“Pretty spooky, right?”

Weber did not know if Scanlan was talking about the cottage or the many empty houses staring out to sea. The two men stood on a curved side street that was abutted by the winter ocean. It was well below freezing outside. Both Weber and Scanlan were bundled up in fleece and goose down jackets. The older man, Weber, wore an old Navy watch cap, while Scanlan made due with a baseball hat that had been turned partially white thanks to decades of summer sweat.

Scanlan’s comment had been directed at the seaside cottage in front of them. It was made of red brick and had blue-black shudders. Its front door was large and painted an unhealthy shade of green. The front yard was more brown than green, and the stone steps had fissures as big as knife wounds. A single light pole stood on the street and contained a wet and faded “Lost Cat” bill. The whole scene made the superstitious Weber uncomfortable.

In fact, Weber had been feeling uneasy about the whole job ever since talking with Robinson the day before in Nashua. A shady lawyer with more connections below ground than above, Robinson had met Weber in a Dunkin Donuts at about noon. Weber had driven up from Stoneham because he knew that Robinson always paid half on the pre-job meeting.

Beside Robinson had been Scanlan, a young buck originally from Rutland, Vermont. A few years back, Scanlan had been a junkie that Robinson had rescued from a decade in prison thanks to a technicality. Scanlan thought of the big, fat lawyer as something close to divine.

“Welcome back to the north, Webby. When was the last time you were in the last free state in New England?”

Robinson laughed at the unfunny joke. Scanlan smiled. Weber gave away nothing.

“Okay, it’s all business, I see. Well, here’s the basics: there’s a cottage up in York, Maine that is way late on its payments to me. I want you guys to go up there, mess up the place or take a few items just to let the tenant know that I mean business.”

Robinson leaned back and sipped his coffee. Scanlan nodded. Weber leaned in and asked one question.

“Should we expect the guy to be home?”

“Not likely. It’s winter. York will be dead as dead can be.”

“I’m not hearing a guarantee,” Weber said.

“Look, I cannot say for sure. The guy’s a recluse who never answers the door, never picks up his mail, and never answers the phone. He may live there year-round, or he may not. I don’t know much about the guy except for rumors.”

“What rumors?”

Robinson took a second to answer. When he did, his confidence was betrayed by a crooked and forced smirk.

“It’s all a bunch of crap, really. One of his old neighbors once told me that the coot is into black magic or catching ghosts or something like that. He also said that the guy’s paranoid and probably has his cottage rigged with explosives.”

“Hey, if I’m going in there, I want to be sure that I’m not going to get my ass blown off,” Weber said.

“You have nothing to worry about. Even if the dude is home, you two can take him. He’s over sixty and probably only walks to get exercise. You’re all set.”

Robinson looked to Scanlan, who looked at Weber. All three men nodded their heads in agreement, then Robinson pulled out a manila envelope. He gave Scanlan and Weber $1,000 each. He then handed Weber a fifty and set of keys.

“That’s for the gas, and that is for you. You’re my driver. The flat key is for the front door.”

A day later, Weber and Scanlan were standing outside of the decrepit cottage. Within seconds, Weber realized that the place was unoccupied, so he was the first to reach the front door. He turned the lock and pushed the door inwards. He almost fainted from the smell.

“God, you sure he ain’t dead in here somewhere?” Scanlan said through a pinched nose.

Weber knew the smell of death well. He also knew that plenty of things had died in this cottage, but none of them had been human. Animals, most likely.

Using his coat to block out the oppressive smell, Weber began rifling through the cottage. It was dark and dusty on the inside, with clutter everywhere. The living room stood to the left of the main hallway, and all it contained was an unused fireplace, a single flannel chair, and a whole army of loose papers. Most of the papers were takeout menus from local restaurants in York, Kittery, and Portsmouth. There were also invoices, printed magazine articles, and a few graded papers. Weber thought that maybe the target was or had been a teacher at some point.

