CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: Midtown Comics
The taxi pulled up right outside the entrance to Midtown Comics. Sheldon immediately recognized the images of Superman, Spider-Man and the Hulk on the store’s second floor windows, but he was unsure about most of the other colorful characters. He’d never read a single comic book in his life, and he was a little confused as to why Tommy would take him to the place.
But Tommy needed to speak with Jesse, to pass on the vital information that the boy had leaked. He didn’t want to take the subway, even if the 96th Street Station had only been a block away. He knew Sheldon would want to take his time down there, with all of the trains clacking and the wind blowing through the tunnels. A cab ride down Park Avenue – with block after block of innocuous offices of dermatologists, dentists, chiropractors and plastic surgeons – would sufficiently quell any wide-eyed enthusiasm. Tommy sat in the back of the taxi nervously, replaying in his head the conversation he’d just had with Sheldon. He wasn’t sure what to make of it, and the feeling was not entirely unlike eager anticipation, as though he’d just won the New York Lottery and was about to have the giant novelty sized check passed to him.
They entered the front door, and walked up the single flight of stairs that led into the store. Tommy directed Sheldon to the rows of new comics and pulled an issue of The Incredible Hulk off the shelf and handed it to the boy. “Here,” he said. “Read this over. There’ll be a quiz on the material later.”
“Okay,” Sheldon said timidly. He wasn’t sure what Tommy had meant by a quiz, whether he was joking or if he’d actually planned it out in advance, but he graciously flipped through the book anyway.
Tommy knew Jesse would be in the back office, and he bypassed any security measures that Pond or Germ would surely have let slide anyway. “Jesse!” he yelled and banged on the office door. “We need to talk.”
Jesse opened the door. “Tommy? What are you doing here?”
“I’ll tell you what I’m doing here. I’m letting you in on a prime little nugget of information I garnered this afternoon.”
“Prime nugget? Is that a saying now?”
Tommy didn’t answer; instead, he let himself in and closed the door. He sat on the couch and wasted no time in parlaying to Jesse exactly what Sheldon had said earlier. “I think Patrick killed Natasha.”
Jesse dropped his empty, over-sized plastic Thor mug onto the floor, and leaned back in his seat, as though winded from a punch to the stomach. He didn’t know what to say; he was speechless up until the Mighty Thor had finally stopped spinning. “What the hell are you talking about? Where’d this come from?”
“The kid told me so himself!” Tommy exclaimed. “Remember what I was saying this morning? About how all this bad stuff started happening as soon as I found that letter?”
“Yeah,” Jesse said. “But I thought you were only joking.” He got up from his seat, grabbed the mug and placed it back on the desk. He came around to the front of the desk and leaned against it, wiping his brow with his sleeve.
“At the time I was joking. Mostly. But maybe the truth of it all leaked into my subconscious?”
“You mean like a sixth sense?”
“I thought sixth sense meant seeing dead people?”
“You never even saw that movie, did you?”
“No. But only because that asshole on the subway ruined the ending for me.”
“A sixth sense is really just a general clairvoyance, Tom.”
“Not the dead people thing?”
“Trust me. I read forty comic books a week.” Jesse shook his head so he was thinking straight again. “Seriously though. You’re saying that Patrick Kohn has come back to New York to rub us all out? That’s crazy talk, Tommy!”
“Is it? Think about it Jess. What were the chances that Patrick’s toilet seat business just happened to be set up in the same warehouse as your art show? I’ll bet he had it all planned out years ago. Is it really so far-fetched?”
Jesse considered the facts. Patrick’s sudden disappearance ten years before. The heartbreaking death of Natasha Seward. And Edith Galloway. That letter. The plane crash. The warehouse in Jersey. “Yeah, it is. Tommy, it’s just a big coincidence.”
Tommy turned to the stuffed Spider-Man seated beside him on the couch, but the web-slinger was being no more cooperative than Jesse. “So why would the kid say something like that to me? He must’ve had some reason to believe or he wouldn’t have said anything at all.”
