Outside, the snow was three feet deep.
While inside, under cover of The Shamrock, Griffin was adjusting his trapper hat for what Kit Stevens reckoned was the tenth time.
‘Nice hat, Griff. Where did you get it?’ he asked.
‘Mollie – birthday present.’
Kit considered this and asked, ‘Is that so? Happy belated birthday, I guess. I’m not good with dates, you know, and I often wonder why?’
‘Perhaps if you came up for air every once and a while, you might save a brain cell or two.’
Griffin was referring to the amount of marijuana Kit Stevens smoked, ate, and talked about to anyone who would listen.
‘Duly noted, brother.’
‘I’m thirsty,’ Griffin said. ‘Who fancies a few hot ones? Frank said we could drink this place dry as long as we fill the jar.’
Kit produced fifty dollars in fives and tens from his coat pocket and placed them in the tip jar housed in an upside Patriots football helmet. ‘That ought to cover what we’ll drink between now and midnight,’ he said.
‘How about you – new guy – fancy something strong to warm the bones?’
‘I don’t see why not. I mean, when in Rome, eh?’
While the kettle boiled, a question came to Kit. He considered it, then ...
‘You remember your first hunt, Griffin?’
‘Are you kidding me? I get hard just thinking about it,’ Griffin said as he formed a triangle on the counter with three glasses. Kit took a seat by the fire and rested his heels on an old stool. The head nod that followed suggested he wanted a cigarette, so Harvey – the new guy – obliged. ‘I was about your age when my name was drawn from the tin-box,’ Griffin said. ‘My mother was against it – said I ought to pass and let someone else do the dirty work.’
After the kettle finished boiling, Griffin placed a spoon in each glass, a double-shot of whiskey in each and poured.
‘What’s so funny?’ Harvey asked.
‘Lesson one – new guy – you never let someone else do your dirty work.’
Griffin joined them and lowered three glasses onto the table.
‘Drink up, boys. It’s going to be a long night.’
Kit took a mouthful while Griffin held the glass under his nose and inhaled.
‘I’m not much of a whiskey drinker,’ he said.
‘Neither was I until I started,’ Kit said.
Harvey took a sip and grimaced. A cough followed. ‘Strong,’ he said, thumping his chest.
‘Can I ask you guys a question?’ Harvey asked.
‘Sure,’ Griffin said.
‘Have you guys actually – you know – seen one?’ Harvey nodded at both men before comically peeling back his lips to reveal a healthy set of gums.
‘No,’ Kit said.
‘Oh,’ Harvey replied.
A short silence followed.
‘I have,’ Griffin said, expelling a mouthful of smoke across the table.
‘And did you? – You know –’
Harvey made a fist, made his eyes dance, and pretended to stab the air in front of him several times.
‘If you’re referring to a stake through the heart, I’m afraid the answer is no.’
‘I don’t follow,’ Harvey said.
‘What he means is … you’ve watched too many Hollywood movies.’
Harvey took the glass, held it in both hands, and sipped.
‘No-stake-through-the-heart?” Harvey sounded disappointed.
‘I’m afraid not – new guy – the only way to kill ’em is to suffocate the sons of bitches.’
‘Oh,’ Harvey said. ‘I never knew that. I figured a sharpened stake through the heart ought to do the trick.’
‘Suffocate or decapitate!’ Kit said, flicking his cigarette butt into the fire. ‘Anyway, it’s all about the chase.’
Griffin checked his watch and figured Harvey had more questions judging by the way his left eye twitched.
‘How long has it been exactly?’
‘October the 31st – Hallows eve,’ Griffin said, and Kit laughed.
Harvey did a quick calculation. ‘That’s less than three months ago.’
‘I know,’ Griffin said. ‘Not to mention, Coach Creasy was one smart son of a bitch.’
Griffin and Kit looked at each other and nodded in agreement.
Harvey was no longer slouching; he was upright and wondering what to do with his hands, so he folded them across his chest.
‘The local high school coach? You’re kidding me, right?’
‘Lesson two – new guy – they come in all shapes and sizes,’ Kit said.
‘Coach Creasy was smart up to a point because he took his business elsewhere, mainly the Mid-west, I think,’ Griffin said. ‘But he got sloppy.’
Harvey loosened his scarf and wondered if Frank stored Root Beer behind the counter, perhaps some salted peanuts. ‘So, how did you catch him?’
‘Creasy got lazy and decided Bob Fanning’s cattle were slightly more appealing than whatever it was that got his juices flowing in the Mid-west.’
‘No shit,’ Harvey said. ‘This Creasy guy got his killing tools into a herd of cattle.’
‘That’s what I said, isn’t it?’ Griffin said before Kit interrupted.
‘Lesson three – new guy – they tend to live alone, keep to themselves, and thrive on routine.’
‘Good to know,’ Harvey said.
Harvey wasn’t sure what to think, so he lit a cigarette and kept drinking. The wind blowing through and around the branches and leaves created a whistle, and all three men turned their attention to the door rattling on its hinges.
