The floor in the living room creaks, catching Aaron’s attention.
Aaron turns to face the shadow on the wall behind him, saying, “I’m sorry. I didn’t know I was followed.”
Aaron sinks into a crouch in a darkened corner of the bedroom. He reaches in his jacket for the gun he left on the dining room table. His favorite softball bat will have to do.
The muffled sound of footsteps sinking into the plush carpet gets closer as the assassins creep down the hallway to Adam’s bedroom.
The pair of assassins enter the bedroom.
“…What the?…” the first man says, pointing his gun at the shadow on the wall.
The second man’s misaligned eyes bulge when he sees the shadow, and he lowers his weapon, shaking his head.
“I don’t get it,” he whispers, looking around. “Shadows have bodies, don’t they? So, where’s this one?”
The frozen shadow suddenly reaches out at them, as if seeking to choke the life out of them.
“Christ! It’s alive!” the first man yells,
Aaron swings his bat at the second man, smashing his arm. He yelps in pain, dropping his gun.
Aaron quickly pulls him into a headlock.
Turning to face the struggling pair, the first intruder fires. The silencer on his gun suppresses the normally loud crack of the weapon but not its effects as a pair of bullets tear into his partner’s chest. Aaron tosses the body at the first gunman, who instinctively catches his dead cohort, falling backward onto the floor.
Aaron dives on top of him. Grabbing the first man by the throat, Aaron squeezes and twists his neck until the assassin’s resistance ebbs.
The shadow on the wall drops its gaze.
“I’m sorry you had to see that,” Aaron says. “I promise it won’t happen again. What I hate the most is that they stole some of the time we're supposed to have together.”
The shadow on the wall sobs.
“Let us shield you, jefe,” Cruz Calderon says to Tito Suarez as they walk toward the limousine.
A prolific drug dealer and emerging political power broker in Panama, Suarez has grown bolder as his wallet has grown fatter.
“Don’t concern yourself, Cruz,” Suarez says. “The closest roof must be four hundred yards away. An assassin could not hit an elephant at this distance."
A bullet strikes Suarez in the face below his right eye. A bemused smile crosses his face as he crumples to the ground.
Still talking into his earbud, fashion maven Thornton Carter III sits down in the passenger’s seat next to Aaron. Laughing as he runs his fingers through his styled hair, Carter cordially nods at Aaron. Thinking about his late wife, Aria, Aaron goes back to looking out of the window, hoping the plane takes off on time.
Aaron Ice is average in height, weight, and appearance, an advantage in a profession where standing out can get you killed.
“Did you hear they got Tito Suarez?” Carter says, grinning.
“Yeah. I read it earlier.”
“Our government isn’t good for much, but they sure know how to take out the bad guys.”
“Once they decide who they are,” Aaron replies.
Carter adjusts his Louis Vuitton sunglasses, looking down the end of his nose at Aaron.
“You sound like you pity that scum.”
Although he would like nothing more than to slap some sense into the overprivileged passenger, Aaron lies, saying, “No, of course not. People who live off the misery of others should be punished.”
Aaron smiles half-heartedly at Carter, remembering the moment the bullet he’d fired burst out of the back of Suarez’s head. He can still see the look of shock on Cruz Calderon’s face as Suarez’s blood and brains splashed onto his clothes.
Barton Beckwith, the Assistant Director of M-5, shakes Aaron’s hand. M-5 is a covert, government-sponsored ring of a dozen assassins. Although Barton has never shot or carried a gun, the lean, ginger-haired, steely-eyed administrator is as shrewd, ruthless, and relentless as the men he controls.
“Your next assignment is Senator Kieran McKenna.”
“I hate political kills,” Aaron replies.
“They have families. They have morals. Killing a drug dealer like Tito Suarez is different. He was spreading poison.”
“Senator McKenna is spreading a different kind of poison.”
“I want to see Aria first.”
“Understandable. You’ve been gone nearly a week.”
“I need to see her more than once every seven days.”
“Let me think about it.”
