Right, right, right. Yes.”

I called the police on my cell phone. I told Maxie and Mark to stay in the coffee shop, by the window, where I could see them. I walked through the door.

The old man’s eyes were crushed shut. Blood was leaking out of his bald head. The legs were twisted, broken. The hands were whiter than white. One finger on the right hand pointed out toward the window of the coffee shop, an accusation.

I didn’t go any closer. The cops in Queens don’t like it when you try to help. They’re very jealous about their corpses.

I looked east on the boulevard, to try to see the SUV that killed the old man, but it was well down the road and over a slight rise, already about 100 yards away and moving fast.

Larry ran out of the shop, a tall cup of coffee in his hand, the contents spilling onto the sidewalk, like blood.

“Wow, this guy is dead! Dead, can you imagine, Harold? Really, really dead.”

The sirens started pounding about two blocks away. I wanted to punch Larry in the head. If he were a regular guy on the street I would have. But he was a supplier, a business person I needed to deal with, no matter how obnoxious. I forced myself to be polite and clenched my teeth.

“There’s no getting around it, Larry.”

When the two blue supermen swooped in 20 seconds later, I gave them everything I knew, which wasn’t much. My sons were plastered to the window of the coffee shop. Larry kept staring at the corpse.

After the cops called in the boys with the body bags, they blocked off the street where we thought the point of impact was. Managers and owners came out of their shops with a weary curiosity. The air was complete with sadness.

We had all seen this too many times. The boulevard takes people away with great regularity. Giant yellow warning signs the size of your body are posted all over the crossing strips.

“A person was killed crossing this street. Walk with care!”

Walk with care. If only the drivers were as attentive.

“You gonna pay the check, Harold? You gonna pay the check. The waiter. The waiter’s waiting. Waiting.”

“I got it, Larry.”

“You know how it is, Harold. I gotta go. Gotta fly. Gotta go.”

I was so absorbed by the old man’s death that I didn’t ask Larry about the next plywood delivery. I just stared at him. My very precocious 10 year old, Jon, a philosopher from the birth canal forward, would have said I was truly living at that moment, that I had lost my sense of self in devotion to the greater world. It didn’t feel that way.

Larry shook my stunned hand, made the universal sign for a phone next to his ear and walked backwards a few steps. His car was at a meter on the service road.

“Call me, Harold. Call me.”

He took off.

The handshake was quick but incredibly hard. I’m not tall, but I’ve got lots of muscle in my arms and shoulders. Hauling plywood will do that for you. Larry’s handshake was like a python. My hand had been strangled.

I paid the bill, left a tip. The boys and I piled into our station wagon, with a fog over us from the accident. I still prefer the station wagon to a van or an SUV. You can stack a lot of plywood in a station wagon. And the kids have lots of room to play in the back when I’m not carrying anything from work.

Larry drove an original Humvee, just like the Army in Iraq. Gets about 8 miles to the gallon. It squats on the road and takes up the whole lane. I call it “the beast.” Despite its bulk, the beast can go really fast. It must have cost Larry quite a bit of money to buy.

“Dad, Mr. Hapgood’s car is really cool!” Maxie had said the first time he had seen the Humvee.

“Do you think he’ll give us a ride?” Mark asked that time.

I answered Max, but not Mark. “Yeah, it’s cool, alright. Like a tank.”

“Hulk would drive that car!” Mark said.

Max agreed. “It’s the only car the Hulk could drive!”

Now there was only silence. My sons had seen a dead man for the first time and there was no wondering about it, only the black shroud of mortality.

* * *

The newspaper the next day said the dead guy’s name was David Jacobshvili. His address was in the paper. I decided to make a condolence call on the family.

I thought about whether I should take the boys with me. They were a little too young to have seen death. Yet they had.

I thought a condolence call on the man’s family might help the man’s kinfolk feel better. Then I decided against it. It felt too much like dragging the boys through mud.

Also, my wife, Helen, would probably want to kill me. I get enough grief from her over going bowling. I didn’t need to get in trouble over something like this.

As we were cleaning up dinner, I told the family, around our round kitchen table, that I was headed out, to go over to Jacobshvili’s house. It was about two miles from our house, in a section of the city called Rego Park. We live in Ozone Park. Even though we live in Queens, the real estate people think if you call a place a park, people will want to live there. They’re mostly right.

“I’m going out,” I said quietly to Helen.


“I’m paying a condolence call on the Jacobshvili family.”

The boys heard even though I tried to be quiet. You can’t keep many secrets in our family. Governor Spitzer would have been kicked out immediately.

“The guy who got killed yesterday?” Jon, the philosopher son, asked.

My 14-year old, Richie, said, “Why would you want to do that?”

The philosopher son came up to me, pulled my shoulders down and kissed me on the top of my balding head.

My wife’s silence meant assent. I was walking out the door when I heard the general whine of an 11-year-old’s request.

“Dad, can we go with you?”

That would be Maxie. And he was including 7-year-old Mark in the request.

Helen gave me a sharp look.

“Let’s ask your mother.”

“Boys, it’s not appropriate to go,” Helen said.

“Awwww,” Max said. “Come on, Mom.” He was in full annoying mode now and he knew it.

“You could have just walked out of here without saying anything,” Helen said to me. “Now we have a situation.”

“You asked me where I was going.”

“That’s true, Schreiber, but you could have explained it to me later.”

“Yes, but you would have been mad. And one of my main goals in life is trying to avoid getting you angry.” Such conversations are the very lifeblood of romance novels.

“Why didn’t you pull me aside when the boys were doing the dishes?”

“Too suspicious. The boys would have thought something was up.”

“I certainly want to hear all these witty exchanges between you two,” Richie said. “Can’t you just wear microphones all the time so I can capture every incredible insight?”

Helen and I just looked at him.

Maxie, afraid of losing the focus on the original question, broke in.

“Mom, come on.”

“Don’t you have homework to do, boys?”

“Yeah, but…”

“Do your homework first and then you can go. I don’t agree with this in the slightest. It’s not right. But your father has given me no choice.”

So I had to wait for Mark and Max to finish their homework. Man of action defeated again.

When you have children, you wait around a lot for other people.

We headed out to Jacobshvili’s house about 7:30 pm. The nights were coming on earlier now that it was late October. The leaves were starting to go brown and getting ready to die off the branch.

The house was down a side road a block away from the Boulevard of Death, as the local news reporters and some residents called it. It was part of a row of attached houses.

My sons made frequent visits to the table of crackers and cheese and cookies. Max and Mark looked with great curiosity at the table of goat meat and caviar and vodka. Their spirits were high. On one hand, I was glad that they didn’t connect this event to the death the day before. On the other hand, I was upset that they didn’t connect this event to the death the day before.

Black drapes hung over the mirrors. A portrait of Jacobshvili was placed over a mantelpiece. The living room was small and filled with people milling around talking fast in Russian.

I looked around the room, feeling a little lost. At least when I focused on Max and Mark, I had something to do.

My family came from Russia to the United States more than 100 years ago, but those roots seemed far away. I loved basketball and bowling, hamburgers and fried chicken, politics and newspapers, the Fourth of July, weekends at the beach and driving.

Whatever Russia did to my family had been washed out of me. We were from the city of Minsk. Family legend has it that my grandfather was an officer in the Czar’s Army. The deep roar of winter, the chill of the Czar’s police breathing down your neck, my grandfather’s Army service were all just stories to me. I didn’t feel them. I knew three words of Russian, not much to brag about.

I was American and happy about it.

At the Jacobsvili’s house, I was so obviously an outsider I didn’t even realize the men were talking about me. One of them was deputized to come up to me.

“You knew David?” he said in very twisted English.

“In a sense. I was sitting in a coffee shop with my sons. We saw him get hit on the street.”

“Excuse me.”

The deputy went back to the crowd of men. They began talking fast and heatedly. One of them gestured violently in my direction. This made me nervous. I thought for a minute I might get surrounded by an angry group of mourners. I could only wonder what my wife would think then. I should have brought my best friend Al to this soiree. He could have helped.

After a few minutes of arguing, the pitch of the men’s discussion grew to a shout. Someone tried to shush them. A few of the women started to weep. I walked quickly up to my boys to tell them we were leaving.

A second man came up to me, old, age patches on his bald head, large stomach and badly-fitting suit, but rushed and fevered. He backed me up against the mantelpiece. I didn’t like this.

“What’s your name?” he demanded.

“Harold. Harold Schrieber.” I fingered my cell phone at the end of my right hand, digits ready to dial 911.

“Welcome, Harold. We are grateful for you to come. You have respect. My brother was a good man.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know him. I just saw him…”

“We know who you are now. One of our friends saw you with him.”

“At the car accident?”

“From across the street. At the time he didn’t know it was David who got hurt.”

These guys are everywhere. The Russians, like many immigrant groups, have tight networks of friends and family from the old towns and villages. They’ve transported them en masse to Queens.

“My name is Moses Hartun Jacobshvili. You tried to help.”

“It wasn’t much, I’m afraid.”

“No, this world, it’s too cold. You did what you could.”

“I tried.”

He drew himself up, white hair, sagging stomach and cheap jacket and pulled himself into a tight statue of fury.

“This crime, it must not go unpunished.”

I made the mistake of trying to be reasonable.

“I don’t see how you can find the killer. He was out of sight in seconds. The police will do what they can, but…”

“Harold, do not misunderstand. We will find this man.”

“How do you know it’s a man?”

“It’s a man, trust me. Stop interrupting.”


A man behind Moses recited some words in Russian over and over again—an incantation, I thought. It seemed like some kind of religious devotion.

Then Moses said, “We will find this man. He has committed a great sin. He has taken my brother from me, he has taken a husband from his wife, a father from his children and grandchildren, a revered man from his family.”

Moses had been jabbing the air while he said this. He reminded me a little of my father. Then he did something my father would have done exactly.

The jabbing finger disappeared into Moses’ hand and the hand clenched into a fist in front of my face.

“My brother will have his revenge.”

* * *

After the call, I took the boys to the accident scene by the coffee shop. We walked. It was just around the corner from the Jacobshvilis’ house.

“Dad, can we go to the coffee shop?” Max asked.


“We want chocolate cake.”

“Yeah, cake,” Mark agreed.

“You guys just stuffed your faces. No way.”

