The jeep climbed the snowy backroad leading up to the lodge. Daniel steered, blinking through the wipers that slapped left and right as they batted away powdery waves of snow. Horst fed shells into the Franchi Spas and spoke quickly. “When you told me we were going to hit the Eros, I thought you were nuts.” He shook his head. “I got better things to do than rob a massage parlor run by some Albanians.”

Daniel stared through the snowy windshield. “Trust me. I got no desire to end up in some basement with my balls hooked up to jumper cables.”

“And that’s if they’re feeling generous on a little feast day for one of their saints.”

They were getting closer. Daniel looked out his window, at the dark and gathering mass of fir trees, their evergreen boughs heavy with sugar-white snow. “No, this is a different Eros. The name’s not licensed or anything. This is just a lock-in party with a bunch of stockbrokers and politicians chasing tail in a ski lodge. They’ll never know what hit them.”

Horst slung the shotgun over his shoulder. He needed his hands to work the Halligan adze on the door. “And you’re sure the ski lift’s out ‘til Sunday?”

“See for yourself.” Daniel pointed out the right window. The ski lift was visible through a copse of leafless birches. The gondolas dangled on a heavy black cable, strung from the snowcapped summit of the mountain down into the white valley.

“And they’ve got no cars?”

Daniel laughed a little bit at that. “Even if they did, they’re not gonna handle the roads like this.” He banged the steering wheel of the Munga. “I drove one of these in the Army.”

Horst pulled up the collar of his green Bundeswehr field jacket. “You forget I was in, too.”

“Kill a lot of Ossis?”

Horst didn’t quite laugh, but he tried. “Half my family was in the East. Mostly froze my ass off watching a checkpoint no one ever crossed.”

They came to the lodge, or as close as they wanted to get in the car. Any closer and it would seem suspicious. Daniel threw it in park behind a massive pine tree rising toward the moon like a church spire.

“Looks cozy,” Horst said.

It was a carriage house, with a fachwerk face and a mansard roof of clinker brick. Warm orange light glowed through the muslin curtains over the arch window above the front door (a heavy oak number they’d talked about when they ran over the plan in the locker room at Black Eye Boxing Club).

Daniel went in the backseat, picked up his HK-41. He brought it into the front seat, careful not to ding Horst on his craggy, rocklike skull with the stock as he pulled the gun forward.

“Alright, remember which strakes she softened?”

Horst nodded, blinking impatiently. “Second and third.”

“Wedge it in there, pull it free, reach inside, feel right, hit the buzzer. Then the door’s basically a glorified paperweight.” An 800-pound oaken paperweight that used to be sashed in the entrance of a monastery, but the automatic lock was the thing they needed to override. Then the hydraulic jack would swing the door in for them.

They stared through the windshield, at the lamp in its standard planted in the wraparound drive, its light gloaming as the wind keened.

“And you’ll cover me?” Horst asked.

“Yeah, not that you’ll need it.”

“You said they got a guard.”

“Sure,” Daniel said, “but how much practice you think he gets?” He waved toward the house. “They need discretion up here, not goons. It’s just a hideaway where these swanky scumbags can play grab-ass with women besides their wives while they’re supposedly on some kind of business retreat.”

“Catching them literally with their pants down.”

“Damn right.” Daniel pulled the key from the ignition. The chuntering of the engine block and the whoosh of warm air ceased. All was silent.

“You don’t want to leave her running?”

Daniel flashed his smile, which made his face look even more weasel-like than usual. “We won’t need to. The rooms where the orgy’s going down are soundproofed with cork. They got all kinds of fetishes and kinks they don’t want getting out. Steam room’s running, jacuzzi is bubbling, mood music is playing. They’ll never hear a thing. We cover the guard, get the cash from the box, then we disappear like the Ghost of Christmas Past. And the guard can’t say word one or all those senators and suits are in deep when the cops come.” He opened his door and got out, the traction on his boots crunching as it hit a mixture of macadam and ice glittering like diamonds in the blue light of the full moon.

“Let’s go.”

They put some space between them, just like on field maneuvers, moving toward the winter lodge as if there might be a sallyport and a shooter or two in there watching for them.

The red fireman’s bar was cold in Horst’s hands and he shivered.

Daniel whispered under his breath, started a low and off-key whistle, some old Oktoberfest oompah ditty that might have sound right on an alpenhorn but was reedy as it left his lips.

They came to the steps, slabbed in a heavy Silesian bluestone, a pair of intricate wrought iron handrails buttressing their ascent.

The door was in front of them. Horst lifted the adze like a lumberjack. Daniel gave him a wide berth, slipping on the icy stairs before righting himself as he clutched the handrail. Horst swung once so that the metal teeth contacted the heavy oak door but bounced off. Splinters flew and the tool recoiled in his hand, almost catching him on the return so it nearly sliced his face and left a nice scar.

