Shrank’s gaze wandered to the shoreline and along the pier.

“He wept like anything to see such quantities of sand,” he said. Then hearing himself he snorted softly. “Come oysters, said the carpenter, and took them close in hand. A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk, along the golden strand.”

He began to walk. I stayed. “Aren’t you going to lock your door?”

Shrank gave the merest nodding glance over his shoulder at the books clustered like vultures with their black feathers and dusty golden stares, waiting on shelves for the touch that gave life. In invisible choirs, they sang forth wild tunes I should have heard long days ago. My eye ran and reran the stacks.

My God, why hadn’t I truly seen?

That dreadful escarpment inhabited by dooms, that lineup of failures, that literary Apocalypse of wars, squalors, diseases, pestilences, depressions, that downfall of nightmares, that pit of deliriums and mazes from which mad mice and insane rats never found light or made exit. That police lineup of degenerates and epileptics dancing the rims of shelved library cliffs with teams replacing teams of nausea and revulsion waiting in the higher darkness.

Single authors, single books, fine. A Poe here or a Sade there is a spice. But this was no library, it was an abattoir, a dungeon, a tower where ten dozen men in iron masks were penned, silently raving, forever.

Why hadn’t I seriously seen and known?

Because Rumpelstiltskin was in charge.

Staring at Shrank even now I thought, at any moment he’ll grab his foot and rip himself straight up in half and fall in two pieces!

He was hilarious.

Which made him all the more terrible.

“Those books,” said Shrank at last, breaking the spell, not looking at them, staring up at the moon, “they don’t care for me. Why should I care for them?”


“Besides,” said Shrank, “would anyone really want to steal Decline of the Wat?”

“I thought you loved your collection!”

“Loved?” He blinked once. “My God, don’t you see? I hate everything. Name it, there’s nothing in the world I like.”

He strode off in the direction Henry had taken with his taxicab.

“Now,” he said, “coming or not?” “Coming,” I said.

Is that a weapon?”

We walked slowly, feeling each other out. I was amazed to find Henry’s cane in my hands.

“No, an antenna, I think,” I said.

“Of a very large insect?”

“A very blind one.”

“Can he find his way without it, and where’s he going this time of night?”

“Running errands. Back immediately,” I lied.

Shrank was a lie detector. He almost writhed with delight at my voice. He quickened his pace, then stopped to examine me.

“I take it he steers by his nose. I heard what you asked and what he answered back.”

“Armpits?” I said.

Shrank shriveled inside his old clothes. His eyes darted first to his left, then to his right underarm and down along a vast history of stains and time’s discolorings.

“Armpits,” I said again.

It was a bullet in the heart.

Shrank staggered, then firmed himself.

“Why and where are we walking?” he gasped. I could sense the rabbit palpitation under his greasy tie.

“I thought you were leading the way. I only know one thing.” I moved, this time half a step ahead of him. “Blind Henry was searching for some unwashed shirts, dirty underclothes, bad breath. He found and named them for me.”

I did not repeat the dread epithet. But Shrank, with each word, was diminished.

“Why would a blind man want me?” said Shrank at last.

I didn’t want to give it all away at once. I had to test and try. “Because of Janus, the Green Envy Weekly,” I said. “I’ve seen copies in your place, through your window.”

That was pure lie, but it struck midriff.

“Yes, yes,” said Shrank. “But a blind man, and you…?”

“Because.” I took a deep breath and let it out. “You’re Mr. Fixit.”

Shrank shut his eyes, spun his thoughts, chose a reaction. Laughed.

“Fixit? Fixit! Ridiculous! Why would you think?”

“Because.” I walked on, making him dog-trot to follow. I talked to the mist which gathered ahead. “Henry smelled someone crossing the street, many nights ago. The same smell was in his tenement hall, and here now tonight. And the smell is you.”

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Categories: Bradbury, Ray