“Awww. Come on, Dad,” Max pleaded.

“No. Nice try though.”

Max opened his mouth, ready to commence a new assault, but he saw me crouch down under the police tape at the scene. The bright yellow tape was attached to the meters on the service road. Max desperately wanted a piece of cake, but here was death. And that beats dessert every time.

I don’t know what I expected to find. The car David Jacobshvili had landed on was gone, impounded as evidence. Glass fragments from its windshield, split into fine cubes, still splattered the asphalt. The gutter was filled with grease and candy wrapper trash. An empty can of Red Bull, streaked with dirt, was nestled next to the curb.

The service road was relatively empty and quiet. Drivers can only go 35 mph. It runs next to the coffee shops and beauty parlors, discount stores and bakeries, newsstands and Russian restaurants. A metal railing separates it from the main road. There are a lot of reasons to go slow.

The boulevard is a different story. The road looks like a giant bowling alley for the gods. Cars and trucks barrel down the boulevard, gathering speed every second, blazing through yellow and red lights like quicksilver. It’s a place on fire with SUVs, diesel trucks, sedans and sports cars moving like whippets over the asphalt. And Larry’s Hummer too.

In the darkness, it would be hard to see an old man dressed in a gray-black suit crossing the street. But the accident had happened during the afternoon. The light had still been pretty good.

I thought about Moses’ threat, decided it was just anger talking and turned away. There would be no way to find the driver. Another person had gotten away with murder. He was lost to history.

* * *

The next week, Larry invited me to the gym for a meeting. I wanted to talk about plywood. He wanted to talk about his forearms.

“Harold, you’re boring me. All you ever talk about is plywood. Spot me on this lift.”

Larry wore one of those tee-shirts that wasn’t really a shirt at all. It was more like a cloth poster for your muscles. The neck was covered, and the belly. The chest was exposed for all the world to see.

We were in a place called The Black Hammer Club, on the boulevard, about a half mile from the coffee bar where we met.

Larry grunted with the lift. Then he got up off the bench, took a deep breath and looked around.

“You like this club?”

“It’s OK. How about we go bowling next time? The Woodhaven Lanes are just two miles away.”

“I hate bowling. Hate it. Bowling is boring and stupid. Stupid. Makes me wonder about you. Yeah, I wonder things about you. You like the chicks here?’ God, I love chicks.”

“They’re OK. I’m married.”

“That doesn’t matter. I bet I could get one of these girls to go to bed with me right now.”

“Hey!” he yelled at the club. “I’m Larry Hapgood and I am freaking ripped!”

Even though I was embarrassed, I had to admit that Larry was very ripped. His arms exploded out of his shoulders. I have seen a lot of cannons in my family, but this guy had cables of muscle on muscle.

One of the managers from the club walked over.

“Hey, Mr. Larry. We love you very much. But you must keep it down,” he said in a perfect, flat American accent with none of the obviously shattered grammar of a recent immigrant to the neighborhood. There were thousands of Russians and Russian Jews who had bolted here after 1991.

“OK, Yuri. Sure. I can be good. I can be cool. Just watch me.”

As soon as Yuri turned away, Larry walked up to a girl wearing a jet-black top trimmed with lace around the neck and shoulders.

I tried to do some curls, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the little drama by the mats next to the mirror.

I thought he would try a little sweet talk, but his line was perhaps the most annoying in the history of gym pick-ups.

Larry pointed to his muscles.

“You like these? You like these? I pop. I rock. I’ve got energy to burn. Know what I mean?

The girl flipped her eyelids.

“I’m meeting a friend.”

“You can’t be serious,” he said. He flexed for her.

The girl’s face started to dash around Larry’s massive chest, looking for somebody to save her.

“I have to go,” the girl said, a little scared.

“Hey, don’t be like that,” Larry shouted. Then he grabbed her by the shoulder.

“Don’t touch me!” the girl shrieked.

Larry slapped the girl hard on the face.

The manager ran over, with two assistants/bodyguards. I came too, even though it was completely unnecessary. Instinct, I guess.

“Out, Larry. Out now!’ the manager yelled.

Larry took a step back. The girl fled, crying, screaming about suing.

The manager put a finger in Larry’s chest and said, firmly, “You don’t know what you’re doing.”

Then my plywood supplier hit the manager right on the cheek. I thought I heard the bone pop under the eye.

The two assistants jumped on Larry with some kind of Russian military fighting moves. They buried his face in a mat, but not before he yelled, “Harold! Help me!”

I wanted to run out the glass double doors onto the street without getting back into my street clothes.

But I threw my hands up and shouted.

“Hey! Let’s take it down a notch, boys.”

One of the assistants punched Larry in the eye. I knew how the Russian felt.

“Ow! You son of a Russian bitch!” Larry shouted. The other guy kicked him in the ribs.

I kept coming at them. “Let’s all calm down,” I said, with my hands raised. The bulldogs were ready to beat the hell out of Larry, and possibly me. But my tactic confused them. They stopped for a minute.

“Let’s just mellow out,” I said. “It’s all OK.”

One of the assistants asked, “What does mellow mean?” I knew I had them.

“It means, ‘let’s all be cool.’”

“Get him out of here,” Yuri the manager said.

“I will. I promise. Can somebody get our clothes? Here are the locker keys.”

Larry was silent. His eye was angry with purple and black spots, but he had shut up.

Once outside the club, we put our street clothes on over our shorts. An old lady with a shopping cart full of laundry walked by and looked at us like we were space aliens.

“You want me to take you to a doctor?”

He looked me up and down. Larry thought about it.

“I don’t know. I think I’ll go home and just put a cold piece of cold meat on the eye.”


“You’ll call me about the plywood delivery?”


I didn’t call. I decided to go with Harry Greenbaum instead, even though his price was higher.

* * *

The coffee shop is nothing special. The food is OK. Desserts are pretty good, and the coffee passable. The main attraction of the place is its great location. It’s near a lot of my construction jobs. The other thing that makes it a draw for people are the shop’s floor to ceiling windows. You can see all the drama on the sidewalk. An unintended feature is the fact that you can see the boulevard of death quite well. But when the shop was built in the 1930s, nobody thought the boulevard would become a demolition derby.

The laws of unintended consequences played out in front of me again in late November. The post-Thanksgiving weather had turned cold fast. A torrential rain in the morning became snow in the afternoon. I told my carpenters to go home early. We were doing inside work on a house in Elmhurst. The roads had turned into ski runs. They would have a long commute home wherever they lived.

We knocked off at 2 pm. My station wagon slid on and off the road. I drove slowly east to my home in Ozone Park, but the car kept fishtailing on me. I leaned into the skids, and came out OK. But I felt lucky and I don’t trust luck. If you have to rely on luck, you’ve already lost control.

Then I had to get on the boulevard. It’s the main east-west road in Queens. This road may have been a good development originally, although it never feels that way when you’re trapped in slow traffic. There were so many cars on the road trying to escape the city that everybody crawled over the packed snow and ice. The flakes were thick and visibility was about five feet, with your lights on.

After two miles, the long parade ground to a halt. I cursed and hit the steering wheel. We sat for 15, 30 minutes. The parade resumed, rolling at about two to five miles an hour. It was ugly. I turned on the radio. The news radio station’s traffic watch said there had been a bad accident on Queens Blvd. Duh.

I reached it in another hour, right near the coffee shop, almost exactly where Jacobshvili had been killed. The cops were there, of course, with emergency vehicles, an ambulance and tow trucks.

An enormous SUV was a smoking ruin. It seemed like the height of two full-size cars. The frame was black. The wheels had popped from the heat and the vehicle was sitting on the road, black ash tailing off the frame and mixing with the white snow.

Piled into the passenger side, right into the gas tank, coming off the service road onto the main boulevard was a Humvee. The Hummer had caught fire as well. The driver’s side was a blackened shell.

I wondered and feared the driver was Larry Hapgood. If it was Larry, he must have had the raw instinct to try to shoot off the service road and merge onto the boulevard in the face of an angry snowstorm. The only question in my mind was how he had been allowed to work up his engine to such a great speed. The service road must have been pretty quiet. The driver probably figured he could intimidate anybody driving by and get them to back off. He either didn’t count on the intensity of the snow or the idiocy of the other driver. One thing he did count on was his own luck. I thought about Larry. Goodbye control.

As I drew slowly next to the accident, I could see into the Hummer. A body slumped in the front seat, charred. The skeleton’s foot was still punched way down on the accelerator, one hand raised in a crumbling salutation, like he was waving hello to somebody. The other hand had an unshakeable grip on the wheel, in a textbook stance at ten o’clock.

You have to respect death. Because it doesn’t respect you.

* * *

The Post had the story on page 3 the next day, with color pictures of the fire-blown vehicles in the white snow, with the four-word headline, “SNOW CRASH SMASH BLAST!”

The sub-headline said, “Blvd. of Death Claims Two More Lives.” My eyes ran over the story for Larry’s name. It was easy to find. The reporter had done his job.

My theory about the driver was only half-right. Larry had sped up on the service road and the Hummer slid on the ice where the road merged with the boulevard, colliding with the SUV’s gas tank just hard enough to ignite the contents.

The coffee shop was quiet that day. Even though the sun had come out, a lot of people stayed home. The snow was piled high on the side of boulevard. The plows were pushing the snow and salting the asphalt, but there were still plenty of bad patches on the road. People were afraid of getting stuck, of not being able to move. I didn’t know if my carpenters would show up on the job. Sometimes it’s easy to hate my work. I don’t like relying on other people to help me do my job, even though it’s inescapable.

In the coffee shop I got a call on my cell phone. I was expecting Harry Greenbaum.

“Harold Schreiber?”


“Lt. Paradiso, 112th Precinct.”

This couldn’t be good and I couldn’t think of a more ill-suited name for a cop.

“Did you know Larry Hapgood?”


“He had your business card—it says here Queens Flooring.”

“That’s me. How did my business card survive that crash?”

“It didn’t. We searched Larry’s house, with permission from his mother. We found the card in his Rolodex.”

“Whoa, let’s take a step backwards. How did you guys find out the driver was Larry?”

“The back license plate’s numbers on the vehicle were still visible, more or less.”

“OK, so why did you search his house? Isn’t this case closed?”

“I’m afraid it’s not that simple,” Lt. Paradiso explained. “Come in so we can talk about this.”

