I leaped down off the stage and ran up the aisle, among all the fiends and murderers.

The Poe eye in the projectionist’s window was gone.

By the time I reached the projection booth, it was empty. The film unspooled itself in the firefly machine. Jekyll, on his way to becoming Hyde, slid down the lightbeams to strike a hairball on the screen.

The music stopped.

Downstairs, on the way out, I found an exhausted but happy Shapeshade back in the ticket booth, selling seats to the fog.

I thrust my hands in to grab his and squeeze.

“No bad rice for you, huh?”

“What!” cried Shapeshade, complimented but not knowing why.

“You’ll live forever,” I said.

“What do you know that God doesn’t?” asked Shapeshade. “Come back later. One in the morning, Veidt in Caligari. Two, Chancy in Laugh Clown Laugh. Three, The Gorilla. Four, The Bat. Who could ask for more?”

“Not me, Mr. Shapeshade.”

I moved off into the mist.

“You’re not depressed?” he yelled after.

“I don’t think so.”

“If you got to think about it, you’re not!”

Full night had arrived.

I saw that Modesti’s Cafe had closed early, or forever, I didn’t know which. I couldn’t ask questions there about William Smith and celebratory haircuts and dinners.

The pier was dark. Only a single light shone in A. L. Shrank’s tarot card shack window. I blinked. Scared, the damn light went out.

“Bad rice?” said Crumley, on the phone. But his voice was bright, hearing that it was me. “What kind of talk is that?”

“Crumley,” I said, swallowing hard, “I got another name to add to our list.”

“What list?”

“Along with the canary lady…”

“That’s not our list, it’s yours…”

“Shrank,” I said.


“A. L. Shrank, the Venice pier psychologist…”

“…Tarot card reader, weirdo librarian, amateur numerologist, Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse?”

“You know him?”

“Kid, I know everyone up, down, above, in, and under the pier, every weight lifter kicking sand, every dead bum on the night beach resurrected by the smell of seventy-nine-cent muscatel comes the dawn. A. L. Shrank, that measly dwarf? No way.”

“Don’t hang up! I can see it in his face. He’s asking for it. He’s next. I wrote a story last year, in Dime Detective, about two trains in a station, going opposite ways, stopped at a siding for a minute. One man looks across at another man, they trade stares, and the one man realizes he should never have looked across, because the man on the other train is a murderer. The murderer looks back and smiles. That’s all. Smiles. And my hero realizes that he himself is doomed. He looks away, trying to save himself. But the other man, the killer, keeps staring. And when my hero looks up again, the train window across the way is empty. He realizes that the killer has gone to get off the train. A minute later, the killer appears on my hero’s train, in his car, walks down the aisle, and sits in a seat right behind my hero. Panic, huh? Panic.”

“Great idea, but it don’t happen that way,” said Crumley.

“More often than you think. A friend of mine drove a Rolls-Royce across country last year. On the way, he was almost run off the road six times, through Oklahoma and Kansas and Missouri and Illinois, by men who resented that expensive car. If they had succeeded, it would have been murder and no one the wiser.”

“That’s different. An expensive car is an expensive car. They didn’t care who was in it. Kill. But what you’re saying is…”

“There are murderers and murderees in this world. The old man in the trolley waiting room was a murderee, so is the canary lady. It’s in their eyes: take me, it said, favor me, spoil me away forever.

“Shrank,” I finished. “I’d bet my life on it.”

“Don’t,” said Crumley, suddenly quieter. “You’re a good kid, but God you’re wet behind the ears.”

“Shrank,” I said. “Now that the pier’s collapsing, he’s got to collapse, too. If someone doesn’t kill him, he’ll tie Decline of the West and Anatomy of Melancholy around his neck and jump off what’s left of the far end of the pier. Shrank.”

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Categories: Bradbury, Ray