Aaron grits his teeth. “Think about it? Her death is on you. I told you Yuri Nedomansky had a mole in M-5, that he would make his vengeance personal, but you didn’t listen. You were sure his gang was finished because he was behind bars. I told you Aria needed protection. So, what did you do? You sent the mole to protect her. She might as well have shot herself. While I was mopping up the last of Nedomansky’s gang in Brooklyn, that rat Kelsey Pintor was here in D.C. killing my wife.”
“I’m not being dismissive or heartless. She was my sister.”
“She was my everything,” Aaron replies.
“I didn’t know Pintor was a mole. I’ve tried to make it up to you the only way I can.”
“Should I be grateful you turned me into a killing machine?”
“You’re good at it.”
“Well, I’m not good at forgetting the blank stare on people’s faces when they realize they’ve only got seconds to live. I can’t help thinking that must’ve been the same look Aria was wearing when Pintor shot her.’”
“You can take comfort that Pintor wore that same expression when you killed him.”
Aaron sighs wearily as he enters his bedroom, throwing his jacket and travel bag on the floor.
He checks his watch. Calmly sitting on the edge of the bed, he looks at the wall -- the same lifeless grey wall he’s stared at dozens of times before.
A shadow appears on the wall next to him, coalescing into the form of a woman.
Aria smiles at Aaron, her flaming red hair offsetting her cobalt-blue eyes, button nose, and unblemished porcelain skin.
Aria reaches out to hold him.
“You look tired,” she says.
“I’m just a little stressed.”
“Did you complete your assignment?”
“Mission accomplished. What, they don’t have CNN where you are?”
“I don’t know where I am,” Aria says sadly.
“Sorry… Your brother gave me a new assignment. He wants me to kill Senator Kieran McKenna before the election.”
“But he’s a good man.”
“I know. It doesn’t make sense,” Aaron replies. “McKenna checks off all the liberal agenda boxes.”
“Which may be why Barton wants him dead. Bart’s anything but liberal. He and I never shared the same political views. In fact, we seldom agreed on much of anything. Barton thought he was the boss of the family because he was the oldest. He bullied the rest of us. Guess that’s why I didn’t like him very much. So, who is McKenna running against?”
“Lowry Leach. Senator McKenna is creaming him in the poles, two to one.”
“Leach is a close friend of Barton’s. If you kill Senator McKenna, Leach has a better chance of getting elected. Then the next man Bart will ask you to kill will be his boss, so Leach can use his newfound power to help Barton become M-5’s director.”
Aaron checks his watch. “Enough shop talk. We still have fifty minutes. I know how I’d like to spend it.”
“You don’t have to hold a gun to my head,” Aria quips.
Aaron looks at her in shock.
“Bad taste, eh?” Aria asks. ”Just because I’m dead doesn’t mean I’ve lost my sense of humor.”
Aaron slumps in the seat of his rented car as Senator McKenna’s BMW pulls into the driveway.
The Senator gets out, smiling at his two daughters playing in the front yard. Yelling “Daddy!” the two girls, ages six and four, run into their father’s waiting arms.
Walking out to greet him, the Senator’s wife joins the McKenna family hug. The McKennas remain on the front lawn laughing and talking with one another.
Pretending his finger is a gun, Aaron draws a bead on Senator McKenna.
“Bang… Bang,” he whispers.
“You had an easy kill shot and you didn’t take it?” Barton asks frantically.
“I would have had to slaughter all four of them to keep them from identifying me. That meant killing two kids the same ages as your children.”
“You could have worn a mask.”
“Did you hear what I just said? Children, Barton. Since when do we murder children?”
“This is bigger than two runny-nosed brats. Besides, you may not have another easy opportunity like that again.”
“He doesn’t have any security to protect him, just his staff. He leaves home every morning between seven o’clock and seven-twenty. He stops for coffee, alone, then gets to his office ten minutes later. He averages four appearances or outside meetings between nine and three. He usually rides with his photographer, his public relations rep, and his chief of staff. After five he usually attends one or two fundraisers, award ceremonies, or dinners, then he heads home, alone, by eleven. I could kill him half a dozen times anytime I want to.”