“What time?”


“I’ll be there in 15 minutes.”

I hadn’t even had time for a cup of coffee. The precinct was just a few blocks from the coffee shop. But I didn’t like the cop’s tone, so I ordered a coffee and drank it, slowly.

As I drove over to the station, I ached to go bowling. I could see the pins in front of me, shining in the fluorescent alley light, beckoning. But I never met them that day.

* * *

A patrolman with huge arms and a gut to match ushered me into Paradiso’s office. I resented the patrolman immediately and wondered what would happen if I got into a fight with the guy. I thought I could take him. It would have been an interesting match.

Lt. Paradiso had deep pockets under his eyes, like divots. Purple crescent streaks like parentheses underlined the divots.The brown hair was going silver. He looked too young to be so exhausted.

The officer looked through a file with Larry Hapgood’s name written in thick black ink and didn’t look up when I came in.

“You went to the gym with Larry Hapgood a few weeks before he died.”

“It was more like a month.”

Paradiso wasn’t going to give me an ounce of courtesy, so I didn’t give him any either.

“You also had lunch with him a few times at the Nosh Diner.”

“What do you care?”

Paradiso pulled out a pair of eyeglasses from his inside coat pocket and put them on. I hadn’t expected that. He turned over several more pages of the file.

“Mr. Schreiber, did you ever sell steroids to Larry Hapgood?”

“Excuse me?”

“Steroids, juice.”

“I know what they are.”

“You’re pretty built yourself, so maybe you’re taking the stuff and selling it too to cut down on your costs.”

“Joking, right?

“No joke.”

“Get outta town.”

Paradiso took off his glasses. “I have no intention of getting out of town, Schreiber. You selling steroids?”

The lieutenant put his glasses back on.

The guy had no sense of humor. He should meet my wife. I would have to play it straight.

“No, I don’t sell steroids, Lieutenant. I don’t take them either.”

“I’ve looked at your file. You’re in the United States Naval Reserve. This kind of activity could get you thrown out of the service. You might even lose your business.”

I couldn’t take his act.

“Don’t you have better things to do, Paradiso?”

He looked at the file again. “Not really. Do you sell steroids?”

A deep, heavy sigh escaped me. I couldn’t help it. “What is this about, really?”

Paradiso shot me a deadly look. I had scored with just the sigh.

“Schreiber, do you know what steroidal intoxication is?”

“No, not really.”

“Your good friend Larry Hapgood was so loaded up with steroids that he fired up his Hummer to 70 miles an hour on the Boulevard of Death in the middle of a freak snowstorm.”

“He wasn’t a friend. But, yeah, he did good work with that Hummer.”

“Hapgood had so much juice in him that we found it in his bones.”

I spent a few minutes digesting this and swore at myself for not seeing it before—the fast talking, easy boredom, nervousness and aggression. It all added up to steroid addiction.

Lt. Paradiso took off his glasses again for dramatic effect.

“So, how’d you do it?”

“Do what?”

“You got the juice from a local lab and sold it to Hapgood and other clients.”

I pointed at the detective and yelled as loud as I could, “That never happened!”

This had no effect, which surprised me. “You selling dope to little kids too??”

“You’re pretty nuts.”

I stood up.

“I’m leaving now.”

“Running guns for the Russians?”

“Goodbye, Lieutenant Paradiso.”

“Laundering money for Uzbek terrorists?”

I wanted to slam the door, but I didn’t think having a squad room of cops descend on me, nightsticks ablaze, would have been a good idea for my face.

* * *

On the drive home, I wondered about the trouble Lt. Paradiso could cause me. My plywood supplier was a steroid addict, if the possibly delusional police lieutenant was to be believed.

On the boulevard, I saw a young kid, about 11 years old, with his thumb stuck out to get a ride.

As I got closer, I saw it was my son, Max.

There is no shoulder on the boulevard. So I put on my warning lights and stopped the station wagon in the right lane of traffic. I got cheered by several SUVs behind me, with multiple honks and curses. I stuck my middle finger out the driver’s side.

Max dove in the passenger side.

Other men might take the time to yell, “Are you crazy? Why are you hitchhiking on one of the most dangerous roads in the city?” This isn’t my style.

“Where are you headed, son?”

“I missed the school bus.”

“You could have called.”

“I forgot.”

“You’d forget your head if it wasn’t attached.”

Max looked out the windshield with his brown eyes crowned by black glasses typical for 1968. Unfortunately for him, this was 2008.

“Dad, I’m sorry, but…”

He didn’t get to finish the sentence. My ample forehead got thrown into the steering wheel. Max, who hadn’t yet buckled in, hit the windshield with his face.

My head came back up and we got rammed again. A piece of plywood in the back seat came rocketing through the car and hit Maxie square in the back of the skull.

I swung the car onto the sidewalk and almost killed an old woman wearing a red kerchief on her hair.

“You stinking bastard!” she screamed at me.

I wouldn’t care much about this sort of thing under any circumstances, but with my son bleeding from the face, I was especially incensed. I made a mental note to kill her later.

The SUV that hit us was the immediate focus of my hatred. The front end of the vehicle was crumpled, despite a grille that would put a tank to shame. Max pulled me out of my desire to beat the living crap out of the SUV’s driver.



“Dad, I can’t feel my lip!”


“Dad, where’s my lip?”

I pulled a towel from the back seat and pressed onto Maxie’s mouth. Blood was squirting from his forehead and mouth and I was completely panicked about it. I held the rag on his face and made myself feel sad because it was so dirty from being wrapped around plywood.

“Maxie, hold on to this.”

I thought about calling for an ambulance with my cell phone. I decided it would take too long. There was no time for getting the other guy’s license number and insurance card.

I buckled my wounded son in, swerved the wagon back onto the boulevard and threw the car across three lanes of traffic. The Parkway Hospital’s Emergency Room was 5 minutes away. The guy in the SUV stared at me, mouth open. I wished I could have shoved my fist into it repeatedly.

The wagon roared into the hospital’s driveway and braked hard. I ran with Max in my arms through the double doors and yelled loud enough to pierce through the racket of aches and pains resounding through the triage room.

It was only when I passed my son like a football into the arms of a concerned-looking nurse that I had a painful realization. Our car had been hit in the same place on the road where David Jacobshvili and Larry Hapgood had been killed.

* * *

We spent five hours waiting for a surgeon to arrive to stitch my son’s face back together. He had an inch-long cut on the forehead and ¾’s of his lip was cut through to the gum. He had a concussion too.

My wife stayed at home with the boys. She was tense with me on the phone. What happened to Max was my fault. Helen didn’t say that; she didn’t need to.

I sat next to Max while he lay on a gurney, a towel pressed to his lip. I held the towel. We talked so he would stay awake and not lose consciousness.

“Dad, can we go bowling when I’m better?”

“Sure, Max.”

“How about the Mets?”

“We’ll go in the spring time, April, I promise.”

“What’s it like in the Navy?”

“I’m not really in the Navy. It’s the Naval Reserve.”

“But you get to go on Navy ships.”

“That’s part of the training. You have to be ready to serve if there’s an emergency.”

“Too bad there’s no Dad Reserve.”

“What do you mean?”

“They can’t train you to be a Dad.’

“No, but there are plenty of books. And there’s your mother.”

“I’m not sure I can be a Dad.”

“You don’t have to worry about that now, Max.”

“OK, Dad.”

In the dead light of the hospital’s overhead lamps, I saw Paradiso and another cop walk up to me. Max got quiet.

“Now you’re molesting little boys,” Paradiso said.

“This is my son.”

“You left the scene of an accident.”

I appraised Paradiso in the frozen light. Without his glasses he had a solid American face—strong jaw, straight nose, white teeth, flat stomach. His shoulders were wide enough to give anybody trouble.

The eyes gave him away, though. They were the soft eyes of a poet. Underneath all that bluster and insult, he was sensitive and he could be hurt.

“Let me ask you a question, Lieutenant. Do you have any children?”

This threw him off a little. “I’m not married.”

“I didn’t think so. You don’t have children, so you don’t know how wide open a father feels when his kids walk out the door that morning. Sometimes you have to fight the whole world so your kids can survive.’

“You fought an SUV and lost.”

“I didn’t fight anybody. The guy hit me from behind.”

“Your karma’s all wrong,” the other cop said to me.

Paradiso and I looked at the partner. He was quite odd. His clothes were rumpled. He wore a thick, frizzy beard. His cheeks popped out like he was hiding nuts.

“What’s your name?” I demanded.


“Groucho or Harpo?”


“What planet did you blast out of?”

“You can’t talk to me that way. You broke the law. That makes you a criminal.”

“And you’re a wacko.”

“I’ll take you down so far, Schreiber, you won’t know which end is up,” Paradiso said.

“Give it a try, buddy. You’ll be coming with me.”

On the gurney, Maxie groaned. That didn’t stop Paradiso.

“I’m going to be looking at you Schreiber. All this stuff is connected through you—the steroids, the Uzbek terrorist money, the gun business with the Russians. Now this accident.”

It was Marx’s turn to look at his partner like he was an idiot.

“You’re kidding me, right?” I turned to Marx. “Tell me he’s kidding.”

“There’s bad karma all around,” he said.

I looked at Paradiso.

“Can’t somebody turn you off?”

“I’m like TV—I’m never off.”

“If you actually had any evidence, you would have booked me already. You came here because you’re fishing and you’re coming up with zero.”

“I think you mixed a metaphor there,” Marx said.

“I did not mix any metaphors,” I snapped.

From under his towel, Max said something nobody could hear.

“What’s that?” Paradiso asked.

“Eagle Scout.”


“My Dad’s an Eagle Scout,” Maxie said, drowsy with pain. “He’ll always be an Eagle Scout.”

* * *

Max took twenty stitches in his lip and an icepack home from the hospital the next night. His brothers were merciless.

“Did you cut yourself shaving?” Jon said, losing his usual philosophical detachment to become a 10-year-old boy again.

“Kissed a truck going 80?” said Richie, the clever one.

Max just looked at me, helpless and hurt in the face of the onslaught. Even if he could have talked back, I’m not sure he would have. He gets flustered easily when his brothers insult him.

My wife and I got Max to bed. Helen was cross with me. I sat around for 15 minutes and considered my options. I thought it would best to go bowling.

