Jim Younger was a copper thief like his father before him. His predilection for stealing the metal led to most of his earthly troubles. He broke his ankle when he was nineteen and sneaking into a condo development. He had a nasty scar on his left calf from an overzealous guard dog when he was twenty-four. Blood, pain, and working in the dark were still better than asking someone if they wanted fries with their burger. Fuck that.
He didn’t get rich. Didn’t matter. Life was what it was. A decent haul here and there was enough to get by, and even a shit haul would be more than he had in his pocket right now. That draw, the scent of copper, was why he was now smoking a cigarette among the trees at the edge of a lonesome field. Midnight in the ass-end of nowhere. Rumbles of thunder and violet spears of lightning licking the approaching clouds.
He had parked his ratty old pickup down an old logging road fifty yards off. He wanted to scout the area before bothering to drive down. Better to get a sense of what he was dealing with first.
Jim didn’t have a clue what was being built and didn’t much care. The woman he was nailing—some uptight schoolteacher named Holly who had a fondness for fucking criminals—mentioned that her husband was a contractor. After a couple of months, she started telling him details about projects, locations, and whatnot. He’d go in, steal a bit, and later regale her with the stories at whatever local motel she decided on that day.
He stubbed out his cigarette with his boot and slunk across the field with his bag of tools, moving toward the trio of buildings.
As he got closer, he saw a small trailer and what looked like two large sheds for storing building materials. A makeshift dirt track ran through the field toward the buildings. There weren’t any vehicles other than a backhoe. He hoped there might be some copper pipe but wasn’t hopeful. Only the foundation had been dug, so it was still early in the process.
Might be something, though. Power tools could fetch some good money, and they were easy enough to grab. He headed to the trailer and checked the door with his gloved hand.
He swung the door open and stepped inside, already feeling a grin creep across his face. He might even be lucky enough to find an envelope full of petty cash if her husband was dumb enough to leave the trailer unlocked. It was during that thought that something rammed hard into his chest. A gun barrel? His stomach dropped.
“No, hey, no,” Jim said, digging for an excuse. The shape before him was almost invisible in the trailer’s blackness. “I was just looking for a place to get out of the weather. Rain’s coming, man.”
No one answered, but the barrel still pushed into his chest. Several rapid pops of compressed air erupted. Pain lit up his torso. He stumbled backward, nearly falling, gasping, clawing at the nails embedded deep in his chest.
“Fuck,” he said, trying to dig out a nail. Knees shook, fingers trembled. “Honest man. I wasn’t doing anything. Please help me.”
“Already helped yourself.”
Jim’s shaking hands continued to work at the nails.
The silhouetted man from the trailer rushed him. Jim looked up just in time to see the head of a shovel come crashing down on his skull. Blinding light then nothing.
Raindrops woke him. His head and chest ached, and he could taste vomit. He could smell the metallic tang of blood. He lay at the bottom of the foundation.
“I was building this house for her, you know. A surprise,” her husband said. He was somewhere above, still just a silhouette. He tossed a shovelful of wet dirt onto Jim and laughed.
Jim tried to scream, but the gag prevented it. He squirmed and rolled. That was when he saw Holly, a crown of nails protruding from her skull, dead eyes staring into his.