Sweat. It soaks his hair, his skin, the clothes he wears, drips thirty feet to the jungle floor at the base of the tree he’s tied himself to. There’s a crackle in his earphone, a whispered voice.
“Target in sight. Range … 660 yards.”
He puts his eye to the scope. Tries to see what his spotter sees. Flashes of dappled green race across his view. He lets go a breath, wipes his sleeve across his face, returns to the scope. First kill is the hardest, grunt. His Sergeant’s voice. He takes another breath, forces his heart to slow. The dappled green disappears.
“Target acquired,” he whispers.
His finger grips the trigger.
You grab your girl’s titty like that, grunt? She gonna find herself another swingin’ dick to dance with you go jerkin’ that nipple around that way. Got to be gentle, grunt. Feel that nipple in the curve of yer finger, all soft and round. Squeeze it gentle, grunt. Squeeze it gentle as hell.
He relaxes, focuses on the target, tries to imagine what a girl’s nipple might feel like against his finger.
Three men. The shortest is his target. He studies him through the scope. Wispy white hair, a smooth face, wire-rim glasses like that Beatle guy wears, walking slowly, hunched over, a slight left-side limp. He wonders why this guy has to die. Dismisses the thought. He doesn’t want to know. It’s a target, not a man. All he needs to know about a target is where to put the bullet.
“650 yards,” the voice crackles in his ear.
“Roger, that,” he whispers back.
The M1C has an effective range of 400 to 600 yards, his Sergeant’s voice echoes. Beyond that, grunt, yer swattin’ files with a pencil.
He lets the barrel drop a quarter inch. The dabbled green reappears. He raises the barrel. The target snaps into view again. He calculates quickly. At 630 yards the target will be lost in the jungle.
“You gonna shoot this gook, or what?” the voice in his ear crackles. “640 yards.”
“Yeah, yeah, he whispers back. “Keep your dick in you pants.”
He takes a deep breath, automatically adjusts for the slight side wind, the man’s limp, the downward angle of the shot. His finger curls about the trigger. A nipple. A nipple. A nipple. Gently, he squeezes the nipple.
I met Anne on my fiftieth birthday and put her in the ground a week past my fifty-sixth. Six years. The only six years of my life I wish I could relive. She was a kind and loving woman and the cancer took her down hard, her final breaths ragged and coarse. In the end she left me in silence without even her breathing to pass the time.
I am thankful that Anne never learned of my profession. Never learned that in our beginning she was a target. I’ve often wonder what it was she had seen in me. I have never considered myself a ladies’ man, never had time for more than the casual affair. I’ve lived a solitary life, free to move about according to the exigencies of my work, my emotions contained within a narrow range.
I am not a man enamored of introspection. There is no taking back the things I’ve done in my life, nor would I, given the chance. But, as I sit here, peering down the Schmidt & Bender scope at my final target, I find that introspection has become enamored of me.
My Target is forty-nine years old, an Aries. I’m surprised that I know this. Surprised that I know he has a Newfoundland named Bear and that his wife’s name is Laura. That she’s forty-four, a Gemini, and plays a flute in the choir of her local church. Anne was forty-five when I met her. The two women are similar in appearance, a fact which has shaken me more than I care to admit. Both blond with shoulder length hair worn loose, both with dark green, gold flecked eyes. Laura’s breasts and hips bear testament to the children she’s borne, something Anne had never experienced. I wonder how Laura will feel when she hears the news. Will they phone her? Send someone to her door? Will she scream? Faint? Break down sobbing to the floor or take it with stoicism? Will she comfort the children or they her?
I hadn’t meant to meet Anne face to face. All targets have patterns and their patterns were all that interested me about them. Anne frequented Tavern 33, a blues bar in Chicago. The lot out back where she parked her car would be the place. I hadn’t yet determined the time.
I’d been sitting at the bar, ignoring my drink, scanning the room through the mirror. Somehow she managed to slip in unseen. I smelled her before I felt her take the seat next to mine. I had begun to smell her perfume everywhere I went and it was stirring something in me I had never felt before.
