I write after my real job hoping one day to have it be my real job. When I’m not reading or writing short stories, you might find me fishing or solving crossword puzzles.
He was wearing an Armani suit and had that arrogant useless look about him that screamed lawyer. As the bus roared away, the lawyer slumped over his morning latte at the noisy outdoor café – same coffee and same café as always. It took several minutes for a passersby to realize he wasn’t sleeping and a little bit longer to realize he had been shot twice in the head.
No one looked at the man dressed in business attire with an L.L. Bean messenger bag get on the bus and no one noticed the two small holes in the bag. Average height, brown hair and eyes, average skin tone, average build. He had been riding the 8:45 AM every weekday for the past two weeks. He exited the bus at the far side of downtown at a complex of office buildings, and entered the same building he had for the past two weeks. And out a different door carrying his sport coat wadded up in the messenger bag.
Sweet Betsy had done her job again. Same MO as always. Two shots to the head, tight group, no brass, all done in plain sight in front of dozens of witnesses who saw or heard nothing. That was Sam’s signature. Official investigators assigned to organized crime units called him “The Ghost.” Not seen and not heard. They had no clue who he was. Sam liked that part, but would have preferred “The Shaolin Priest” from the old Kung Fu series: “Listened for, cannot be heard; looked for, cannot be seen.”
Sam named his weapon of choice Sweet Betsy. She was Sig Sauer Mosquito, a high-end handgun built on a polymer frame with a threaded barrel to accept a silencer. Sweet Betsy shoots 22LR loads, the number one ammunition selected by assassins and hitmen around the world.
Sam’s employer had evidence one of their lawyers, make that one of their deceased lawyers, had too many clandestine meetings with the District Attorney. It was Sam’s job to solve the problem. Sam’s dilemma was that this was the third hit this quarter. Minneapolis, St. Louis, and now Boston. This was too many too soon. Sam requested retirement almost twelve months ago, but he was the best, and the answer was no.
A law firm -- where no one had ever met him, handled Sam personal finances, including the condos and vehicles stashed in various cities. His fee was on the expensive end of the spectrum and started at $250,000 for a high profile hit; so at this stage of his life, money was not an issue.
Sam wasn’t always a hitman, but it was too painful to remember anything else. Bouncing around abusive foster homes, he developed a tough exterior. For the ten years before he became a hitman, he was under the care of loving foster parents. A dispute over his foster father’s decision to change hardware distributors turned deadly. Despite approval from company headquarters, a shady competitor thought the new chain store would be too close to his and draw business away. Numerous threats ensued, but they ended when Sam’s foster father’s store burned, killing him in the process. A part of Sam died at that time. In a short time, nothing could be proved and the investigation went cold.
Sam meticulously tracked the movements of the owner of the competitor store and killed him. Sam found he had more of a knack for killing than working in a hardware store.
Three weeks after the lawyer hit, Don Gino Torttelli summoned Sam and told him of his new assignment.
“No more. I’m retired,” Sam said.
“Sam, you’re the best. I need you for one more job.”
“You said that last time, Gino. I’ve been performing these duties for longer than anyone else. I’m done.”
“Sam, there is no discussion on the matter. You will do the hit.” Gino Torttelli was not accustomed to being told no. A string of dead bodies punctuated the message that told how he dealt with those who told him no.
“I’ll do a hit,” Sam replied.
What his employer did not catch the subtle change from “the hit” to “a hit.” Sam had his own way to deal with things, too. My employer will be sent a message.
Almost a month to the day, every news station in the greater New York City area covered the killing. The number-two ranked member of the Torttelli Crime Family was gunned down as he entered a restaurant in Little Italy. Shot twice in the head, tight group, no brass, in plain sight in front of dozens of witnesses who saw or heard nothing. Gino Torttelli, the family Don, had no doubt of the shooter’s identity.
Sam had delivered message “I am retired, everyone is vulnerable, leave me alone.” In less than twenty four hours, Sam had a price on his head. While the Torttelli Family preferred to clean its own house, freelance operators would be eligible for payout. Right on schedule, thought Sam.
The previous month was not spent setting up the hit as was his custom. Sam had already done that with each of the top three Torttelli family members. Just in case. All he had done was a walk through or two. Creatures of habit are such easy targets.
Sam spent most of the previous month setting up his escape from “the life.” For years, he resided in different large cities in Nevada. As far as his employer knew, his time off was split between Nevada and Arizona, always in the metro areas of the big cities. He was the only one who knew he hated the desert. In fact, he hated all of the Southwest – with a passion. But that was where the plane he boarded two hours after the shoot was headed and that was where the hunt would begin.
