The Witch City sightseeing trolley was approaching the intersection of Essex and Washington St. when Colin Widmark started up the aisle in his Hawaiian shirt and sunglasses. He walked past the 27 people he had counted from his vantage point in the back. It was a Saturday evening so he was hoping there’d be more people, more wallets.
The passengers were all tourists, the only people who took trolley tours of Salem, MA. They were mostly middle-aged couples with their kids, who couldn’t care less about the city’s maritime history. Kids wanted to see the witch stuff.
“Coming up on your left is the famous Bewitched statue, erected in 2005,” the tour guide said into his handheld microphone. “The statue caused quite a stir with the local witch population, who saw it as a mockery of their beliefs.”
As the trolley stopped for the cross traffic on Washington, tourists leaned to their left to catch a look at the statue, where more tourists were taking photos.
Now at the front of the trolley, Widmark surveyed the traffic. He reached under the back of his shirt and pulled out the .38 Special tucked into his waistband. He stuck the barrel to the back of the driver’s head.
Gesturing to the tour guide, “Gimme the mic.”
The driver’s eyes widened as he raised his hands. The tour guide was shocked, couldn’t move. Widmark leaned over and took the mic from him. He said, “Be easy, man. Everything’ll be fine.”
Widmark kept his gun behind the driver’s head and turned to the passengers. “Attention, ladies and germs. If anyone thinks they’re a hero I’ll take this guy’s head off, alright? Everybody be cool and your tour of the historical Witch City will commence shortly.” He gestured towards the rear of the trolley. “Showtime, hon.”
Eve stood up from her seat in the back. She had on sunglasses and was carrying a black messenger bag.
“As my associate moves up the aisle, please put your wallets, cellphones, money clips, gold teeth, lucky charms, and any jewelry that may catch her eye in the bag. Be easy and we’ll be outta your hair in no time.”
Eve began moving up the aisle one seat at a time, holding out the bag and delivering pleasantries as she went along. “Thank you…yes, cellphone too, thanks…we appreciate it.”
Widmark kept one eye on Eve and one on the street. To the driver, “Everything’s cool, my man.” The tour guide’s eyes remained focused on the gun.
The last person Eve held the bag out to was an older man, about 60. He glared up at her beneath his bushy grey eyebrows. A petrified young boy sat next to him in the window seat. She said, “Wallet please, sir.” He already had it out. Without breaking his gaze, he pulled out the cash and put it in the bag.
“You’re not taking my wallet,” he said.
Eve looked up at Widmark. He shrugged. “It’s fine, baby,” he said. “Split.”
Eve closed the bag as she stepped off the trolley and briskly started her way up Washington towards the stairs that led down to the train station.
“Thank you, everyone,” Widmark said. “Enjoy the rest of your stay in bewitching Salem, Massachusetts.” He jumped down the trolley stairs and shoved the pistol back in his waistband. He waited for a car to pass and jogged to the opposite side of Washington. He started up with a casual pace. It was almost 4:30pm, before the work crowd let out, so the streets were lightly populated with tourists and homeless.
The older man on the trolley, retired officer Bill Douglas, reached for the shoulder holster under his windbreaker and pulled out his 9mm. He took aim at Widmark’s back. “Cover your ears, junior,” he said to his grandson as he raised his gun out the window.
The bullet spun Widmark as it hit him in the left side. The sunglasses flew from his face. He landed on his ass, facing the trolley. The pink and yellow of the Hawaiian shirt were quickly becoming red. He put his hand over the wound and stumbled to his feet. With his other hand he felt the front of his gut. The bullet had only nicked him.
Retired officer Douglas stepped off the trolley. Widmark locked eyes with him and pulled his .38 out. Before Douglas could raise his gun, Widmark fired three shots. Two hit home and Douglas dropped. The tourists screamed, parents shielded their children.
Widmark looked behind him and saw Eve a couple hundreds yard up the block, staring back at him, a look of horror and confusion on her young face. He motioned for her to keep going. They had timed their getaway for the 4:35 train to Boston. At the Swampscott stop, Widmark was to get off and catch the next inbound, meeting up with Eve that night at their apartment in Quincy. She had been excited to try on her new jewelry and eat pizza.
Still clutching his wound, Widmark got to his feet and started running towards the station stairs. He could see that Eve had already made it down. He was a few yards from the Bridge St. intersection when he heard the sirens. Then he saw the cop car, cherry tops flaring, roaring up Bridge past the yellow condos nestled across from the station.
