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
Larry was one of my new plywood suppliers.
I didnt 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
I didnt realize that we were
all about to get to know Larry much better.
Hey, Harold, can you pay for
the lunch? Can you pay? Youll pay, right?
The fact that an old man was lying
on a car hood, probably dead, didnt seem to bother him
I stood up.
Ill pay, after we help
the guy on the car.
Oh, sure, right. Right, right,
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 mans 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 didnt go any closer. The cops
in Queens dont like it when you try to help. Theyre
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,
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.
Theres no getting around
When the two blue supermen swooped
in 20 seconds later, I gave them everything I knew, which
wasnt 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 waiters 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 mans
death that I didnt 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 didnt
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. Im not tall, but Ive got lots of muscle
in my arms and shoulders. Hauling plywood will do that for
you. Larrys handshake was like a python. My hand had
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 Im
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
Dad, Mr. Hapgoods car is
really cool! Maxie had said the first time he had seen
Do you think hell give
us a ride? Mark asked that time.
I answered Max, but not Mark. Yeah,
its cool, alright. Like a tank.
Hulk would drive that car!
Max agreed. Its 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 guys 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
mans family might help the mans 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 didnt 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 Jacobshvilis 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. Theyre mostly right.
Im going out, I said
quietly to Helen.
Im paying a condolence
call on the Jacobshvili family.
The boys heard even though I tried
to be quiet. You cant 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
My wifes silence meant assent.
I was walking out the door when I heard the general whine
of an 11-year-olds 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.
Lets ask your mother.
Boys, its not appropriate
to go, Helen said.
Awwww, Max said. Come
on, Mom. He was in full annoying mode now and he knew
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.
Thats 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 didnt 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.
Cant 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.
Dont you have homework
to do, boys?
Do your homework first and then
you can go. I dont agree with this in the slightest.
Its 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 Jacobshvilis
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
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 didnt connect this event to the death the
day before. On the other hand, I was upset that they didnt
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 Czars
Army. The deep roar of winter, the chill of the Czars
police breathing down your neck, my grandfathers Army
service were all just stories to me. I didnt feel them.
I knew three words of Russian, not much to brag about.
I was American and happy about it.
At the Jacobsvilis house, I was
so obviously an outsider I didnt even realize the men
were talking about me. One of them was deputized to come up
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.
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
After a few minutes of arguing, the
pitch of the mens 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 didnt like this.
Whats your name?
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.
Im sorry. I didnt
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 didnt 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. Theyve transported
them en masse to Queens.
My name is Moses Hartun Jacobshvili.
You tried to help.
It wasnt much, Im
No, this world, its too
cold. You did what you could.
He drew himself up, white hair, sagging
stomach and cheap jacket and pulled himself into a tight statue
This crime, it must not go unpunished.
I made the mistake of trying to be
I dont 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 its a man?
Its a man, trust me. Stop
A man behind Moses recited some words
in Russian over and over againan 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.
Awww. Come on, Dad, Max
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
I dont 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.
Its a place on fire with SUVs, diesel trucks, sedans
and sports cars moving like whippets over the asphalt. And
Larrys 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, youre boring me.
All you ever talk about is plywood. Spot me on this lift.
Larry wore one of those tee-shirts
that wasnt 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?
Its OK. How about we go
bowling next time? The Woodhaven Lanes are just two miles
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.
Theyre OK. Im married.
That doesnt matter. I bet
I could get one of these girls to go to bed with me right
Hey! he yelled at the club.
Im 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
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
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 couldnt
take my eyes off the little drama by the mats next to the
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. Ive got energy to burn. Know what I mean?
The girl flipped her eyelids.
Im meeting a friend.
You cant be serious,
he said. He flexed for her.
The girls face started to dash
around Larrys massive chest, looking for somebody to
I have to go, the girl
said, a little scared.
Hey, dont be like that,
Larry shouted. Then he grabbed her by the shoulder.
