The day started out like any other day. The sun rose in the east, and Rupert’s clammy nose snuffled in my ear.
“I’m up, I’m up,” I told him, pushing him away and pulling the blanket over my head.
He took this as an invitation to pounce on my head as if he were a ninja Labradoodle.
“For Christ’s sake!” I sprang out of bed and glared at his goofy grin and lolling tongue.
Adjusting the boys in the basement, I set out for breakfast in the kitchen. Ice crystals were growing on the tile floor of my backwoods cabin. I thought my skin would adhere to the surface if I took one more step. So, I took off my shirt, dropped it, and used it to scoot my feet across the floor.
Royal Blue must have left the backdoor open when she snuck out this morning. No way I was that drunk last night, was I? I recalled the royal blue dress, obsidian hair, and limber legs. See not that drunk.
It had to be fifteen degrees below zero out there. I glanced around. Ninja dog was smart. He circled and arranged the blanket on the bed with his paw. I reached out and pushed the door closed. As I placed a kettle on the stove, bent to light it, a knock at the backdoor startled me.
“Who in their right mind…”
I shimmied over to the door again and pulled it open. A manila envelope lay on the step. I let out a long sigh.
“You see Rupert. This is what happens when you take a vacation and try to have a little fun.”
Assassins never get a day off.
I slipped the pages from inside the envelope. The kettle whistled. I glanced at the name as I poured the boiling water into the French press. Abigail Mitchel. The rich fullness of the Columbian beans cleared my head. A personalized invitation to a wedding reception was enclosed. Henrik Jackson, my new name, was emblazed in gold lettering.
I set the pages on the table and stared out the window. One set of tire tracks and one pair of footprints marred the surface of the morning’s snow. I knew they were Royal Blue’s prints and tire marks. The Shadow never left prints, just an envelope with a name or cash.
I sipped the black coffee. This should be quick and easy. I dressed in my black tuxedo and jumped into my SUV. Four hours later, I arrived at the reception, invitation in hand.
“Welcome Mr. Jackson. We are pleased you could join us,” said a wrinkled narrow eyed woman at the entrance.
“Wouldn’t miss this for the world,” I said giving her my most dashing smile, which she promptly forgot. I’m plain as far as appearances: five foot eight inches tall, medium build, mouse brown hair, and hazel eyes. Being unremarkable is an asset in my business.
Now, just to find Ms. Mitchell.
Weddings are wonderful. All the tables had name cards. I wove my way through the tables. The bride wouldn’t want clashing personalities next to one another, could lead to hours of vexing conversations.
“Abigail!” shrieked a young blond woman in a pink cotton candy bridesmaid dress as she dashed across the room. Bingo. She collided with the bride and embraced her.
“Abby, I’m so happy for you,” she said in a slurred southern drawl stumbling into the grooms arms.
Perfect, just freaking perfect.
I tossed back a gin and tonic and sauntered up to the bride and groom.
“You’re a lucky man, I wish you and Abby nothing but happiness,” I said shaking the groom’s hand. Reaching into my pocket, I took out five one hundred dollar bills, and handed them to him.
As I embraced the stunning blonde haired, emerald-eyed bride, I opened a small pocket in my gloves containing strychnine powder. I grabbed two glasses of champagne from a passing tray handed one to each of them.
Laughing and patting the groom on the back, I took my own glass of champagne, held it up and said, “Forever and always,” and tossed it back. They looked at each other and followed by lead. How could you not drink to that!
Now, I had fifteen minutes to get the hell out of there before the strychnine convulsions began to wreak havoc in the bride. I ducked into a bedroom on the second floor.
“Who’s is its,” slurred a man. I could see him in the firelight trying to get up from the floor next to the bed. I looked him up and down, cocked my arm back, and let it rip. My fist connected with the side of his head, and he crumbled to the floor.
Who in their right mind chooses cotton candy pink and lime green as their wedding colors? I pulled his tuxedo off and chucked mine into the flames.
Once I was dressed in his tux, I went out on the balcony and peered over the edge. Gripping the handrail and swinging my leg over, I dropped to the ground. Glancing both ways, I scuttled into the nearby woods. Once I was in the shadows, I began to run.
The dress shoes slipped in the mud. I clung to a tree to catch my breath and balance. Bounding from one foot to the other, I avoided puddles reflecting the moon’s glow. A rock rolled under my foot as I skipped across a creek. I fell to my knees and elbows.
O the main road where I had left SUV, three cars raced passed me. The wind whipped my hair and made my eyes water. I blinked. The world spun. Then I saw only darkness.
The world inched back into focus and my body flopped around on the side of the road like a fish out of water. Slimy mud was smeared on the knees and elbows of Tuxedo No. 2. How in the hell did the poison get into my champagne?