November 7, 1958

Willy Perkin was unprepared for the weather as he hurried along Concord Square. Black and white charts of wind-directions, weather-fronts, and temperature-numbers bored him, so he usually went to the john when the T.V. weatherman came on. Now a nor’easter’s freezing rain had caught him wearing a light-weight hat and coat, and he was chilled to the bone.

Tonight, his destination was The Billy Goat Tavern, one of Boston’s Lower-Roxbury, lesser-known, Irish pubs. Despite the weather, the thirst in his mouth was longing for a swig of cold beer, so without hesitation, he pushed open the pub’s door and quickly closed it behind him.

Willy glanced around the old pub. It was quiet and nearly empty. No one was tossing darts or shooting snooker, which was unusual for a Friday night. And the T.V. was off as well. Two regulars swapped stories and laughed it up on barstools to the left. While three men quietly occupied a booth off to the right.

Liam MacCabe, owner and bartender, casually cleaned and stacked glasses behind the bar’s cigarette-burned surface. “What’ll ya have, Willy?” he asked, chewing a spit-soaked cigar.

Willy stepped closer, unbuttoning his coat. “Whatever you have on tap, that’s cheap.”

“A real connoisseur’s come visiting my establishment.”

“I can always find myself another dive, Liam.”

“Sorry, Willy. Just pulling your chain. It’s so dull tonight, I... Well...”

“Forget it. Boredom drives me nuts too. What’s with the T.V.?” asked Willy, pointing to the blank T.V. screen.

“It fried. Ordered a new one.”

“Getting one of those new color T.V. sets? It’d add some class to the place.”

“You kidding? Havta hock this joint to afford one,” said Liam, handing Willy a glass of beer.

Willy paid, took the beer, and chose a table near the booth to enjoy his drink in peace. He took a sip and tossed his cap on the table. Willy was about to take another taste when he overheard the words “gold coin.” His ears prickled with excitement, and he leaned closer to the booth without being too obvious.

“I tell you, friend. The coin’s as big as the palm of my hand,” said the first man, showing his palm for emphasis.

“No way,” said the second man. “You’ve had too much to drink.”

“Listen to him,” said the third man. “He told me the same story when he was sober as a judge.”

“How you know so much about it?” asked the second man.

“Saw it myself. Yes, I did—God’s honest truth. ‘Twas sittin’ there, pretty as ya please. Saw it when I was installin’ them lights.”

“What lights?”

“Four lights ‘round the coin,” said the first man, gesturing with his left fingers and thumb jabbing downward at four locations around his right palm. “They’s shine on it, day ‘n night. And that’s a fact too.”

“Where’s this place?” asked the second man.

“Wainwright’s. Second floor. Corner room facing Marlborough and Dartmouth. ‘Twas there a week ago, Saturday night, and all the windows was dark ‘cept them in that room. Can’t miss it.”

“Who’s Wainwright, anyway?” asked the second man.

“Don’t ya read the papers? ‘Twas a story about his being an expert of old coins and such, that’s who he is. And I bet he’s got a pretty collection of his own in that house of his. Yessiree, I betcha he does, all right. Anyhow, he’s got himself a top-notch old gold coin, for sure.”

“Someone should snatch it,” said the second man, leaning close to the others. “You know, a midnight requisition,” he said, chuckling.

“Wouldn’t try, myself. House gots alarms. Magnetic alarms or sumthin’ like that. And... And it’s inna case under lock and key. I heard a few tried, but nobody’s seen ‘em since.”

“What happened to them?”

“Cops musta caught ‘em.”

The third man checked his watch. “Gotta go. Promised the old lady I’d be home early.” He slid out the end of the booth and stood, putting on his coat.

“Ya got time for another round, don’t ya?” asked the first man.

“Be hell to pay if’n I’m late. Next Friday.”

The first man looked at the second man. “Yer stayin’, ain’t ya?”

