Hardboiled Magic · The Children of Loki

The Gentrified Bodega

The Gentrified Bodega

This story was brought to you in part though the sponsorship of:

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Heidi MacDonald pressed the buzzer for the third time and waited.  Finally, the door buzzed open and she climbed three flights of stairs to her dream apartment.  800 square feet.  Hardwood floors. An enormous antique bathtub on claw feet above checkered tiles.  A double bowl sink and ample counter space in the kitchen.  Two walk-in closets.  All for far below market rent.

Heidi MacDonald was pissed when she knocked on the door of her dream apartment.  A knock that wasn’t answered, so she knocked again and waited.    

The tiny sounds of shuffling feet could be heard inside the apartment, but the shuffling wasn’t headed towards the door.

“Where are my keys,” bellowed MacDonald as she started pounding on the door with a clenched fist. “You can’t have an open house after you’ve cashed my deposit check.”

The tiny sounds of shuffling continued.

“My keys or my money back,” the blood was rushing to her cheeks as she kept hitting the door.

The shuffling sound came towards the door. The sounds of locks turning came from behind the door and it opened a crack.

“Hello,” said MacDonald as she slowly pushed the door open a quarter of the way.

No one replied to her, so she hesitantly stuck her face into the opening between the door and the frame.

“Hello,” she said again.

Much to her shock, MacDonald discovered she was eye to eye with an insect whose head was the same size as her own.  The insect’s proboscis pierced her face and took a sip of all the blood that had been coming to the surface in her rage.  Then it dragged her into the apartment.

Heidi MacDonald was in her dream apartment for 2 minutes before she expired.

Clean Up in Aisle 3

An old man in a bright red coat with entirely too many buttons was trying to mop up the blood splatter in the back of the bodega. He smelled of liquor, but he didn’t seem wobbly.

“That’s where they found her,” asked Mister Lewis.

“Correct,” said Earl Lancaster, the new client. “There was blood on the fire escape in the alley.  It looked like she was dragged from the top floor.”

“Wounds consistent with bug bites, but too large,” said Mister Lewis, examining a picture of the victim. “This can’t be the only unusual thing if you called me.”

“Just the most dramatic,” Lancaster beckoned him away from the man with the mop and lowered his voice. “That woman was the third person who claims to have signed a lease for the top floor apartment. All three of them had a deposit check cashed and in all three, the bank’s video surveillance shows me cashing it.”

“Mysterious giant insect bites and a doppelganger,” mused Mister Lewis. “I suppose it’s unusual, but we’ll have to see if it’s unnatural.”

Mister Lewis had a business card that said “Physics Consultant,” but that title was a bit tongue-in-cheek. He consulted on matters where the laws of physics didn’t apply and unnatural creatures were involved.

“The other me aside,” Lancaster hissed, “this is pretty simple.  I’ve got a deal in place to sell this building. The neighborhood’s gentrified, so they’re going to tear it down and put up 20 stories of condos with a yogurt store on ground level.  It took forever to get the tenants out and the cops are holding up the sale.  I need you to get rid of whatever’s causing all this so I can cash out.”

“Are you in danger of being arrested over the doppelganger?”

“No.  I’m lawyered up and I’ve got iron clad alibis.  The cops don’t understand it, but they understand I wasn’t in those banks cashing checks.”

“What’s the story with the bodega and the guy with the mop,” asked Mister Lewis.

“The bodega isn’t a problem.  It was on a month to month lease before I bought the building.  The old lush is the grandfather of the owner.  Name’s O’Mooney, like the sign out front.  The owner used to live upstairs, but finally moved out when I raised the rent. He started showing up to run the place after his grandson moved out.”

O’Mooney must’ve heard his name.  He turned his head and half stumbled over to where Lancaster and Mister Lewis were huddled.

“I want to report that three bottles of whiskey were stolen when the body showed up,” said O’Mooney, a little too earnestly.