Sam deplaned in Phoenix with a mob of passengers. With no luggage, save for a briefcase full of folders with spreadsheets, he looked like any other weekday passenger. At the airport, Sam picked up a midsize Chevy from long-term parking and was on his way – a clean get away. Almost.
Sam had not realized Gino recently acquired a contact in the FAA. Screening of the security footage at the airports in the area began hours after the hit. Gino’s most trusted men were scanning at airport security viewing film.
Flights from LaGuardia turned up nothing, but Gino’s man spotted Sam on tape boarding the nonstop 1:30 PM flight from JFK to Phoenix, arriving at 3:46 PM local time. Never underestimate your enemy. Sam made his first mistake. Ever.
The plane had been on the ground in Phoenix for ten minutes before his flight details were known. Quick phone calls and posts to a clandestine message board were placed to “associates” in Phoenix. The Phoenix airport became surrounded by “observers,” hoping to cash in on the open contract. A slight man kept an eye on the cars leaving the long-term parking, because that is where he would leave a car if he were in Sam’s position. He spotted Sam leaving the lot and maneuvered his car into the lane two cars behind Sam.
Sam pulled into a strip motel where he rented a room for the month. He had come and gone several times in the past few weeks so being there for a few days and then gone for a few days was nothing out of the ordinary. The slight man tailing Sam slowed the sedan down and passed the motel once he saw Sam enter room 103. Sam thought he might have been followed but entered the room anyway. Sam had made a second mistake.
Later that night, the lock was slowly picked and with security chain not in use, the slight man silently opened the door and eased into the room. Pfft. Pfft. Pfft. Pfft. Pfft. Pfft. Six silenced rounds penetrated the torso of lump in the bed. The slight man leaned over the body in the bed and pulled back the blankets and sheets. As that was happening, the adjoining-room door cracked open. When the slight man straightened up, pfft, pfft. Two rounds penetrated his skull and rattled round with exiting. Instantaneous death. Perhaps he should leave a tip for the perforated blankets, thought Sam.
So someone had been tailing him. Always the planner, Sam had rented two adjoining rooms for the month, and always entered the same room. That may have saved my life, Sam thought as he opened the bed and laid the dead man in it. Gino may not know exactly where I am, but he knows where I landed. That was the goal, but was not supposed to happen for several days. Sam’s thoughts whirled around his head.
Not surprisingly, Sam was a loner. His nonwork pursuits involved reading and African violets. His true passion was breeding African violets. He always chose a condo with north-facing windows for his collection. Doubles, singles, white, purple, pink, and now black flowers. Sam had managed to produce a black African violet, in truth, it was a very dark purple; but no one else had been able to get as close to black as he had. Never in clubs, meetings, or shows about the flowers, but Sam had dozens of different screen names in African violet circles. Only on a burner phone (one of the hundreds he had), and only at public Wi-Fi hotspots. Unfortunately, his passion for and knowledge about African violets came out and was one of the few things his employer knew about him.
Sam had regrets. Not about the killing, but leaving his African violet collection, but he was always prepared to walk away from everything at any time. He knew not being able to so provided leverage and shortens the lifespan of people in his profession. Sam regretted leaving his violets.
Sam was on the run and being hunted. Not something he was comfortable with. Likely, this poor sap was the only one who saw him and tracked him; no one wanted to share reward money, thought Sam.
Within minutes, Sam headed northeast out of Phoenix into the dark. It had been a long, long time since events had not gone according to his plan. His current ID was burned.
Sam was still thinking about his violets when he stopped for fuel across the New Mexico state line, Daybreak started as Sam was fueling up. Cash, accepted everywhere and never questioned.
Back in Phoenix, the two rooms had been rented with strict instructions that no hotel staff needed to or should enter the rooms for the month. With the air conditioner turned as cold as the unit would allow, it was three days before the body decomposition alerted the motel staff of a problem. The police had difficulty pegging an exact time of death, but Gino knew. Gino also knew a three-day head start would be two and a half days more than Sam needed to disappear. A furious Gino doubled the price on Sam’s head.
The police carted the body away as Sam entered Massachusetts. His new plan was formulated during fifteen-hour days driving on the US Interstate system. He blended in as another interstate traveler.
With his new ID in hand, his destination was Clam Harbor, a small town on the coast of Maine. Five years ago, Sam purchased a two-bedroom cape on the quiet side of the harbor. He managed to visit for about a week every other year. A local lawn service and housekeeping service were the only regular visitors to his house. These, in addition to a twice per year maintenance company, drew on accounts set up at each business. Clam Harbor was to become his new home. In fact, his first permanent home. Sam never considered foster homes as permanent, and they never were. His chosen profession was not one that encouraged settling into relationships or a house. This was all going to change. He was going to become a Mainer.
