Regular soap didn’t get the carp stink off of me, so I opted for the canned tomato juice I keep around in case of skunk. That made me feel like a Bloody Mary, but being a brunch drink was better than smelling like day-old catch.
I knew when I ambled in to Hamilton Hardware the next day that I’d be in for a ribbing.
“Whoa, Chick!” Blair Hamilton called, her affectionate mangling of my last name. I’d long ago quit correcting her—since it only made things worse—but for the record, it’s pronounced “voy-chick.” I’ll answer to anything close. Most people who can’t figure it out just go with “Mark.”
“Whoa, yourself,” I replied. “What’s the word on the street?”
Blair blew raspberries. “This is Conneaut Lake. Nothing ever happens here.” Blair is five-ten to my six-two and with her military background, I’d put my money on her in a fair fight. She inherited the family hardware store, the third-generation Hamilton to supply the good folks of Conneaut Lake with all their hunting, fishing, shooting, and hardware needs.
She gave a knowing grin. “Except that I hear there was a commotion over at the Spillway in Linesville last night. Poachers or something.”
“That so? Can’t trust anyone these days,” I replied. The store was fairly empty. I’d intentionally waited until the “dawn patrol” of DIY-ers and contractors filled their urgent orders and I knew Blair would have time for some less conventional requests.
“I got a job coming up,” I said when the few remaining customers were out of earshot.
“Gonna need another big bag of rock salt, a case of shotgun shells, and about fifty feet of hemp rope.” I paused. “Oh, and can you let Chiara know I need her help on something?”
“How about you tell me yourself?” Chiara Moretti Hamilton slipped behind the counter and threw an arm around Blair’s waist.
“I need some intel,” I replied.
Chiara gave her wife a squeeze and then beckoned for me to follow her. “Step into my parlor,” she said.
I followed her through a doorway Blair had cut into one wall of the hardware store that led to the adjacent building, which had been many things over the last century. Now, it housed Crystal Dreams, Chiara’s New Age bookstore, café, and gift shop. In the renovated office upstairs, Chiara also ran a website development company. On the sly, she did Dark Web research for me and other hunters, and there was an invitation-only back room behind the hardware store that carried a variety of silver, iron, spelled tools and weapons, holy water by the keg, and other hardto- find herbs and items necessary for hunting or warding off ghoulies and ghosties and longleggedy beasties. She and Blair weren’t even thirty yet, and they made me feel like a slacker, even though I had less than ten years on them and owned my own car repair shop.
“Coffee first,” she said, holding up a hand to stop me before I got on a roll. “And sugar.” She poured me a cup of joe, black, and started a latte for herself. Then Chiara reached into the display case and pulled out a couple of sfogliatelli pastries fresh from her family’s bakery.
“Good, right?” She nudged as I bit into the lobster tail-shaped flaky bit of heaven and gave a pornographic groan of sheer bliss.
“You’re not going to make Blair jealous, you know,” she joked. “I don’t bat for that team.”
“Shhh,” I joked. “Don’t ruin the moment. This is between me and the pastry,” I said, and
rolled my eyes back in my head with another groan.
“You better not try that if you ever stop by the bakery,” Chiara warned. “Grandma won’t put
up with any ‘lascivious goings on.’”
“Spoilsport,” I retorted. Chiara treats me like one of her older brothers, and considering that
she’s got five of them, she can dish it out and take it with the best of them. I chugged the coffee,
still groggy from the late night, and Chiara obligingly refilled it before taking a seat at the bar
next to me.
“So what is it this time?” she asked. At the moment, the cafe was unusually quiet. That
wouldn’t last. Tonight, the Tuesday night Bunko group would be gathering in the social room in
the back, and no one aside from a privileged few would realize it was really the local coven.
There aren’t a lot of people in the supernatural community around these parts and mostly, we
look after our own.
“I need everything you can find on the old Keystone Ordinance Works plant,” I said, sipping
the coffee to make it last and savoring the caffeine buzz.
“You mean the KOW?” She pronounced it “cow” and laughed when I looked puzzled. “The
old TNT plant in Geneva?”
I nodded. “Yeah. You’ve heard the story about the Nazi sniper that got shot off the water
“Yeah, well apparently it’s true, and something’s got his ghost riled up.”