‘Don’t worry – new guy – they don’t have the balls to face us head-on.’
‘And you – you killed Creasy?’ Harvey asked, pointing at Griffin.
Griffin nodded. ‘After I put a refuse sack over his head and held it in place with a couple of cable-ties – I sat there watching until he took his last breath.’
‘Suffocate or decapitate,’ Kit said.
Kit lifted his glass and Griffin his.
‘That simple, eh?’ Harvey asked.
‘Lesson four – new guy – killing is the easy part. Knowing who to kill is the hard part.’
‘No, it doesn’t,’ Griffin said. ‘But it will.’
‘So, Harvey, what brought you to Pickford?’ Kit asked. ‘I mean, that’s quite the pile of bricks you got out on Belmont.’
‘Good schools. Low taxes. Nice commute to Boston when I have to.’
‘You mentioned a wife,’ Griffin added.
‘Yes, Rachel. She’s a music teacher.’
‘I work for a company that manufactures T.V and Radio communication equipment.’
‘Good for you. Mind if I?’ Kit asked, pointing at the cigarette box.
‘By all means,’ Harvey said.
‘Anyone fancy a beer?’ Kit asked.
Griffin checked his watch. ‘Sure, we’ve time for one more.’
The radio in the middle of the table erupted when a burst of static came through.
Griffin adjusted the dial before bringing the radio to his mouth and pressing the button.
‘Griff? Griff, is that you? Over!’
‘Hey, Annie, everything okay? Over!’
‘Lewis failed to show. I repeat – Lewis failed to show. My guess is he hunkered down somewhere for the night to keep warm. Keep an eye or two open, will you? Over!’
‘Lewis, who’s Lewis?’ Harvey asked.
‘An old-timer who still thinks he’s twenty-one,’ Kit said.
‘Will do, Annie. Keep in touch. That snow appears to be heading in the direction of a blizzard. Over!’
‘Stay safe, boys. It’s going to be a long night. Over!’
Kit returned with three beer bottles and passed them around while Griffin balanced the radio in the middle of the table.
‘You guys know something, but you’re not telling, right? I mean, you guys have found another one, haven’t you?’
‘Easy, cowboy,’ Kit said. ‘That shit will get you killed.’
‘I’m curious,’ Griffin said. ‘How does a newly married man with everything to live for end up with two aging gunslingers on a night like tonight?’
‘The same reason you two guys are here – I’m a patriot, and this is my national service. I mean, when the opportunity arose to put my name into the tin box, I just jumped at the chance.’
‘You do know that if he gets his teeth into you, that Kit and I have to walk away. Ain’t nothing we can do to help you once he breaks the skin.’
Harvey appeared to be enjoying his Bud a lot more than the whiskey. He smiled.
‘Hey, I’m a big boy. I knew what the stakes were before I came here tonight.’
‘You are a big boy, ain’t ya?’ Griffin said as he leaned over the table. ‘I mean, you even got your little vote Ronald Regan presidential badge stuck to your label, don’t you?’
Harvey smiled and fixed his jacket. ‘I guess so.’
‘Time for a lap?’ Kit suggested.
‘A lap?’ Harvey asked. ‘What’s a lap?’
‘Come on, you’ll see,’ Griffin said.
Harvey was half a mile or so into the lap around Pickford, plunging one boot after another into the snow before he realized the fingerless gloves were a mistake.
‘You’ll get used to it,’ Griffin said.
‘No, chasing shadows.’
They continued West, away from the center of town and in the direction of the disused Pickford Waterworks.
‘Where are we going again?’ Harvey asked.
Griffin stopped and pointed while Harvey squinted into the distance.
‘I don’t see anything,’ Harvey said, unsure where he was supposed to be looking.
‘Exactly,’ Griffin said. ‘Concentrate on keeping warm and follow us.’
‘I gotta ask, is this a lap? Or are we looking for Larry?’ Harvey asked.
‘It’s Lewis,’ Kit said. ‘And it’s a bit of both.’
Harvey decided he’d already said too much and used his scarf to cover his mouth.
After they turned a corner, Harvey, with his head down, Kit and Griffin spotted something that sent them running or at least attempting to through the shallow parts of the snow.
Harvey quickly followed suit, realizing both men were heading in the direction of the lump of orange Hi-Vis lying face down on the snow. Griffin and Kit each took an arm, yanked Lewis off the snow, and held him there on his knees.
Harvey was still a few feet away when he asked, ‘Is that blood?’
‘Put him on his back,’ Griffin said.
Kit knelt beside Lewis, popped the glove from his right hand with his teeth, and pulled the collar away from Lewis’s neck.
‘Bite marks, Griff. Goddamn, bite marks.’
Griffin knelt on one knee and stuck his finger into the patch of blood-soaked snow.
‘He’s dead, isn’t he?’ Harvey asked.