I took Mark, the quiet one, to Woodhaven Lanes, along with my 16-pound ball. Mark bowled a 78, not bad for a seven-year-old. My score was 227. I would have done even better, but I missed a split on the last pin.

There were only seven other bowlers, it being a week night. The lanes had a certain quiet majesty. The wood alleys were polished and bright, like a new parquet floor.

When we finished, we passed by Dino, the alley maintenance man. He was wearing a blue sweatshirt, greasy jeans and sneakers. His brown hair was greasy too, but he was an honorable man, and that counts for something.

“Hey, Harold.”

“Hey, Dino. How’s it going?”

He smiled a little smile. “I get by. You?”

“Getting by.”

I’ve known him for years, but we know each other in the way private men usually do. We talk in nods and shrugs and index finger salutes starting at the forehead and ending about a foot away.

The smell of freshly-tapped beer, one of the sweetest smells I have ever known, was oozing through the back steps of the alley. The restaurant was serving cheeseburgers and fries with cola. After we bowled, Mark and I ate in silence.

A sign said the place was closing soon. Dino didn’t say anything about it, but it’s not his nature to bring up anything, serious or otherwise.

I got upset about the closing. I wondered what would happen to league night.

* * *

A couple in a Ford Expedition was killed on the boulevard the next night. The driver had collided with an Escalade and the Expedition flipped over.

Two nights later, five people in a Land Cruiser and a Dodge Ram were killed, and three injured, when the Ram pushed through the wrong end of a yellow light and crashed into the driver’s side of the Land Cruiser full on.

The next week a Lexus SUV piled into a dump truck and exploded on contact. Three nights after that, a half-dozen teenagers in a Chevy Dakota rammed a Volkswagen and rolled over. The driver in the Volkswagen survived somehow. The six teens did not.

Every accident happened in the same place where David Jacobshvili was killed. The Post was splattered with red.

I thought about revenge. David’s brother had made a vow of revenge. Was David taking on the SUVs of the world?

* * *

I decided to look into it myself. After dinner, about an hour before league night, I sneaked out of the house. Off the kitchen there’s a patio area that we never used. Three little concrete steps lead from the kitchen to this little patio strip, which is no wider than five feet. We put three walls around it, and built a screen door.

The screen door leads you to the side yard, about two feet wide, abutting a neighbor’s hedge. You can quietly slide through the path and get to the street.

I drove to the Nosh Diner and had a cup of coffee. From the window of the shop, the road is flat for several hundred yards. Then there is a slight descent and a rise, like a hill. I thought of the gently rolling hills of the place where I had gone to college for a while. There was nothing gentle about this place.

The original intention for the boulevard was to imitate the boulevards of Paris, with two slow-moving lanes of traffic and lots of trees and flowers and elegant shops on the sidewalk. As with so much in New York, this plan quickly fell by the wayside. The city fathers decided that Queens had room for lots of factories and warehouses. The small street was ditched for six lanes of traffic, essentially an expressway to connect Manhattan to Queens and the suburbs beyond the city on Long Island.

After the coffee, I walked across the service road, stood on the median strip and studied the area where all the accidents had roughly taken place. The boulevard is not a quiet place. Trucks, cars, SUVs, Hummers, city buses shoot over the road like pinballs. The vehicles cut through the wind like knives. A plane coming into LaGuardia Airport every 10 minutes roars like Tyrannosaurus Rex overhead. A freight train wouldn’t be out of place here.

Despite all the noise, I heard something different. The sound was low, but distinct from the cars and trucks. It touched my mind first, then my ear.

I winced from the pain of it. The sensation reached right inside me, grabbed my heart in a death grip and twisted. I fell back a few steps and stumbled on the median strip.

At first I didn’t believe what I was hearing. I crouched down on the median strip again, the closest safe place to the site of all the accidents and examined the road to make sure I understood the sound completely. And yes, it was true.

The asphalt was screaming.

* * *

The Jacobshvili’s house seemed empty, despite repeated rings and knocks on the front door. After 15 minutes of getting no result, I sat on the front door step and thought about what to do.

Moses walked up to the concrete steps about a half hour later. His black fedora threw a shadow over his face. Smoke laced the man’s jaw in the orange light of the street.

“Harold, I didn’t expect you.”

“Moses, I need to know what that guy said the night I met you, on the condolence call.”

His face pulled back and he appraised me closely.

“Come inside. Let’s talk.”

Moses made strong coffee. We sat in the living room and drank silently.

“You once told me about revenge. And this is good coffee.”

“Thank you. Let’s not talk about revenge. I was angry.”

“When you were talking to me that night, a man behind you was saying something in Russian.”

“It’s not important. You want a cookie?”

“A cookie would be great. Can you tell me what the man said?”

“He’s my cousin. Would you like a chocolate-covered fudge cookie or a vanilla mousse cookie?”

“Chocolate covered fudge.”

“You’re from Russia?”

“No. My grandfather was, but I was born in Queens.”

A thin smile formed on Moses’ lips. “You look Russian.”

“I’m not. Good cookie. Can you tell me what your cousin said?”

Moses looked away, at the mantelpiece.

“We could use a fire.”

The conversation was going nowhere. We needed a radical change. So I threw the half-eaten cookie at Moses’ head and hit him square on the cheekbone.


“Are you going to tell me what your cousin said?”

He rubbed the chocolate fudge off his cheekbone with a handkerchief for a few seconds.

“I could have you killed, just for that. Killed for a cookie. How would your little sons like that?”

“Moses, I don’t know if you read the papers, but people are getting killed out there on Queens Boulevard, in the exact same place where your brother was hit. Now, you swore revenge for your brother’s death. And you’re getting it.”

“You’re right. You’re not Russian. You’d never understand.”

“What the hell is going on out there?”

Moses lit a cigarette and studied me.

I reached down for the plate of cookies and picked one up.

“You want another cookie in the face?”

He put the cigarette in an ashtray and let it smoke. He appraised me with a hard squint.

“Are you familiar with dybbuks?”


“They’re the wandering souls of dead people.”

“That’s all Old World crap.”

“Dybbuks enter the body of a living person and control their behavior.”

”But there’s no person involved. I think the boulevard is possessed.”

“Now who sounds like they’re full of crap? It is very unusual, but possible for a dybbuk to find an inanimate place and stay there.”

“What did your cousin say that night?”

“He pronounced the road a shonda—a disgrace. He wished for Gehenna to visit the Earth in the place where Jacob was killed.”

“What’s Gehenna?”

“You should be ashamed of yourself. You’ve completely given up your roots.

“What’s Gehenna?”


* * *

The snow fell as thick as butter shavings on our heads. Moses stood like a statue, letting the snow slide down his cheeks and nose. Next to him there was a rabbi in a black rain coat, miserable. His name was Pinsky.

“This is Rabbi Pinsky,” Moses explained. "He’s the spiritual leader for our community.”

“Shalom,” the rabbi said. “Let’s say a little prayer that we’ve met.”

I nodded, skeptical of all this religious hoo-hah.

We three stood on the median strip between the service road and the boulevard. It was about the width of two trucks. The Nosh Diner was behind us. The rabbi said his prayer.

It was a minor sort of miracle that I had gotten this meeting together. Just an hour earlier I had been sitting with my family in our house. We sat at our round wooden kitchen table after dinner on Saturday night. Max, Mark and Jon cleared the dishes. Richie disappeared into his room to get ready for a movie with a girl. Jon went to the living room to wait for a friend to arrive for a sleep-over.

“I have to do something.”

Before the words to explain the lie I had planned, Max and Mark were all over me.

“Dad, can we go? Can we? Can we? Can we?”

I looked at them. “No.”

“Come on, Dad. Come on.”

Helen sat next to me, her eyes condensing into a severe frown behind the cat’s eye glasses she had worn since our wedding 15 years before.

Picking up the cue from the wife, I said, “No.’

“We want to go,” Max said.

“We want to go,” Mark repeated.

This sort of thing could go on for a half hour. They knew how to wear me down, until I was so sick of hearing them that I would say yes. Except this time I couldn’t.

“No. Go to bed. Do your homework. Watch TV. Read comic books. Run around in a cape. Do whatever you do this time of night.”

Maxie walked off sulking, hands on hip, Mark behind him.

“I’m on strike!” Max yelled.

I was happy to have gotten rid of them, but now I was alone with my wife, a very dangerous place to be.

“I really do have something to do,” I said weakly.

Helen shot me a look that said, “I don’t believe you.” But she said nothing. On such silent tensions a solid marriage is built.

* * *

“Where is the place?” Moses said to me.

“I’ll walk you to it.”

The three of us walked single file several feet along the median strip dividing the service road and the boulevard. It should have been easy to hear the curdling sound I had heard coming from the road a few days before. The boulevard was pretty quiet. The snow was like a wall. Cars and trucks and the ubiquitous SUVs rolled slowly over the road, being made over as a fragile path. They emerged through the fog like ghosts straining against a plastic shower curtain.

Then I realized, the snow, that great insulator, must be muffling the sound. When a parade of cars had trundled past and it was safe, I kneeled down and scraped the snow off the road next to the median strip. I felt Moses’ and the rabbi’s eyes plunge through my coat. They must have thought I was a little touched in the head.

There was no sound. The rabbi sighed.

“I was having a very nice dinner with my wife at Gan Eden, Moses. And you pull me out here for this?”

He had gone from Man of God to Man of Queens in record time. Thirty seconds ago he was saying a prayer. Now he was just another ticked off guy ready to start an argument.

“It’s his fault. I’m going to have the dybbuk kill him,” Moses said with the loveliest of smiles.

I felt a slight thrum in my chest, then the physical sensation of the blood tightening in the artery leading to my heart. Acid was flowing through me, I was sure of it.

I stepped back. Moses had fallen down and was staring at the white sky, clutching his chest. The rabbi was holding his face in his hands, so he couldn’t see, like he was afraid to see.

At that moment Max and Mark arrived.

I felt the screaming road inside me, as I tried to warn my sons away. But no words came out.

The boys, concerned, crossed the service road in the snow, against the light. I put my hand out in a stop motion. They kept coming.

Max reached us first. He hugged me around the waist, his lip still thick from post-surgery healing. Mark came next.

“Get back!” I whispered.

