Now I could only lunge at the little man with empty fists and lurch to a halt as he stepped aside because a final thing had broken in me.

I gagged, I wept. Days ago, the crying in the shower was only a start. Now the full flood came. My bones began to crumble. I stood weeping and Shrank, astounded, almost reached out to touch me and murmur, there, there.

“It’s all right,” he said at last. “She’s at peace. You should thank me for that.”

The moon went behind a great bank of fog and gave me time to recover. I was all slow motion now. My tongue dragged and I could hardly see.

“What you mean is,” I said, at last, underwater, “they’re all gone and I should thank you for all of them. Yes?”

It must have been a terrible relief for him, having waited all these months or years to tell someone, no matter who, no matter where, no matter how. The moon came out again. His lips trembled with the renewed light and the need for release.

“Yes. I helped them all.”

“My God,” I gasped. “Helped? Helped?”

I had to sit down. He helped me to do that and stood over me, astonished at my weakness, in charge of me and the night’s future, the man who could bless people with murder, keep them from suffering, put off their loneliness, sleep them from their private dooms, save them from life. Benefit them with sunsets.

“But you helped, too,” he said, reasonably. “You’re a writer. Curious. All I had to do was follow, collecting your candy wrappers as you went. Do you know how easy it is to follow people? They never look back. Never. You never did. Oh dear, you never knew. You were my good dog of death, for more times than you guess. Over a year. You showed me the people you were collecting for your books. All the gravel on the path, chaff in the wind, empty shells on the shore, dice with no spots, cards with no pips. No past, no present. So I gave them no future.”

I looked up at him. My strength was coming back. The sadness was just about over for now. My anger built a slew pressure.

“You admit it all, do you?”

“Why not? It’s all sour breath on the wind. If when we finish here and I actually walk you to the police station, which I will, you have no proof of what I’ve said. It’s all lost hot air.”

“Not quite,” I said. “You couldn’t resist taking one thing from each victim. Your godawful place is full of phonograph records, champagne, and old newspapers.”

“Son-of-a-bitch!” said Shrank, and stopped. He barked a laugh and then made a grin. “Pretty smart. Got it out of me, eh?”

He rocked on his heels, thinking about it.

“Now,” he said, “I’ll just have to kill you.”

I jumped up. I was a foot taller and not brave, but he jumped back.

“No,” I said. “You can’t do that.”

“Why not!”

“Because,” I said, “you can’t lay hands on me. You didn’t lay hands on them. It was all hands off. I see it now. Your logic was to get people to do things to themselves, or destroy them indirectly. Right?”

“Right!” His pride was involved again. He forgot me standing there and looked off at his bright and glorious past.

“Train ticket office old man. All you did was get him drunk? Knock his head on the edge of the canal, maybe, then jump in and make sure he got in the lion cage.”


“Canaries-for-sale old lady. All you did was stand over her bed and make faces?”


“Sam. Gave him enough hard liquor to put him in the hospital.”


“Jimmy. Made sure he had three times too much booze.

You didn’t even have to turn him over in the bathtub. Rolled over himself, gone.”


“Pietro Massinello. You wrote the city government to come get him and his ten dozen dogs, cats, and birds. If he isn’t dead now, soon will be?”


“Gal the barber, of course.”

“I stole Scott Joplin’s head,” said Shrank.

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Categories: Bradbury, Ray