From THE LOWER MANHATTAN BOOK OF THE DEAD
(Now on Amazon, Kindle, iPad and Smashwords)
It started to rain as we got off the LIE and began negotiating the faux-rural streets of Long Island’s north shore. The roads became narrow and unmarked, then narrower and narrower until we were on a quiet lane about the width of Joel Coryell’s dick.
We came to a house—though house is putting it mildly. It was a baronial, three-story, 14-bedroom Gilded Age palace, built in 1883, according to Joel, and recently restored to its former glory. Think about it, 1883. A whole army of carpenters, masons, coppersmiths and wrought-iron craftsmen had gathered here, working their asses off while a heartbroken Karl Marx died in a London bed, while the first cash registers were being manufactured, while Beatrix Potter was writing the story of Peter Rabbit, while Sigmund Freud was thinking about buying his first gram of coke from the local apothecary, while somebody was first trying to sell the newly opened Brooklyn Bridge to a dumb-assed tourist.
Joel gave me a rushed tour, marching through the house with the feudal arrogance of a real estate consultant, pointing out such high-end attractions as the oak walls and floors patinaed with real or recreated age, the rooms decorated in golds and creams and cherry-colored velvet, the authentic hand-tooling of the brick grout, the eight sets of French doors opening to a garden patio.
I was still trying to estimate the cost of heating the place when we stepped out back. The garden was wild with reeds and tall grasses—lemon, diamond, pink pampas—all cultivated to look untended and overgrown. You almost couldn’t see the small building on the other side. The house’s original kitchen, said Joel, had been constructed as a separate outbuilding.
It wasn’t a kitchen any more. The single room had been stripped down to basement-bare stone walls, and it was filled with an odor of sweat and sickness and something that smelled like rusted pigs’ knuckles.
Two men were standing in the middle, a fine pair of dull-eyed gentlemen whose resemblance to Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now—right down to the shaven heads and cement-barrel bellies—was remarkable.
A third man sat at a small table, wasted and barely awake. His hair was tangled with perspiration and he hadn’t shaved in days, the growth on his face so scraggly and gray at first I thought he had a skin disease,
“Quinn,” said Joel, “say hello to Wayne Schuster.”
The man at the table lifted his head and gave me a weak, dazed stare.
“Wayne’s a security consultant from out in Seattle. Wayne, say hello to Quinn here.”
The man said something in a raspy, incomprehensible growl. His tongue was coated with the kind of slime you usually find on the underside of jaundiced frogs.
My own mouth went leather dry, like I’d just been sucking on a baseball mitt.
“Wayne had a meeting last week with Viktor Zubriggen. What’d he hire you to do again?”
“Protect,” Wayne said with slow difficulty. “Protect something.”
“A formula, wasn’t it?”
I turned to Joel. “What’re you doing to him?”
“Nothing. We’re just giving him Genevix, one of our high cholesterol drugs.”
“Is this what Genevix does?”
“If you take enough of it.”