Praise for





“A work that will stand as a milestone.… Straub is master.”

Los Angeles Daily News

“Masterful, compelling.… The best of Peter Straub’s writing.”

Houston Chronicle

“The characters are outstanding.… They are the story, enshrouded by a nightmare that never lifts. Peter Straub takes bold risks and he succeeds.”

—San Jose Mercury News

“Enormously entertaining and scary.… Rich, complex, dark, and tough to put down.”

New York Daily News

“Terrifying psychological horror.… Straub [is] a master storyteller.”

The Plain Dealer

For Susan Straub


For Lila J. Kalinich, M.D.

I believe it is possible and even recommended to play the blues on everything.—FRANK MORGAN, alto saxophonist






At three o’clock in the afternoon of a grey, blowing mid-November day, a baby doctor named Michael Poole looked down through the windows of his second-floor room into the parking lot of the Sheraton Hotel. A VW van, spray-painted with fuzzy peace symbols and driven by either a drunk or a lunatic, was going for a ninety-eight-point turn in the space between the first parking row and the entrance, trapping a honking line of cars in the single entry lane. As Michael watched, the van completed its turn by grinding its front bumper into the grille and headlights of a dusty little Camaro. The whole front end of the Camaro buckled in. Horns blew. The van now faced a stalled, frustrated line of enemy vehicles. The driver backed up, and Michael thought he was going to escape by reversing down the first row of cars to the exit onto Woodley Road. Instead, the driver nipped the van into an empty space two cars down. “Well, damn,” Michael said to himself—the van’s driver had sacrificed the Camaro for a parking place.

Michael had called down twice for messages, but none of the other three men had checked in yet. Unless Conor Linklater was going to ride a motorcycle all the way from Norwalk, they would almost certainly take the shuttle from New York, but Michael enjoyed the fantasy that while he stood at the window he would see them all step out of the van—Harry “Beans” Beevers, the Lost Boss, the world’s worst lieutenant; Tina Pumo, Pumo the Puma, whom Underhill had called “Lady” Pumo; and wild little Conor Linklater, the only other survivors of their platoon. Of course they would arrive separately, in taxis, at the front of the hotel. But he wished they would get out of the van. He hadn’t known how strongly he wanted them to join him—he wanted to see the Memorial first by himself, but he wanted even more to see it later with them.

Michael Poole watched the doors of the van slide open. There appeared first a hand clamped around the neck of a bottle which Michael immediately recognized as Jack Daniel’s sour mash whiskey.

The Jack Daniel’s was slowly followed by a thick arm, then a head concealed by a floppy jungle hat. The whole man, now slamming the driver’s door, was well over six feet tall and weighed at least two hundred and thirty pounds. He wore tiger-stripe fatigues. Two smaller men similarly dressed left through the sliding door in the side of the van, and a big bearded man in a worn flak jacket closed the van’s passenger door and went around the front to take the bottle. He laughed, shook his head, and upended it into his mouth before passing it to one of the others. Individually and collectively they looked just enough like dozens of soldiers Poole had known for him to lean forward, staring, his forehead pressed against the glass.

Of course he knew none of these men. The resemblance was generic. The big man was not Underhill, and the others were none of the others.

He wanted to see people he had known over there, that was the large simple truth. He wanted a great grand reunion with everyone he had ever seen in Vietnam, living or dead. And he wanted to see the Memorial—in fact Poole wanted to love the Memorial. He was almost afraid to see it. From the pictures he had

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