It gets dark fast up here. Cold too. These Vermont mountains murder the weak January sun and leave nothing but gray clouds as witnesses.
A triangular house on a steep, wooded hillside. The windows glow. Smoke puffs out of the chimney. Quaint.
The figure in the woods is nearly invisible, an inkstain on asphalt. Black coat, hat, boots, the figure creeps panther-like through the snow wrapped in midnight colored shadows. Black gloves assemble a sniper’s rifle, slowly, the quiet clicks disappear in the wind. The figure becomes deadly, a killer.
A silhouette crosses behind a curtain.
Inside, a man walks into the kitchen. He chops vegetables for a salad. He’s good with a knife. Since moving here, he’s worked as a butcher at the local grocery store.
Outside, a car pulls into the driveway. Headlights bring the shadows in the forest to life, all but one.
The killer holds the rifle expertly, gingerly like a parent with a favorite child. It is snowing. Perfect. No footprints.
A girl steps out of the car.
The man inside finishes his second glass of whiskey, takes a deep breath. He’ll tell her tonight. Tell her the man she’s seeing is William “Whitey” Scarlotti. Yes, that Whitey. Explain where his dreams come from. His dreams offer no witness protection. No immunity. Each night he drowns in a deep bath of blood.
This morning he woke up with his fingers around her throat, his eyes full of a bottomless meanness.
“Who are you?” she asked.
He had no answer.
The door opens. Time for answers.
The killer focuses. Patient. If you’re going to act like a ninja, think ninja thoughts, the man who taught the killer was fond of saying. The voice in the killer’s head is the voice of the man inside. Nothing slows down, but the killer is aware of everything, every snowflake is just where it should be. Even this sudden gust of wind was the killer’s idea.
There is one window with no curtain. It is a small circle on a high wall. From the woods, Whitey and the girl at the dinner table are perfectly framed.
The girl Karen takes a sip of wine.
He knows it’s a mistake. But look at her. Those blue eyes don’t know from badness. She is unstained. That smile. He should just walk away. Tell her to get out. Don’t come back.
“You look like you got something on your mind, Billy.”
Billy Piccolo. That’s who she thinks he is. Who he wants to be. He tries to think of his past life as someone else’s. Just nightmares. But his memory’s too good.
“I’m not who you think I am,” he says.
Just before, the killer feels a rush. Like falling. Nothing but the target. No stopping. A finger caresses the trigger. Squeezes. The crack of the rifle echoes beautifully in these quiet mountains.
Whitey will never know if the look of surprise on her face is from what he said or the sensation of a bullet hitting her between the eyes.
The killer runs. Rifle over shoulder. Boots chug through the snow. Over the ridge, half a mile away, a black Cadillac with no plates waits.
Pistol. Spare clips. Coat. Knife. Out the door. His heart is like a man about to be buried alive. Pounding to be let out. Listen. Footsteps crunch. Up the hill. He watches, watches for that moving shadow.
At the top of the ridge, the killer goes flat. Aims the rifle at the cars in the driveway. Hits two tires on each vehicle.
Whitey sees where the shots are fired from and he’s off, weaving through trees, fast and quiet. He feels unleashed and dangerous, a drawn sword, and he will not return to his scabbard until he has tasted blood.
The killer is tumbling downhill. Breathless. Sees the car.
Whitey sees it too. Sees a familiar figure in black glide into it. He shoots, but at this distance…
The car roars and skids onto the road.
Whitey knows who it is. Taught her everything she knows. He imagines her grinning now, looking in the rearview mirror. His wife always had a killer smile.