“Sorry. Now’s as goodda time as any to say goodnight,” said the second man, sliding out of the booth and putting on his coat.

“If ya all are leavin’, I might as well go too. But I ain’t got no place worth goin’ to,” said the third man, chugging the last of his beer. He stood, put on his coat and hat, and staggered out the door.

Willy watched them leave. Magnetic-reed alarm... Case and lock... Marlborough and Dartmouth... Easy peasy. While he mulled over what he had heard, he finished off his beer.

Willy was twenty-eight, ambitious, and bored with his minor-league criminal activities. He fantasized about jacking the coin. It would be his chance to make the leap into major crime and establish his name.

His heart was pounding with excitement when he ventured into the weather, but Willy took no mind of the freezing rain. He already was planning how to spend the cash he’d get for the coin.

November 12, 1958

Warmer temperatures brought a light fog that blanketed the city along the Charles River near Back Bay and points eastward to the ocean. Willy took a position on Dartmouth across from the Wainwright’s residence, his dark clothing blended with the night. Just as the man said, a glow was visible in the second-floor corner windows.

He melted into the shadows when a rescue vehicle’s siren blared as it rocketed down Beacon Street. Willy patted his coat pocket for his toolkit and licked his dry lips. A dog barked, and he backed deeper into the shadows. A man yelled at the dog, and his courage waned. When the dog’s whimpering faded, his resolve returned. He held his watch to catch the streetlamp. “Fourteen past eleven. Plenty of time,” he mumbled to himself.

He crept to the rear of the building—keeping low in the shadows—and checked the back door. Willy found an animal pass-through. He reached in, ran his hand along the jamb as high as he could, and followed it to the floor. Ah...ha. Magnetic switch.

He brought a strong magnet just for this purpose. Willy placed it near the sensor and jimmied the door with a prybar: success—no alarm sounded. He closed the door behind him and rested against the jamb while he waited for any signs the occupants had been aroused.

Everything was quiet.

Despite the dropping temperatures, perspiration wetted his brow and soaked his armpits. Willy wiped his forehead with the back of his coat sleeve and took a few deep breaths to calm his nerves.

He took care to avoid any accidental noises and tiptoed through the kitchen to the dining room. An enormous grandfather clock’s tick-tocking echoed in the hallway. Synchronizing his steps with the clock’s ticking, Willy climbed one flight of stairs to the first-floor landing. He listened, but only the clock’s rhythmic tick-tock broke the silence.

Willy crept to the second floor just as the clock chimed twelve times. The clanging sound unnerved him. His hands trembled, so he pressed them against his legs. “Steady, boy, steady,” he whispered out loud, shaking and flexing his right-hand several times. His stomach churned, and his throat burned. He popped and chewed an antacid and waited for it to take effect.

The second-floor was long and narrow, and its hardwood floors were carpeted with a deep-pile runner extending the hallway’s full length. A window at the corridor’s end permitted light from the streetlamp to illuminate the otherwise dark hall. Three doors opened off the passageway’s right side. An ornately carved balustrade and one door completed the left side.

Willy stopped to get his bearings. Marlborough ahead. Dartmouth left. Coin behind left door.

He slid his hand on top of the railing and took a step along the left side. Then another step brought him closer to his prize. Willy was all smiles from ear to ear.

Then with the next step, the floorboards creaked.

Willy froze. He bit his upper lip as his eyes popped wide open. He licked his lips and extended his footstep half again as much, hoping to avoid the loose board.

But the floor creaked again.

By now, Willy’s heart was straining to leap out of his chest. His hands were wet, his mouth was dry, and his legs felt like rubber. He tried stretching flat against the right-side wall and inching past the loose floorboards. Three feet farther and ten minutes later, nothing creaked. Willy took a deep breath and let out a sigh of relief. Warily, he moved to the left door, marveling how easy this had been so far.