Dont touch me! the
Larry slapped the girl hard on the
The manager ran over, with two assistants/bodyguards.
I came too, even though it was completely unnecessary. Instinct,
Out, Larry. Out now! the
Larry took a step back. The girl fled,
crying, screaming about suing.
The manager put a finger in Larrys
chest and said, firmly, You dont know what youre
Then my plywood supplier hit the manager
right on the cheek. I thought I heard the bone pop under the
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!
I wanted to run out the glass double
doors onto the street without getting back into my street
But I threw my hands up and shouted.
Hey! Lets 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. Lets
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.
Lets just mellow out,
I said. Its all OK.
One of the assistants asked, What
does mellow mean? I knew I had them.
It means, lets all
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
You want me to take you to a
He looked me up and down. Larry thought
I dont know. I think Ill
go home and just put a cold piece of cold meat on the eye.
Youll call me about the
I didnt 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. Its
near a lot of my construction jobs. The other thing that makes
it a draw for people are the shops 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 dont trust luck. If you have to rely on luck, youve
already lost control.
Then I had to get on the boulevard.
Its the main east-west road in Queens. This road may
have been a good development originally, although it never
feels that way when youre 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
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 stations 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 drivers 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 didnt
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 skeletons 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
You have to respect death. Because
it doesnt 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
The sub-headline said, Blvd.
of Death Claims Two More Lives. My eyes ran over the
story for Larrys 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 SUVs 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 didnt
know if my carpenters would show up on the job. Sometimes
its easy to hate my work. I dont like relying
on other people to help me do my job, even though its
In the coffee shop I got a call on
my cell phone. I was expecting Harry Greenbaum.
Lt. Paradiso, 112th Precinct.
This couldnt be good and I couldnt
think of a more ill-suited name for a cop.
Did you know Larry Hapgood?
He had your business cardit
says here Queens Flooring.
Thats me. How
did my business card survive that crash?
It didnt. We searched Larrys
house, with permission from his mother. We found the card
in his Rolodex.
Whoa, lets take a step
backwards. How did you guys find out the driver was Larry?
The back license plates
numbers on the vehicle were still visible, more or less.
OK, so why did you search his
house? Isnt this case closed?
Im afraid its not
that simple, Lt. Paradiso explained. Come in so
we can talk about this.
Ill be there in 15 minutes.
I hadnt even had time for a cup
of coffee. The precinct was just a few blocks from the coffee
shop. But I didnt like the cops 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 Paradisos 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 Hapgoods name written in thick black ink and didnt
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 wasnt going to give
me an ounce of courtesy, so I didnt 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 hadnt
expected that. He turned over several more pages of the file.
Mr. Schreiber, did you ever sell
steroids to Larry Hapgood?
I know what they are.
Youre pretty built yourself,
so maybe youre taking the stuff and selling it too to
cut down on your costs.
Get outta town.
Paradiso took off his glasses. I
have no intention of getting out of town, Schreiber. You selling
The lieutenant put his glasses back
The guy had no sense of humor. He should
meet my wife. I would have to play it straight.
No, I dont sell steroids,
Lieutenant. I dont take them either.
Ive looked at your file.
Youre 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 couldnt take his act.
Dont 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 couldnt
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
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 wasnt 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 beforethe 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, howd you do it?
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??
Youre pretty nuts.
I stood up.
Im leaving now.
Running guns for the Russians?
Goodbye, Lieutenant Paradiso.
Laundering money for Uzbek terrorists?
I wanted to slam the door, but I didnt
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,
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 drivers 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 isnt my
Where are you headed, son?
I missed the school bus.
You could have called.
Youd forget your head if
it wasnt attached.
Max looked out the windshield with
his brown eyes crowned by black glasses typical for 1968.
Unfortunately for him, this was 2008.
Dad, Im sorry, but
He didnt get to finish the sentence.
My ample forehead got thrown into the steering wheel. Max,
who hadnt yet buckled in, hit the windshield with his
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 wouldnt 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 SUVs
Dad, I cant feel my lip!
