The drab brown front of the house made it look as if it had been built from rusty spare parts. Someone always put lace curtains in the windows of dreary houses, and Nick was unsurprised to see the curtains making their attempts in every window of this place. There was a china garden gnome on the doorstep, wearing a desperate, crazy smile. "It's not so bad," Alan said. "You never take me nice places anymore, baby." said Nick, and was mildly gratified by Alan's ring of laughter, like a living bell that had been caught by surprise when it was struck.