It was the time of year when New England wobbles between fall and winter, as prone to Indian summer as to sudden, short-lived snowstorms.
It wasn’t snowing tonight, but it was cold, and Jason Newville was regretting that he’d only worn a sweatshirt. Nerves played a part. Unlike some, he tended to cool down when he was on a job, instead of working up an adrenaline sweat. But as with most things taken for granted, he hadn’t considered it when he set out, and was paying the price now.
It wasn’t unbearable. He was born to this weather, and in line with southeastern Vermont’s being mockingly labeled “the banana belt,” it did run warmer here than in the rest of the state. He’d survive. Besides, he had things to keep him occupied, like the whereabouts of the crazy old man who lived here.
Jason stepped out from behind a large maple at the edge of the darkened property and studied the layout by the light of a full moon. This wasn’t his first visit. He’d been here twice before over the past week. There’d never been a change. The house remained still and as black as a tomb. Just as it was tonight.
But instead of lending him confidence, the silence only bred foreboding.
Jason had been burglarizing homes for three years, time enough to have developed a balance between caution and foolhardiness. He had an instinct about most places—an inner radar, as he saw it—that had helped to keep him out of jail, so far.
But that radar wasn’t working here. He was as keyed up as during the first time he’d crept from the woods that girdled the house.
It was a rambling spread, once entirely agricultural, with barns, sheds, paddocks, and a centrally located family house. With time, most of the fields had been abandoned or sold off, and each structure at the farm’s core—depending on its original sturdiness—had fallen into disrepair, or to the brink of collapse. The one sign of expansion—at once attractive and daunting to Jason—was the steadily accumulating piles of looming, jagged scrap. Depending on their nature and/or size, they bulged outward from every orifice of every building, or seemed to erupt from the earth as semi-mountainous heaps of mechanical debris.
Balers, tractors, combines, tedders, conveyor belts, pickup trucks, generators, and more—ghostly, hulking, rusty, and inoperable monsters teetered drunkenly under the bright moon like otherworldly space junk gleaned from the night sky in the sweeping gesture of an invisible hand. It was an entangled collection of such enormity that it staggered the imagination, and—its scope magnified by the steely-sharp lunar lighting—ignited in Jason’s chest an instinctive fear about what or who, besides him, might also be silently lurking among the riot of sharp-edged shadows.
He knew of the crazy guy who lived here—Ben Kendall. A loner, an eccentric, a hoarder of vast appetite. He was a local fixture, keeping to himself but roaming constantly around the neighborhood, his ramshackle open-bed truck swaying under a precarious tower of mostly metal debris. Hand-lettered wooden panels along both sides of the truck advertised KENDALL’S SCRAP & RECYCLING, although everyone suspected that the “recycling” remained mostly in Ben’s mind. No one that Jason knew had ever seen that truck leave Ben’s property other than
An apparent accidental death turns out to be only the first of many murders