Dad, wheres my lip?
I pulled a towel from the back seat
and pressed onto Maxies 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 guys 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 Hospitals 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 hospitals
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
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 sons face back together. He had
an inch-long cut on the forehead and ¾s 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 didnt say that; she didnt need
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 Im
How about the Mets?
Well go in the spring time,
April, I promise.
Whats it like in the Navy?
Im not really in the Navy.
Its the Naval Reserve.
But you get to go on Navy ships.
Thats part of the training.
You have to be ready to serve if theres an emergency.
Too bad theres no Dad Reserve.
What do you mean?
They cant train you to
be a Dad.
No, but there are plenty of books.
And theres your mother.
Im not sure I can be a
You dont have to worry
about that now, Max.
In the dead light of the hospitals
overhead lamps, I saw Paradiso and another cop walk up to
me. Max got quiet.
Now youre 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 facestrong
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. Im
I didnt think so. You dont
have children, so you dont 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 didnt fight anybody.
The guy hit me from behind.
Your karmas 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.
Whats your name?
Groucho or Harpo?
What planet did you blast out
You cant talk to me that
way. You broke the law. That makes you a criminal.
And youre a wacko.
Ill take you down so far,
Schreiber, you wont know which end is up, Paradiso
Give it a try, buddy. Youll
be coming with me.
On the gurney, Maxie groaned. That
didnt stop Paradiso.
Im going to be looking
at you Schreiber. All this stuff is connected through youthe
steroids, the Uzbek terrorist money, the gun business with
the Russians. Now this accident.
It was Marxs turn to look at
his partner like he was an idiot.
Youre kidding me, right?
I turned to Marx. Tell me hes kidding.
Theres bad karma all around,
I looked at Paradiso.
Cant somebody turn you
Im like TVIm
If you actually had any evidence,
you would have booked me already. You came here because youre
fishing and youre coming up with zero.
I think you mixed a metaphor
there, Marx said.
I did not mix any metaphors,
From under his towel, Max said something
nobody could hear.
Whats that? Paradiso
My Dads an Eagle Scout,
Maxie said, drowsy with pain. Hell always be an
* * *
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, Im 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
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, Dino. Hows it going?
He smiled a little smile. I get
Ive 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 didnt say anything about it, but its 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 drivers side of the Land Cruiser
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
I thought about revenge. Davids
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 theres 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 neighbors 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 wouldnt 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
At first I didnt 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 Jacobshvilis 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 mans jaw in the orange light
of the street.
Harold, I didnt expect
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
Come inside. Lets 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. Lets not talk
about revenge. I was angry.
When you were talking to me that
night, a man behind you was saying something in Russian.
Its not important. You
want a cookie?
A cookie would be great. Can
you tell me what the man said?
Hes my cousin. Would you
like a chocolate-covered fudge cookie or a vanilla mousse
Chocolate covered fudge.
Youre from Russia?
No. My grandfather was, but I
was born in Queens.
A thin smile formed on Moses
lips. You look Russian.
Im 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
Moses, I dont 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 brothers death.
And youre getting it.
Youre right. Youre
not Russian. Youd never understand.
What the hell is going on out
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
He put the cigarette in an ashtray
and let it smoke. He appraised me with a hard squint.
Are you familiar with dybbuks?
Theyre the wandering souls
of dead people.
Thats all Old World crap.
Dybbuks enter the body of a living
person and control their behavior.
But theres no person involved.
I think the boulevard is possessed.
Now who sounds like theyre
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
He pronounced the road a shondaa
disgrace. He wished for Gehenna to visit the Earth in the
place where Jacob was killed.
You should be ashamed of yourself.
Youve completely given up your roots.
* * *
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. "Hes the spiritual leader for our community.
Shalom, the rabbi said.
Lets say a little prayer that weve met.
I nodded, skeptical of all this religious
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?
I looked at them. No.
Come on, Dad. Come on.