‘No, but he will be.’ Griffin was still talking when he produced a non-descript machete. Harvey had wondered what Griffin was hiding since they left The Shamrock, and now he knew.
‘You might want to turn around.’
‘What the hell are you doing?’ Harvey asked.
‘Suffocate or decapitate,’ Kit said. ‘Remember?’
‘But – but, who’s to say he’ll turn,’ Harvey argued.
‘We can’t take the chance,’ Griffin said.
Watching Kit maneuver Lewis into place – Kit placed Lewis onto a tree stump – and Griffin rehearsing with the blade against Lewis’s fat neck sent Harvey’s stomach into his throat. ‘This won’t take long,’ Griffin said and blessed himself.
Harvey nodded, but after he dry-reached a couple of times, he decided the best thing would be for him to wait across the street. A few moments later, Kit Stevens and Griffin came into focus, Griffin cleaning the blade with a piece of cloth before discarding it into the wind.
‘I’m sorry about that, guys,’ Harvey said. ‘I – I don’t know what came over me.’
‘I suggest you get used to it – new guy – or we’re going to have to find someone else.’
‘Won’t happen again, promise.’
Griffin’s shaking hands produced a cigarette box, and each man took a cigarette.
‘Okay, now what?’ Harvey asked reluctantly.
‘The disused waterworks. From there, a road will bring us back to town. Hour tops.’
‘And if we don’t find –‘ Harvey’s numb lips made it impossible to finish his sentence.
‘We’ll take a load off back in The Shamrock and get back out there before sunrise,’ Griffin interrupted.
‘Sss-ounds – gggood,’ Harvey said, placing the cigarette between his lips.
The walk towards the old waterworks took them onto a service road where a snowplow and been and gone. It made the final half mile or so somewhat easier on everyone’s legs. ‘Something on your mind, new guy?’ Griffin asked.
‘I can’t understand how you could just do that to supposedly a friend of yours and just leave him there.’
Harvey was a few feet away when Griffin caught him by the shoulder and turned him.
‘Lesson five – new guy – once those sons of bitches get their teeth into you, you’re no longer the person you were. You don’t exist – period. Understand?’
‘Yeah … I understand.’
‘Good, now come on. I can’t feel my legs.’ Griffin was still talking when Kit pointed to a rickety set of steel steps up ahead.
‘Eyes wide open – new guy – I can smell the son of a bitch.’
Harvey sniffed the air, but all he could smell was snow. The steps brought them to a clearing and a dome-shaped entry point with a rotating wheel-handle built into the ground. The three men formed a circle around it while Harvey wondered what the hell was going on.
Griffin pointed, ‘It leads to the other side of the tracks. You want to go first?’
Harvey shrugged his shoulders. ‘Sure, why not?’
‘Good. Now here, you’re gonna need this.’
Griffin handed Harvey a flash lamp that he attached to his coat.
‘We all have one, so don’t worry if the batteries kick the bucket.’
‘Okay, I won’t.’
Kit turned the wheel-handle and made way for Harvey, who was preoccupied with filling his cupped hands with warm air.
Harvey lowered himself into the shaft and was halfway down the ladder when Griffin called his name. He looked up and saw Kit Stevens and Griffin. Griffin was standing, but Kit was on his knees and slightly leaning over the rim.
‘I love this part,’ Kit said, turning to Griffin.
‘What part?’ Harvey asked before realizing Griffin was holding a tin box. He took a handful of folded paper the size of a match stick from the tin box and dropped them into the shaft where they joined the falling snowflakes.
Harvey caught one and opened it.
‘It has my name on it,’ Harvey said.
Harvey caught another and another.
‘I don’t get it. They all say Harvey Brown.’
And then Harvey realized what he was saying, or more so what was happening to him.
‘You guys set me up.’
Harvey flexed his gums, and a set of fangs appeared while his eyes went from blue to emerald green. Kit shone his flash lamp, forcing Harvey to block the light with his forearm. He hissed.
‘Hiss all you want, you son of a bitch. You’ll be dead in twenty-four hours.’
Harvey scrambled to get to the top rung as Kit began lowering the lid.
‘Seal it up good and tight,’ Griffin said.
Static from the radio derailed Griffin’s next thought, but Kit kept tightening the wheel until it hurt his arms.
‘You there, Griff?’ Annie asked. ‘Is Lewis alive? Over!’
‘Yeah, I’m here, Annie, and that’s a negative on ol’ Lewis, I’m afraid.’
‘Copy,’ Annie said. ‘And Mr. Brown? Over!’
‘In the pit as planned. He’ll be sucking on fumes by this time tomorrow. Over!’
‘Okay, boys. That’s enough for one night. Why don’t you’s head on home and get something hot into you before you catch your death.’
‘Copy that, Annie. Copy that.’
Griffin hung the radio from his back pocket while Harvey’s fist continued to connect with the steel lid.
‘Now what?’ Kit asked, although he already knew the answer.
‘We wait,’ Griffin said. ‘We wait.’