When Willy’s hand gripped the antique doorknob, his heart pounded in anticipation of the riches behind the six-panel, solid-wood door. He rotated the handle as carefully and cautiously as possible. The mortise lock’s tumbler clicked... clicked... clicked as the mechanism turned. The latch bolt clunked when it slid past the striker plate.

He froze—waves of fear swept over him—but after several moments, Willy calmed down and proceeded when no one responded to the sound. Pushing on the door and avoiding creaking the hinges, he opened it wide enough to slip into the room.

At the opposite end of the otherwise dark twenty-by-twenty-foot room, a lighted display case cast a glow on the surroundings. The walls were wood-paneled with jointed and pegged framing. Windows facing both Marlborough and Dartmouth were covered with old English fringed chenille drapery. Centered on the wood-planked floor was an antique hand-knotted Persian Lavar Kerman rug with a traditional floral pattern on a navy-blue background.

Several bookcases, display cases, and coin cabinets were set around the perimeter of the room. The room’s focal point was a lighted display that held a shiny golden object placed on a dark background. Willy’s eyes sparkled when he approached it, grinning from ear to ear. Lying on a bed of silk was the coin, just as the man described. It was thick, worn, imperfectly round, and engraved with words he could not read.

The coin’s enclosure was a glass dome-like structure. A brass plate inscribed with “Amazonian tribal coin - Age: Unknown” was affixed to its wooden base. Four lights—one angled from behind, two from either side, and one from the top—illuminated the two-inch diameter coin.

The dome was set into a groove milled in an ebony base attached to a pedestal securely anchored to the floor. Willy checked for obvious alarms but found none. He examined the dome and its lock for means of gaining entry. He determined the locking mechanism was a pin-tumbler design; its solid-brass contrivance was embedded in the base flush with its front edge.

His watch showed twelve-twenty. Willy figured he had two hours to open the case, pocket the coin, and get out. But first, he needed a few moments to think. Picking the lock? Easy peasy... Hidden alarms? Maybe, too risky... Gotta be other coins worth taking.

The last thought was the easiest to tackle. But after searching through the other display cases and cabinet drawers, Willy found a mere handful of coins of dubious value.

When the clock chimed one, Willy’s attention returned to the lighted display and the golden coin.

He knelt in front of the display case and laid out his lock-picking tools on the carpet. After eyeing the lock close up, Willy chose a medium-size tension tool and pick, inserted them in the lock, and gave them a turn.

But nothing happened.

He tried again, but the tools slipped by the smooth barreled interlock without engaging the key pins. Taking a drag-rake, Willy carefully slid it in and out, expecting to catch the key pins.

Again, the tools failed to engage anything.

Perspiration beaded on his temples. Willy loosened his collar for another go at the lock. He chose a smaller pick and drag-rake and rotated them full-circle the whole length of the barrel. The smaller pick and drag-rake would not snag a key pin or detect the depression where key pins should have protruded through the plug.

“Oddest lock I’ve ever seen,” Willy whispered to himself.

When the grandfather clock chimed twice, Willy checked his watch: an hour had passed without success. He sat by his tools to think. Fake lock? Maybe it’s for show.

“Just lift it off? Too obvious? Too easy,” he whispered to himself.

Willy grasped the dome, lifted it off its base—with little effort—and lowered it to the carpet. His eyes twinkled when he picked up the heavy coin.

He licked his lips. “Must be pure gold,” Willy whispered, turning it over. The flipside had the same writing on it and an image of a man standing in a light beam or a sunbeam. He could not tell which, and frankly, he did not care. All Willy cared about was how much he could sell it for.

He returned the coin to its silk bed and turned to pack up his tools. Willy was kneeling when from behind, a luminosity was growing brighter by the moment. He stuffed the tools in his coat pocket and turned to face a light radiating from the coin.

“What the bloody hell is this?” Willy uttered in astonishment. His eyes widened to the size of saucers, and his mouth was so agape his jaw ached.