Helen sat next to me, her eyes condensing
into a severe frown behind the cats eye glasses she
had worn since our wedding 15 years before.
Picking up the cue from the wife, I
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
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.
Im on strike! Max
I was happy to have gotten rid of them,
but now I was alone with my wife, a very dangerous place to
I really do have something to
do, I said weakly.
Helen shot me a look that said, I
dont believe you. But she said nothing. On such
silent tensions a solid marriage is built.
* * *
Where is the place? Moses
said to me.
Ill 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
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 rabbis 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
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.
Its his fault. Im
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 couldnt
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 Marks nostril, then another came from the other
nostril. Maxs 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,
Marks 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 rabbis hat blew off, from the wind
or the scream, I couldnt tell.
He put his hand on the road. Chunks
of asphalt blew upward into Rabbi Pinskys face. He fell
over onto the road.
Stay here! I yelled at
the boys. They werent in much of a state to protest.
Maxs wound had opened up again, like a split seam, and
Marks nose was swelling up.
I propped them up against the diners
wall and ran for the rabbi.
A Nissan Pathfinder was rolling toward
Rabbi Pinsky in the snow. The Pathfinder cant
see him, I thought.
I ran on the road, whipping my arms
as fast as I could. The Pathfinder braked, then slid on the
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 rabbis back.
The Pathfinder rolled as I tried to
pull the rabbis 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 Pinskys
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.
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. Hows
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,
Lets 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
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. Weve been
doing it for years.
The rabbis 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 rabbis wife had come. We
saw her run through the emergency room to her husbands
bed. She looked afraid and stricken. You could tell she really
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 whod
lost a fight and under the harsh light Moses had the face
of a washed-out bum who needed a bottle.
At least theyre 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. Were going to get our attitudes in rhythm,
Schreiber. Youre 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. Youre the center of this whole thing,
Im sure of it. Were going to spend a lot of time
I blew the cop a kiss.
Im looking forward to it,
sweetie. Its been a long time between drinks, Lieutenant.
Youre going to take us
to the scene of this so-called accident. I want to see it.
I dont think you do.
Dont tell me what I want.
I think youd 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.
Lets go, Paradiso
My sons are here.
Call your wife. She can take
care of them.
I called her. Shes already
not talking to me.
Paradiso gestured at Moses. What
about this guy? He can watch them.
Hes not a family member.
Why dont 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.
Its my nature. I love mankind.
Im a Buddhist.
Youre 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.
Dont leave yet! the
rabbis wife shouted at us from across the emergency
room. Several doctors tried to freeze her with their eyes,
but she didnt care.
The wife ran up to us, a little breathless.
He wants to talk to you, Mr.
Schreiber. Please come quickly.
Im walking with you,
Paradiso said. Youre a little robot, with a little
man in you who tells you to run away. The mayors ready
to give you an award.
If I didnt know any better,
Id say you were schizo.
And Id say you were ready
for a pop in the mouth.
Please, Mr. Schreiber!
OK, Mrs.Pinsky. Lets 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 rabbis
pillow. He gasped.
Whats that? I asked.
The dybbuk, he said, labored
Yeah, its a dybbuk. I got
The dybbuk is
Right. A dybbuk.
The dybbuk 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?
Its not David. When I went
to talk to the dybbuk, he told me he wasnt David. He
He told you this?
The rabbi struggled with his breath.
He told me in my mind.
Its 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. Thats why he lost his temper.
He lost his temper? Thats
what that was?
You need to rest now, honey,
the rabbis wife said. Lets not talk anymore.
I had to ask one more question. "If
its not David, who the hell is it?
The rabbi collected himself again.
He wouldnt 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 wasnt 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 rabbis face and cordoned off with police
tape. I love police tape. Its so official.
The road wasnt 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
youd 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 didnt 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 Paradisos 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.
Youre 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 lieutenants holster very fast and the gun
was aimed at my chest.
Youre the demon from the
underworld, a freak, a stinkpot of flesh.