Sam liked the town and liked the house. Not pretentious or flashy, it looked like many of the other small homes people lived in during their retirement. Berry Park was a five-minute walk and was an underutilized gem. Sam found new joy in reading on the benches overlooking the water. A few of the regulars walking their dogs would give him a polite nod if he looked up. Fall was quickly approaching in New England and would be quite the change for Sam. His time at the park, like the day length, grew shorter each week.
Sam purchased nine African violet plants from nine different resellers and they were thriving under his tutelage. He had hybridized them and there were small string tags hanging from the seed pods, indicating parents and the date of the cross. Sam knew full well this was a risk as this was something his employer knew about him, but he couldn’t help himself. He had to have his violets.
Spring came early and Sam’s violets looked radiant. Seedlings were rapidly growing from previous crosses and new crosses were made and bore string tags. A neighbor stopped by when Sam was in his yard to say “Hi” and asked when he would return to his regular reading bench at Berry Park.
Sam stood silently stunned. Had be become lax, was he becoming a creature of habit and an easy target? And he had an increasing collection of African violets.
Sam smiled and said “I hope the weather cooperates so I can resume my peaceful visits to the park.” Crap, that sounded lame.
While the people in the area were friendly enough, if the outward message was “leave me alone,” that was generally respected. I’m not good at this social custom. I don’t want to stick out like a sore thumb. That is when people start talking about you and looking into you.
Sam laid out a plan for how he would become more social to a level where people wouldn’t drop in unannounced for coffee but would not look into his past either.
The next week at the park Sam said “Nice collie” to a woman he saw between 10 AM and noon most every day.
“Thanks. Jessie turned nine last week. She is a lovely dog,” the woman replied.
“I’ve been admiring your dog and thought perhaps I should say something. Have a nice rest of your walk,” Sam said. See, that wasn’t so hard. She and the dog were both nice.
Over the next three weeks, he managed to speak to six different people walking their dogs at the park. All of them opened up when he spoke to them about their dog. That is one more contact than he planned, so things were ahead of schedule, thought Sam. He nodded or spoke to the woman with the collie several times per week. He did not count her in his totals because he wanted to say a few words of greeting to her.
“I’m Beth,” said the collie owner as she plopped herself down next to Sam on the bench. Too soon, thought Sam. But there she sat.
“Uh … I’m Sam.”
“Well, nice to meet you, Sam. I’ve seen you at this park for months and months. You know my dog’s name, I thought and you might like to know my name and I thought I should know yours.”
“Uh … it’s Sam.” Oh Jesus, that sounded moronic.
“I know, you just told me. I’ve lived here in Clam Harbor for the past twenty years. I came summers during my sophomore and junior college years to wait tables for college tuition. I liked the town and the area a lot so I stayed after I graduated.”
That woman can talk a blue streak, thought Sam. But he did not budge from the bench, he listened, mesmerized.
“Did I tell you I’m an artist? I studied oils in my art program at BU, but I think I’ve found my calling in water colors. This Friday is ‘Art Walk’ and I am showing in the Reed Gallery. You know, the big one on Main Street with the benches and stone sculptures in front. Besides, there are cheese and crackers along with wine to enjoy while you look at the art. Anyway, you are going to love the art. Even if you don’t like the art, you can sit on the bench there.”
“How nice,” Sam said when Beth took a breath.
“I’ve been working on a series of scenes of Razor Bay, a sunrise and a sunset water color piece for each season. I sold three of the set last week with delivery Saturday morning after the show. These are highlight pieces and they define me as an artist. I am so proud of them. You’ll come and see them won’t you, Sam?”
“Great! The ‘Art Walk’ starts at 4 PM but doesn’t pick up until 5:30 PM and closes at 7 PM. I’ll look for you at 6:30 PM. It’ll be busy but we can get a drink or a bite to eat and get to know each other afterwards. Jessie and I have to go now but it will be terrific seeing you Friday.”
“Uh … bye,” was all Sam could say. What just happened?! Isn’t this what I have avoided? Internal conflict was new for Sam.
Sam avoided the park the next day. He had Thursday to sort out what to do on Friday. Unplanned activity and uncharted territory was new for Sam.
Sam did not have a plan B to Clam Harbor. This was to be his last stop. Sam made a list of pros and cons of going to the Art Walk. Heading the con list was “getting recognized and shot dead.” An ominous start. There was quite a collection on the pro list. Several items involved entering the social scene. “Because I want to go” was on the pro list twice. Twice! What is happening here?
