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They were a strange lot, the residents at Mrs. Mumble's boardinghouse — her name wasn't "mumble," but that was what people did when they tried to pronounce it — and you might call the place a miniature United Nations. There was Yusef Afifi, Afghan, an importer; Fritz Holtzer, advertising model; Johnny Jones, Welshman; Oonalak, an Alaskan Eskimo; Chien Wang, a refugee from Hong Kong; a beautiful Ethiopian woman, whom they all called Sheba; an equally lovely girl, Eufemia Rosario, who claimed to be a full-blooded Mohawk Indian, and Irish Dan Gorman, science fiction and fantasy illustrator and artist. They all got along in reasonable harmony until the night of Honey Tucci's party.
The Tucci girl knew all of them, and they were all invited. Dan Gorman knew that Tucci expected something kookie from him because of his occupation, so he stopped in at a place called Lew's Joke Shop to see if he could find something unusual to bring. A tall, scrawny kid behind the counter asked, "Help you?" and then was sent out by the proprietor, who seemed to want to wait on Gorman himself. The proprietor was a little hunchback; he peered at Dan and asked, "Are there any rooms available at Mrs. Mumble's?"
The man didn't seem satisfied with Dan's reply, so feeling sorry for him, Gorman suggested that for all he knew there might be a vacancy tomorrow. This seemed to mollify the hunchback, who now pressed an eye upon his customer — a phony eye, complete with vinyl lid and inch long lashes; on the back of it was a rubber suction cup. The hunchback's attitude was peculiar, to say the least, but it wound up with his insisting on Gorman's taking the phony eye for a dollar plus tax — with an implication that the payment was no more than nominal for the sake of appearances. Gorman put the package in his pocket and forgot it.
It wasn't until later at the party, when Eufemia — who worked at a night club called the Hurricane Lamp — arrived with Lili LaClerc, another entertainer there, that Gorman remembered the phony eye. He took it out and stuck it on Lili's forehead. The results were cataclysmic. The color drained from her face; her features seemed to thin out; her nostrils were pinched; muscles bunched harshly along her jawline; and her eyes narrowed to slits. And then she started screaming.
They gave her brandy, which seemed to revive her; and suddenly she ran out of the room, out of the apartment, down to the elevator, still wearing the phony eye. Dan followed and caught up with her; she took the eye off, thrust it into his pocket, and called to a policeman for help when Gorman tried to apologize and help her get home safely. There was nothing to do but let her alone.
The next day, the police came around to Mrs. Mumble's because Lili LaClerc was dead — strangled, and her face chewed as if by a wild animal. That was the beginning of a nightmare that broadened and deepened until Gorman realized that Earth was the target of a bizarre conspiracy. Here is a Science-Fiction novel by the author of “The Double-Minded Man” and “The First Immortals.”