Before Willy could retreat, a broad beam struck him with full intensity. He raised his hand to protect his eyes. Changing colors, the shaft of light pulsated from violet to red to violet. The glow turned bright white and focused to a knife’s edge, following his body’s contours, head to foot. Willy writhed and flailed against the extreme pain of the piercing energy as it scanned him. The bones of his hand and forearm appeared to float before him. He tried to scream but could not make a sound.

He sensed everything was growing larger but soon realized the floor, walls, and display case were receding from him. Suspended mid-air, he was shrinking. As quickly as the beam appeared, it vanished, and he fell on to the carpeting.

Taking stock of his predicament, Willy was confused. He was only three inches tall; what was he to do? How could he return to his regular height? These and a hundred other questions flooded his mind. He knew he could not remain in the middle of the carpet, so he ran to the room’s edge and hid behind a chair’s leg, pondering his options, his next move.

At first, Willy did not recognize the sound—a deep-throated squeak.

“A mouse? Have sounds changed?” Willy said out loud. The mouse’s high-pitched squeal was several octaves lower. “Where is it?” he blurted before he realized his mistake.

In the shadows across the room, the silhouette of a giant creature turned its head toward him. It lifted its gigantic snout in the air and sniffed. Willy nearly collapsed from fear, but the beast turned back. It scurried about the corner of the room, stopping, sniffing, and moving on. Then it vanished behind a bookcase.

Willy sighed relief, but moments later, his knees grew weak when the muffled sound of padded paws drew closer. He shuddered at the unmistakable outline of a cat glided along the wall opposite him, prowling. His heart skipped a beat while he watched the cat sniff the baseboards where the mouse had been. Following the mouse’s trail, the cat traced its movements until stopped by the bookcase.

The cat crouched and flicked its tail while thrusting its paw under the case, exploring. It emitted low guttural growls when it moved from one end of the bookcase to the other. The cat plunged its paw into every opening it could find. Soon, it tired of that game and continued searching the room.

Willy was near panic when the cat walked across the carpet, stopped, and sniffed the spot where he had fallen. The cat looked around the room and growled. He ran and dove under a bookcase, but the cat saw him. Without a moment’s hesitation, the cat bounded after its fleeing prey. Pawing under the furniture from every angle, the cat was relentless. It leaped, sniffed, and hissed. Its claws nipped at Willy’s clothing.

He ran from one end to the other, just keeping out of reach of the cat’s clutches. But it would not give up. The smell of cat was stronger-smelling with each swipe. Remnants of fur hung in the air. Willy’s eyes and nose were running, and he coughed from the dust stirred by the activity. He wiped tears, mucus, and spittle with the back of his coat sleeve as he gasped for breath. His environment, fear, and exhaustion were taking their toll. He took off his coat and flung it against the baseboard.


“My tools! Weapons!” Willy yelled out loud.

Willy searched his coat pockets and found the screwdriver and small pry bar he used to break into the house. “Not much,” he said to himself. “They’s all I got.” He held one in each hand and waited.

Willy did not have to wait long.

The cat jabbed its paw under the bookcase, probing for him. Just avoiding its claws, he ducked and rolled out of the way and got to his feet. At the right opportunity, he planted the screwdriver into the tender flesh between its toes. The cat growled, hissed, meowed, and retreated to lick its paw. Hoping this would end the battle, he leaned against the baseboard for a breather.

But Willy underestimated the cat’s bloodlust once it cornered its prey.

With renewed fever, the cat attacked and snagged his trousers at waist-level. Willy fought to free himself, but the other paw closed on him. Sharp talons penetrated his clothing and sank into his flesh. He screamed and cursed, but the cat paid him no mind and hauled him closer.

Willy raised the prybar with both hands above his head, brought it down with all his strength, and sank it deep between its toes.

The cat hissed and dropped him, withdrew its paw, and limped out of the room. Willy collapsed on the floor, wounded, and exhausted.