“Pry, don’t swing!”

Horst looked over at Daniel with the first glint of murder in his eye. He hated when the little shit talked to him like this. Like it was his caper alone. Horst knew he was the brawn (he had the bar in his hands, after all), but that didn’t mean Daniel’s head overflowed with brains. And that failed swipe on the door had hurt, making Horst’s already half-frostbitten knuckles rattle like a tuning fork when the recoil reached them.

The scowl left Daniel’s face and the fear entered his eyes. A puff of cold air left his mouth, cloudy as squid ink. “Pry, please.”

Please being the magic word, Horst went back to the door, and worked on pulling out the strake. He fitted the teeth of the adze into the space between the two boards, second and third, and found them loose, just like Anna promised. He wiggled, but the board didn’t want to come free. “Shit…” He gritted his teeth, and there was a grinding crack as a topcoat of enamel sanded off his molars.

Daniel stood in place, shifting from left to right on the balls of his feet, shivering slightly from the cold, from his fear.

“Got it.” Horst let loose a giggle incongruous with his size, his eyes glowing like those of a kid on Christmas Morning.

The second strake was out and fell to the snow-covered stone at their feet with a clatter, barely missing Horst’s steel toes. The giant reached his hand inside the door, pawed around like a black bear rooting in a pot of honey. Gusts of warm air poured from the lodge into the outside world. But Daniel didn’t stop shivering until he heard the buzzer sound.

The door minus one panel swung slowly inward.

He stepped back, raised the HK.


The husband had watched them from behind the cover of a clutch of mighty oaks, his rage growing so that he began to claw away bits of bark from a trunk with his short fingernails, tearing it first to pulp and then into something fine as sawdust. He didn’t recognize the men in the jeep, but figured they were part of the gangbang, here to swing with his wife, who had cuckolded him for the last time.

It had been a cold trek up from the hill a quarter-mile down where he had spun out of control and crashed the Benz, but he didn’t care. He cast off the hood of his Gore-Tex under which he’d been hidden like a monk beneath his cowl at martens. His uncle’s old Steyr pistol trembled in his hand. He thought of the messages he had seen on his wife’s phone, the same phone which contained years’ worth of pictures of their family, from their daughter’s first birthday with a pink organza bow in her hair to a series of shots of them all basking in the Ibiza sun together. He walked toward the lodge, the rage that fueled him so total he didn’t ask himself why men invited to this party might bring a crowbar and a couple of guns along. Their breach had provided him a way in, and that was all he needed.


“Move and your brains are on the wall.” Daniel had the crosshairs center mass between the guard’s flabby tits. The man had a half-eaten ham-on-rye sandwich in his right hand. A pair of Colts sat in a pressed leather double holster cinched around his pudgy body, straining like a corset over the chest of a showgirl gone to seed.

“Alright, friend.” The man kept his hands high. He twitched the fingers of the hand not holding the sandwich. He could have been limbering the digits to make a play for one of his two heaters, or working off nervous energy.

Anna sat behind the desk, a horseshoe-shaped antique of Caucasian walnut scrimshawed with nicks and grooves. Horst set the Halligan bar down on top of the desk, shifted the strap of the sling on his shotgun to cover the girl.

“Strongbox, Fraulein.”

Each swinger had supposedly paid $500 for the comfort and discretion the lodge afforded for the long weekend.

Anna looked at the shooter, the light smattering of freckles on her round cheeks luminescent, as tears crystalized in the corners of her eyes.

Horst squinted, confused, almost hurt. Either she was a really good actress or he just had this effect on people. Scaring men didn’t bother him. Hell, it was part of the job. But he had no desire to scare women, and wanted to see himself as a ladies’ man despite what the mirror told him.

“Let’s go, sweetie.” Daniel had avoided cutting eyes toward Anna on the off-chance the guard sensed something off.

“Give it to them…” the guard said, sandwich in one hand, fingers of the other hand still tickling air.

Daniel detected something Slavic in the accent, maybe Polish, probably not Russian. If the guard been Rus, he might have already gone for one of the guns.

Anna looked in one of the wooden cubbyholes on the inside of her desk. “It’s locked,” she said. “Time-release and it won’t open ‘til Monday.”

“Bring the box up slowly,” Horst said. “Any silent alarms, any pearl-handled girl’s peashooter, and you’re done.”

“Okay.” Her voice quaked.

Daniel’s eyes shifted between the guard and the girl. The guard looked from Daniel to Anna.

“It’s too heavy.” The threatened tears streamed down her face and her mascara ran in ichorous sheens.

“Let me give you some help.”

Horst walked behind the desk, shoved her a little too hard so that she hit the puncheon floor with a thud and let out a whelp like a kicked puppy.