“Right,” said Lancaster. “I’m sure you can fudge the paperwork for your insurance claim, but you probably should make it a little higher than three if you want to get ahead.”

“I wouldn’t want to be the only one not fudging the paperwork around here,” replied O’Mooney.

 

The bank manager was only too happy to show Mister Lewis the video tape of Earl Lancaster cashing Heidi MacDonald’s housing deposit check.

There it was in crisp black and white footage.  Lancaster entered the bank, walked up to the teller, presented the check and an ID, then left. The teller’s facial expression was bit blank, but that was hardly conclusive.  That could have been personality as easily as an unnatural influence.  The picture was clear enough to rule out a disguise though.  A doppelganger or a twin.

“Did Lancaster have an account here,” Mister Lewis asked the manager.

“No, but his paperwork was in order both times,” replied the manager.

“Both times?”

“Yes.  That tape was from a week ago.  He was also here yesterday.  We had a customer come in trying to stop his check about an hour ago.  That’s when we realized he’d been here twice.”

The surveillance tape of the second incident was pulled up and it was almost identical to the first tape.

“You have the photos of the identification he used,” asked Mister Lewis.

“No,” said the manager. “The cameras we use for those have been breaking, the last week.”

Once more a convenient coincidence that couldn’t be confirmed or ruled out.  Although sometimes coincidence could be a trend unto itself.

“Would you be able to give me the phone number of this second customer,” asked Mister Lewis.

“No,” said the manager, “but under the circumstances, I can bend the rules a little.  Call him myself and hand you the phone.”

 

Flaming Angry

“That’s right,” Tariq Zawahir said into his cell phone. “I signed a lease two days ago. And then I saw the news about the murder online today.  Same apartment the dead lady signed a lease for.  The ad for the place is still up on Newman’s list.”

“Did you notice anything unusual about the man showing you the apartment,” asked Mister Lewis, speaking into the bank manager’s phone.

“He was very interested in getting my money,” replied Zawahir. “Offered me a discount if I’d pay in cash.  I should’ve seen this coming.”

“And it was the same man as in the surveillance video you saw in the bank,” asked Mister Lewis.

“It was,” replied Zawahir. “Which is good, because it means I know who I’m looking for and I’m going to get my money back.”

“It may not be quite as simple as that,” said Mister Lewis.  “There may be two different men who look the same.”

“Oh, I’m not worried about that,” replied Zawahir. “I made a new email address and arranged for a showing of that apartment.  That fricking idiot will be there and when I lay hands on him, I will have my money before I let go of him.  I’m about to walk into the place now.”

“You don’t want to do,” Mister Lewis started to say, but Zawahir had already hung up.

Tariq Zawahir rung the bell.  The door buzzed open and he climbed three flights of stairs to the front door of the apartment he’d thought was his.

Zawahir raised his hand to knock and noticed the door was open a crack.  A grim smile passed his lips as he threw the door open hard enough it bounced back off the wall and hit his shoulder as he stormed in.

He opened his mouth to demand his money, but before a word could form he was enveloped in a column of flame.

Tariq Zawahir died without a refund on his apartment.

 

The Bodega That Has Everything

When Mister Lewis got out of the cab, there were police cars in front of the building and a commotion inside the bodega on the first floor.  As he walked through the bodega’s front door, he was hailed by O’Mooney.  O’Mooney was hanging a sign above the cash register.

“Would like to sell me some gold,” asked O’Mooney as the left side of a “We Buy Gold” sign slipped into the hook he’d dropped from the ceiling.

“I don’t think I’ve been to a bodega that buys gold before,” said Mister Lewis.

“You change with the neighborhood,” O’Mooney said with a mild slur to his speech. “The neighborhood’s getting fancy and that means more jewelry and precious metals.  And I’m happy to take it off their hands.  Gold is the most reliable currency.  It travels well.  Never trust a currency that isn’t on the gold standard.”

