1. So I Opened the Door

“What’s that?”

“I don’t hear anything.”

“You got a pillow on your head. Of course you don’t hear anything.”

“Go to sleep, Charles.”

“I can’t sleep with that noise.”

“How much candy did you have?”

“What’s that got to do with it?”

“You’re all jacked up on sugar, Charles. Try to relax. Breathe deep. Think boring thoughts.”

“I’m going down to check.”

Doris rearranged the pillow on her head, pulled the duvet up to her chin.

Maybe I was jacked on candy. When we moved from Frogtown to Summit Avenue we were obliged to step up our Halloween game. Frogtown, sure, Honey-Bits. Sweet Tarts. A fun-size pack of gummy bears. Now we were playing the big leagues. Kids walk up fifty yards of sidewalk to a door that could have hung on a castle, they expect a regulation-size candy bar. Snickers. Milky Way. Kit Kat. Drop the ball on the treat and you’re begging for a trick. Like a rock through the window.

Maybe I had a couple candy bars as I welcomed the little monsters.

I pulled on one of Duke’s silk robes and stood outside the bedroom door, listening.

There it was again, tap-tap-tap, like a hammer on the hull of a sunken sub.

The noise came from a long way off. Downstairs. Maybe the basement.

I took the steps slowly.

The place still didn’t seem like home to me. I wasn’t sure it ever would.

The steps to the first floor were wide enough for a marching band. The Persian carpet squished between my toes. The stairway alone was worth more than my Frogtown cottage. The rail and baluster were carved with vines, squirrels, rabbits, trolls. Baronial, that was the word.

I’m not a baron at heart.

I got to the first floor. More tapping.

I opened the basement door.

Closer. Louder. My heart started to pound.

What is it that makes us go forward when all the smart money says, Retreat! Call the cops! Run! We make our own horror movies. We get caught up in the stupid plot.

I turned on the light. Gripped the rail. Descended, step by step.

The basement: a dungeon. Crumbling limestone walls. Beams hewn from old-growth forest. Spoils of the robber barons, left behind for me and Doris.

“Who’s there?” I called.

In response more banging, harder, faster.

Inside the old coal bin now. The walls dusted black. Bare bulb hanging from a wire.

The noise came from behind a door at the far side of the room. I opened it slowly.

There was another door, this one of reinforced steel set in concrete and barred with an oak beam.

More tapping, urgent.

“Who is it? What’s going on?”

“For Christ sake, Fatman. Open the door. I don’t have all night.”

“Duke?” I said. “That’s you?”

“Who’d you expect?”

“You’re dead.”

“Open the door.”

“I don’t know.”

“Fatman,” he said. “It’s my house.”

“Was. Now it’s mine.”



“Okay. Yours. Open the door.”

I never won an argument with Duke. I opened the door.

Monday: Sure I can complain.