Her knees brushed my hip as she turned to ask me for a light. Though I no longer smoked, I carried my Zippo around out of habit. I lit her cigarette and snapped the lighter shut. I had never been that close to her before. Her skin was creamy pale and she had lines at the corners of her eyes that made them look like they were smiling. I had the strongest urge to touch those lines, run my fingers across her closed lids and down her nose to her soft lips.
As the bar got noisier we leaned into each other to continue our conversation, our shoulders touching. The scent of her that close made the breath catch in my throat. When she discovered it was my birthday, she bought a bottle of expensive champagne and we drank until the bar closed. Outside we exchanged numbers and caught separate cabs; she to home, me to O’Hare.
Back in Detroit, I did what no one of my profession ever does: I began a search for the client. I wanted to know why this woman had to die. Working discreetly, calling in old favors when needed, I found the guy. Turned out the job wasn’t even sanctioned. He had wanted Anne. Anne hadn’t wanted him. He was a loose cannon and this hadn’t been the first time he’d by-passed the chain of command and commissioned a job himself. I made a phone call through an intermediary, passed on what I’d uncovered. I heard they found the guy floating in the Chicago River a week later. I never mentioned any of this to Anne.
I started turning down assignments, flying every weekend to Chicago to see her. Word got around that I was retired and the offers stopped coming. Six months after we met she visited me in Detroit. She never left.
I ease my grip on the Walther WA-2000. The Walther is a heavy weapon, nearly sixteen pounds, but I have always liked its heft and the wooden, thumb-hole stock. It holds six, .300 Win mag rounds, spitting them out a twenty six inch barrel with an effective range of over a thousand meters. The room is cool, a slight breeze blowing in from the circular section I’ve cut from the window. I brush my hand across my brow, stare at my fingers. They are damp with sweat.
First kill, last kill. The old man netted me Army pay. This will net me considerably more. Enough to retire for good. But will I? What will I do? What do I care to do? I’ve stared at travel brochures for every destination on earth. None of them interest me. I’m a blue-eyed angel of death in linen suits and Gucci shoes. Without Anne, all I know is the kill.
My thoughts tumble end over end and I find I’m too weary to stop their intrusion.
The Target’s son is seventeen. His name is Darren and like his father he’s an Aries. He plays varsity baseball for Grosse Pointe High. Several major league teams have scouted him, as have several colleges. Like his father, though, he will go to Yale. He doesn’t need the scholarship money offered by the colleges and his net worth tomorrow will be considerably more than any major league team could match.
His daughter’s name is Angelina, a Cancer like Anne. Her hair is the color of a wheat field at sunset, her eyes the blue of the ocean off St. Thomas island on a warm summer day. At thirteen, she is in that strange hormonal stage between girl and woman; budding breasts a whisper of their future shape, a faint roundness to her hips and thighs, a gawky walk that hints at the sway to come. She is an all A student like her brother and the captain of the girls Soccer team.
Is it age this weariness I feel? This hollow feeling in the center of my chest like a hunger too long denied? I wish I could cry. I wish I knew how. I haven’t shed a single tear for Anne, not for her sickness, not for her pain, not even for her dying. In the months since her passing I have moved from moment to moment as though draped in a fine, black mesh, all sound muffled, objects stripped of color. Will she feel this way, his wife, Laura? Will Darren and Angelina lose their purpose with his death, become veiled as I’ve become?
I sight down the scope. My heart begins to slow. There are lights on across the way and I can see clearly into the room. I spot movement and begin to track the blurred image. The image stops and the face of the Target resolves itself in the cross-hairs. He is staring out the window, his eyes searching as if he knows I’m out here. My finger curls about the trigger.
Anne’s nipples were soft, inverted, a dark blush against her pale skin. They would rise to my slightest touch. I had never known a woman with nipples so sensitive. Never known the joys of such a woman. I reach for her, touch her lips, the delicate curve of her neck, run my hand down the slope of her breasts, fold her nipple in the curl of my finger and gently squeeze.