There was a commotion in the back of the bodega as a police forensics team was swarming around roughly the same place Heidi MacDonald’s body was found.  Lancaster, hovering over the scene, noticed Mister Lewis and scurried to the front of the room.

“Ah, Mr. Lancaster,” O’Mooney greeted him. “Surely you have some gold for me.”

Lancaster paused, glanced at O’Mooney, glanced at the sign about the register and made a face.

“This is serious,” Lancaster growled.  “There’s a charred corpse in the back.  Nobody knows who it is or how it got there.”

“You sometimes get bodies when the neighborhood changes,” O’Mooney said to Mister Lewis. “But not usually when the neighborhood gets fancy, though.  Still… never let it be said O’Mooney’s doesn’t stock everything you could possible want.”

“They’re probably going to discover his name is Tariq Zawahir,” said Mister Lewis. “And then they’re going to discover he also signed a lease for that fourth floor apartment.  And then they’re going to discover his deposit check was cashed yesterday and he had an appointment to have the apartment shown about 20 minutes ago.”

“That body’s only been there 20 minutes,” offered O’Mooney. “He must’ve cooked fast.”

“How did it get back there,” asked Mister Lewis.

“I don’t know,” replied O’Mooney. “I was up here at the register and heard some noise. He was still flopping around a little for a couple minutes.”

“What did the store security camera show?”

“I was thinking if I do well with the gold, I might buy one of those,” O’Mooney smiled broadly. His left eye looked out of focus.

“He’s not the observant type,” Lancaster took Mister Lewis by the arm and pulled him outside. “So I’m going to need another alibi? What time did that check get cashed this time?”

“About 1PM.”

Lancaster froze up, closed his eyes and winced.

“You don’t have an alibi for 1PM.”

“Oh, no… I have an alibi,” said Lancaster. “I was having a business lunch with the developer who’s buying the building. Assuring him there was nothing to all the fake leases floating around and that we’d be able to finalize the transfer of deed soon.  The last thing I want to do is get him involved with a… this is a murder, right?”

“It’s hard to say how the police will end up classifying it,” replied Mister Lewis, “but yes.  This is looking personal and premeditated. Do you have any enemies?”

“I have tenants,” said Lancaster. “Same difference most of the time. The Renter’s Assistance Board.  The Housing Department. Board of Supervisors.  It comes with the business. But enemies that look like me and burn people alive?  This isn’t normal.”

“No, nothing about this is normal.  Someone or something has a bone to pick with you.  Possibly literally. Is your developer likely to drop the deal if people have died in the building?”

“He could care less about bodies unless there’s too much publicity and it affects the eventual condo sales.  In this market, nobody’s probably going to ask those kind of questions.  The Poltergeist remake didn’t do that well and nobody’s building on a cemetery.  At least I don’t think there was ever a cemetery under the building.  I could be wrong.”

“You’d probably better call that developer and get your alibi in order. It’s unlikely when I get to the bottom of this there will be an explanation suitable for the police.”

Lancaster shook his head in a combination of resignation and disgust, then removed a cellphone from his pocket as he was walked away.

Mister Lewis turned and noticed O’Mooney gesturing to him from inside the bodega’s front window.

“I’ve got a hot tip for you,” O’Mooney said after Mister Lewis re-entered the store. “If you dig around, you’ll find there’s been a fire in the apartments before.  Get it?  Fire – hot tip?”

 

The Fine Art of Complaining

O’Mooney was half in the bag, but he wasn’t off-base. With Lancaster convinced all his enemies were renters or people associated with renters’ rights, a look at what complaints were registered was far from out of line.  And there were plenty of complaints to be found through wonders of online records.

Lancaster had several buildings and the complaints ran the gamut from sloppy maintenance to a bit of housing discrimination.  He had a penchant for arbitraging his real estate dollars by buying old buildings under rent control and finding creative ways to convince people to leave, thus being able to double or triple the rent for the new tenant.  A tactic sure to make relatively few friends, with the possible exception of one renter who managed to figure out the apartment was cleared out by a false report that the original tenant was forced to vacate so that Lancaster’s brother could move in.  As no such person existed, let alone moved in, that renter was able to assume the 10 years of controlled rent rate of the renter who was evicted, so he probably was at least ambivalent towards Lancaster.