“Maybe he was just screwing with your head?”
“Why would an eight year old want to screw with my head?”
Jesse shrugged his shoulders. He didn’t really understand how and why kids did anything. He watched them come into the store and had to wonder sometimes how they ever managed to dress themselves.
“I’m telling you Jess, he had a look in his eyes. Like he was scared of something.”
Tommy thought about it. He recalled the exact moment less than an hour before, and he tried to find anything in his memory that he might have missed at the time. “Actually,” he began. “He wasn’t scared. He just told me very matter-of-factly. Like it was information that couldn’t be disputed. Like it was something he’d known for a long time.” Tommy got up from the sofa and cracked the office door open. He looked out across the store to where Sheldon was standing, right where Tommy had left him. The boy was still flipping through the same comic book, studying it intensely. “There’s something wrong with that kid though. I think Patrick really messed him up. But maybe it’s just because he’s an only child?”
Jesse stayed right where he was. “Tommy, we’re all only children. Me. Kate. Patrick. You too, ever since your brother died.”
“Yeah. My brother.” Tommy closed the door again and lowered his voice. “How far back do you think this thing goes?”
“With Patrick. Do you think he had something to do with my brother as well?”
“Like I said. I think you’re crazy Tommy. But that’s just my personal opinion.”
“Maybe I am crazy. But I’ll tell you what I’m not: I’m not naïve Jess. It’s naïve to think that everything’s a coincidence. What’s the real reason Patrick came back here? Where is he right now? What’s he doing today that he can’t even watch his own kid?”
“I don’t know what he’s doing. But I’m pretty sure he’s not sitting around planning out our great demise. You need to stop trying to connect Patrick to Kaspar Delancey. They’re not the same person.”
“Sure they are. Why would I have come up with the idea in the first place? It must be that sixth sense thing again.”
“So you’ve got murder theories AND super powers now? Why can’t you just let things be as they’ll be Tommy?” On the desk sat the many comic book sculptures, the ones that were considered evil. They were the objects that John Galloway couldn’t seem to take his eyes off of a week before. Jesse removed one of them from its display holder; it was a semi-transparent cube, and it fit perfectly in the palm of his hand.
“What is that?” Tommy asked.
The sunlight came in through the window behind Jesse, making the cube glow in his hand. “This is the Cosmic Cube.”
Tommy had to shield his eyes from the reflection.
Jesse slowly twisted the object around with his fingers. It sparkled like a square disco ball. “Whoever wields the Cosmic Cube can use its power to reshape reality. The impossible can be made possible.” He liked the feeling of it in his hand. It was hard to tell whether or not Jesse actually believed the words he uttered. There was conviction in his voice. But then again, he did read forty comic books a week.
It didn’t happen often, but Tommy had no idea what to say.
Jesse blew the dust off the top of the cube before placing it back down on the desk, back into its reserved resting spot. “It’s really no more conceivable than what you’re proclaiming Tommy. I think Patrick’s words just got you all freaked out. You know, what he said about the falling.”
“Maybe I am freaked out. But you still can’t explain the warehouse.”
“And you still can’t accept the coincidence, can you?”
Tommy slumped back into the sofa and considered his options. He knew Jesse wasn’t going to voluntarily believe him. He would have to come up with an idea that could maybe do the convincing for him.
Jesse was already making a move for the door. “Are we done, Tommy?”
“How about you come to the warehouse with me then?”
“In New Jersey?”
Jesse paused. He opened the door and took a look at Sheldon himself. He tried his very best to see Patrick in him. He challenged himself to recognize any of the same qualities that he’d always known in his friend. But Patrick had never seemed so lonely. So quiet. So unhappy. Jesse thought about high school, and how those days can seem like the unhappiest days in the whole span of every human’s existence. But Patrick Kohn had never once seemed so gloomy. Jesse certainly had, but not Patrick.
