Authors: Victor LaValle
The Devil in Silver
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2012 by Victor LaValle
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Spiegel & Grau, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
and Design is a registered trademark of Random House, Inc.
LaValle, Victor D.
The devil in silver: a novel / Victor LaValle.
1. Psychological fiction. I. Title.
PS3562.A8458D48 2012 813′.54—dc23 2011034970
Jacket design: Keenan
The fear, the horror, that I had of madness before is already greatly softened. And although one continually hears shouts and terrible howls as though of the animals in a menagerie, despite this the people here know each other very well, and help each other when they suffer crises
—VINCENT VAN GOGH
THEY BROUGHT THE
big man in on a winter night when the moon looked as hazy as the heart of an ice cube. It took three cops to wrestle and handcuff him. They threw him in their undercover cruiser and drove him to the New Hyde mental hospital. This was a mistake. They shouldn’t have brought him there. But that wasn’t going to save him.
When they reached the hospital, everyone got out. The big man refused to walk. The three cops mobbed around him, trying to intimidate, but to the big man they just looked like Donald Duck’s nephews: Huey, Dewey, and Louie. A bunch of cartoons. It didn’t help that they were dressed in street clothes instead of blue uniforms.
Dewey and Louie walked behind the big man and Huey stayed up front. The big man’s hands were cuffed behind his back. Dewey and Louie pushed him like tugboats guiding a barge, one good shove and he floated toward the double doors of the building. The lobby was so empty, so quiet, that their footsteps echoed.
New Hyde looked like a low-rent motel. Bland floral-print cushions on the couches and chairs, the walls a lackluster lavender. There were no patients waiting around, no staff members on hand, not even an information desk. But Huey, the lead cop, knew where he was going. The big man frowned at the décor and the empty seats. He’d
thought they were taking him to a lockup. What the hell kind of place was this? He got so confused, his feet stopped moving, so Dewey and Louie gave him another shove.
They reached the far end of the lobby and found a hallway. The cops turned right but the big man went left. It might’ve looked like an escape attempt except that the big man stopped himself after two paces. So confused he actually turned back to look for
. Huey, Dewey, and Louie were watching him now, to see what he would do. They were relaxed because they knew he could do nothing.
Huey raised his right hand. He wore a chunky silver diver’s watch that looked expensive even under the hospital’s terrible fluorescent lights. He beckoned and the big man stepped closer to them. It was quiet enough that the cops could hear him lick his dry lips.
Now this guy was big but let’s put it in perspective. He wasn’t Greek mythology–sized; wasn’t tossing boulders at passing ships. He wasn’t even
–sized; one of those human-giant types. He stood six foot three and weighed two hundred seventy-one pounds, and if that doesn’t sound big to you, then you must be a professional wrestler. The dude was big but still recognizably human. Beatable. Three smaller men, like these cops, could take him down together. Just to get that straight.
The big man returned to his captors, without a word, and once again they all moved in the same direction.
The hallway was clear and empty, just lavender walls boxing in a thin runway of industrial carpet. But the big man could see that the runway ended at a big old door, heavy like you’d find on a bank vault. Unmovable. This was no Motel Six. His footsteps faltered. But this time the cops weren’t going to let him wander off. Dewey yanked that big boy backward, by the handcuffs. His shoulders popped in their sockets and his face went hot with pain.
he’s scared,” the lead cop said.
They reached the door. A small white button sat in the wall. Huey pressed it and kept his finger on the button. The buzzer played on the other side of the door and sounded like a duck’s quack, as if Huey was throwing his cartoon voice.
The secure door featured a window the size of a cereal box. With his finger still steady on the buzzer, Huey peeked through it.
“Just break the glass,” Dewey said.
He seemed to be joking, but he hadn’t smiled.
Huey clonked the sturdy silver face of his diver’s watch against the window. “You couldn’t shatter this shit with a bullet.”
The big man opened his mouth. He had plans to speak but found no words. He couldn’t stop staring at that door. Not wood, not faux wood, fucking
. Maybe. The damn thing had rivets in it, like it had been torn off a battleship. Bombproof; fireproof; probably airtight, too.
He finally found the words. “This place is locked up tighter than your Uncle Scrooge’s vault.”
Huey turned away from the door. His eyes brightened with joyful cruelty. “You think these jokes are going to save you, but they’re only making things worse.”
Louie said, “He’s just trying to get one of us to hit him. So he’ll have a lawsuit.”
Dewey said, “We didn’t hit him before, why would we start now?”
Huey said, “You’re applying logic to a man who’s not thinking logically.”
“What the hell does that mean?” the big man asked.
“We think you might be a danger to yourself because of your mental condition,” Louie added sarcastically.
The big man’s body went rigid. “What mental condition?”
Dewey said, “You attacked three officers of the law.”
“How was I supposed to know you were cops?!”
To be fair, the big man had a point. The three men wore plain clothes. Their shields, hanging around their necks on silver chains, were tucked under their different colored sweatshirts. But who cared? Here was one rule you could count on: You were never allowed to punch a cop. So forget about punching two of them, repeatedly, and trying hard to connect with the third. It didn’t matter if they were in uniform, wearing plain clothes, or rocking a pair of pajamas.
But before he could get into a debate about the finer points of an
entrapment defense, an eye appeared on the other side of the unbreakable window.
Well, a head at least, with a mess of grayish white hair, but the only part they could make out clearly was that eye. The outer ring of the pupil was blue but closer to the iris the color turned a light gray. Cataracts. The other eye was shut because the person squinted. Man or woman? Hard to say, the face was smooshed so tight against the pane. The clouded pupil swam left then right, as alien as a single-cell organism caught under the objective lens of a microscope. It surveyed the big man, and the three cops. It blinked.
The big man frowned at the person in the window. Dewey and Louie unconsciously stepped backward. Only Huey, still pressing the white button, didn’t seem startled by the watchful eye. He smiled at the big man, more broadly than he had all night. Relishing what he would say next: “Welcome to New Hyde.” He pointed to a plaque embedded in the wall right above the door:
NEW HYDE HOSPITAL. FOUNDED IN
Dewey said, “When can we leave?”
Just then the eye seemed to slip away from the window and another face replaced it. This new person stood farther from the glass so they could make out more of him. A man. Brown-skinned. With puffy cheeks, a soft chin, and a nose as round as an old lightbulb. He wore glasses. A bushy mustache. And a scowl.
They could see his chest, the tie and jacket he wore. An ID card, sheathed in plastic, hung around his neck on a plastic cord.
The big man said, “He wears his ID on the
, see? That’s how people know what his job is.”
The three cops sighed with exhaustion. Nine-twenty at night and all three were tired. They just had to hand the big man off and file their reports, then each could finally go home. (To their mother, Della Duck?)
The brown man looked out at Huey, and his gaze followed the cop’s arm down as far as it could go, toward that finger,
mashing the white buzzer. The brown man then stared up at Huey again and brought one finger to his lips in a shushing motion. Huey pulled his
hand away so quickly, you would’ve thought the buzzer had just burnt him.
The bolt lock in the door turned, clacking like the opening of a manual cash register’s drawer. Then the door opened with surprising ease for its apparent weight. The doorway exhaled a stale, musty smell.
They could now see the brown man fully. His big round face fused right onto his round body. Imagine a wine cask, upright, wearing glasses. Not tall and not fat, just one solid oval.