October 14 – Harry Starman walks into the Kentucky Maid Meat Packing
Corporation. He’s there to gamble with his equally elderly friends in a game of
penny-ante poker. Quickly bypassing the rats feeding on the meatpacking refuse,
he quickens his pace through and up the stairs to the small rear office.
One of the other players, Buck Fineman, goes to get glasses. As Buck collects them, he sees someone crouched in the corner. He calls out and the figure turns to reveal he’s a man Buck recognizes as Rabbi Shulman. Buck isn’t sure why the rabbi is here and as he stutters an explanation, the rabbi says nothing, but approaches closer and opens his arms for a hug…
Carl arrives to investigate the death and buttonholes the uniformed officer there. According to the officer, the victim died of a heart attack, or maybe just old age and boredom. Carl pulls back the blanket against the advice of the officer, and sarcastically endorses the claim. Whatever Carl has seen, it isn’t old age and boredom. The officer’s theory is that after the man died, the rats set upon him and gnawed away his flesh. Carl talks to the three remaining card players. Harry Starman is very concerned about the rats but notes that it was only thirty minutes between when Buck left them and when they found his gnawed corpse. The police unofficially say it must have been longer since the rats couldn’t have stripped the corpse that quickly.
Back at the INS, Carl plays up the rat imagery and persuades Tony to let him put the story on the wire, arguing there could be an entire series of articles about the hazards of being old in Chicago. Emily is filling in on the advice column this week and lets Carl in on a secret – the job is just a stepping-stone to her real goal: to write a detective novel. Her goal is to get some life experience. And, of course, free access to typewriters and paper. Among the letters she shares with Carl is one from a man with vitality problems. Carl tells her the man should get hormone shots.
As Carl heads home for the evening, Sol and Miriam Goldstein are leaving a movie. Sol’s feet hurt him and he wants to take a shortcut, but Miriam doesn’t want to, complaining that someone has been scrawling swastikas all over the neighborhood and probably is the one who killed Fineman. She refuses the shortcut, Sol starts down the alley, and Miriam quickly decides she feels safer with him--even through the shortcut--than alone. Halfway down the alley, something makes a lot of noise. A cat screams. And then a police officer steps from the shadows. The Goldsteins breath a sigh of relief as the officer spreads his arms wide in greeting…
Carl gets a hysterical anonymous call summoning him to the scene of the Goldsteins’ deaths. The same officer is investigating and Carl gets the basics of the case. As he moves about the scene taking pictures, Harry Starman emerges. He knows who has killed the Goldsteins and Buck Fineman before that. It is the man who owns the “Lakshmi Restaurant,: an Indian food eatery that is out of place in the predominantly Jewish neighborhood. Starman believes the owner is a Nazi, as after the man moved in a couple of months ago (after another rat-gnawing death) the swastikas began to appear. The other night, Harry got proof: he saw the man painting swastikas around his home, behind his restaurant.
Carl and Harry go to the alley behind the restaurant and Carl climbs some wooden crates into its back area. Carl decides to get a better look, but Harry can’t climb, so he waits in the alley. Inside the fence, nearly every surface bears at least one of the twisted crosses and Carl takes some pictures. In the alley, Harry has no sooner seated himself when Carl reappears--from the other end of the alley. Harry’s not sure how Carl got around there and he calls out to a puzzled Carl, who says he isn’t in the alley. “Carl” silently approaches Starman, and Carl hears something like a growl followed by a sharp scream. Clambering over the wall, Carl finds Harry’s body in the alley. And something else--an elderly Hindu man who spots Carl, and utters a single word--“rakshasa.” He flees before Carl can catch up to him, and Carl goes to investigate and photograph the body, just as the police arrive.
The police take Carl to the station and question him, and he recounts his tale. When he reaches the point where Harry screamed, he belts out an imitation. At that instant, Tony is in the hall outside; he has just bailed Kolchak out and now thinks the police are roughing him up. Carl’s statement is cut short as Tony escorts him out. The police stick with their rat theory, but Carl is skeptical. It was unlikely when Buck Fineman died, even less likely when the Goldsteins met their end, and impossible now that Carl was on the scene--rats couldn’t cannot devour a man in the sixty seconds between when Carl heard the scream and found the body.