“You know that place is dangerous, right?” Chiara cautioned. She tucked a strand of dark hair
behind one multiply-pierced ear. Chiara’s thin enough to qualify as “waif-ish,” but she’d hit me
if I ever called her that. With long dark hair, big brown eyes, and a light olive complexion,
Chiara’s a looker, but she’s been heart-and-soul for Blair since high school. “Part of it’s owned
by a big corporation that doesn’t like urban explorers, some of it’s still military—and lord
knows, they’re not friendly—and the other piece is owned by a local guy who’s put out the word
that trespassers will be arrested, or maybe shot.”
“Nice,” I muttered. “Actually, I’ve got the invitation from a guy in the corporation, and
they’re paying me. I did a job for his uncle—got rid of a ghost that was hanging around his
hunting cabin, scaring off the game—and got me access.”
“Not going to help you if your Nazi spook Heil-Hitlers over onto private property and you
get your butt filled with buckshot.”
I shrugged. “Won’t be the first time, probably not the last either.” I drained my coffee cup
and met her gaze. “Can you see what you can dig up? I’ve got all the easy stuff Google can give
“You want what’s in the old records—old government records—don’t you?”
“Something powered this ghost up after seventy years, and he’s been poltergeisting around
the place, vandalizing corporate property.”
“You sure it isn’t kids?” Chiara asked. “Every high school kid around here knows the story,
and a ‘no trespassing’ sign is an open invitation for anyone who wants to impress a date enough
to get lucky.”
My eyes narrowed. “Do I sense a story here?”
Chiara grinned, though her cheeks colored a bit. “Maybe. Blair hopped the fence and brought
me back a souvenir when we were first dating.”
“And did she get lucky?”
Chiara’s blush deepened, as if I hadn’t already guessed the answer. “Shut up,” she protested
in jest, and smacked me on the arm. “When do you need the intel?”
“As soon as you can get it,” I replied. “Apparently the company is planning to refurbish some
of the old buildings on its land for labs and product testing. The planning team that went out to
look at the buildings thought they were being shot at. They called the cops, reported gun shots,
and holed up like they were under siege.”
“And when the cops came?”
I shook my head. “Nothing. No spent shells, no footprints or tire tracks, no bullet holes. Now
the architect and the designer refuse to set foot on the property until it gets ‘exorcised,’” I added,
making air quotes.
“Are you trying to put Father Minnelli out of a job?” Chiara teased.
I put my hand over my heart. “As God is my witness, and much to my grandmother’s sorrow,
I’ve got no interest in being a priest,” I swore. “I just didn’t have time to waste explaining that
‘exorcising’ ghosts won’t do a damn bit of good. Demons, yes. Ghosts, no.”
“Is it actually dangerous?” Chiara finished her coffee.
“Don’t know, don’t want to find out the hard way,” I replied, draining the rest of my cup.
“That’s why I need anything you can find for me. If I’ve got to chase the damn thing, I want to
know everything about that property, and that ghost.”
Chiara looked up as the door chimed and a customer walked in. “I can work on it tonight,
after we close. Should have something to you first thing tomorrow.”
I grinned. “Blair’s got fine taste in women. You’re the best!”
Chiara punched me in the shoulder, just enough to twinge. “Gotta go. I have to set up for the
Bunko meeting tonight,” she added with a wink.
Shit. That meant she’d be closing late. I was in a hurry for her data, but not enough to piss off
a coven of witches. I sighed, carried my empty cup up to the counter, and ambled back to pick up
the rest of my purchases from Blair before I headed home.
I pulled into my driveway with a truckload of supplies and a hot pizza. “Home” is a cabin
down a gravel lane in between Adamsville and Atlantic, two towns with a combined population
of less than two hundred. Suits me fine, although now and again I still have to go out and handle
restless ghosts from the big tornado twenty years ago that damn near took out both towns and a
couple other ‘burgs, too. I reckon we’ve got more residents under the ground than above it, and
since I keep the local cemeteries blessed and ghost-free, it makes for a nice, quiet place to put my
feet up between hunts.
Chiara pulled some strings—legal and not so much—to get me better internet out here than
anyone would ever believe. I popped open an Iron City beer and fired up my laptop to go over
everything again. Demon, my big softie of a Doberman, planted himself next to me and dropped
his head into my lap for attention. I scratched his ears as I read over my notes.
If I’d have put as much effort into my homework back when I was in school as I do getting
ready for a hunt, I’d have the grades to be a brain surgeon. Sadly, I couldn’t see my way past
anything that didn’t have to do with cars or girls back then. Girls broke my heart; cars didn’t,
which is one reason I’m still a mechanic after all this time, but my love life’s deader than most of
the things I hunt.