Friday arrived and Sam was at the park reading. He wasn’t so much reading as biding time until 6:30 PM that night. But she is so different from me. I can do this.
Tired of biding his time at the park, he went home and prepared a tossed salad topped with grilled chicken a brewed some iced tea for lunch. And waited.
Sam arrived at the Reed Gallery at exactly 6:30 PM. The place was hopping with locals looking at paintings, erudites sipping wine, artists in peasant dresses and smock tops, all smiling and having a great time. So this is what people do to enjoy themselves, thought Sam.
He spotted Beth before she spotted him. Dressed in comfortable shoes and a print dress that highlighted her figure, she looked radiant and alive. He was sure she had no idea how beautiful she was. He picked up a cheese and cracker hors d'oeuvre and a white wine. Beth spotted him and burst into a wide smile as he turned to head her way. She crossed over and gave him a hug. This too, was new for Sam.
“Sam! I was hoping you would come. I was worried the people would overwhelm you because you don’t seem to like crowds. Come, you must see my series – they’re all sold, as well as three other paintings.”
He followed, or more correctly, was dragged by the hand to the southeast corner of the gallery. A decent-sized crowd was gathered around the wall section with her paintings and there was pointing, head nodding, and smiles. Beth was in her glory with many of the patrons wanting to talk with her.
Sam drifted to the back of the crowd and let Beth converse with people around her. At 7:10 PM, the gallery announced the Art Walk would close in five minutes. Ten minutes later, with the last patron ushered out of the gallery. Sam worked very hard not to get antsy because to him, 7 PM was 7 PM, and five minutes was five minutes.
Beth started to help the gallery owner tidy up, but was told she was the star of the show tonight and to leave the clean up to others.
“Would you let me the take the ‘star of the show’ out for dinner, or drinks, or coffee, or walk you to your car?” Sam asked nervously.
“I’d love to have dinner,” said Beth.
Sam suggested The Paella Bistro as it was almost across the street from the Reed Gallery. As they entered the restaurant, Sam noticed a coarse-looking man watching them. The man had unkempt and unwashed hair, wore a dirty coat too heavy for the season and had a hole in his stained pants. Not quite a homeless look, but that of someone not quite all there.
After a sip of dry white wine, Beth started the conversation. “Sam, I don’t know much about you except you read and you came to my showing at the gallery. Tell me about yourself.”
“Not much to tell really. I grew up in a foster homes. My foster dad owned a hardware store, but it burned and he died in the fire. The grief was too much for my foster mother and she died a month later. I turned twenty two the next month. They left some money for me, and I lead a simple life.”
“Not really, the sad stories are the foster kids that bounce around their whole life and don’t get into a decent home.”
The conversation lulled while their meals arrived. Not to the point of trying each other’s dinner, Sam had to take Beth’s word that house specialty seafood paella was terrific. He thought the same of the Valencian paella on his plate.
"It is getting late. I should walk you to your car.”
Sam noticed the same coarse-looking man watching them as they left the restaurant. As they walked down the street, Beth slipped her arm in his and they walked down the street arm in arm. Sam couldn’t believe how much he liked it.
The man was gone by the time they reached Beth’s car. “Thank you for the lovely evening. I hope to see you again,” said Sam as he opened her car door.
Sam couldn’t wipe the huge grin off from his face as he drove home. I could get used to this.
He went to Berry Park at his appointed time on Saturday, but did not see Beth. Three days passed before Beth showed up.
“Well, good morning to you,” Sam said as she approached his bench. As she neared, he could see her concealer could not totally hide a black eye.
“What happened to you?” Asked Sam.
Sam stared at her and knew she was lying. He silently counted to ten before he spoke again.
“Really, what happened?”
"My ex-husband’s brother is a whack job and thinks I have disgraced the family with our divorce. The divorce was hard, but amenable and uncontested. My ex’s brother is the one that can’t get over it. He arrived at my house shortly after I did and rang the doorbell. I thought it might be you so I opened it without looking and he was there and very angry. He hit me before he left.”
“And you called the police?”
“Yes. He was out on bail almost immediately.”
“I’m so sorry, I wish there was something I could do to help,” Sam said. There is something I can do to help.
“Your caring is enough. The swelling is down and it doesn’t hurt anymore. The color should go away soon.”
Beth sat and they chatted while her collie waited patiently.
Sam told her he was going to buy a bicycle for exercise. Sam was seething inside. Beth did not deserve to be hit. He felt he was to blame for her being hit. Well, he was going to see her more and this would not happen again. Ever.