Too late. A thin line of blood ran down Mark’s nostril, then another came from the other nostril. Max’s healing lip swelled up and he started to bleed as well, in a crescent from nose to mouth.

I grabbed them, one in each arm, my heart stabbing at me. I dragged all three of us across the road to the Nosh Diner corner.

“How did you get here?” I yelled at them.

A great non-answer came from Max."Dad, we’re bleeding!”

Mark’s nose was bruised and he vomited all over the white snow.

I kneeled down. It looked like his nose was broken.

I held them by their shoulders and we sat down on the sidewalk to get a breath.

Rabbi Pinsky peeled his hands from his face and crawled to the spot of the screaming. He looked onto the road. The rabbi’s hat blew off, from the wind or the scream, I couldn’t tell.

He put his hand on the road. Chunks of asphalt blew upward into Rabbi Pinsky’s face. He fell over onto the road.

“Stay here!” I yelled at the boys. They weren’t in much of a state to protest. Max’s wound had opened up again, like a split seam, and Mark’s nose was swelling up.

I propped them up against the diner’s wall and ran for the rabbi.

A Nissan Pathfinder was rolling toward Rabbi Pinsky in the snow. “The Pathfinder can’t see him,” I thought.

I ran on the road, whipping my arms as fast as I could. The Pathfinder braked, then slid on the snow.

The rabbi was lying face down on the road. I picked him up by the chest and dragged him onto the median strip. The Pathfinder kept sliding toward us. I put my body over the rabbi’s back.

The Pathfinder rolled as I tried to pull the rabbi’s unconscious heap in inches across the median strip and onto the service road, doing anything to get out of its way.

A crunching sound stopped the rolling. The Pathfinder had managed to stop on Rabbi Pinsky’s ankle. He woke up and yelled like a wounded ram.

“Is he OK?” Moses said, on his knees. He was drenched and pale and scared.

“I think his foot is broken.”

“We have to get him to a hospital.”

The rabbi moaned.

“No kidding.”

“Let me call a friend,” Moses said. “The rabbi is hurt, maybe badly. Come quickly.”

He got a private ambulance, colored lime green and red, which pulled up in five minutes, faster than the regular hospital jobs, even with the snow. The Russians even have their own emergency vehicle network. How’s that for assimilation?

The ambulance men, efficient and mindful of hierarchy, came for the rabbi, checked his vitals. The snow fell in clumps around us. Then the men loaded the rabbi on a gurney and popped him into the back of the ambulance like he was a delicate loaf of bread. I brought my sons over from the corner. Mark could barely walk, so I just picked him up and carried him to the emergency vehicle. Maxie stumbled along beside us, bleeding and frightened.

Before I got in the back with Moses, the rabbi and the boys, several more chunks of asphalt blew in the air, hitting one of the brake lights of the ambulance. Out of the hole came a roar that was full of venom, a hungry, vicious sound.

“Let’s get the hell out of here!” I shouted to the driver.


An hour later, we sat at the same old hospital, with the same dead light.

Mark had a broken nose. He had gotten it set and dressed. Maxie got a few new stitches in his lip.

Mark slept for a couple hours after the operation. Maxie, miserable because his face was once again blooming with fresh scars, was placed beside me after the little work he had received.

“How did you guys get out of the house?”

Maxie stared straight ahead and answered me in a flat voice, drained of emotion. He mumbled a little because of the puffed-up flesh on his wounded lip.

“We sneaked out through the patio screen door after you left.”

“Where did you learn that?”

“From you, Dad. We’ve been doing it for years.”


The rabbi’s ankle was broken and his face was cut up pretty good where the asphalt chunks had risen up against him. A bruise colored his cheek.

The rabbi’s wife had come. We saw her run through the emergency room to her husband’s bed. She looked afraid and stricken. You could tell she really loved him.

Moses had a heart scare, but he was OK. The ER doctor discharged him and he sat next to Max and me in the waiting room.

“The only people for you are the mad ones, eh, Schreiber?”

My eyes rose up to meet Paradiso. Then I looked at my companions. Max looked like a boxer who’d lost a fight and under the harsh light Moses had the face of a washed-out bum who needed a bottle.

“At least they’re not you.”

“He talks like this to everybody,” Moses, the angel, said.

The lieutenant smiled. Marx was with Paradiso again. Marx shook his head.

“You two need to get your attitudes in rhythm. You know, like two jazz musicians.”

Paradiso stepped up to me and stood over me. “We’re going to get our attitudes in rhythm, Schreiber. You’re going to tell me all about how this accident is keyed in with your steroids business. Then I want to know about your connections with the Russians and the narcotics and the guns and the prostitutes, the Kazakh connection, how the Uzbeks tie in. You’re the center of this whole thing, I’m sure of it. We’re going to spend a lot of time together.”

I blew the cop a kiss.

“I’m looking forward to it, sweetie. It’s been a long time between drinks, Lieutenant.”

“You’re going to take us to the scene of this so-called accident. I want to see it.”

“I don’t think you do.”

“Don’t tell me what I want.”

“I think you’d rather spend some time in the desert at noon.”

“You guys need to get in tune. In tune, man. In tune,” Marx said. He described a circle with his hands.

“Let’s go,” Paradiso snarled.

“My sons are here.”

“Call your wife. She can take care of them.”

“I called her. She’s already not talking to me.”

Paradiso gestured at Moses. “What about this guy? He can watch them.”

“He’s not a family member.”

“Why don’t you let the guy get the kids discharged? Then Schreiber can take us to the accident scene,” Marx said to Paradiso.

“Why are you being so nice?” I asked Marx.

“It’s my nature. I love mankind. I’m a Buddhist.’”

“You’re not from Queens.”


“Oh, that explains it.”

The discharge process took about a half-hour. Mark was awake now and miserable. I desperately wished for some way to make him happy and whole again.

As we were about to walk out, Moses asked to come with us. The cops followed.

“Don’t leave yet!” the rabbi’s wife shouted at us from across the emergency room. Several doctors tried to freeze her with their eyes, but she didn’t care.

The wife ran up to us, a little breathless.

“He wants to talk to you, Mr. Schreiber. Please come quickly.”

“I’m walking with you,” Paradiso said. “You’re a little robot, with a little man in you who tells you to run away. The mayor’s ready to give you an award.”

“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were schizo.”

“And I’d say you were ready for a pop in the mouth.”

“Please, Mr. Schreiber!”

“OK, Mrs.Pinsky. Let’s go.”

She led us quickly to the bed. The rabbi was pretty out of it. His foot was in a cast. There were painful rips across his nose and cheeks and forehead, from the asphalt explosion.

Mrs. Pinsky pulled me to the rabbi’s pillow. He gasped.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“The dybbuk,” he said, labored and slow.

“Yeah, it’s a dybbuk. I got that.”

“The dybbuk is…”

“Right. A dybbuk.”

“The dybbuk is not…”

“Is not?”

The rabbi looked at me like I was an idiot and that whatever he was going to say would completely change me into a smarter person.

He breathed in and gathered his strength.

“The dybbuk is not David Jacobshvili.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s not David. When I went to talk to the dybbuk, he told me he wasn’t David. He got mad.”

“He told you this?”

The rabbi struggled with his breath. “He told me in my mind.”

”It’s not David,” I said, trying to sound rational even though we were talking about a possessed piece of road.

“He got mad because we thought he was David. That’s why he lost his temper.”

“He lost his temper? That’s what that was?”

“You need to rest now, honey,” the rabbi’s wife said. “Let’s not talk anymore.”

I had to ask one more question. "If it’s not David, who the hell is it?”

The rabbi collected himself again. “He wouldn’t say. He said we were stupid, stupid, stupid, and we should know who he is.”

* * *

Paradiso looked over the snow-covered median strip with his flashlight, Marx trailing him. Marx made sure I stayed next to him. Although I wasn’t under arrest, I was a person of interest, as they say.

“Are you sure you want to come here?” I asked helpfully.

“What is this?”

Lt. Paradiso leaned into the hole the dybbuk had blown up through the asphalt. It was about the size of the rabbi’s face and cordoned off with police tape. I love police tape. It’s so official.

The road wasn’t screaming for a change. I wondered why.

The edges of the hole were red and glowing, like a volcano. I thought about somebody with a bad temper. If you were a road and you were in a bad mood, perhaps you’d color yourself with red flame.

I envisioned a meaty hand thrusting itself upward out of the hole, grabbing Paradiso and dragging him down into the abyss. Unfortunately, no such thing happened.

I wished I didn’t have to be there. I thought about bowling again. The alley at Woodhaven Lanes was out there, waiting, but not for long. The lanes were closing and I would be losing my bowling escape.

Paradiso stared into the hole for several seconds. Snow swirled around. We heard a sloppy wet sound. An invisible rope tugged Paradiso’s neck into the hole, and then it bounced back.

He stared into the road and the scream started. Marx tried to pull him away, but Paradiso seemed stuck in place. He was seeing something he had never seen before. His mind was being filled with something that was breaking him, to tell from the look in his eyes.

I looked on, and I realized quickly that I would have to do something to help. I hated that. But I ran as fast as I could in the snow and tackled Paradiso with my shoulder as low as I could, knocking into him at the ankles. The cop felt like a rock, but he fell on his behind with a great thump. Paradiso looked at me with surprise. Then his face changed into something else.

He pointed at me.

“You’re a robot, sent to poison the water supply. You and the Russians are trying to kill me, with air conditioning. And you,” he said, pointing at Marx, “want to start a movement of evil with Schreiber.”

“Your karma is a little off, my old friend,” Marx said.

Paradiso stood up, dusted the snow off his backside. He looked at Marx, then me. The Glock was out of the lieutenant’s holster very fast and the gun was aimed at my chest.

“You’re the demon from the underworld, a freak, a stinkpot of flesh.”

I thought about putting my hands up and decided it wouldn’t do any good. I didn’t think it would do any good to speak either. I simply wished I could make the flesh on Paradiso’s gun hand melt.

He clicked the Glock’s safety off. I knew what was coming next. The impact alone would push me back several feet and onto the median strip, where I would come to rest on my back, bleeding quickly.

Marx’s radio crackled.

“Anybody there?” said the voice on the other end.

Paradiso, pointed the gun at Marx. “More robots. More robots,” he said in a dead voice

I scooped up a handful of snow and threw it in Paradiso’s face. He waved it off quickly, but I had a snowball ready. I aced him on the bridge of his nose. His head went to one side, then came back like a bobble head doll.