It’s not that I’d mind having a good woman in my life. It’s just that finding one who would
put up with my anime and comics collection, my poker nights, and the odd hours I keep at the
shop would be rough enough, without the monster hunting stuff on top. My wife Lara left me
after the wendigo incident. Blair and Chiara are lucky—they didn’t have to convince each other
that the supernatural shit is real. Blair saw stuff that can’t be explained when she was military,
and Chiara’s brothers offed a werewolf when she was in high school. Most of the time, I’m too
busy to think about finding myself a girlfriend.
Or maybe I’m just chickenshit.
I finished the beer and pizza and powered up my secured search engine. There are many
times when my browsing might raise a few questions, so I figure it’s better not to take chances.
Urban explorers have done a pretty fine job of taking pictures despite Keystone’s “off limits”
status. The photos revealed dilapidated two- and three-story brick buildings with their windows
long broken out, rusted machinery, junker trucks from the 1940s, storage silos, and the famous
water tower—still standing after all these years. According to the blog posts, someone had
thought it was a good idea to raise cattle on what had to be a Superfund site. I wondered if the
cows still ran loose at KOW, and if the sniper cared.
I’d heard the story about the Nazi spy at the TNT plant when I was growing up, but now that
I needed details, they were hard to find or were classified, and any eyewitnesses were either over
ninety or dead. Still, I pieced together what I could. It wasn’t a pretty picture.
My phone rang at the same time a chime on my computer indicated that I had new email.
“Did you get what I sent?” Chiara asked as I juggled the phone and logged in to the Dark Web,
trying not to get pizza sauce all over my keyboard.
“Give me a minute,” I growled, wiping away a stray bit of sauce as I pulled up her file on the
anonymous file-sharing network and looked at the results. “All right, walk me through it.”
“The spy’s name was Helmut Zinzer, but he infiltrated the plant back in 1944 as Hank
Stump. His job was to sabotage the production of ordnance in any way he could, and also to find
out about the secret projects German high command suspected were taking place at the plant,”
Chiara recapped as I scanned the old documents she sent. Even though they came from
government servers and over seventy years had passed, parts were blacked out for security
“Secret projects?” I took a swig of IC and peered more closely at the old files.
“Pittsburgh manufacturing was hot stuff back then, some of the best engineering in the
world,” Chiara said with pride. “There was a big glass company that tried to build an invisible
I let out a low whistle. “You mean, like Wonder Woman’s?”
Chiara sighed. “You win, Blair,” she called out, and I heard snickering. “Yes, comic nerd,
like Wonder Woman’s. Only they wanted to build it for real, out of super special secret glass.
Zinzer was supposed to halt production, assassinate the engineers on the project, and grab the
“Only it didn’t work out,” I added, still torn between being annoyed and secretly pleased that
Chiara and Blair had bet on whether my comic-fu would pick up on the connection.
“Closer than you’d think,” Chiara said as I flipped through the rest of the file. “The two lead
engineers died suddenly, one with a heart attack and the other from a car accident, both
suspicious. An early prototype was destroyed in a lab fire. But the project continued, and rumor
has it that a second, improved prototype was not only built, but aced its initial tests. Zinzer stole
some schematics and passed them off to an associate, then went back to finish the job. He
planned to detonate some of the ordnance, destroy the lab and prototype, and get the hell out of
“But someone picked him off the water tower before he could do that, and now he’s haunting
the place,” I said. A long pull finished my beer, and I scowled at the computer. “Bad enough we
never got the flying cars they promised, but we coulda had invisible planes, too?”
“Life’s a bitch,” Chiara commiserated.
“So why now?” I asked, leaning back and debating popping open another beer. “Has ol’
Helmut been haunting the place all this time, but there wasn’t anyone around to see?”
“You mean, if a ghost haunts in a forest and no one’s there, does he make a sound?”
“This is the sound of one finger clapping,” I muttered, tossing her the salute. She responded
with a chin flick.
“Could be,” Chiara replied. “I mean, who would know or care? But get this—the corporation
that hired you is the legal successor of the company that wanted to make the invisible plane out
of special glass all those years ago. Only now, we’ve got all kinds of polymers…”
“And so it might actually be possible,” I said. “Holy shit...so Helmut’s back on the job,
different war, same shit.”
“That’s what it sounds like to me,” Chiara replied.
“Okay, thanks. You totally rock. This helps.”
“Hey Mark—be careful,” Chiara cautioned. “Helmut was a dangerous guy, and he offed a
couple of people before he lost his luck. He might be pissed about that, so watch your back.”
