I felt all my bones diminish in my flesh. Something like a dark skin fell from my back.

Crumley tilted his head to one side to study my face. “Well?”

I shrugged. “You see so much rot every week, you need this.”

“Trouble is, the guys over at the station won’t try anything like this. Sad, huh? To just be a cop and nothing else, forever? Christ, I’d kill myself. You know what, I wish I could bring all the rot I see every week here and use it for fertilizer. Boy, what roses I’d grow!”

“Or Venus flytraps,” I said.

He mused on that and nodded. “That earns you a beer.”

He led the way into his kitchen and I stood looking out at the rainforest, taking deep breaths of the cool air, but not able to smell it because of my cold.

“I’ve passed your place for years,” I said. “And wondered who could possibly live back in such a great homemade forest. Now that I’ve met you, I know it had to be you.”

Crumley had to stop himself from falling on the floor and writhing with joy at the compliment. He controlled himself and opened two really terrible beers, one of which I managed to sip.

“Can’t you make a better face than that?” he asked. “You really like malts better?”

“Yeah.” I took a bigger sip and it gave me courage to ask, “One thing. What am I doing here? You asked me over because of that stuff you found out front of your house, that seaweed? Now here I am surveying your jungle and drinking your bad beer. No longer a suspect?”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake.” Crumley swigged his own drink, and blinked at me. “If I thought you were any kind of mad lion-tamer cage-filler-upper, you’d have been in the toilet two days ago. You think I don’t know all about you?”

“There’s not much to know,” I said, sheepishly.

“Like hell there isn’t. Listen.” Crumley took another swig, shut his eyes, and read the details off the back of his eyelids.

“One block from your apartment’s a liquor store, and an ice cream parlor, and next to that a Chinese grocery. They all think you’re mad. The Nut, they call you. The Fool, on occasion. You talk loud and lots. They hear. Every time you sell a story to Weird Tales or Astonishing Stories, it’s all over the pier because you open your window and yell. Christ. But the bottom line is, kid, they like you. You got no future, sure, they all agree, because who in hell is really going to go and land on the moon, when? Between now and the year 2000, will anyone give a damn about Mars? Only you, Flash Gordon. Only crazy nut you, Buck Rogers.”

I was blushing furiously, head down, half-angry and somewhat embarrassed but somehow pleased at all this attention. I had been called Flash and Buck often, but somehow when Crumley did it, it went right by without wounding.

Crumley opened his eyes, saw my blush, and said, “Now, cut that out.”

“Why would you have known all this about me, a long time before the old man was,” I stopped and changed it, “before he died?”

“I’m curious about everything.”

“Most people aren’t. I discovered that when I was fourteen. Everybody else gave up toys that year. I told my folks, no toys, no Christmas. So they kept on giving me toys every year. The other boys got shirts and ties. I took astronomy. Out of four thousand students in my high school there were only fifteen other boys and fourteen girls who looked at the sky with me. The rest were out running around the track and watching their feet. So, it follows that…”

I turned instinctively, for something had stirred in me. I found myself wandering across the kitchen.

“I got a hunch,” I said. “Could I…?”

“What?” said Crumley.

“You got a workroom here?”

“Sure. Why?” Crumley frowned with faint alarm.

That only made me push a bit harder. “Mind if I see?”


I moved in the direction toward which Crumley’s eyes had darted.

The room was right off the kitchen. It had once been a bedroom but now it was empty except for a desk, a chair, and a typewriter on the desk.

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 106

Categories: Bradbury, Ray