Carl finds an exterminator and asks how long it would take a pack of rats to devour a human sized carcass. The exterminator tells him a minute is far too brief a time. Carl goes back to the Lakshmi restaurant and orders beef curry. He is the only customer, giving the waiter time to answer a few of his questions. The waiter thinks the old man who owns the place is crazy. Pressed for an example, the waiter recounts how the owner was talking to one of the elderly locals and asked whether he saw any of his friends or relatives hanging around at night. When the local told him all his friends and relatives were dead, the old man replied that it didn’t matter, and did he see them? Carl also asks if the man ever mentioned a “rakoosha” or a “rakaka” or “raka…something.” The waiter doesn’t recognize the word, but before Carl can go further, the curried beef kicks in and he’s forced to seek a bathroom.
Looking for the bathroom, Carl finds himself in the same garbage strewn yard he was photographing when Harry died. There’s another door next to the backdoor of Lakshmi and Carl forces it with little difficulty. Concrete steps lead around and down to the basement. To the left is a long and largely empty warehouse, while to the right is a small, spare apartment with wall hangings depicting swastikas. Carl begins to take pictures while behind him an ancient man shuffles painfully downwards. The man carries a large crossbow, cocked and loaded with a long bolt. Carl hears the footsteps and turns, taking a photograph of the old man he recognizes from earlier. The old man lets fly a crossbow bolt but his aim is bad and the bolt flies wide of its mark. Carl wastes no time in leaving. Behind him, the old man is despondent, begging forgiveness from Brahma.
Tony is anxious for an actual story on Roosevelt Heights. Carl argues he has a new angle based on his new information. It turns out the Nazi’s did not invent the swastika. It’s an ancient Hindu sign, used to ward off evil spirits.
While Carl conducts more research, Officers York and Boxman patrol Roosevelt Heights. They stop to investigate a furtive movement in an alley and find someone behind a large packing case. The figure steps into the open and Boxman sees…Sergeant DeVito, who is supposed to be in the hospital. On the other hand, York sees…his mother. York’s mother ducks back behind the crate and he follows her. There are some growls, and Boxman draws his service weapon and closes. He finds Sergeant DeVito, bent over York’s body, with blood on his mouth. As “DeVito” approaches Boxman, Boxman warns him off and fires into his chest, but the shots have no effect.
Carl drops by to visit Lane Merriott, an expert on East Indian art. The first syllable, “rak,” isn’t enough--there are many words in the Indian language beginning with that syllable. But the creature’s fondness for human flesh enables Merriott to identify it instantly; it is a rakshasa. The rakshasa are disciples of Ravana, evil spirits that can possess a man’s mind and make him see the person he trust most in the world. After Ravana was destroyed, the rakshasa drifted into a timeless void, from which they periodically send emissaries to see if the time is right for their return--when the world is teetering on the brink of disaster. According to legend, one destroys a rakshasa by shooting it with a crossbow bolt that has been blessed by divine Brahma.
Carl writes the story and, predictably, Tony dismisses it as drivel. Carl insists it go on the wire--he believes that if even one paper picks it up, some bloodshed might be prevented. However, Tony has no interest in the story at all.
Carl returns to the filthy yard behind the Lakshmi restaurant and climbs back down to the old man’s apartment. The old man is dying, lying on his bed and praying to Brahma. He apologizes for shooting at Carl, blaming poor eyesight and the infirmities of age. He tells Carl that he serves Great Brahma by traveling the world, hunting the rakshasa. For sixty years he has sought the monsters, and in that time, dispatched a few of them. But now his time is over, he is helpless, and he can sense this rakshasa lurking about, waiting to strike. He urges Carl to depart before the monster arrives, and he gives Carl his crossbow and blessed bolts. He also warns Carl to be careful, for the rakshasa will present himself as someone Carl trusts. Carl tells he old man there’s no danger as there’s no one he trusts. But the old man is still anxious, telling Carl that the rakshasa’s power is to find someone the victim trusts.
A creaking from the backyard door draws Carl into the warehouse half of the basement, where he wends his way among the crates and cartons. Until, finally, from a darkened corner, emerges…Emily! She tells Carl she has followed him to gather source material for her novel. But Carl isn’t sure. He warns her not to come closer, threatening to shoot her if she does, but she continues to advance. Finally, Carl shoots. For a moment, Emily is wide-eyed with pain, and then…it isn’t Emily any longer, but a tall, fanged monster covered in matted grey fur. Gazing at Carl in dull surprise, it pitches over dead.
Back an INS, Carl is finishing his story when Miss Emily enters. She’s dressed for a date. It seems the hormone shots worked; she and Mr. Cartwright are going out. Carl wishes her good luck, and concludes his narrative: And if you happen to be walking a lonely country road one night, and you see your favorite aunt coming toward you…good luck to you, too!
Written by Gadfly on Jan 30, 2017