But the building where all hell was breaking loose, that had a special set of calamities and complaints, all recent.  The building originally had 6 apartments across 4 stories, with the bodega on the ground floor.  The complaints from the top floor read like a soap opera.

There were originally 2 apartments on the top floor, most recently occupied by an Eric Hump and a Monty O’Mooney, who Mister Lewis took to be the owner of the bodega and grandson of the O’Mooney currently running the store.

Hump was evicted after a fire in his apartment. The cause of and responsibility for the fire were disputed. The eviction paperwork cited tenant negligence in starting the fire, which originated in the kitchen and mostly only caused smoke damage. Hump filed a complaint that the rest of his apartment had been disturbed and that someone had entered the apartment to cause the fire. Two conflicting opinions with little evidence either way, but Lancaster was lawyered up and Hump wasn’t.

Then next complaint was that of an infestation. O’Mooney filed a complaint about bedbugs. After some prodding by the Housing Department, O’Mooney agreed to go on a vacation while exterminators took care of the bugs.

The complaint after that detailed O’Mooney returning to find out that the wall between his apartment and the apartment formerly occupied by Hump had been torn down.  Hump’s kitchen and bathroom had been dismantled.  The reward for the new layout?  A mere 200% rent hike.  While Lancaster couldn’t seem to make up his mind for the official record whether it was now a two bedroom or three bedroom, and issue of how to classify the former kitchen, he was very specific about how much should be charged for that floor, post-upgrades.

O’Mooney apparently moved out fairly quickly, rather than staying to contest.

The second floor had another eviction to make way for relative to move in. This time, it was supposed to be Lancaster’s mother.  It was likely that Lancaster at one time had a mother, although Mister Lewis wasn’t entire sure whether the mother was still alive. The remaining three apartments, while apparently vacant, had no outstanding paperwork filed against them.  At least not that Mister Lewis could easily find.

“There are some things about your building’s records we should talk about,” Mister Lewis said into his phone.

“Records can be contested, but go ahead,” replied Lancaster.

“How upset was Monty O’Mooney when he moved out?”

“Medium. He wasn’t happy about the rent that came with the remodeling, but he saw the writing on the wall with his store’s lease being about to end.  Upset enough he let his grandfather run the store until we shut it down.”

“Here’s the thing,” said Mister Lewis. “You’ve got a death that resembles insect bites and someone burned to death.  You’ve got a fire incident and a bug incident on that floor.  That would be one helluva coincidence.”

“Now look,” Lancaster interjected. “There’s a lot of hearsay about how that fire got started and the court said it was him, not me.  And I can’t possibly be responsible for somebody bringing home bedbugs. Those could have come from anywhere. I can’t be accused…”

“I’m not making judgements,” Mister Lewis returned the interjections. “At this point, it doesn’t matter what the court ruled, it just matters that it happened and a pattern is taking shape. Although how it originally happened might make a difference if someone is basing a curse off it.”

“No comment.”

“Did your mother move into unit 301?”

“Let’s just say she reserves the right to move in when she returns from Florida.”

“How did 302 vacate?”

“Moved in with his boyfriend.  Made him pay an early cancellation fee.”

“And the second floor?”

“They, um… might have had some problems with the gas not working.  It happens like that sometimes.”

Mister Lewis paused to exhale.

“It would not be good if a gas leak met a burning body,” said Mister Lewis.

“That’s a tough one,” replied Lancaster. “On the one, I might not be able to charge as much if there’s nothing left on the lot. On the other hand, that developer really only wants the lot and it might end up costing him less for the teardown.  Probably would depend on the media spin.  Could be a win-win.”