He aimed again, but a shot from Marx plugged him in the kneecap.

Paradiso fell backwards in the snow into a sitting position. He looked only mildly surprised at being shot.

I threw several snowballs in his face, like this—one, two, three, four, five!

Paradiso aimed the Glock at me, but missed, firing wildly into the air. He hit the hood of a Ford Explorer rolling toward us heavily through the packed snow on the road. The bullet penetrated to the engine and started a small fire. The Explorer rolled slowly on, flames trailing out of the hood. The driver jumped out and let the vehicle slide to a stop into the metal railing beyond our little piece of median strip. The dybbuk’s curse was still hard at work.

Marx hit Paridiso in the shoulder. The cop looked like a broken toy. He tried to aim the Glock again, but the blood gushing out of the hole in his shoulder told him he wouldn’t accomplish it.

I threw a snowball in the lieutenant’s face again. He fell over. Paradiso’s head hit the median strip with a soft plop. The snow helped cushion the blow.

“Was that really necessary?” Marx howled at me.

“I thought so. Obviously.”

“Give the man his dignity!”

“I didn’t think he had any left.”

In the ambulance, with Paradiso mumbling about robots and nuclear weapons the size of toy cars, Marx talked to himself, not really thinking I was listening. As “a person of interest,” I was still in a loose form of custody by Marx.

“How am I going to beat this thing?”

“We need the rabbi.”

The cop looked up, as if he was surprised to see me there. “The rabbi’s pretty messed up.”

“So’s your friend.”

“Alcohol took him away from us. The hole in the road didn’t send him over the edge. He was already running to it.”

“He’s probably schizophrenic, too. You must have noticed.”

“I tried not to think about it.”

“Why didn’t you get him some help?”

“I tried. It wasn’t in his heart to take help. When he gets healed up, I’ll send him home to his mother.”

I was disgusted. “Let’s not talk about it.”

We rode in silence until the hospital. Before we loaded out with Paradiso, Marx turned to me and said, “You better be right about this, Schreiber. Get the rabbi.”

In one of those bizarre weather changes that seem to happen in New York with great regularity these years, the next week turned sunny and unseasonably warm. It was 60 degrees during the day and 40 at night.

All the snow melted before Christmas, much to the disappointment of my sons.

Marx and I had met with Rabbi Pinsky at the Gan Eden restaurant to ask him for help. Gan Eden means Garden of Eden, or Paradise.

It didn’t feel like paradise to me. Russians eating swatches of lamb squinted at Marx and me with great suspicion.

The rabbi limped in the restaurant with a cane, his broken ankle wrapped in a soft cast. He sat down with us and we exchanged quick hellos.

“Getting rid of a dybbuk is tricky business,” the rabbi said.

I looked at his face, with all the cuts from the asphalt chunks that had flown in his direction.

“What you did was very brave,” I said. “But we still have a problem.”

“You do. I don’t have a problem.”

“Can you help us?” Marx asked.

The rabbi chewed on a carrot set at the cold vegetable plate on the table and looked away as if he were thinking hard. Then he turned back to the cop and me.

“I already risked a great deal the first time. I did it for Jacob and for Moses. But now, I think this is a thing I will not do.”

“Where is your sense of justice?” Marx demanded, a little too loudly. The diners stared at him and me with red cigarette eyes.

“I have a terrific sense of justice. I also have a sense of self-preservation. I don’t want to get killed.”

“A lot more people could get killed,” I said. “As a rabbi, you know what that means.”

“Oh, don’t bring that up,” the rabbi said. "You have no idea what the concept really is. You’re a business man, no better than a street punk in terms of your knowledge of religion.”

“The tension in here is getting pretty thick,” Marx said. “Maybe we should leave, let this whole thing mellow down.”

“When you kill a person, you destroy a universe,” I said to the rabbi. “That’s your creed.”

“Who says I have to live it every day? I’m a rabbi. I deal with spiritual matters. I’m no action hero. That’s your job.”

“What are you talking about?”

The rabbi chewed on some celery, loudly. “Hey,” he shouted to the waiters. “Can’t we get somebody to take our order?’

Two waiters lounged against a wall by the kitchen and looked at the rabbi with disdain. I knew why. He had brought strangers into their home and they didn’t like us at all.

“I heard what you did to the police lieutenant,” he said to me. “You have a little reputation, Mr. Schreiber.”

“You’re being a jerk.”

“And you’re being a Nopocehok.”

“What does that mean?” Marx asked.

“It’s Russian,” I said. “One of the few words I know. I learned it from my wife. He just said I’m a suckling pig.”

“Let’s stop this. We’re not in harmony,” the policeman said. “This was a bad idea.”

“You have kids?” I asked the rabbi.

He stopped chewing the celery and looked at me as if I was going to make a threat. “Two boys. Why?”

“How old are they?”

“Twelve and 15. Why?

“Do they like basketball?”

“Yes, very much. Why?”

“I know your house. You live over by the Grand Central Parkway.”


“You have a big yard in the back. I have a buddy in the concrete business. We can build you a basketball court, for your sons.”

“You think I’ll risk my life for a basketball court?”

“No, but you might to make your sons happy.”

“You I don’t like,” the rabbi said. He began chewing celery again. Marx looked at me, worried and beginning to draw away. He studied his cellphone messages.

“How do we get rid of the dybbuk? At least give us some advice.”

The rabbi yelled across the room and pointed his finger at one of the waiters. “You—come here now. I know your mother, Gisele Feinstein.”

Exposed, the little Feinstein boy slinked over to the rabbi and meekly took his order.

After the waiter left, Marx said, “This is no day at the park, Schreiber. It’s all very uncool. Let’s melt out of here.”

The rabbi picked up several cucumber slices in a stack and shoved them into his mouth. We waited a few minutes for him to finish.

“First, you have to say some prayers to weaken his resistance and ask to send his soul back to Gehenna,” the rabbi said slowly. “Then you have to annoy him.”

“I can annoy him. Will you say the prayers?”

“You’re very good at annoying people,” the rabbi said. He waved his hand in the air as if to dismiss us. “I’ll say the prayers.

“Now leave. You two are ruining my reputation in the community here.”

* * *

The Woodhaven Lanes closed down. My sons and I were sad. There would be no bowling alleys within five miles of our house anymore.

“Now where am I going to go to get a beer?” That was Richie, the 14-year-old wit.

“I don’t believe it,” Maxie said, always so serious.

“Economics, man,” said Jon, our 10-year-old Buddhist philosopher. “Bucks. It’s bucks that did them in.”

“This is depressing,” Mark, my seven-year-old jewel with a diamond of a broken nose said.

My wife, on hearing the news, smiled a little smile.

“You’re happy about this?” I asked her.

“No, Schreiber. You’ve lost league night. You need an outlet for your anger. Where are you going to find that? You can’t throw snowballs at cops anymore.” She smiled again, politely and falsely.

“I can’t believe you’re happy about this.”

“Now you have one less excuse for sneaking out of the house.”

So how was I going to tell my wife that I was sneaking out of the house yet again to help rid Queens Boulevard of a wandering demon soul from the underworld?

And how was I going to figure out how to annoy this demon enough to get rid of him?

“I hate to break this to you, but I have to go out.”

“What is it this time? Have to meet a new supplier at the strip club?”

From the depths of his depression, Mark rose up and shouted: “Dad has to find a new bowling alley!”

Mark’s comment knocked me backwards a few steps. I knew what I would have to do.

“You just gave me a great idea,” I told him.

“What did I say?” he said.

“I’ll tell you later.”

My wife remained unimpressed. “Where are you going?”

I waved to my wounded wife and sons, grabbed my ball bag in the closet and ran out the front door, shouting, “I’m going bowling.”

* * *

I leaned my face down into the red-caked hole where the dybbuk was. Rabbi Pinsky and Marx the cop were behind me. Also there was the alley man from the Woodhaven Lanes, Dino, clad in his usual blue sweatshirt.

The screaming had begun as we approached the hole. We told ourselves to ignore it, to press on. There was no choice. It was either that or let a demon terrorize and destroy dozens of lives traveling on the boulevard.

My nose started to bleed. My chest felt tight, like I had a clogged artery. The rabbi held his hands to his ears. Marx the cop put gun fingers on his forehead as if he had a profound migraine. Dino smoked a cigarette and looked bored.

I stuck my face right into the screaming.

“Hello, Larry.”

“Go to freaking hell, Harold,” Larry screamed in my mind.

“I’m already there, buddy.”

“I never liked you!”

“Back atcha, buddy.”

My chest tightened. Two hands gripped my heart. It was a crushing blow.

I took a breath.

The rabbi started to say a prayer using a book with a black cover.

“Want to go bowling, Larry?”

“You know I hate bowling, Harold.”

“I’m going to go bowling right on your face, Larry.”

“What are you talking about?”

Amidst the screaming, which grew louder, I turned and asked Dino, “Can I have the pins?”

Cigarette in his mouth, the alley rat handed me a bag.

I unzipped the bag and set up the pins in the triangle pattern in front of the screaming hole. The rabbi continued to mumble prayers into Larry’s giant scream. The rabbi’s ears were bleeding.

The alley rat continued to look bored, until the cigarette exploded in his hand.

“Son of a bitch,” he said quietly, looking at his burnt fingers.

He got another one out of the pack and lit it.

“How’s it look, Dino?”

“Not bad, Harold. Let me fix two in the back row.”

The screaming reached an even higher pitch. It was like getting zapped with a live wire.

I yelled at Dino. “How come you’re not affected by this?”

He smiled like it was a little joke. “My kids are much worse.”

Rabbi Pinsky fell over and the book dropped onto the median strip. Marx and I rushed to him.

“I’m OK, I’m OK,” he said. He got up, brushed the dirt off his back. “This dybbuk is very tough.”

“It’s the steroids, I bet,” I said. “He’s super-charged and angry.”

The rabbi picked up the book, kissed it and started to bow and pray again.

The standard length of a bowling alley is 60 feet from the foul line to the head pin. Dino calculated that 40 feet would be best for maximum impact on the pins. Marx had the right lane of the road cordoned off on both sides with orange cones and police sawhorses. I was starting to appreciate cops more.