Getting the police information anonymously was something Sam did well. Wilford Dobson was a coarse and surly type, and would not be on the top side of the earth for much longer. He was a bit off and only job he could hold was hand-sorting paper at the town recycling center.
Sam rode his new bicycle around the area on a specific course. Each day, he would add another loop and extend the ride. The loops were in different directions so not to bring specific attention to himself. He always carried his smartphone with a bicycle ride mapping app running so his rides were documented. An alibi as a backup could come in handy later.
He rode enough in the area where Wilford Dobson lived to get a rough idea of his schedule. On a Wednesday without his app running, about a mile past Dobson’s house, Sam stopped and went into the woods. He hid his bicycle about seventy-five feet off the road. No traffic was present on the quiet road.
Sam made his way to Dobson’s house through the woods. Hidden from view, twenty feet from the edge of the woods, Sam made himself comfortable. Water bottles and granola bars were in his rider’s backpack, along with binoculars.
Sam sat at his post for twenty-six hours. This was repeated for three Wednesdays. Beth had been hired by the Reed Gallery and worked on Wednesdays from noon to 7 PM closing.
The fourth Wednesday was different. Sam did not bring food or water, he came armed. He was in position an hour early. At 4:47 PM, Wilford Dobson drove up, right on schedule.
Dobson was taking a six-pack of Bud out of his truck when he heard “Make a sudden move and you’re dead. Turn around slowly and face me.”
Dobson turned around, holding the six-pack of beer and thought he saw a ninja dressed in black from head to toe with a gun trained him.
“Shut up. Take two steps forward, get on your knees, and then on your fat gut, spread your legs, and interlace your hands behind your head. Don’t make me shoot you.”
Dobson did as he was told. Sam moved around and approached the prone man from the legs. Sam put a knee on Dobson’s lower back. “Don’t say anything. I know you feel a gun barrel on your spine. Move and you will be paralyzed from the waist down.”
“You beat up Beth Dobson didn’t you? Now I expect you to speak.”
“She should be married to my brother, not dating other men. I was so mad. Besides, I barely hit her.” Now, Sam was past seething.
The gun barrel wasn’t a gun barrel, but the hilt of Sam’s razor-sharp knife. In one motion, he lifted the knife and brought it between Dobson’s legs and sliced through the femoral artery. The cut was at an angle so the sphincter muscles couldn’t close off the cut.
A shocked Dobson obeyed, not realizing the severity of his wound.
“If you apply pressure, you may have thirty seconds of consciousness. I want you to hear me. You damaged someone special. You are not special.”
The wound continued to bleed, despite pressure. “I’m going to die!” Dobson’s response.
“Yes, you are. But you can die knowing that you are not going to hurt anyone again.”
“You can’t …”
Dobson never finished the sentence as he lost consciousness. He fell back and continued to bleed out. Three and a half minutes later, the bleeding stopped. Sam would have preferred to pound the man to death with his bare hands but that introduced risk of evidence being left at the scene.
Sam made his way back to the woods, picked up his backpack, changed clothes, and then went to his bicycle. Clothes, knife and gun packed into the backpack, he rode home. Back at his house Sam destroyed his African violet collection. That was a link to his past that needed to be severed. In not doing so, there was a chance that it could be used to track him and that may put Beth in danger. That presented a risk he could not accept.
Dobson frequently pulled a bender on Wednesday so when he didn’t show up for work on Thursday, not a lot was thought of it. He didn’t work on Friday, but had never missed a Saturday before. That afternoon someone from work went looking for him. The smell gave the location of the dead body away before it was sighted. Sam knew the investigation would lead nowhere because they never did.
As an acquaintance who talked to Beth in the park, he was never interviewed during the investigation. Sam was right, the investigation led nowhere.
The news story was minor headlines and Sam almost missed it. Crime boss Gino Torttelli and his driver had been killed in automobile accident on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway heading toward Little Italy. Their Cadillac had been traveling at a high rate of speed before it went airborne off exit 21. There was no longer a price on his head and he was no longer being sought for his “alleged” involvement with the shooting of the number two-ranked member of the family. When the Don puts out a contract, it expires with the Don; no family member would disrespect the memory of Don Gino Torttelli by reissuing the contract. Sam was free from “the life.” Now convinced Clam Harbor was going to be his last stop, under his instructions, his lawyer started to liquidate the condos and cars he had around the country.
Sam asked Beth out on a date the next month. He couldn’t remember if he had ever asked a woman out on a date. Dinner at the Paella Bistro was as good as the previous time. Over the next months, they were constant companions.
He was finally settling down. Beth particularly liked his pet name for her, “Violet.”