The most important piece of paper that Weber found was a telephone bill. The bill let him know that the guy’s name was Aleister Shore.

“Sounds made up,” Weber said out loud.


“The guy’s name: Aleister Shore. I’ve never known anyone with either the name Aleister or Shore.”

Scanlan shrugged his shoulders. “The guy’s a weirdo.”

“Yeah. He’s also disgusting. This place is a dump.”

“If we wreck this place, do you think he’d even notice?”

“No,” Weber replied, “and there’s probably nothing worth pocketing either.”

Scanlan kicked a clump of papers over. “Some job!”

Weber walked into the kitchen. It too was dirty and smothered with random odds and ends. Weber found black rings in the sink, on top of the refrigerator, and on the linoleum floor. He was inspecting one of these rings when he heard a loud pop and Scanlan scream.

“Jesus Christ! I’m freaking shot!”

Weber rushed through the living room and up the stairs. Scanlan lay bleeding on the second floor landing. Weber saw that his left hand was missing three fingers and was gushing gore all over the wooden floor.

“Where is he?” Weber screamed into Scanlan’s face.

“Nowhere, man. It was a booby trap like from some cartoon.”

Scanlan used his uninjured hand to point to the opposite wall. A smoking sawed-off shotgun had been hung at face level. The butt of the weapon contained a tight piece of string, almost like a tripwire. Scanlan had activated it by running his hand up the balustrade. Weber had no idea how the former heroin addict was still alive.

“You got to get me to a hospital.”

“You crazy? We’re crooks; criminals. What the hell are we going to tell the nurses? Don’t you think that they’d tell the cops too?”

“What about my hand!” Scanlan’s voice betrayed panic.

“We’ll wrap it up and I’ll find some booze for you.”

Weber found a filthy bathroom upstairs. He took the only towel and used it to tightly wrap Scanlan’s hand. The once white towel turned red within seconds. Weber ran back down to the kitchen and returned with a half-finished bottle of red wine. He gave it to Scanlan.

“This is out of date. It tastes awful.”

“Just drink it. I’ll ransack up here, maybe steal a few things, then call Robinson. After that, we can go.”

Weber began racing through the upstairs rooms. He went back into the bathroom and dumped a series of medications down the drain. He opened a few packages of soap and threw the bars all over the place. Next, he opened another door, which led to a closet. He threw all of the jackets on the floor except for one. It was black leather and it fit.

While walking to what appeared to be a bedroom, Weber had to navigate a tight turn made all the more narrow thanks to a small square table with a lamp on top. Weber bumped into the table and began cursing loudly. A spring mechanism had ejected a sharp blade from above the table’s drawer, and the blade had easily imbedded itself in Weber’s right hip.

“Another one?” Scanlan asked through clenched teeth.

“If this guy is home, I’m going to kill him.” Weber pressed his right hand on the bloody wound. He felt the nerves in his leg twitch, then deaden. Undeterred, Weber hobbled forward towards the bedroom door.

“Wait a minute. Don’t you think that’s another trap?” Scanlan said. “I got an idea.”

Scanlan, with his wounded arm clutched tight to his chest, used his boot to kick the door open. Weber lost count of how many kicks it took, but after minutes, the battered door gave way and swung inward.

Scanlan and Weber waited for a few seconds. When nothing happened, Scanlan walked forward.

“See, I knew it’d wo…”

Scanlan’s voice was cut off because he tripped over a piece of wire that ran the length of the doorway. Scanlan fell hard on his side.

“That’s the second tripwire today. To Hell with my luck, right?”

Scanlan smiled and laughed a little. Weber did too, but then Weber’s frown returned once the clothes iron fell on Scanlan’s head and knocked him unconscious. Weber did not see the mechanism that had launched the projectile, but the iron had come from behind Scanlan, thus striking him in the delicate dangerous region where the spinal cord and brain meet.

“You okay? Scanlan? Scanlan!” Weber’s cries got no answer.