Out of the darkness appeared hundreds of men from Rabbi Pinsky’s congregation. I saw Moses. He nodded at me. The men lined up on both sides of the orange tape. I wished I had that kind of muscle in my business. But, I like to be alone too much to enlist this kind of organization.

Dino drew a foul line with chalk. I held the ball in front of me, leaned down and studied the alley. The road wasn’t exactly straight. It dipped to the right and down at the shoulder. I would have to take that into account.

Larry screamed so hard he upset the pins all by himself.

“You’re going to have to bowl a lot faster if we’re going to do this,” Dino yelled.

He set up the pins. The rabbi continued to pray, the blood flowing down his ear in a little stream.

I threw the ball down the road as fast and as hard as I could.

Boom! I got 8 pins and Larry blew out the spare with a scream.

Dino bowled the ball back to me and set up the pins again. They were shaking from Larry’s screams. But he wasn’t able to knock them down. Maybe the rabbi’s prayers were having some effect.

My ears were pretty rattled, but I got off a toss. The ball landed on the left side of the pins, taking half. It wasn’t a good roll and I was mad at myself. But I didn’t have time to really punish myself.

We set up again, this time with Marx helping. Larry shot sparks out of his hole. I tried to make this one count.

The ball hit the first pin head-on and blew back on the others. They made a good rattle. Larry threw flames out of the hole.

Dino set it up a fourth time and I just jammed the ball the wrong way. It hit one pin and the rest were left standing. The one pin I hit fell into Larry’s hole.

Dino went to look at the hole. He backed off quickly. The pin came flying out of the crater on fire, like a rocket. We saw it shoot into the air and fall on top of a parked Nissan Armada’s roof.

Dino threw the ball back and I stopped caring about form. I flung the ball as hard as I could down the road and the 9 pins smashed together.

We did it again and again. The scene was wild to me, but I felt wild too, with the rabbi standing on the median strip praying, the hundreds of silent men watching us, the front end of the Nissan Armada now on fire, the alley of cones and sawhorses and my alley guy running to the pins and setting them up as fast as he could, then throwing me the ball, and me throwing it back as hard and quick as I could, the demon Larry’s screams vomiting out of the hole, then bending backwards and down into the road.

The rabbi, swaying and praying, fell down for the last time. Marx went to him and cradled the rabbi’s head in his cop’s arms. Drenched in sweat, my right arm about to fall off, I threw the ball like a fist into the pins. The ball swept through the pins and scattered them. The ball knocked down into Larry’s hole as if drawn by a magnet.

The ball shot back out of the hole, a molten mass of plastic, flaming and stinking, demon cannon fire. It fell down onto the boulevard, bubbling and spitting superheated gloss, my favorite bowling ball, a casualty of war. Dino looked at the mess as if it were a corpse. For the first time, Marx looked scared. The rabbi was a spent force, but the hundreds of his followers didn’t move.

“That’s it!” I yelled. “Nobody kills my bowling ball!”

I ran as fast as I could. The screaming rose and rose in my ears, but I didn’t care. I dove in the hole.

When we wrestle with ghosts, usually nobody ends up losing but you. I was determined not to let that happen.

Yet I found myself falling farther than I thought possible. It was about 20 feet down. I landed on my non-bowling arm. I felt good about that, but little else.

I suddenly understood what Gehenna was. In a city as dense as New York, I was stuck in a hole about six feet wide on each side. Warm air blasted over me from a subway vent. Who knew there was a subway vent underneath this part of the boulevard?

Things got worse from there.

Larry was there with me. He wasn’t exactly a physical presence, unlike the usual dybbuk inhabiting a body, but I felt him around me. And he couldn’t stop talking.

Not literally, like a real voice, but more inside my head.

“Let’s lighten the mood a little,” he said. "Lighten everything up. Light. I love light. I miss light. Give us light."

The hole burned yellow and orange, hopeful like the morning sun. But there was nothing hopeful about what I saw.

On the walls, or I should say in the walls, were the faces of the lost and wounded, the broken souls who had been killed on the boulevard in recent months. I saw David Jacobshvili, the couple in the Ford Expedition, the five people in the Land Cruiser and Dodge Ram, the pair from the Lexus SUV, and the six teenagers in the Dakota.

Stalin said the death of one person is a tragedy, but the death of multitudes is a statistic. You read about people dying in the newspaper, from cyclones and earthquakes and suicide bombings. And it may never really hit you that we are talking about human beings.

Even for me, reading the stories in the paper, the deaths of these people hadn’t been vividly real. David Jacobshvili’s death had been real to me. I had seen him get killed. As for the rest, though, I hadn’t understood their pain, until that moment.

But now, the dead were brought horribly to life for me, their faces frozen in horror, screaming a silent scream, raging against the injustice of the boulevard and their discontents.

I wondered how fast Lieutenant Paradiso’s mind would have melted down in this little subway vent wax museum.

“That’s my trophy wall,” Larry said.


“They’re my little pets.”

“You own their souls somehow.”

“Harold, you’ve always been smart when it’s too late.”

“I think that’s the definition of tragedy.”

“This is no tragedy. It’s a laugh and a half.”

“The rabbi and I couldn’t get rid of you because you’re using the energy of these poor people to stay here on the boulevard.”

“I came close to getting your sons, Harold, very close—Maxie and Mark, right?.”

I winced hard at that news.

“I’m surprised you don’t have a nose and an upper lip hanging from your wall, Larry, where you got them hurt.”

He laughed. “I’ll try that some other time. But now that you’ve unexpectedly dropped in, I don’t have to stay here.”

“What does that mean?”

“I can get inside you. Walk around inside you. Become you.”

I winced hard again.

“Not me. You’d have my body. But that’s about it. You’re exactly the opposite of me. You’re a first-class creep from the word go.”

Another laugh came inside my mind, like liquid trash.

Larry’s image formed in front of me, the pale shell of his muscles, massive hands and square head.

“I have to get a little organic to start the merger, pal. Then your brain will be a little piece of dust inside me.”

I was about to say something sarcastic, but a bowling ball dropped on Larry’s head.

It was purple and white and glossy and beautiful.

The shot smashed Larry’s demon head into his neck, then disappeared and reappeared after ripping a bowling ball size hole in his crotch.

Larry and David and the rest of the broken souls cried out in protest.

“Son of a bitch!” Larry yelled.

Larry lay on the floor of the vent like a deflated blimp. I stared at him, a mistake.

“This is a minor inconvenience, Harold.’

I watched as he reconstituted his body. It was like watching soldier ants build a colony at super-speed.

I wasn’t totally stupid. I picked up the bowling ball and silently thanked Dino for bringing an extra.

“You think that bowling ball’s going to help you? You’re just a human being.”

My wife thinks I’m angry. I thought this would be a good time to find out how angry.

Larry took a step forward. We were standing nose to nose. The stink of his becoming organic was like getting hit by the smell of a city landfill, rotting fruit and diapers, decaying hamburger meat and fungal bread all thrown together.

I hit the walking landfill in the stomach with the ball. He laughed. I took a shot at his head. It bounced off the wall and came back like a rubber band.

I’m an Eagle Scout for life, it’s true, as my son says. But I had to fight dirty. I wound up my arm, brought it forward and crushed Larry’s groin with 16 pounds of molded plastic.

He staggered backwards, fell into the faces on the wall for a few seconds.

He looked up, really angry. Larry grabbed my throat and rushed me against the wall.

“You’re dead meat.”

I tried to say something clever. Nothing but bubbles came out of my throat.

I understood that maybe anger wasn’t going to win this fight. Maybe Larry was right. I’m always too late with realizations.

So I let him in, invited him into my mind. I slumped down and he came with me, hugging me close. I felt like a grasshopper infested with wasp baby parasites. The smell was so intense. It filled me with nausea.

Then Larry was there, with me, in my brain. He was happy as hell.

Now my hard work would really have to begin.

I thought of Rabbi Pinsky and how he read his chanting book with such intensity, crowding out everything else and focusing on the task right in front of him.

Larry’s thoughts came careening through. There was the Hummer going fast through the snow, Larry talking fast and angry on his cellphone. Then the fast, too fast slide into the SUV, the metal looming up. The explosion, big and hot. Burning, panic, everything happening quickly.

The fire burned so hot, Larry’s cellphone got welded into his ear. He screamed. I vomited.

Other Larry thoughts percolated around. We’re in a bar, talking to a girl, then another, taking somebody home. Strip joints, an abundance of female flesh gyrating on a raised stage, many shots of whisky, alone in sad lights. Meeting steroid dealers in gym locker rooms, a booth in the T-Bone Diner on the boulevard. Shooting the stuff into the gluteus maximus. More drinking alone, in the living room, watching late night television with all the lights out.

Yelling at his mother. Throwing chairs in her house. Sleeping with girls. Punching one in the jaw while in bed. Slapping another hard on the cheek. The girls crying. An apology, not enough to stop the girls from running out of the house, half clothed, not caring, just wanting to get away.

High school images now. Rolling dice in the back of the school during classes. Challenging the results of throws, says the dice are loaded. Beating up a kid who stood up to him. Taking his money.

Inheriting a plywood business from his father, like I did. Shorting a buyer on a delivery. Yelling at the guy on the phone when he found out. Shouting, “You’re a liar! You’re a liar! You’re a liar!” in a sing-song voice like a little school girl. Slamming down the phone and smiling.

Afternoons at the Mets game with Dad, Dad drinking too much at the game and in the living room. The NFL on Sundays in October, the NBA on CBS in February, the pale Queens light fading out of the room early. Mom fading into the fabric of the curtains with every pull Dad takes on the bottle. Larry watching it all, taking it in.

Larry stood up and he was taking me with him.

“Hey!” he shouted up to the street. “Can somebody help me?”

Marx and Dino looked down into the hole.

“Schreiber, you all right?” Marx yelled.

“Yeah. Can you get me out of here?” Larry said in a voice that didn't sound like me at all. I hoped someone would notice, but 20 feet above a subway vent who might notice that Schreiber didn't sound like Schreiber?

“We called the fire department to come get you out. Where’s the demon?”

“Gone, man, gone.”

“Hey, that’s great,” Marx said. “Just take it easy for a few minutes. The guys will be here soon.”

I noticed that the faces on the wall had faded out. The subway vent wall had gone back to being a wall. Larry must have released them. He didn’t need them anymore. He had me. But I wasn’t ready to give up the ghost.

