The Destructors by Graham Greene

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At the start of the two-day August Bank Holiday in post-World War II London a group of boys who call themselves the Wormsley Common Gang accepts a new member without the usual initiation ritual. The acceptance of Trevor, who is fifteen, is unexpected for several reasons. His name, the fact that his father had been an architect before the war and was now a clerk, and that his mother, despite their coming down in the world, still believes that she is better than her neighbors, are all factors that would ordinarily make him an outcast among the streetwise boys. However, they see a dangerous and unpredictable quality in Trevor that makes him acceptable to them. They refer to him as "T." to avoid his upper-class name, and T. ultimately vies with Blackie, the gang's leader, for the top position among the boys.

The gang meets every morning at a site where a bomb fell and exploded during the war.

Blackie tells the gang that he can remember hearing the bomb fall, and no one questions his statement, although they know that he would have been only one year old and sleeping in the shelter of the Wormsley Common Underground station during the bombing.

A parking lot has evolved on the site, but there are very few vehicles parked there because it is not a safe location. Near the lot is a house that survived the bomb as well as a second explosion that destroyed the house next to it. The house is propped up with wooden struts on two sides because it leans dangerously, and on one of its walls it retains a few remaining pieces of its neighbor. T. tells the boys that his father says Christopher Wren who built St. Paul's Cathedral built the surviving house. The boys are not impressed, however, and inform T. that the house now belongs to Old Misery, the name they have given to the owner whose real name is Thomas.

Old Misery had been a builder and decorator before the war. Now he lives alone in his propped-up house, going out once a week to buy bread and vegetables. The boys have little contact with him, though he has looked over his ruined wall at the boys when they gather in the car park, and another time he had tried to give them chocolate candy. They were suspicious of his offering, however, and perceived his effort at friendship as a bribe to keep them from throwing their ball at his wall. To illustrate the fact that the gang wouldn't take such a bribe, Blackie had them spend an entire morning throwing the ball against the wall in spite of the fact that only nine-year-old Mike, the youngest gang member, enjoyed the game.

It is common knowledge that the bombings damaged the plumbing in Old Misery's house. Everyone also knows that Old Misery is too miserly to spend the money to fix his indoor plumbing. He now uses an outdoor lavatory with a star-shaped hole in its door. The lavatory, which survived the bomb blast that destroyed the neighboring house, is located near the ruined wall facing the car park where the boys meet.

On the day before the Bank Holiday begins, T. comes late to the gang's regular morning meeting. He misses the vote that is taken each day to determine in a democratic way what activity the gang will pursue that day. The boys had already decided to spend the day trying to get free rides on buses around the city, but T. says he has a better plan.

He tells them that he has visited Old Misery and seen the interior of his house. He tells them that it is a beautiful house with a spectacular circular staircase and 200-year-old wood paneling on the walls. As T. speaks, Blackie senses that T.'s position in the gang has been threatened by his use of the word "beautiful." The word emphasizes T.'s former upper-class status. Blackie tells T. that it would have been more in keeping with the gang's reputation if he had broken into the house, but T. says he knows something that will allow the gang to pursue an even greater goal. He tells the boys that Old Misery will be away for the two days of the Bank Holiday. The gang thinks he means that they can go inside the house and steal things, but T. has a much more extravagant plan. He suggests that they destroy the house, from the inside where no one can see them doing it, and then pull the walls down. He downplays their worries about getting caught and facing punishment by saying that no one could prove anything, and besides, they wouldn't be stealing anything. T. tells the boys that he knows how to organize them so they can efficiently and successfully bring down the house.

Blackie doesn't want anything to do with it, but he is required by the rules of the gang to put the matter to a vote. The boys vote to follow T.'s plan and destroy the house. Blackie walks off, telling the gang to look to T. for their instructions. He thinks at first that he will have no part in this, but then he admits to himself that if they could pull it off, the destruction of the house would bring fame and glory to the Wormsley Common Gang. Because of his strong loyalty to the gang, Blackie returns to the group and agrees to follow T.

