Calvin Mills, the senior Democratic Senator from Maryland, relaxed in his favorite leather chair, watching the latest CNN news summary. He’d spent a long day on the hill fighting for his water conservation bill and felt as drained as a rock star after a three-hour concert at JFK Stadium. After shutting down the big screen TV, he headed to the kitchen where he found Danny sitting at the table, eating a late-night meal. “You find everything you need?”
The startled Secret Service agent jumped to his feet, his mouth stuffed with a man-sized bite of his turkey sandwich, and mumbled, “Yes, sir, appreciate your hospitality.”
“This protection is a waste of taxpayer money,” Calvin said, as he grabbed a soda from the magnet-covered refrigerator.
Danny, his white shirt opened at the neck and his striped tie pulled aside for comfort, discretely wiped mustard off his chin with his finger. “No matter how much you complain, sir, we’re not going away.”
Calvin nodded. “Now sit down and finish your sandwich, I’m going to bed.” The senator climbed the stairs toward the second-floor master bedroom, paused at the mid-point landing to catch his breath, and then entered the bathroom to brush his teeth.
Judy, his wife and best friend for more than thirty years, clad in a white silk nightgown, sat up in bed, leaning against the headboard, but remained so engrossed in her latest romance novel, she didn’t notice him enter the room. The sounds of running water, gargling and spitting, however, broke her concentration. “Calvin Mills, is that you?”
He stuck his head out of the bathroom. “No, dear, some stranger is using your sink. Honestly, if I can’t get your attention, how do you expect me to win the nomination next month?”
“Don’t pout because I fail to dote on your every move. Look, you are a shoo-in. You have a sizable lead in the polls, and Walter doesn’t stand a chance in the general election.”
Calvin put the toothbrush back in its silver holder, crossed to the antique oak bed, and slipped under the covers. “I can’t remember when an incumbent president didn’t win the nomination, and by the way, today’s Washington Post editorial agrees with me. Maybe I should have accepted his offer to be vice president.”
Judy laid down her book. “Absolutely not...why play second fiddle when you can lead the orchestra?”
He held her hand and looked at her slightly wrinkled, but still lovely face. “We’ve been down this trail many times. You think I can walk on water, but it would take a bigger miracle than that for me to become president.”
“Don’t sell yourself short. Who knows what will happen? If you can’t line up enough votes, we’ll strike a deal. Walter’s will need his own miracle to stay in office, but no matter what happens; we can’t let the Republicans move back into the White House.”
He kissed his wife on the forehead. “Now I remember why I’ve kept you around all these years.”
She swung a pillow at his head, but Walter ducked and playfully pinned her down on the bed. “Besides, if everything else falls through, my old law firm would take me back in a heartbeat.”
Judy wiggled under his weight. “It’ll work out for the best. It always does. Now get off me, you big horse.”
Calvin rolled over to his side of the bed, smiling, as his wife performed her evening ritual--turning the nightstand clock radio to light jazz from WJZW-FM, setting the sleep timer for thirty minutes, and kissing the ornate, silver-framed picture of their son, daughter-in-law, and three wonderful grandchildren.
Judy sighed, settled under the covers and leaned over to give Calvin a peck on the cheek, “Goodnight, sweetheart.”
“Goodnight, dear.” He switched off the Tiffany lamp, and cuddled behind her, spooning like newlyweds. The moonlight through the bedroom window projected a diffused tic-tac-toe pattern on the polished mahogany floor as they drifted off to sleep.
A tall figure, nearly invisible in his hooded black sweats, waited deep in the shadows, hidden within a stand of birch trees, his breath crystallizing in the cold night air. Through powerful infrared binoculars, Frank Tate observed the activities at the Mill’s large colonial home, nestled safely in the upscale community of Chevy Chase, Maryland.
He checked his watch and smiled with satisfaction as the agent, like every other night, finished circling the house, punched in the home security code, and opened the back door--trading places with a second agent, who now stood under the porch light enjoying his last smoke of the evening.
Nasty habit, Frank thought, doesn’t he know those things can kill you.
Pulling a titanium compound hunting crossbow from his bag, he cocked the heavy gauge Dacron synthetic string, placed an aluminum shaft, four-bladed arrowhead into position, and took careful aim through the ATN Mars6x Gen.2 scope. His adrenalin surged as he squeezed the sensitive trigger, releasing the arrow, and watching as it flew true to its mark.
The agent could only gurgle as he tried in vain to shout a warning to his partner and the sleeping couple he had been assigned to protect. Before the injured man could pull his gun, Frank quickly crossed the perfectly-manicured lawn and pinned the agent against the house. While covering the man’s mouth with one hand, Frank plunged his hunting knife deep, just below the ribs. He stared into the man’s eyes, watching him blink several times before the agent fell to his knees and toppled face-first to the cement.
Frank’s head throbbed after another successful kill. He tried to rub it out, but the unrelenting pain and intense flashes of blinding light behind his eyes made relief impossible. He fumbled out a homemade briar pipe from his jacket pocket and filled the bowl with a pungent-smelling mixture of marijuana and tobacco. After tapping the crushed leaves down with his finger, he raised the pipe to his lips and held a match to the potent concoction until it began to glow. Taking several deep drags, his headache subsided to a tolerable level.