Here was a chance and I took it.

I forced images of my four sons into what was left of my mind. Pictures of the boys running around the house, jumping off couches, goofing around on the floor.

Larry staggered a little.

Then more pictures. Sitting around our kitchen table, the boys ranking on each other, Richie winning most of these battles. Then they’re playing football on their knees in the living room, fighting over what they would watch on television, breaking the wooden coffee table. Maxie crying. Jon crying. Maxie hitting Jon in the shoulders and arms. Richie sitting on Maxie’s chest. Mark threatening to kill Richie.

Larry stood up. He smiled. The boys hurting each other appealed to his mind. I would have to change the picture show fast.

There I was walking with my wife on quiet streets when we were engaged. Going to the movies. My wife walked down the aisle toward me, with a white covering on her head, her lips ruby red. Dancing at the wedding. The honeymoon in Florida. Beautiful white sand, blue water lapping at the shore. The beach at sunrise. My wife cooking lamb. Dipping it into mint jelly.

Larry felt a little sick.

I flooded more images into the theatre of our shared mind. Here I was finding five-year-old Richie and three-year-old Max sleeping together on the floor of the bedroom, their heads touching. Me trying to hide behind 2-year-old Max on our little lawn as Helen takes a picture of us. Maxie holding Mark’s hand when we go to an amusement park. Max and Jon playing goofball detectives to copy the show they see on TV. Richie riding a cheap old bicycle for the first time on the sidewalk in front of the house. Mark kicking a goal in the midget soccer game. Jon reading a philosophy book way too advanced for him.

Then I hit Larry with the nuclear bomb of my mind’s eye. I sent pictures in this bomb, pictures of me paying the mortgage on the house, the bills for the electricity, cable and Internet, the monthly lease on the station wagon, balancing the checkbook, walking a construction site and worrying over whether the carpenters would show up that day, hitting baseballs in the street to my sons’ eager mitts, buying winter clothes with Helen and the boys at Modell’s.

The Modell’s movie was like a solid punch to Larry’s stomach. Next I hit him with a right hook to the jaw.

Helen stood before me in our kitchen, a chocolate linoleum floor beneath us and a Felix the Cat clock above (for the boys of course), pointing a butcher knife in the air as if it were an extension of her finger, saying:

“Schreiber, I love you, but you’re extremely mentally ill.”

My life isn’t like that television show “Seventh Heaven,” not even close. But thinking about all the details required in maintaining a family were enough to blow through Larry’s steroid-addled soul.

I saw Larry’s mind collide with mine. We fell on the cold concrete floor. We started banging our head on the wall of the vent. We drew blood out of the forehead.

Still, I couldn’t get him out of my mind. My best chance to evict him was gone. I had blown it. I wasn’t strong enough.

A wide yellow light shone on us from the street.

“Mr. Schreiber, we’re going to get you out of there. Hold on,” said a Fire Department voice.

A relieved and sick laugh came from us. It wasn’t mine, but Larry’s. As a ladder slid down to the floor of the vent, someone yelled, “Wait!”

Rabbi Pinsky, sick with fever, but leaning over the edge, was shouting. “That man is not who he says he is!”

The ladder banged on the concrete. We started to climb, the demented laugh coming through me like a bad taste of whiskey, leaving the purple bowling ball behind. I would never have abandoned a beauty like that.

“Wait!” the rabbi shouted again. But it was too late. Larry and I were climbing up and up.

We heard lots of shouts and fast talking. As we climbed up the ladder, Marx appeared. He aimed his Glock at us and a crazy laugh echoed off the walls of the vent.

The Buddhist bullet sliced through our left shoulder and there was still enough of me left to thank Marx for not hitting me in the bowling arm.

Solid hot lead poured through the wound, tearing muscle and snapping bone. Burning, burning, burning.

We fell down the ladder like a kid taking a belly flop on a water slide. The impact on the floor seemed to fold our knees in half.

We spit up blood lying on the cold concrete. Marx was a true artist, a poet of pain.

He was poised now on the top of the ladder, facing away from its solid cylinder steps, the Glock out and ready to sketch a new picture. A bullet hit the bottom and dug up a piece of concrete the size of a quarter. The chunk hit us in the eye.

Another bullet described a straight line as efficiently as a geometry whiz kid’s pencil mark and blew out the elbow of the left arm. Amazing I thought. He’s trying to save my bowling arm. Here was the portrait of the cop as a truly sensitive man.

With two bullets in us, we were pinned to the bottom of the hole.

“The cop is going to kill us,” I whispered to Larry.

“Not me, man. Not me!”

“The cop is going to kill us.”

“No. No. No,” he whined.

“Go ahead, scream like a little baby. It doesn’t matter anymore.”

“This can’t be the end.”

“It is the end. There’s nothing worse than a ticked-off Buddhist cop. They’re very directed.”

Silence from the Larry part of my mind.

“He has a goal. He’ll keep shooting until we’re dead. Dead. No more pretty girls. No more Hummers. No more whiskey. No more nothing.”

A wisp of fire speared through our left thigh. Marx had hit us again.

“That was the big one, Larry. The cop hit an artery. We’re going to bleed out in a matter of minutes now.”

The dybbuk made a run for it out of the tunnels of my brain and I let him go. Extracting himself from me was as nauseating as the merger. His screaming felt like a sonic cannon.

I hadn’t realized my eyes were closed shut. As the smell of landfill hit my nose I opened them. The demon was out of me, next to my head in the subway vent, more of a bubbling brown and green mass now than a half-formed man.

He was losing energy, and time. I wished I had a portable, battery-operated vacuum cleaner like my wife has.

The purple and white bowling ball was on the other side of me, by my right arm. I picked it up, fingered the grips. Shot up with more holes than a doughnut, I still loved the feel of the cold plastic on my hand.

Without a vacuum, I raised the purple and white ball over my head and made my own invisible painting of an arc, bringing the globe down on the stinking mass formerly known as Larry.

I rolled over with the ball still in my hand and swept over Larry the Landfill, flattening him against the floor, unintentionally mixing him with my flowing blood.

I wiped him everywhere I could—the subway vent, the walls, the corners of the hole. It was like trying to paint applesauce on a house with a fork.

But it worked. Little pieces of him pulsed and bubbled. Some of Larry got into the holes of the bowling ball and I plunged him down even further with my fingers. There was a tingling sensation in them, which quickly died.

My thigh and shoulder were numb. I was starting to drift away. The funeral home director would have a hell of a time peeling my rigor mortis fingers out of the bowling ball. It wasn’t a bad way to go, but I thought of my sons and my wife. I saw them at the funeral. Helen was crying. My sons looked bleak.

Now it was my turn to say, “No” in a quiet voice, with the subway vent as my only audience.

A shot bounced off a wall and hit the goo that was Larry by my feet.

“Hey, goddamn it, Marx! Stop shooting! It’s Schreiber!”

Several men shouted at each other. I heard the rabbi yell something at Marx.

Marx slid down the ladder with an EMT man behind him.

“Where’s the dybbuk?” he shouted, all heat, with a spark I had never seen before.

“Dead. You killed him. This bowling ball helped a little.”

“Don’t move, Schreiber.”

“I can’t. You hit an artery, pal.”

The EMT man wrapped my thigh and shoulder and elbow tight with tape. He removed my fingers from the bowling ball. Then the guy whipped me over his back like I was no big deal and started to climb the ladder. Marx followed.

“I thought Buddhists considered all living things sacred,” I whispered in a haze.

“Yeah, well Buddha didn’t have to deal with any demons from the underworld.”

“Don’t leave the bowling ball in the vent,” I rasped to Marx.

The lights went out.

* * *

A week at Parkway Hospital feels like a year. I have the sensation of being pinned to the bed. There is an IV in my arm and a plastic clothespin attached to my index finger to check my pulse. The clock on the wall makes a loud tick with each second. The TV spews out game shows and reality shows with snotty-looking people with names like Audrina. What kind of name is that?

In between all the pap, a local news show at 7 o’clock does a feature on a screaming subway vent on Queens Boulevard. A reporter notes that on the road above the vent there were a number of fatal accidents in recent weeks. The accidents have stopped, at least temporarily. But the screams unnerve people walking by with their dogs and children and groceries.

An investigation by the police department finds nothing in the vent that would cause the screams. They do find a 16-pound purple and white bowling ball, which is promptly claimed and returned to a former alley maintenance worker at Woodhaven Lanes. The subway authority spokesperson says the trains can make sounds like screams when they lean into a curve.

A doctor arrives and, impressed with himself, talks in surgical language you don’t understand. When you ask him to explain it, he says it’s not important for you to get it.

“Just do what I tell you,” he says.

“I’d punch you if I could get out of this bed,” I whispered to the guy, named Dr. Leifstadt. Unfortunately, I don’t think he heard me.

Leifstadt let me out on a Saturday morning. I was so sorry to miss the cartoons on TV.

Marx drove me home.

I rolled down the window and put my head out to feel the fresh winter air on me. We were both quiet for a few minutes.

“I’m going to leave the force.”

“I’m sorry. What’d you say?”

“I’m done. I quit.”

I made a sour face. “Why are you doing that?”

“Paradiso, and shooting you three times.”

“Those aren’t real reasons. You did what you had to do.”

“I think I’m more of a poet than a cop.”

“Yeah, but poetry doesn’t pay as well.”

“True. But I’ll figure it out somehow.”

“I hope you do.”

He let me out by the front door. I walked up the steps in my coat, which hid most of the bandages. I was limping and cranky with pain.

Then I opened the door to the foyer. Max, Jon and Mark, eating breakfast, ran to me. That’s one of the greatest feelings in the world.

Richie hung back, as usual, but there was an actual smile in his eyes.

Behind him, my wife appeared, with a spatula in her hand.

“Schreiber, you want some French Toast?”

“Sure, that’d be great.”

“After breakfast you can do the dishes.”

“Would that make you happy?” I asked.

“That would make me happy,” she said.

I did the dishes.





Copyright © 2008 Michael Gold

A B O U T   T H E   A U T H O R:

Michael Gold: I live in Queens, NY, with my comic books, wife and two year-old daughter, who now knows how to turn off the power strip for the computer, a skill fraught with danger. 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 “Feet of Jelly” on Silverthought.

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