On Sunday morning, everyone but Blackie comes to the gang meeting on time. They had been instructed to bring hammers, nails, chisels, saws, and other tools to be used in taking down the house. Blackie was late because he had trouble finding the sledgehammer he was told to bring. When he finally arrives, he sees no one around. He thinks that they have had a change of heart, but then hears sounds from the house and knows they are moving ahead with the plan. Going inside, he finds a well-organized and industrious group intent on methodically taking apart the floors, walls, and wiring. Some of the boys are sawing the staircase apart, and Mike is cutting up wiring on the floor. When Blackie finds T., T. tells him to smash the tub and was basin in the bathroom. When Mike finishes cutting up the wires, T. tells him to go around the house and smash all the china and glass, to take a knife and cut up the pillows and sheets in the bedrooms, to tear up any papers he finds, and to pull out all the drawers and empty their contents on the floor. When Blackie asks him what he is going to do, T. says he is looking for something special.

After a day of "superficial damage" most of the boys go home, instructed to return the next morning at eight to continue the destruction. Blackie and T. are left alone in the house, and Blackie asks T. if he found something special to do. T. brings out a stack of pound notes, the savings that Old Misery had hidden in his mattress. He tells Blackie that they are going to burn each of the seventy pound notes, one at a time, until ash is all that remains. While they are burning the money, Blackie asks T. if he hates Old Misery. T. responds that he doesn't hate him at all; it wouldn't be any fun if he hated him. He goes on to tell Blackie that there isn't any love or hate, just things.

The following morning the gang begins its serious destruction. Some of the boys are on the verge of quitting, saying it is too much like work, but T. keeps them motivated, and they saw away at the joists that support the floors. Later, when it gets dark and no one can see them, they turn on all the water taps to flood the place. As they are completing this task, Mike, who has been on lookout, signals that something is wrong: Old Misery is fast approaching the house. T. becomes upset and feels betrayed by Old Misery. T. believes the man lied to him and now threatens to ruin his project. He comes up with a plan to lock Old Misery in his outdoor lavatory while the gang finishes its work.

T. goes outside to meet Old Misery by the back wall. He tells him that one of the boys has gotten stuck in the lavatory and needs help. Old Misery is confused, but he cannot go against T.'s wishes. T. guides him over the wall into the yard. Old Misery's protestations about his rheumatism and comments about a warning against a big crash that he read in his horoscope go unheeded by T., and the man finds himself locked in the lavatory.

As he sits in the lavatory, Old Misery studies his options, but finds they are few. There is only one truck in the parking lot, and the driver most likely will not be back before morning. All the neighbors are away on holiday so there is no one nearby to hear him even if he shouted for help. As he ponders his fate, he thinks he hears the sounds of carpentry coming from inside his house. He has some concern about burglars and wonders why there should be carpentry noises, but then the noises stop, and he takes comfort from the silence.

When they are done with the house, the boys stop by the lavatory and push a blanket and some food through the star-shaped hole in the door, telling Old Misery that they want him to be comfortable during the night. He again tries to tell them about his rheumatism and how he has to "sleep comfortable," but the gang says he wouldn't be comfortable in his house now. Old Misery wonders what they mean.

In the morning, the driver of the truck parked near Old Misery's house comes to begin his work day. He starts the engine and is somewhat aware of a voice yelling something from somewhere but he ignores it, backing the truck into position to drive out of the lot. When he moves the truck forward he feels a slight hesitation, like something is pulling it from behind. As he drives on he sees bricks bouncing in the road ahead of him. Then he hears a big crash behind him. When he gets out of the truck to investigate he sees that the landscape has changed; the leaning house is no longer standing. He finds a piece of rope tied to the back of his truck and part of a wooden strut.

He notices that the lavatory is still standing, however, and is suddenly aware of someone shouting from inside. He unlocks the door and finds Old Misery huddled in a blanket, covered in crumbs. Old Misery cries out when he sees his house is gone and asks the driver what happened. The driver says he doesn't know and begins to laugh. The only recognizable things in the rubble are parts of the bath and a piece of a dresser. Old Misery is angry that the driver can laugh at his misfortune. The driver apologizes, but when he remembers how the truck hesitated as he pulled it forward he starts to laugh all over again. He says that he is sorry, but that Old Misery has to admit it's funny.
 
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