Weber tiptoed into the room. He checked Scanlan’s pulse. It was still there, but moving slowly. Weber thought about dragging Scanlan’s limp body out of the room, but his peripheral vision caught something that demanded his attention.

The room had been painted black: black curtains, black walls, black bookcase. The death stench poured out of every crevice. It did not take Weber long to find the source of this smell. It was a dead and mutilated cat that was decaying on a wooden desk. Next to the cat was a collection of “Lost Cat” posters.

“Sick bastard,” Weber thought, “what a sick bastard.”

Above the desk and above one of the bookshelves was a white pentagram with an elaborate goat’s head drawn in the center. Weber did not know what the image was or where it came from, but he instinctively knew that it wasn’t good. He pulled down several books and kicked over a wastebasket, then limped back to Scanlan.

After failing to revive the injured man, Weber grabbed Scanlan’s legs and began to pull. It was on the second strong pull that Weber realized that his wound was bleeding badly. Weber had to stop his exertions and try and find a way to staunch the bleeding. He reached for the towel around Scanlan’s limp hand when he heard the front door open downstairs.

“Hello?” a weak voice called out. In a panic, Weber went back into the interior of the bedroom and managed to slide under a small couch set against the right wall. He knew it was a dumb idea, but he also knew that he had failed to take a weapon with him on this job. He had no good options, he thought.

Weber listened as Aleister Shore (or who he thought was Aleister Shore) walked through the living room and kitchen. Weber visualized the cruel old man inspecting the damage that had been done to his disheveled hovel. Weber could imagine his fury rising with each new piece of evidence. “I’m a dead man,” Weber thought.

It felt like hours before the old man reached Scanlan’s body. From his hiding place, Weber could only make out a pair of dirty black dress shoes and two legs wrapped in olive-green corduroy pants. One of the shoes kicked Scanlan in the ribs. The wounded man moaned. The other man laughed under his breath.

“A few of my tricks got you, right? Justice, I say.”

The voice sounded like a million others to Weber: nothing unique, nothing special. It just sounded old.

Weber watched the old man as sweat pooled near his face and listened to his heartbeat so loud and fast that he was convinced that a heart attack was imminent. Weber only closed his eyes when he realized what the old man was doing.

In a series of rapid motions, Aleister Shore had removed Scanlan’s left ear and the tip of his nose with a pocket knife. Scanlan moaned in pain during this impromptu operation. After the parts had been removed, the old man used the knife to slice a thin line across Scanlan’s exposed throat. Weber heard the blood wash across the floor and had to hold back the sickness bubbling up in his own throat.

As Weber prayed to himself, Aleister Shore went back to his desk with his grisly trophies. He placed them next to the cat, which had long been an unfortunate substitute. The ritual called for something more substantial, but alas, wintry York was fresh out of human bodies. Well, Aleister thought, that was until the two men invaded his home.

Yes, Aleister knew all about the other man underneath the couch. He had followed the blood trail from the bathroom to the body of the other man. Aleister knew and appreciated the fact that this unknown man was panicking. Aleister let him stew as he thought about an appropriate torture.

After a time, Aleister figured out a plan. He reached into his desk and pulled out two items: a Chinese firecracker that he had purchased years ago in Boston and a curved dagger stolen from some Bedouin tribe in Jordan. Aleister lit the firecracker, walked over towards the couch, then, with the wick almost burned down, he rolled the firecracker under the couch.

The firecracker exploded in Weber’s face. He let out a curse, and despite being partially blinded and almost totally deaf, he managed to push the couch off of him. In his frenzy, Weber had managed to open up a cut above his left eyebrow. Blood poured into his left eye, while his right eye tried to blink away all of the sweat.

Because of this, Weber never saw Aleister Shore and he did not see the dagger before it sunk into his chest. Weber felt a rush of cold water leave his body, then he felt nothing at all.

His job finished, Aleister Shore clapped his hands together and thanked his black god for gifting him two fine specimens for the ritual. Tonight, Aleister thought, will be an exceptionally great night.