 

The Real Estate Tour

Lancaster was not overly enthused to meet Mister Lewis for a room by room inspection of the apartments. Particularly now that the question of whether his apartments’ gas problems might be fodder for a curse and the whole place could conceivably explode.

Despite their fears, the second floor of the building appeared to be empty and clean. There was no smell of gas, although Lancaster honestly couldn’t remember if he’d had it turned back on. The apartments had some dust settled, but the dust was undisturbed. No one had been moving around in either apartment for some time.

Mister Lewis and Lancaster climbed the stairs to the third floor.  Apartment 302 was much like the second floor apartments: empty with a bit of dust.  Apartment 301 was different.

When Lancaster opened to door to 301, he found the apartment furnished.

“This shouldn’t be in here,” Lancaster said, glancing around to take in the couch, coffee table and recliner decorating the living room.

“Looks like the kitchen is full,” said Mister Lewis, peering through the doorway. “Is it possible somebody moved in without you knowing?”

“Nothing that’s happened this week is possible,” grumbled Lancaster. “And this furniture looks familiar for some reason.”

“Looks like the bedroom’s furnished, too,” said Mister Lewis.

The pair of them walked into the bedroom to find a bed, a nightstand, a dresser and a shipping box lying on the floor that was a bit over five feet long and two feet high.

“The bed’s made,” said Mister Lewis, “but I don’t see any evidence of anyone living here.  It’s too neat.  Like a showroom.”

“What’s with the giant cardboard box,” asked Lancaster. “That’s the only thing that’s not furniture.”

The two of them leaned over to examine the box.  Three layers of packing tape traced the edges and seams, but it was pristine.  There were no dents, scuffs or signs of having been shipped.

“Was this thing shipped or getting ready to be shipped,” asked Lancaster.

“One way to find out,” replied Mister Lewis, producing a pocket knife. “This smells like something’s rotting inside.  Anybody in this building have pets?”

            “No pets allowed.”

Mister Lewis sliced through the tape at the end of the box.  Enough to pry the corner up and peek in.  The odor got worse as the corner lifted.

“I think that’s somebody’s foot,” said Mister Lewis. “You might want to back into the living room. You don’t want to be in here if this is a body and it animates.”

“You mean somebody left me a zombie,” stammered Lancaster.

“Or a wight.  Or a wraith.  Or just a corpse.  You want to back up. This isn’t how they’re usually stored, but it might be about to get worse.”

“Wouldn’t it be better to just burn it,” asked Lancaster.

“Only if it starts moving.”

Keeping the box at arm’s length, Mister Lewis slowly cut the tape around the edges and lifted the lid free.

Nothing moved.

The box contained the body of a slightly over-dressed woman surrounded by Styrofoam peanuts. She looked to have been about 80 when she died and there weren’t any marks or bruises immediately visible.

“It’s a just a corpse,” Mister Lewis called out to Lancaster, who was hovering in the living room. “There’s a note on its chest. ‘Looks like she moved in after all.  Does that save you a suit?’ Mean anything to you?”

Lancaster, entered the doorway with a wrinkled brow and froze.  Color drained from his face.

“You recognize her,” said Mister Lewis.

“That’s not possible,” whispered Lancaster. “She’s in Florida.”

“Who’s in Florida?”

“My Mother.”

Lancaster backed away from the doorway and bumped into the couch.

“Oh no,” Lancaster groaned. “That’s why it looked familiar.  This is her couch in Florida.  How the hell did it get here?”

“We don’t know if Hell was involved,” said Mister Lewis. “That’s not out of the question, though. Look, I still need to inspect the top floor. I don’t think you want to go up there. Go downstairs to the bodega and wait for me.

“Are we going to call the police?”

“I don’t know yet. Go downstairs.”

Lancaster went downstairs and Mister Lewis went upstairs. The door to the floor’s now sole apartment was ajar. Mister Lewis gently pushed it open with the extended index finger of his left hand. It wasn’t dusty like the second floor apartments, but it was just as empty.