“Fuck me,” Widmark said. He started back down Washington and stuffed the gun back in his waistband. He knew he had to first hole up until the heat blew over, then figure out how to get home. His side throbbed like a bitch.
A small crowd of bystanders hovered around Douglas. Some were on their cellphones – 911. Widmark ran past them and turned down Essex. Most were too concerned with Douglas to notice him. The ones who did spot him, their shouts were lost in the commotion over Douglas. He felt a little relief when he heard someone yell for an ambulance, that the guy was still alive. He’d pulled a lot of petty shit in his short life, but Widmark never wanted to kill anyone.
Essex was one of the few remaining cobblestone streets in Salem designated for pedestrians. The only vehicles permitted on this part of the street were the trolleys. Salem is a small city with a highly responsive police force, so Widmark knew he had to hole up fast. He could think of only one spot.
It was September, the time when vendors and witch shops up their game for the oncoming Halloween season. Salem draws tens of thousands of tourists a year and the Essex pedestrian mall was the epicenter. This time of year, it was choked with t-shirt, food, and knick-knack vendors. A gauntlet of novelty.
Widmark immersed himself in the throng of tourists, walking determinedly forward through the throng, side throbbing. Sweat threatened his vision.
He pushed through the horde until he could turn down Derby St. His only hope was the shipping center at 203 Washington. It was one of those places where people could ship packages and pick up their mail. Widmark had worked there for a couple months in college. He’d dropped out shortly after. That was about a year ago. He was canned when the boss caught him pilfering Christmas money out of cards. He had forgotten to take Widmark’s front door key back and now he was praying the locks hadn’t been changed.
The flow of tourists on Derby moved toward the commotion on Essex. Widmark’s throbbing side was starting to dull from the adrenaline. He kept his head straight, avoiding eye contact, doing his best to look casual. The coke he had snorted before getting on the trolley prevented him from losing his cool. He could feel it all over his body. The cool.
This part of Washington was pretty clear of foot traffic. The shipping center was on the ground floor of a two-story office building. The other two units on the first floor were a café and a bank, with the shop in the middle. Widmark already had his keys out when he made it to the door. The place closed early on Saturdays and by now, the owner would be home in Beverly, the next town over.
The key turned with a satisfying click. Widmark exhaled in relief as he stepped in and locked the door behind him. He left the lights off, there was enough dull evening light coming in the front windows to get around. The place hadn’t changed much. He took his hand away from his wound and cringed.
The bathroom was in the back storage area, where the excess shipping materials were kept. Widmark used to smoke weed back there before opening up the store and during lunch and after closing. He saw that the boss was still keeping some skin rags in the stall along with some golf magazines.
Gritting his teeth, he slowly unbuttoned and removed his Hawaiian shirt. The left side of his white undershirt was deep red. Sweat flooded off of him as examined the wound. It was a minor flesh wound, but hurt like hell. He managed to remove the undershirt and dress it with some bandages he pilfered from the sparse first aid kit under the sink. Then he washed the Hawaiian shirt off the best he could and hung it over the stall to dry. He ducked out the back door to hide the undershirt in the dumpster. He crammed it under some trash bags and coffee grinds from the café next door and went back into the store.
Eve had his cellphone. He didn’t like carrying it with him when was doing dirt. “Cramped his style,” he told her. He figured his only choice was to either hole up here until morning or call a cab to drive him to at least the next town over. He’d need cash, so he headed back out to the front of the shop, where daylight was quickly fading. Under a desk was where the boss kept the small safe. It was the same one from years ago and it took him only three tries to remember the combination.
“Nice,” he said as he stuffed the cash into his pocket. He saw a few 20s in there, but he’d count it later. He used to steal cash here and there, but he liked the boss so he only took enough for beer money or a dime bag. It probably added to a few hundred over the two months he worked there. He’d stolen from every job he’d ever had, beginning when he was a stock boy at a small department store. Toys, some clothes, shit like that. The cash came when he started working for a major pizza chain. He’d punch in orders and if the customer gave exact change or close to it, he’d cancel the order on the computer and pocket it. He didn’t mind stealing from a big fast food chain, screw them. But at the shipping center the boss actually owned the joint and he was real nice so he didn’t take much.
He felt like hell but managed a laugh thinking about when the boss found those opened Christmas cards in the trash. “Sorry, J,” he said aloud, putting the remaining cash in his pocket.
He called a cab company on the store phone and they told him due to part of Washington being closed down because of a crime scene, they could pick him up in about 20 minutes. It was longer than Widmark was hoping, but at least it gave him time to collect himself and retreat the wound.
