A Cool Little Hell

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Chapter 1

1

Charleston, South Carolina

Two Years Later

Dusk.

Paul Stoneburner waited in the tool shed, behind the house in the violent spring. The azaleas blazed so intensely it hurt his eyes: cerise, alabaster, and pink. He had not been back to the city in twenty years. There was a part of him which would always hate it. He was standing in front of a window which faced the rear of the mansion. He was listening to the sounds inside the house through his earpiece. Miggy had bugged the place a month ago. Stoneburner knew the habits of the family, but more importantly, he knew her habits.

The Avery family was in Paris—everyone but Dottie, and it was Dottie he wanted.

He wore a pair of white cotton gloves and coveralls. He had a leather belt of tools around his waist. Over his heart laid a name tag: Butch. He had parked Butch’s gardening van in front of the mansion on Church Street.

He heard something. He pressed his earpiece. It was her key turning the lock in the door. Miggy really did a good job.

He listened to Dottie enter the home, then run up the stairs. She stepped down the upper hall and went to her room. She kicked off her shoes. One of them hit a wall, knocked something over which crashed to the floor.

“Shoot,” Dottie said. “Oh, shoot, shoot, shoot.”

Listening to her made him grin with hate. Dottie was so old-fashioned. Most girls would have screamed a line of profanities, but not Dottie.

How cute. How sweet. You snake.

She set her alarm clock, fluffed a pillow, and hocked.

Then she did it again, a deep, way-back-in-the-throat hock.

He closed his eyes. In less than a minute, he heard a reedy little snore.

“Oh Dottie,” he said. “You swallowed it?”

Soon something will swallow you.

Normally she would sleep an hour, then rise and prepare for her date.

Not tonight, though. Not tonight.

He checked the black belly bag on his belt. Everything was there. He looked at his watch. He would give her time to make sure she was asleep.

A few minutes later, he heard something odd inside the house: the front door opened and shut.

Who was this? It couldn’t be anybody in the family.

Whoever it was moved through the house quietly. There was another sound. Things were being moved, slid about, and then something else: a clinking. The ring of metal on metal.

He wondered if it could be Brad Cushing. It had to be someone Dottie knew; otherwise, they would have knocked.

He leaned against a wall in the tool shed. He wondered if he should abort his plan. All the time, all the meticulous detail down the drain because of this intruder.

No. I won’t stop. They owe me their souls.

He pulled out Sticker: a copper pin set in a steel handle. Like an ice pick, but better. He left the tool shed and ran to the basement window of the house. The lock had been disabled a week ago.

Once inside, he waited. The movements had stopped. The house was silent.

Had he imagined it?

He held Sticker against his thigh and went up the basement stairs which led to the kitchen.

He stood in the big, bright room. Expensive pots and pans hung above a granite island. A hallway led from the kitchen straight to the front door. He put his earpiece back in.

Silently he stepped down the runner in the hall. He made his way to the door of the dining room and peeped inside.

A black man wearing a red bandanna was kneeling in front of the buffet, his hands gleaming with silver flatware.

He couldn’t believe it—a burglar. A burglar was hitting the house.

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