Mister Lewis stepped into the apartment, leaving the door ajar.  He moved inwards and looked into the kitchen.  Empty.  He moved down the hall to the bedroom. Empty.  He stepped further down the hall to the bathroom. Empty. This was where the wall separating what had been the second apartment on the floor had been torn down. As he took a step across the threshold of the former wall, the back of his neck began to tingle as though he was being watched.

Mister Lewis turned around. There was nothing there. Or was there?

He thought he saw something moving on the floor. He did. It was a bug. And it was getting bigger.

Shuffling towards him, now the size of terrier and still growing was a bedbug. Not a starving one, either.  The swollen blood red abdomen meant it had been feeding on someone.

Mister Lewis ducked in the bathroom and shut the door.

Something was hitting the door, and hitting it a little higher on the frame with each hit.

Looking around, the bathroom was bare.  Bathtub. Sink. Toilet.

Lacking a better improvised weapon, Mister Lewis picked up the cover from the toilet tank and held the heavy ceramic above his head like a club.

The door buckled a little.  Then it fell in. Climbing over it was a now man-sized bedbug.

Mister Lewis swung the toilet tank cover down the bedbug’s head.  The cover shattered with the hit but the bedbug went down, head hitting the toilet, momentarily stunned. 

Mister Lewis pressed the advantage and took advantage of “normal” physics.  With the bedbug’s head on the toilet bowl and off the ground, he started stomping at its thorax, the segment between the head and abdomen.

The thorax caved and the head separated, knocking the toilet loose from the wall and causing a water leak. Then the abdomen started to leak the blood the bedbug had been feeding on.  The blood mixed with the water to make swirling patterns as the floor flooded and started to drain into a hole in the wall behind where the toilet had been.

Mister Lewis pushed the abdomen segment back with his foot and produced a penlight from his pocket.  Shining the light into the hole, it appeared to be deeper than expected and would’ve been where the two apartments were originally divided.  And there was something metallic reflecting light back at him.

Sticking his arm in the hole, he pulled out two large, curved pieces of a strange black metal. The pieces, when held together, seemed to form some sort of old fashioned crock or kettle, but at least one piece was missing. He looked at the metal again and recognized it. Unlike separating the bug’s head, this was not normal physics. But it did explain a few of the thing that had been happening.

He took the pieces and crawled over the abdomen that was partially blocking the door.

 

The Thing at the End of the Rainbow

“I pay top dollar for the gold,” O’Mooney said to Lancaster. “I know you’ve got some.  Let’s make a deal.  Get the gold’s weight off your shoulders.”

Lancaster just shook his head no. He looked like he might faint and he almost did when Mister Lewis entered the bodega.  That was partially due to the blood that had gotten smeared on him crawling out of the bathroom, however.

“Those really were giant bedbug bites that killed Heidi MacDonald,” Mister Lewis. “Enlarged and ensorcelled bedbugs, to be precise about it.”

“Did you make an offering to the house spirit,” interjected O’Mooney. “It can help with things like that.”

“House spirit,” Mister Lewis repeated. “Interesting jacket you have there.  Seven buttons in each row?”

“Aye,” said O’Mooney. “And seven rows. I thought you’d be one to be aware of his surroundings.”

“Why leave the house spirit an offering of whiskey when he’s already offered it to himself,” Mister Lewis stepped up to the counter and looked O’Mooney in the eye.

“Well, it’s not like I can actually get drunk,” O’Mooney said with a sigh. “My kind can only go halfway.  But you knew our hands are always steady.”

“What are you talking about,” Lancaster mumbled.

“He’s been hiding in plain sight,” Mister Lewis replied, dropping the two pieces of metal he’d found in the wall onto the counter. “The red coat and buttons should have been obvious, but it didn’t click until I found that in his grandson’s bathroom.”

“I would like to know how it was broken,” O’Mooney piped in.