“Will do.” Just what I needed: a pissed off Nazi ghost assassin. Well, I already spent the
advance so it’s too late to back out now. Guess I’d just have to gank the Jerry and save the
Funny, I’d always pictured myself more Space Ghost than Wonder Woman.
“And I scored big,” Chiara continued.
“TMI,” I protested. “I don’t want to know—”
“Not like that, perv,” she joked. “I was talking about the whole TNT plant thing with Blair,
and she reminded me that her aunt’s neighbor used to tell stories about working there during the
war. Want to go see what he remembers?”
Which is how I ended up standing on a stranger’s doorstep to see a man about a ghost. I’d
like to say my innate charm opened the door, but I’m betting it was Chiara’s box of homemade
Italian pastries that did the trick.
Despite being over ninety, Eugene was sharp as a tack, and he told us plenty of stories,
including a first-hand account of the night his Army patrol shot the sniper off a water tower.
“Thank you so much,” Chiara said, after Eugene’s story came to an end. “We’ve taken up
enough of your time.”
“Would you like to see the stuff I kept from when I worked there?” Eugene’s rheumy eyes
sparkled, and I bet he was having more fun flirting with Chiara and eating the pastries than he’d
had in a long time.
“We’d love to!” I replied before Chiara had a chance to protest.
Eugene got to his feet and reached for his cane. “Be back in a moment,” he promised, setting
off down the hall.
“Blair is gonna kill me,” Chiara murmured. “I’m late opening the shop.”
“Wait ‘til she finds out you’ve been flirting up a storm,” I joked, elbowing her.
She rolled her eyes. “Blair knows better.”
Eugene shuffled back with a box in one hand and put it on the coffee table before settling
back into his worn recliner. “I kept a little of this and a little of that over the years,” he said.
“This is the box from my time in the Army.” He opened it, revealing a collection of badges and
medals, hunting licenses, snapshots, and…buttons. Dozens of buttons of all kinds.
I must have looked confused because Eugene laughed. “My mother was quite the seamstress
when I was a boy, and I used to amuse myself playing with her button jar. Never quite got over
my fascination, so I’ve always picked up the odd button when I saw it and added it to my
Then he held up a pebbled black button. “You know where I got this?” Eugene asked. When
Chiara and I shook our heads, he chuckled. “Our Jerry spy ripped his jacket when he took a
header off the water tower. We found the button in the grass. German-issue. I pocketed it, since I
figured it didn’t matter to anyone else, and I’d been part of the team that got in the lucky shot.”
I felt a chill go down my spine. “Mr. Sprake—”
“Eugene,” he corrected.
“You probably aren’t going to believe me, but that spy you shot came back as a ghost.”
To my surprise, Eugene nodded. “That’s old news, son.”
“Yep,” Eugene replied, and helped himself to another pastry. “We’d see wisps up on the
catwalk around the water tower after he was shot and hear a voice muttering in German. Never
came to anything, and then we all cleared out, and the place stood empty for a long time. Figured
it served him right, being stuck as the last sentry after trying to kill us.”
“He’s back, and a lot stronger—strong enough to cause trouble,” I said. “I was wondering, I
know it’s a lot to ask, but may I have that button? I need to make sure he doesn’t hurt anyone
Eugene fixed me with his gaze, and I felt like a teenager caught breaking curfew. “You’re
that monster hunter guy, aren’t you? I’ve heard about you.”
I tried not to cringe. For obvious reasons, I didn’t advertise my side job, figuring that people
who needed my services would find me on their own. Still, word gets around, and I hated to
think what he might have heard.
Eugene chuckled. “None of that now,” he chided. “Blair’s older brother was at the VFW and
had a bit much to drink one night, started telling stories, and got to the one about that werewolf
he and his brothers took care of. Said there was more stuff like that out there, and that you were
one of the guys who got rid of it.” He shrugged. “At the time, I blamed it on the whiskey, but I
saw him later, and he swore it was true.”
“It’s true,” I confirmed.
Eugene nodded. “I’ve seen a strange thing or two in my time as well,” he said, and dropped
the button into my hand.
“I won’t be able to return this,” I warned.
He shrugged. “You gonna use it to get rid of that Nazi bastard once and for all? Keep it, with
my blessing.” His eyes blazed with the fire of the young soldier he once had been. “And when
you send the son of a bitch to hell, you be sure to tell him that’s for my brother Mickey and his
friends, the guys who never came back from Normandy.”
My fingers closed around the button. “It would be an honor.”