For the moment though, Tommy still believed he had Jesse’s full attention. “We’ll go there tonight and find the answers we need,” he said.
Jesse continued to stare out beyond the threshold. As if feeling the eyes on him, Sheldon Kohn looked up at Jesse. He recognized him, and smiled the world’s thinnest smile.
“He seems so sad out there,” Jesse said to Tommy.
“Sad? That kid is sadder than Christmas lights in June.” Tommy got up and stood beside Jesse, getting a look himself. “He does seem to like the trains though. I’m lucky I found something today that could perk him up.”
Jesse knew he wasn’t prepared to go back to New Jersey. But maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. Maybe it wasn’t the same warehouse that held his art show one year before. Maybe it wasn’t the same place he’d seen Edith Galloway for the very last time.
“Well,” Tommy said. “Why don’t you think about it Jess? Maybe you’ll come around.”
“Maybe,” Jesse answered slowly and turned to Tommy. “And maybe you will too.”
“I always do eventually,” Tommy said. But Jesse wasn’t really sure what he’d meant by those words. Tommy’s phone buzzed in his pocket, and he removed it to check the caller ID. It was Patrick. “Well, look who it is,” he said, holding the phone up for Jesse to see. The two of them had exchanged numbers earlier in the coffee shop so Patrick could call when he was ready to pick up his son. Tommy had no other reason to exchange numbers. He answered his phone, and spoke with only a few muffled grunts and confirming mumbles. “We’re at the comic store,” Tommy said.
“Yes. With Jesse.”
“Fine then.” Tommy put his phone away and turned back to Jesse. “Patrick’s coming. Is it all right if I leave Sheldon here with you?”
Jesse said it wouldn’t be a problem, and Tommy disappeared as quickly as he could and without another word.
When Patrick did arrive, Jesse didn’t want to seem overly cautious. But he was. He didn’t want to let any nervousness slip. But he did. Jesse knew himself well enough to know that he was the worst liar in Manhattan, and the city certainly had a generous helping of bad liars, so he made sure to keep the conversation as brief as possible.
If Tommy’s crazed account was somehow even partially true, Jesse simply wanted to get the boy out the door as quickly as possible. Patrick thanked him. Jesse said it was no problem. “Actually,” he said. “It’s Tommy who should get the majority of the gratitude.” He knew he had already said too much.
Patrick wondered where the boy’s blue mittens were; he had them when he left that morning. Sheldon said that maybe he forgot them in the back of the taxi. Jesse took note of the look in Patrick’s eyes, but he wasn’t sure if he was reading the reaction properly. Quickly, Jesse reached for the comic shelf, handed Sheldon a stack of Invincible Iron Mans, and perked his ear toward the office, pretending that the phone was ringing his name. Forget New York; Jesse Classen just might have been the worst liar on the entire eastern seaboard.
Jesse glided over to the window, his favorite viewing spot, and peeked out from behind the cardboard Incredible Hulk. He watched Patrick lead Sheldon by the hand out along Lexington Avenue, towards Grand Central. He thought he caught Patrick sneaking a look back to the comic shop window. He replayed the conversation, as concise as it was, in his mind. And he was certain Patrick must have dropped some hint somewhere within his minimal words.
And then Jesse realized that by his suspicion alone, he was simply following Tommy again. He’d done so his whole adult life, why wouldn’t he now? Like the Cosmic Cube, it was unfathomable the amount of power that man had.
Jesse was about to lock the door when the phone rang. He had already set the alarm, flicked the last light off, and had the key braced in his hand.
“Midtown Comics,” he said with his usual greeting.
“Jesse! It’s me.”
“Tommy? What’s up?”
“Do you remember that scene in BLANC when the detective returns to his apartment and finds that Kaspar Delancey has burnt it to the ground?”
“I guess so. Why?”
“I think you already know why.”