Poor Adam and Alice Twisden. Those twins have been through a lot—the death of their parents, the decimation of their childhood home. Years have passed since the events of Breed, and the twins’ aunt, Cynthia, wants to make things right, starting with the cleanup of the Twisdens’ Manhattan townhouse. Only, as you’ll read in Brood’s opening pages below, cleaning up is a tall order.
They were not here to clean up a crime scene. That grisly work had been accomplished two years ago by RestorePro, when the town house on Sixty-Ninth Street was closer to hell’s ninth circle than it was to its former incarnation—a stylish, impeccable, historically correct Upper East Side town house, one of the few left in New York City that had remained in the same family since its construction. Its last owner had been Alex Twisden, who had lived there his entire life, first as a child, then as a playboy, then as a corporate lawyer obsessed with his work, then as a somewhat reclusive bachelor, then as the newly wed husband of a beautiful younger woman named Leslie Kramer, then as the father of twins, and, finally, stemming from the fertility treatments he and Leslie endured in order to procreate, as a kind of beast for which neither science nor folklore has a name.
RestorePro’s workers, decked out in muck boots, respirators, and HAZMAT suits, had swooped in. Of course, the worst
thing about the cleanup was the blood, the hair, the fur, the bones, and the teeth, the parts of bodies for which neither Alex nor Leslie had a taste—they both eschewed ears, and found feet as a rule inedible. But there was a lot more to do than simply remove the evidence showing that for a time the elegant old house had been an abattoir. There was disinfecting to be done. There were odors to be dispelled and others that could only be covered up. There were scratches in the plaster, claw marks deeply grooved into the wooden floors. There were piles of smashed furniture—it looked as if crazed vandals had gotten into the storeroom of Sotheby’s before an antiques auction. Once-precious Blackthorn wallpaper, brought into the house by William Morris himself, hung in long drooping curls. Sconces had been torn from the walls; sofas had become public housing for all manner of rodents. RestorePro’s motto was No One Will Know, but though the workers did their job diligently, and did not stint on labor or time, the house they left behind when they finally got to the end of their contract still bore the ineffable marks of a place where something hideous had happened. You did not have to believe in the spirit world to sense that an aura of misery and doom hung over the place, even after it had been scrubbed clean.
Two years passed. If the house was haunted, the ghosts had it to themselves. The doors were locked. The shutters were closed. The electricity and the gas were disconnected. Alex’s estate paid the taxes on the place, though his once-sizable fortune had been severely compromised in the ten years between the fertility treatments in Slovenia and his sudden bone-crunching death in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he was struck down by a Fifth Avenue bus. (Leslie’s violent death—more clearly by her own design—came shortly after, on a tarmac at the Ljubljana Airport.) Alex Twisden’s sister wanted nothing to do with the place, and though Leslie’s sister, Cynthia Kramer, an antiques dealer herself, had always had a love for the house that bordered on lust, she was not in line to inherit it. It really belonged to Alex and Leslie’s twins, Adam and Alice, but they were only ten years old when their parents died and had been left to float unhappily through the troubled, murky waters of New York’s foster-care system.
Their mother’s will had been quite clear on the subject: the twins were to go to her sister, Cynthia. But the law moved slowly, following its own maddening path, and two years passed before Cynthia had a date in Surrogate Court to finalize her adoption of the children. She would move from San Francisco to New York, and the twins would be restored to their old home—a site of countless terrifying nights, but nevertheless the only real home they had ever known.
Cynthia did not know these children very well, but she was thrilled to suddenly have an opportunity to be a mother, a chance she would have said, even recently, was as remote as her becoming secretary of state or a rock star. She granted that, once upon a time, Alex and her sister had been loving parents to the twins, but the last year or two with their parents had been terror-filled, and the time in foster care, well, who knew what damage that had done to them? Cynthia accepted the fact that the twins would need rehabilitation, a lot of it. Therapy perhaps. Tons of love, for sure.
She had tons of love.
And more where that came from. She had never been more certain of anything in her entire life. She could and would love these children back to health. She would return to them their birthright—to be well educated, to be safe, to be cared for, and to live in their beautiful house.
And so, as the wheels of the legal system slowly turned, Cynthia presided over the final renovations of the house on Sixty-Ninth Street from the opposite coast, organizing the whole thing via e-mails, phone calls, and Skype from her shop in Pacific Heights. There were light fixtures to be torn out and replaced, a kitchen to be modernized, nine bathrooms to be redone, some in need of a little twenty-first-century touch-up, some needing . . . everything. There was furniture to purchase, windows to be replaced and curtained or shuttered; there was flooring so brutally scarred that it needed to be torn up and replaced, and there were sixteen rooms that needed repainting.
The most pressing job, however, was the cellar. It was here that Alex and Leslie kept their tragic menagerie, the cats and dogs, some bought at pet shops, some “rescued” from various shelters in the tristate area. The cages and cramped runs in which these doomed beasts were once confined had to be removed, and all evidence of their ever having existed had to be completely erased. The cages were heavy and had been bolted into the cellar’s stone walls. Mack Flaherty, the contractor overseeing the entire job, had saved the cellar for last, and to make certain it was finished on time—Cynthia was due in New York in a week—he hired more men. They worked fourteen-hour days to get the job done. A few of the workers heard the squeak and scratch of rodents in the walls, but it was in nobody’s best interest to admit to it. The finish line was in sight. Cynthia was on her way. Let’s get ’er done, was the mantra; all the guys were saying it. Let’s get ’er done.