“I don’t care about collateral damage, just get him.”
“Well, I care about collateral damage,” Aaron says. “Like I’ve said before, you don’t have to look at people’s faces when they know they’re about to die.”
“Are you losing your nerve, Aaron?”
“No. Just my direction.”
“Why kill a man like Senator McKenna? There’s no sense in it.”
“This country is going to hell in a handbasket because men and women like McKenna won’t police our borders, fund more cops, and take pleasure in denigrating Christian values. There’s an old proverb that fits McKenna’s method of governing, ‘If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.’ You leave the politics to me, Aaron. Erase Kieran McKenna. I’ll see to it you get a seat at the table when the new world order is established.”
“My gut is screaming this is wrong.”
“You’re an assassin, not Mister Rogers. Put your conscience in your bank vault with the two million we’re going to give you.”
“I want to spend more time with Aria.”
“What? No. This is new technology we’re using. Do you know how hard it is to bring a dead woman back to life even for an hour?”
“Three hours,” Aaron says sternly. “And I want to know how it’s done.”
“I’m in charge, not you. You won’t have any access to Aria at all if you’re behind bars.”
“I’ll sing like a morning dove,” Aaron challenges. “Twenty-five kills in four years, all authorized by you. I know Senator McKenna and his supporters would consider me a hero for exposing the agency that plotted his assassination. Go on, Barton, try me. I want three hours per week with Aria, or you’re going to have to be very careful picking up the soap when you shower with the other prisoners.”
Aaron checks his watch.
Aria’s shadow appears on the wall. Her body takes shape next to him in bed. He hides his hand behind his back.
“You’re smiling!” Aria notes.
“That’s because I remembered what day it is.”
“Our anniversary,” Aria says grinning.
Aaron hands her the small box he was hiding behind his back.
She opens it, beaming.
“A locket. You remembered I wanted one.”
Aria opens the locket. Inside is their wedding photo taken in Turks and Caicos.
“Ten years to the day,” Aaron says.
“Counting the two since I’ve been gone. You warned me not to get involved with you, but I never could stay away from a man of mystery.”
“I always thought they would come for me, not you,” he says remorsefully.
“I was surprised that being killed didn’t hurt. It was over before I could feel anything. Being able to be with you but not being to stay with you, that’s what hurts.”
Aaron helps hang the locket around Aria’s neck.
“They’ll let you keep this, won’t they?” Aaron asks. “I mean, there’s no rule about bringing something from our world into yours, is there?”
Aria chuckles. “I may have to pay a duty tax.”
Aaron laughs. “You always could get me to smile when things got too serious. I’ve got good news. From now on, we can spend three hours a week together.”
“Wow. That’s more time than we got to spend together when I was, well, alive.”
“And one more thing,” he says. Taking Aria’s hand, he leads her into the dining room, where he’s set up a lavish candlelight dinner.
Aria hugs him. “I feel bad. I couldn’t get you a gift.”
“Yes, you did. Every minute I’ve spent with you has been a gift.”
Aaron slumps behind the wheel of his rental.
A black Escalade pulls into the driveway. A shadowy figure gets out, walking toward the mailbox.
Aaron quietly eases out of his car, walking across the street.
The silencer muffles any noise. Two bullets bury themselves in the target’s chest. The target falls backward. Bills and advertisements fall from his grasp, scattering in the driveway.
Aaron stands over Barton.
“…Why?...” Barton gasps.
“You’re not the solution,” Aaron says. “You’re the problem.”
Half a dozen heavily armed M-5 agents storm up the stairs to Aaron’s apartment.
They smash the door open. The men dash from room to room like angry wasps.
“Here!” a voice calls out from the bedroom.
The commanding officer rushes in.
“What do you make of that?”
On the wall next to the bed, joined hand in hand, are the shadows of Aaron and Aria.