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Those Who Speak

I. My grandmother once said to me, “There are those who speak about what happened, and there are those who do not.” And when prompted to elaborate, “There is nothing inherently right or wrong about this choice. Different people simply handle tragedy in different ways.” And that was the most I ever managed to get out of her on the matter, meaning, of course, that she was in the latter camp. Except that, to make matters all the more frustrating, she would, from time to time, toss out additional teasers, innocuous little asides that led me to conclude that the events of that time must have been horrific indeed. “It’s not the kind of thing children should even know about.” “Your grandfather was never quite the same ...

Payback

Trevor Halprin sat alone and silent in his car in front of the building. A light mist coated the windshield and the only sound was the faint ticking of the cooling engine. He’d lived in Brooklyn his entire life, but he had never before been in this area of the city. It was a complex of unremarkable single story buildings near the Fort Hamilton Promenade, just east of the Verrazano Bridge. There were a few other cars parked up and down the long street, but no one walking around, a mildly unsettling thing anyplace in New York City. Trevor had been given an appointment time of 4:00 p.m. and instructed not to be too early or too late. But he was nearly half an hour early, since he’d been uncertain of directions. So he sat and he ...

The Antique Shop

A couple of blocks east of Jackson Square, in New Orleans’ French Quarter, wedged into a narrow alley abutting St. Louis Cathedral, stood a small single-story antique emporium called The Alcove. The building, viewed head-on, appeared a bit twisted and of dubious structural integrity, in the same manner as certain ancient pubs in remote English townships. You had to push hard on the front door to get it to open. On the rare occasions when someone did so, a small bell affixed to the top of the door would tinkle brightly, conveying positivity that a subsequent look about the place would promptly cast doubt upon. Mere words could not do justice to the interior of The Alcove, but if they could, they would include words like hodgepodge, ...

The Fletcher Legacy

Monday, January 12, 1903, 8:45 p.m. Conrad Fletcher lay dead, or seemingly so, on the floor of his capacious upstairs library. A crystal highball glass lay unbroken beside him, its contents spilt out and soaked into the carpet on which Fletcher lay. Oddly, none of the assembled guests leapt to the aid of the stricken man. Instead they simply stood about the library, a few looking at Fletcher, but most making a point of not looking at him, as though either seeking some measure of plausible deniability or perhaps expecting others to do whatever was appropriate to the situation. At last, however, Giles Prescott knelt beside Fletcher’s prostrate form and leaned in closely, his hand, then his ear to the fallen man’s mouth. After a moment so ...

Iron Law

The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction, and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and tens of thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow levels the population with the food of the world. — Malthus T.R. 1798. An Essay on the Principle of Population. ...

The Queue

“Damn, it feels like we’ve been standing here forever!” Flynn shifts his weight from one foot to the other and back again. He removes a tissue from his pants pocket. It’s already crumpled from previous use, but he wipes his brow one more time and exhales with loud exasperation. “Is this how it’s supposed to work? Seriously?” he continues. “We haven’t moved an inch in, like, an hour.” Flynn Simon has, in fact, been in the queue for over an hour and a half, which is how long it’s been since he drove his 2007 Toyota Highlander into the back end of a stopped eighteen-wheeler on the Long Island Expressway. He had looked away for only a second at the sound of his cell phone ringing on the passenger seat. He never got a ...

Everything Old

Who could have imagined that the universities would be the first to go? Anyplace where you went to learn how to think. The trades turned out to be much harder though. They can make you a competent contract attorney or psychiatrist in fifteen minutes, but if you want to learn plumbing or welding, you still have to go spend a year or more in a trade school, just like back in the day. When the technology first started to emerge in the late twenty sixties, it was driven by the work of Columbia neurobiology researchers Pelton and Yamaguchi, who had collaborated decades earlier on identifying specific sites in the human brain where learning occurred, research that had subsequently earned the pair Nobel Prizes in medicine. With the benefit of ...

Turtles

“I can’t help it, Rob. And I can’t explain it either. Well, I can, but it will never be a satisfying explanation.” “That’s certainly true,” Rob said. “I will tell you this, though, because I’m your friend and someone has to tell you. You’re freaking people out with this business. There’s talk of interventions, counseling, possibly restraint.” “You’re totally overreacting. It’s not even that big of a deal. It’s only a feeling after all.” “Yes, a feeling—a feeling you’ve now shared with everyone we know, in every conceivable social situation for going on three weeks, a feeling that you—we—aren’t real. That we’re just characters in a story being written by some author somewhere, who we—well ...

Before the Fall

Three seconds of rushing wind precede the violent thunderclap of a body impacting asphalt. There is a limit to the velocity with which the human body can strike an unyielding object and still retain any semblance of intactness. Former Mayor Roger Hendricks had exceeded that limit by at least an order of magnitude during his plunge from the thirty-seventh floor rooftop terrace of the Flemington Tower on June the sixteenth of the year preceding. As of today, now nearly seven months on, why he took that plunge remains a mystery—one that, alas, it was now Benedict’s sworn duty to unravel.   Thursday – January 7, 1937 “I confess, sir, that I have no earthly idea. No idea at all,” Senior Detective Malcolm Benedict sat ...

a story in which

…because if she didn’t, there was a decent chance Bret would react precisely as her friends had, on multiple occasions, suggested that he would react, which seemed unlikely to be good. And so Melody had spent a fair bit of time avoiding Bret in recent days. She had, in fact, found his behavior of late to be borderline erratic, almost as though this whole situation wasn’t really as innocuous as he had led friends and associates to believe. And if that was the case—if Bret was harboring some misguided sense of indebtedness on her part—well, then, she was pretty sure that being around him right now was not high on her list of things to do. Still, there was the interview day after tomorrow. There was no denying Bret had made that ...