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A Quick-Silver Pay Out by JM Taylor

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A Quick-Silver Pay Out by JM Taylor

Sam pulled on the heat resistant gloves and gleefully clicked the starter, bathing his shabby kitchen in a warm blue glow. He deftly adjusted the flame to a laser-like point and touched the metal blobs—which jumped like popcorn, emitting a shower of sparks—across the cast iron skillet he’d used to make dinner.

The first nugget had been Sam’s own, lost outside the 7-11 when some skinhead punk tried to snipe his scratch ticket. Luckily, Sam had a good grip on the ticket, but his other hand was in his pocket, fishing for a nickel. The kid lunged and Sam stumbled against the window. Sam tripped the young thug, but the move knocked them to the ground. Crushed between his attacker and the cement, Sam’s jaw rattled. He felt the sharp edge of his crown slice the inside of his cheek.

The kid smartly bolted when the clerk appeared. Sam’s head was ringing. He spit blood by the stunned clerk’s feet, but refused any help when he saw the glint of silver. He discreetly retrieved the crown and hauled himself upright. Although the ticket was a loser, he’d forged a brand new plan.

He knew while walking home one filling wouldn’t be enough. For his ingenious plan to work, he’d need more teeth.

Sam Perkins wasn’t a violent man, but he’d always been handy with a pair of pliers. Back at home again, he rummaged through his cabinets and found an old bottle of rubbing alcohol. Cheap anesthesia.

The skillet’s sides turned deep crimson.



The smell of hot metal bathed his senses in euphoria and Sam tipped the pan to speed up the process. The simmering fillings oozed into a shiny slurry. His hand suddenly twitched … and so did his leg. But Sam laughed giddily. He hadn’t had this much fun since his crackhead mother (always too broke and wasted to buy him any toys) snapped open a baby thermometer and let him play with the mercury beads that slithered across the bathroom floor.

Sam pulled the nozzle away and peered closer at his handiwork. If he’d continued with the torch much longer, the propane jet would’ve burned a hole through the glowering pan. Engulfed in poisonous gasses, he hadn’t stopped to consider that cast iron melts far below his angry torch’s 3,600° flame.

But Sam’s patience was slipping fast. During the past two weeks, he’d made his midnight rounds—past the city’s many hospitals, by the steaming subway grates, and the library’s darkened steps. His neighborhood had no shortage of feeble nodding addicts. Winos were harder to come by these days, but some still hung out under the highway bridges. He even found a suitable donor slumped against the dumpster of his lucky 7-11. He was careful not to mine more than a couple of fillings in any area, to avoid raising an alarm. Twice he fought off friends of a nodding user, and more than a few times he found mouths full of teeth so rotten a dentist would have wept.

Sam wasn’t a monster though. He always sterilized his equipment.

Finally he collected 32 silver fillings and eagerly took the cache to a rural scrap dealer thirty miles outside the city. The place was housed in a converted barn, surrounded by old beds, bicycle frames, and derelict heating equipment. Inside, a trundling conveyor belt fed rusted gears and twisted I-beams into the gaping mouth of a furnace. The noise was nearly as hellish as the screams of his dental donors. But if Sam was ever going to achieve his Destiny he couldn’t afford to rely only on fickle Lady Luck. He needed extra coin for that hundred-mile bus ride to Foxwoods Casino, where his ultimate fortune waited.

The old man poured the clinking fillings into a plastic bowl. The glaring green digital scale read 2.6 ounces. “Twenty bucks,” he called out. “You’ll need it to pay your dentist bills.”

What a scam!” Sam argued. “That’s pure silver.”

But the old man shook his head. “Dental work’s plain messy. Sure there’s silver here, some platinum, too. But other junk needs to be extracted before we can refine the noble metals. That comes out of your pay out.”

Sam reflexively slugged the old man to the ground. He scooped up the fillings and kicked the guy for good measure, cracking his bald skull against the blackened concrete floor.

Although he’d never bothered to graduate high school, Sam was no dummy. He marched to the library, while the place was open for a change. He’d found that silver melts at 1,763° and platinum at 3,215°, but a propane torch blazes at a sweet 3,600°. The rest of the impurities would burn off as he separated the two.

Now the silver shone against the reddened skillet. Sam’s conflicting emotions surged. He cackled, then wept as the prospect of a pay out drew closer. His skin rippled, like a colony of ants on the march. Somewhere in his deteriorating brain, a synapse fired and he remembered a YouTube video, where someone poured silver—no, aluminum, who would waste silver—into an ant hole, then dug up the cast and called it art.

But the image was quickly snuffed out as mercury vapor flowed like the molten aluminum through his airways, poisoning every cell in his body. He hadn’t read that mercury—called quicksilver in the old days—was a major ingredient of fillings. Mama’s makeshift toy had started the damage to his nervous system, but this would drive him over the edge—

Mad as a hatter, in just a few minutes.

Sam’s legs collapsed. The skillet clattered from his hand. He felt a brief shock when the torch burned through his toe. But he never felt an ounce of pain when the jet ignited his pants, or when the leaping flames coaxed the ceiling to crumble down around him.

A falling ceiling panel flipped the pan onto his face, fusing the molten fillings to his scorched deathly grin.

JM Taylor cooks up his sinister fantasies in Boston where he lives with his wife and son. As Taylor and under his real name, he has appeared in Crime Syndicate, Thuglit, and Tough, among others. His novel, NIGHT OF THE FURIES, was listed by Spinetingler as one of the best crime novels of 2013. You can find him on Twitter at @taylorjm7 and on the Facebook page Night of the Furies.