I thought about putting my hands up
and decided it wouldnt do any good. I didnt think
it would do any good to speak either. I simply wished I could
make the flesh on Paradisos gun hand melt.
He clicked the Glocks 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.
Marxs 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 Paradisos 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
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
I threw several snowballs in his face,
like thisone, 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 dybbuks curse was still hard at
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 wouldnt accomplish it.
I threw a snowball in the lieutenants
face again. He fell over. Paradisos 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 didnt think he had any
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 rabbis pretty messed up.
Sos your friend.
Alcohol took him away from us.
The hole in the road didnt send him over the edge. He
was already running to it.
Hes probably schizophrenic,
too. You must have noticed.
I tried not to think about it.
Why didnt you get him some
I tried. It wasnt in his
heart to take help. When he gets healed up, Ill send
him home to his mother.
I was disgusted. Lets 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
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 didnt 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 dont 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
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 dont want
to get killed.
A lot more people could get killed,
I said. As a rabbi, you know what that means.
Oh, dont bring that up,
the rabbi said. "You have no idea what the concept really
is. Youre 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. Thats your
Who says I have to live it every
day? Im a rabbi. I deal with spiritual matters. Im
no action hero. Thats your job.
What are you talking about?
The rabbi chewed on some celery, loudly.
Hey, he shouted to the waiters. Cant
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 didnt
like us at all.
I heard what you did to the police
lieutenant, he said to me. You have a little reputation,
Youre being a jerk.
And youre being a Nopocehok.
What does that mean? Marx
Its Russian, I said.
One of the few words I know. I learned it from my wife.
He just said Im a suckling pig.
Lets stop this. Were
not in harmony, the policeman said. This was a
You have kids? I asked
He stopped chewing the celery and looked
at me as if I was going to make a threat. Two boys.
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 Ill risk my life
for a basketball court?
No, but you might to make your
You I dont like,
the rabbi said. He began chewing celery again. Marx looked
at me, worried and beginning to draw away. He studied his
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. Youcome
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. Its all very uncool.
Lets 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
Youre very good at annoying
people, the rabbi said. He waved his hand in the air
as if to dismiss us. Ill 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 dont believe it,
Maxie said, always so serious.
Economics, man, said Jon,
our 10-year-old Buddhist philosopher. Bucks. Its
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.
Youre happy about this?
I asked her.
No, Schreiber. Youve lost
league night. You need an outlet for your anger. Where are
you going to find that? You cant throw snowballs at
cops anymore. She smiled again, politely and falsely.
I cant believe youre
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
Marks 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.
Ill 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, Im 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.
Go to freaking hell, Harold,
Larry screamed in my mind.
Im 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.
Im 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 Larrys giant
scream. The rabbis 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.
Hows 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 youre
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.
Im OK, Im OK,
he said. He got up, brushed the dirt off his back. This
dybbuk is very tough.
Its the steroids, I bet,
I said. Hes 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 Pinskys 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 wasnt exactly straight. It dipped to
the right and down at the shoulder. I would have to take that
Larry screamed so hard he upset the
pins all by himself.
Youre going to have to
bowl a lot faster if were going to do this, Dino
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 Larrys
screams. But he wasnt able to knock them down. Maybe
the rabbis 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 wasnt a good roll and I was mad at myself.
But I didnt 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 Larrys
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 Armadas 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 Larrys 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 rabbis
head in his cops 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 Larrys 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 didnt move.
Thats 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 didnt care. I dove in
When we wrestle with ghosts, usually
nobody ends up losing but you. I was determined not to let
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
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 wasnt
exactly a physical presence, unlike the usual dybbuk inhabiting
a body, but I felt him around me. And he couldnt stop
Not literally, like a real voice, but
more inside my head.
Lets 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 hadnt been vividly
real. David Jacobshvilis death had been real to me.
I had seen him get killed. As for the rest, though, I hadnt
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 Paradisos
mind would have melted down in this little subway vent wax
Thats my trophy wall,
Theyre my little pets.