“Hey!” Daniel shouted. It was the first time he’d had the balls to be so curt with Horst.

Horst noticed but ignored it, as there was a metal box filled with money in front of him. The plan had been to sling the shotgun once the girl was cowed and then use the bar to break the box. But instead, he aimed the shotgun barrel for the face of the box. Squeezed.

Sparks flew, Anna shrieked, and an unexpected backsplash of metallic spall danced. Some of the shrapnel caught Horst in the face and a smaller sliver worked its way into his eye. “Agh, shit!”

Horst dropped the shotgun and it went off. There was a brimstone roar and a flash of fire. In an eyeblink, Anna’s face disappeared. Something jellylike hit the wattle and daub wall behind her with a wet splat. The stain was deep red like pomegranate seed but soft like frogspawn. The gory mass looked like it wanted to slide down the wall, but hung in place like a crimson slime mold.

“Anna!” Daniel shouted before he realized her name had left his mouth. The guard dropped the ham sandwich.

“Mugh…” was as close as Horst got to expressing the pain that had left him blind in one eye. He had countless wounds pitted in his face like bad acne, which secreted blood that quickly filled his good eye. He felt around, searching for his shotgun, for the strongbox, finding neither.

Daniel heard a leathery groan from his rear. He turned to see the Slav fumbling for his Colts. The guard froze, wide-eyed and open-mouthed, puckering his lips like a fish dumped from its bowl. Daniel raised his machine gun, pulled the trigger and a three-round burst stitched the man from sternum to neck. A hollow pop sounded, like a fountain pen puncturing throat in an emergency tracheotomy. The man dropped in place, his blood soaking into the bear rug that cushioned his fall. A wisp of curling smoke rose up from the revealed bones of his larynx.

“Danny! Help!”

Horst stumbled, crawled, felt along, trying to acclimate to his new life as a blind man. Daniel vaulted the bow of the wooden horseshoe desk and stuck the muzzle of his piece against Horst’s occipital lobe.


“It’s me.” He squeezed. The point-blank shot punched through skull as easily as particle board. Horst dropped, nailed to the floor by the pneumatic force of the shot. Daniel knelt down to the multicolored swirl of Euro notes dancing free of the broken strongbox, trying to pick up only the bills not stained with blood or brain.

“What the hell’s going on here?”

A voice echoed through the room, bounced from the wainscoted panels of the walls to the pressed tin ceiling. Daniel stayed crouched behind the desk with a pile of Euros in hand.

“Oh my God!”

He let the swinger bask in his horror, thought of his next move. Either the soundproofing upstairs hadn’t done its job or this guy had picked the worst time to ask Anna to refill the ice buckets with champagne.

Daniel waited.

“Yeah, what the hell is going on here? You think you can fuck another man’s wife?” It was another voice. This one sounded high-pitched, adenoidal. Male but not manly.

“Who the hell are you? What happened here? What—”

There were two cracks in quick succession, claps not much louder than the breaking of glass. Something low caliber.

The next sound was faint, or at least faint in Daniel’s ringing ears, the creaking of feet across hardwood. It came toward him, the groaning on antique planks, the whine of dress shoes treading aged spruce.

A gust of wind blew through the open front door. The alpine chill brought a rich cedarwood scent with it, the cold dissolving the warmth of the blaze raging in a hearthstone fireplace. Daniel hadn’t heard the soft crackling of logs earlier, but there had been too much screaming and shooting to hear much of anything else.

There was a sibilant swoosh as the man with the small gun and the high voice spun on the balls of his feet, walking away from the desk. Footfalls marked his progress up the steps and deeper into the lodge.

There was the unmistakable moaning of an ancient wooden door slowly opening upstairs.

Daniel stood up, looked around. There were four people in the room besides him, all dead: some unlucky husband with a white terrycloth towel wrapped around his waist and a small hole punched above his left breast bone from which only a thin trickle of blood trailed; the guard who never got his Colts out of their holsters; and what remained of Anna, whose headless body looked like a pretty showroom dummy someone had chucked from the roof of a penthouse onto a sidewalk twenty stories below. Then there was Horst, face down in a widening pool of purple blood in which a lone and strikingly white shard of skull suture swam.

Daniel slung his weapon and finished gathering up as much of the riotously colored paper as he could. A rush of joy coursed through him. He admired the watermarks on the pink and blue notes shimmering in the dim light of the room’s lamps, the silver holograms on the bills twinkling like tiny foil stars. He folded the stack into a large bundle, massed a high-roller’s knot, and stuffed the money in his pocket.

Then he walked out through the front door, careful of his footing on the slick steps. He did not look back at the house filled with swingers chasing each other through the soundproof wings of the manse, lovers oblivious to the teary-eyed man entering their midst with a heavy heart and a little gun.