“Think, Willy! Think!” he blurted aloud as peak adrenaline levels raced through his bloodstream.

He scanned the room for anything he could use for a weapon when the cat would most certainly return but found nothing useful. Willy weighed all the options—food, shelter, safety—and they all looked very bleak. Then he spied the window drapery and the table near the coin display. That’s my ticket!

Willy scurried across the carpet to the fringed chenille drapery. He climbed the drapes and swung to the tabletop using the course material and tasseled fringe as footholds. He jumped from the table to the pedestal and shimmied to the black velvet bed.

A deep rumbling chime struck three times. Willy sat for a while to catch his breath and to ponder his next move.

It shrunk me but will it make me big again or make me smaller? Willy’s mind raced. But how does it work?

Willy tried lifting the coin, but it was too heavy. He pushed with all his might, and it slid to one side a little bit. But the movement was enough to trigger the forces within. It shuddered. It wobbled.

Willy fell backward off the velvet. “What the hell!”

The coin began to glow; its luminosity grew brighter by the moment. Then a shaft of radiant light shot out from the sunbeam image. It broadened and swept the room from left to right, floor to ceiling.

Willy stepped onto the velvet, ready to stand within the beam. But a furry paw came out of nowhere and knocked him to the carpet. In a flash, the cat was on him. He rolled to a crawling position and tried to scamper on all fours to safety behind the pedestal.

The cat was far too skillful for him. The first crunching sound was the cat’s teeth sinking into Willy’s lower back, puncturing his spine, and holding him in a firm grip. Its hot, foul breath swept over him, and he almost passed out from the intense pain. He could not believe what was happening to him. His legs no longer responded to commands; they would not, could not move.

Then as quickly as the coin’s beam appeared, it vanished.

Willy tried resisting the cat’s grip, but with ease, it carried him—his legs dangling—through the open door, up the stairs, to the third-floor hallway. Each step the cat took sent pain rocketing to his brain, and he screamed. But his small size made his cries sound like the high-pitched squeaks of a mouse.

Pushing its way past the bedroom door, the cat brought Willy to the man sitting, reading a book in front of a roaring fire. The cat dropped him at the side of Wainwright’s chair and meowed. He tried to crawl arm over arm, but when Willy moved, the cat saw him. The next crunch ended his misery; the cat’s teeth penetrated his skull.

The cat meowed and rubbed against Wainwright’s leg again.

“Well, Tabby. Caught another, have you? You deserve a treat.”

Tabby sat licking its paw, meowing.

“What’s a matter? Something stuck in your paw? Let’s have a look-see.”

Tabby jumped on Wainwright’s lap and chewed at her paw. “You’ve something stuck between your toes.” He pinched the tools between his index fingernail and thumbnail and extracted them. “There, you should feel better.”

Tabby leaped down, licked her paw, and washed her face with it. Satisfied she was clean, she searched for the goody treat. When she found it, she batted with her paws, pouncing on it as if it were prey.

Meanwhile, Wainwright took the fireplace shovel and brush, scooped up the lifeless body of William “Willy” Perkins, and tossed it in the fire, then he sat down. With one last pounce, Tabby sank her teeth into the treat, carried it by Wainwright’s chair, and began to eat it.

Wainwright reached down and scratched Tabby’s back while she enjoyed her tasty tidbit. When she finished, she washed her face and walked out the door, resuming her nightly patrol.

Wainwright recorded a note in his journal, “November 13, 1958, 3:38 AM. Sixth attempt to steal the Amazonian coin. Tabby caught intruder. Customary disposal. Higgins will tidy up.”

He returned the journal to the side table, took his lit pipe, and drew a mouthful of smoke. Tapping on his cheek, Wainwright blew two smoke rings toward the mantle. For a few moments, they curled, expanded, and finally dissipated. Then he reached for his copy of The Shrinking Man, found his place marker, and continued reading.