You own their souls somehow.
Harold, youve always been
smart when its too late.
I think thats the definition
This is no tragedy. Its
a laugh and a half.
The rabbi and I couldnt
get rid of you because youre using the energy of these
poor people to stay here on the boulevard.
I came close to getting your
sons, Harold, very closeMaxie and Mark, right?.
I winced hard at that news.
Im surprised you dont
have a nose and an upper lip hanging from your wall, Larry,
where you got them hurt.
He laughed. Ill try that
some other time. But now that youve unexpectedly dropped
in, I dont 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. Youd have my body.
But thats about it. Youre exactly the opposite
of me. Youre a first-class creep from the word go.
Another laugh came inside my mind,
like liquid trash.
Larrys image formed in front
of me, the pale shell of his muscles, massive hands and square
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 Larrys head.
It was purple and white and glossy
The shot smashed Larrys 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,
I watched as he reconstituted his body.
It was like watching soldier ants build a colony at super-speed.
I wasnt totally stupid. I picked
up the bowling ball and silently thanked Dino for bringing
You think that bowling balls
going to help you? Youre just a human being.
My wife thinks Im 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.
Im an Eagle Scout for life, its
true, as my son says. But I had to fight dirty. I wound up
my arm, brought it forward and crushed Larrys 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.
Youre dead meat.
I tried to say something clever. Nothing
but bubbles came out of my throat.
I understood that maybe anger wasnt
going to win this fight. Maybe Larry was right. Im 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
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.
Larrys 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, Larrys
cellphone got welded into his ear. He screamed. I vomited.
Other Larry thoughts percolated around.
Were 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
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, Youre
a liar! Youre a liar! Youre 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
Hey! he shouted up to the
street. Can somebody help me?
Marx and Dino looked down into the
Schreiber, you all right?
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. Wheres the demon?
Gone, man, gone.
Hey, thats 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 didnt need
them anymore. He had me. But I wasnt ready to give up
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 theyre 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 Maxies 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 Marks 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 minds 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
The Modells movie was like a
solid punch to Larrys 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 youre
extremely mentally ill.
My life isnt 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 Larrys steroid-addled soul.
I saw Larrys 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
Still, I couldnt get him out
of my mind. My best chance to evict him was gone. I had blown
it. I wasnt strong enough.
A wide yellow light shone on us from
Mr. Schreiber, were going
to get you out of there. Hold on, said a Fire Department
A relieved and sick laugh came from
us. It wasnt mine, but Larrys. 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
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 kids pencil mark
and blew out the elbow of the left arm. Amazing I thought.
Hes 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 doesnt matter anymore.
This cant be the end.
It is the end. Theres nothing
worse than a ticked-off Buddhist cop. Theyre very directed.
Silence from the Larry part of my mind.
He has a goal. Hell keep
shooting until were 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. Were 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 hadnt 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
He was losing energy, and time. I wished
I had a portable, battery-operated vacuum cleaner like my
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
I wiped him everywhere I couldthe
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 wasnt 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!
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.
Wheres the dybbuk?
he shouted, all heat, with a spark I had never seen before.
Dead. You killed him. This bowling
ball helped a little.
Dont move, Schreiber.
I cant. You hit an artery,
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 didnt
have to deal with any demons from the underworld.
Dont 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 oclock 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 dont understand.
When you ask him to explain it, he says its not important
for you to get it.
Just do what I tell you,
Id punch you if I could
get out of this bed, I whispered to the guy, named Dr.
Leifstadt. Unfortunately, I dont 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.
Im going to leave the force.
Im sorry. Whatd you
Im done. I quit.
I made a sour face. Why are you
Paradiso, and shooting you three
Those arent real reasons.
You did what you had to do.
I think Im more of a poet
than a cop.
Yeah, but poetry doesnt
pay as well.
True. But Ill figure it
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. Thats
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
Sure, thatd be great.
After breakfast you can do the
Would that make you happy?
That would make me happy,
I did the dishes.