Frank put out the pipe and then advanced to the still open doorway. He peered into the empty kitchen and then inched his way forward into the home. He lowered his gear bag silently onto the kitchen table and stole a bite of a mostly-eaten sandwich lying there. Grabbing some paper napkins from an antique holder, he wiped clean the still wet blood along the blade’s serrated edges, but chose the back of his sleeve to brush away a few bread crumbs from the corner of his mouth.
One down, one to go, he thought. Hearing a TV playing in the den, Frank bent low and crept across the carpet until he reached a spot behind the second agent. With the only light coming from the flickering television screen, he rose, silent as a specter, knife in hand, and ended the man’s life with one slashing stroke, while a late night comedian made jokes about President Kendall’s latest ineptness.
Crossing to the stairs, Frank looked up into the darkness and listened for any noise coming from his primary target. The blinding flashes returned, so he lit his pipe again, and then step-by-step climbed toward the master bedroom, hugging the wall as he went, so the stairs wouldn’t creak and provide any advance warning, although he wasn’t too concerned about the sleeping couple putting up much of a struggle.
Jazz still played on the clock radio, but discordant free-form improvisation didn’t cause Mrs. Mills to jerk awake--it was her keen sense of smell. She wrinkled her nose and shook her husband. “Calvin, get up. Something’s burning on the stove.”
He moaned and replied without turning over. “Why does your imagination go into overdrive the minute I fall asleep? We never cook, so there can’t be anything burning--unless one of the agents decided to surprise us with a Sunday roast.”
But then he picked up the scent too. Now a non-smoker, he could still recognize--and briefly crave--burning tobacco, but the familiar aroma was mixed with a sweetness he hadn’t smelled since his undergraduate days at Yale. Now wide awake, Calvin sat straight up in bed, put on his glasses and scanned the room for the source of the odd scent. He stopped at the bedroom door when he came upon a red glow, like a demonic eye, staring back at him. “Who’s there?” He shouted.
But his words had barely left his lips before the stranger took three quick strides to the astonished senator’s side, pinned him to the headboard, and sliced a jagged trench just below his distinguished chin. Calvin with a look of astonishment frozen on his face slid down the headboard; coming to rest on his pillow in an expanding pool of blood.
Judy stared up at the man, trembling, crying. Speechless, she finally managed one pleading word. “Why?”
Frank shrugged. “It’s j-just some-thin’ I g-gotta do.”
He moved toward her. She screamed, “Danny...John,” but no one answered.
Frank hated to do this, especially to a sweet old lady, but his orders were clear--no witnesses. As he reached for her, she picked up a silver picture frame from the nightstand and threw it at his head. He ducked and saw the missile shatter against the wall, sending shards of glass flying everywhere.
Judy scrambled across her dead husband and ran out the bedroom door screaming. He caught her at the top of the stairs, his strong fingers snapping one of the thin straps of her nightgown, causing the woman to ricochet off the banister, half falling, half tumbling down the steps--collapsing in a heap at the bottom.
Taking three stairs at a time, Frank hauled the dazed woman to her feet and held her tightly from behind. His head next to hers, he picked up the faint scent of her lily-of-the-valley perfume. Judy’s eyes opened in terror as he whispered into her ear, “S-S-Sorry ma’am.”
With a gloved hand, he drew the knife across the woman’s delicate white throat, severing another scream and the carotid artery. He scooped up her crumpled body in his arms, cradling the woman like a small child, and carried her back upstairs--carefully placing her beside her dead husband. He watched the lacy pillowcase turn dark red, the sticky blood making a mess of what used to be her immaculately-styled, mostly gray hair. After wiping his weapon on the bedspread, he put it back in its sheath and knelt down beside Mrs. Mills. He drew close, gently stroked her pale cheek, and wept--such a waste.
Shaking off the sadness, Frank picked up his pipe from where he had dropped it during the attack and relit it. The drug, along with a moment of meditation, helped reduce the pounding in his head long enough for him to finish his assigned task.
He opened a jewelry box on the dresser, stuffed a handful of rings, bracelets, and necklaces into his jacket pocket and threw the box on the floor. In a quick turn around the bedroom, Frank knocked over a lamp, trashed some books, and for good measure kicked a hole in small TV sitting on a wheeled stand in the corner.
Pushing aside the clothes in the closet, he ran his hand along the floor looking for a seam, until he found and removed a small square of Velcroed carpet. Pulling a piece of paper from his pocket, he dialed the in-floor safe combination, opened the heavy metal door, and removed several documents and a banded stack of cash.
Frank flipped off the light, bounded down the stairs, and swept up his equipment bag on his way out the door. Producing a cell phone, he hit a pre-programmed number on the pad.
After three rings, a thin male voice answered, “Yes?”
“I d-d-done it...like you t-t-told me.”
“Good. I’ll send the money to your regular account, Frank.”
“I d-don’t d-do this for the m-m-money.”
“Why d-d-did that woman have to d-die?”
“Don’t worry about it, Frank. Just go home.”
Frank walked to an unlocked gray Ford Taurus station wagon and threw his gear into the backseat. He had parked three blocks away in case any of the neighbors might be watching, but it probably was not a necessary precaution, because these days neighbors barely spoke, let alone look out for each other. Nobody had ever cared about him or his sisters. He sighed, climbed in behind the wheel, took another deep drag on his pipe, and drove off into the night.
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