As he was buttoning the Hawaiian shirt back on, he heard voices from the other side of the back door. He recognized one distinctly as his old boss. The realization clicked like the bullet that took a chunk of his flesh. “It’s Saturday,” Widmark thought. “J went out drinking with his boys and now they’re coming back here to cool out before going home. Aw hell.”
A key jangled in the lock and Widmark darted for the front of the store. He could clearly hear J’s laughter now as he skirted past the register counter and unlocked the front door. Outside, he knelt in front of the glass door and locked it. No one was on the sidewalk in front of the store. Everyone had milled down to the crime scene, he could see the mass of morbidly curious people from here.
Widmark knew that if J looked in the safe he’d call the cops. “More cops,” he thought. “Just perfect.”
The quickest way to get off the streets was to head up to the second floor of the building, which could be accessed through an elevator in the vestibule. The second floor was made up of offices, mainly small-time injury lawyers that never lasted long. Winter was a good time for them though, when most residents didn’t salt or shovel their sidewalks, leading to countless broken hips and busted tailbones. Widmark had explored the second floor one time when the roof downstairs was leaking. The vestibule wasn’t locked then and he prayed it wasn’t now.
He walked on his knees until he was past the store windows. Glancing up, he saw that one light was on upstairs in the office to the far left. He’d have to take a chance. At the door to the vestibule he held his breath. The door opened, he sighed. While he waited for the elevator, he lifted up his shirt and saw that there was minimal blood soaked up on the bandage. Maybe the bleeding was letting up.
“Sit by a window and scout the cab,” Widmark keep thinking to himself, like a mantra that would make it so. The door dinged and he stepped inside. He pressed the up button and thought about how he wound up here. Him and Eve had first schemed the trolley hold up three nights ago, over a scorpion bowl at her uncle’s dive in Worcester. It was a hike from Quincy but he let them drink for free. They’d both gone to Salem State (she finished, he didn’t) and knew the city, including the fact that a staggering amount of tourists inexplicably driven to the city every year.
“Why not rob some tourists,” she suggested in between sips. He didn’t pay her idea any mind at first. His reply was “Screw that city.” But the next morning, while in bed gauging the severity of his hangover, Widmark thought long on it. It’s a crazy idea but could be a lucrative one. All those goofs walking around with vacation money. So that day they took the train to Salem and rode the trolley a few times, figuring out the best time and spot for the hold up.
And now here he was. Running from the cops and bleeding from a gunshot wound. He thought, “The next time that bitch has a bright idea, I’m going to slap her.”
The elevator reached the second floor and the doors dinged as they revealed a hallway. Widmark wondered why he couldn’t see much, there should at least be some light coming in from outside. But three men in black hooded robes were standing right in front of him, blocking his view.
“The fuck?” he managed to get out before a hand reached out and grabbed him tightly by the throat. He was out cold in seconds.
Widmark woke up on a table. He was on his back, his arms and legs strapped down with rope. The room was lit with candles, allowing him to see the circle of men and women with black hooded robes surrounding him.
“No…” he said. “C’mon what is this?” His head ached and his side was throbbing again.
He tilted his head down to see that they had removed his shirt. On his bare chest was painted a crude red pentagram. “No no no.”
The man at the foot of the table spoke. “You have disturbed the coven. The true witches of Salem require sacrifice to reunite the circle you have destroyed.”
With both arms he lifted a dagger over his head. Widmark screamed now.
The man brought the dagger down into Widmark’s belly. The impact of the retractable toy blade would leave a bruise.
Widmark’s scream faded as he opened his eyes and look down to find his guts still intact. “What the hell?” he murmured.
The room lights came on and everyone around the table was laughing as they took their hoods off. The man with the toy dagger was laughing hardest. “You dumb bastard,” he said. “The look on your face.”
“What the hell is this?!” Widmark said.
“This is the Salem Historical Society,” the man said. “We were having our meeting, trying on our costumes for Halloween next month, when Reggie here saw your stupid ass coming out downstairs, gun in your waistband. Figured you were the prick who shot that guy earlier that the cops are looking for.”
“Let me up!”
“No I think you should just hang tight, son. The cops are on their way. Stupid bastard.”
The others continued laughing and Widmark started crying.
“Screw this city.”
BIO: Patrick Cooper was raised on the unforgiving streets of Jersey, educated in Salem, MA, and now hides from the student loan vultures in the warm bosom of Orlando. He is a film critic for the websites Bloody Disgusting and Collider.