Mister Lewis and O’Mooney both turned to stare at Lancaster.

“Oh,” Lancaster started to reply and then paused to gather his thoughts. “Probably just something that got broken when we were taking out the adjoining bathroom.”

“This isn’t the time for games,” said Mister Lewis. “Did you take something out of the pot?”

“Oh, he did,” O’Mooney assured him. “And he’s been carrying it on him ever since. I can tell these things.”

“Am not,” Lancaster was starting to recover from his shock.

“Mister Lancaster,” began Mister Lewis. “Look at that metal. It’s the wrong color and texture. It comes from Fairie. What did you take? We may be able to end this very quickly.”

“Oh, for the love of Mike,” groaned O’Mooney. “Will this give you a clue?”

He waved hand and he was suddenly only two feet tall and standing on the counter next to the register.

Lancaster stared at him blankly.

“Hello?  Leprechaun talking,” shouted O’Mooney. “Now give me the damn gold.”

“But… you’re not wearing green,” stammered Lancaster.

O’Mooney howled in frustration.

“Yeah, the whole green stereotype is kind of a Disney thing,” said Mister Lewis. “But he’s a Leprechaun all right and if you took his gold, that means you’ve got some wishes coming.”

Magic wishes were apparently something Lancaster could process, or perhaps it was just the idea of getting something for free.  Either way, he stuck a hand into his pocket and pulled out a fistful of gold coins.

“I wish I never have to follow the housing code again,” Lancaster said with the enthusiasm normally reserved for New Year’s Eve toasts.

“That’s my grandson’s gold,” said O’Mooney with a sigh. “I’m not bound if it’s someone else’s gold. I had him clear out before old clueless there could extort any wishes. And I’m not sure I’d grant him wishes if it were mine, rules or no. ‘Earl Lancaster.’ An Englishman taking on airs of nobility. I’ve had quite enough of that over the years. Hand it over.”

Mister Lewis turned towards O’Mooney, only to take a quick step back as another bedbug started growing to unusual size on the counter next to O’Mooney.

“He dropped more than one bedbug in my grandson’s apartment,” O’Mooney said a little too calmly as two more bedbugs sprung up behind Lancaster, blocking the door. “Look at the flat, brown bellies on them.  They must be hungry. And let’s not forget the fire our dear landlord set.”

A column of flame blinked in and out of existence next to Lancaster.

“But you were right,” O’Mooney nodded towards Mister Lewis. “This is all going to be over quickly. Hand over that gold and I’ll be on my way. It doesn’t belong to you. Otherwise…”

“Just like that,” asked Mister Lewis.

“Just like that. I don’t care to do business with the likes of him.”

Lancaster stared at the coins in his hand before speaking.

“I thought I was paying you to make him go away.”

“He is going to go away,” replied Mister Lewis. “But if I do it the hard way, I don’t think he’s going to let you walk out of here.”

A column of flame popped up next to Lancaster again and this time it didn’t wink out.

Lancaster tossed the fistful of coins at O’Mooney. Somehow they all fell into the pocket of his coat. For the next three minutes, Lancaster was pulling coins from his pockets and throwing them with increasing force. Each time, the coins would land softly in O’Mooney’s pocket.

“Now before I leave,” began O’Mooney, “I should tell you I’ve done something in preparation for tonight. You like to use lawyers on your tenants, so I’ve… moved some things through legal channels. I’ve arranged for this building to go on the National Register of Historic Places. You’re going to want to restore the top floor to how you found it. Save yourself some penalties.  And forget about tearing it down now. You should be getting the paperwork on that tomorrow.  Congratulations.”

And then O’Mooney disappeared. The column of fire blinked out and the bedbugs returned to normal size.  Mister Lewis ground the bug that had been staring at him hungrily under his heel.

“He’s gone,” said Mister Lewis, who walked to door, but paused before exiting. “Per our agreement, his departure concludes our business.”

“But the horror is just beginning,” said Lancaster.

 

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