The first shot tore into Mark Blakely’s left shoulder, driving him back from the lectern. Blakely reacted instantly, positioning himself to protect his wife and four-year-old daughter, who stood nearby. Nice touch. Blood seeped through the shoulder of his suit. The second shot shattered one of the lights hanging overhead. Security agents swarmed onto the stage. The crowd of supporters panicked. Agents covered the Blakelys and rushed them from the stage. The third shot grazed Mitch Sherman's left leg. The campaign manager winced as an agent helped him run toward safety. The fourth shot tore through a "Blakely for Governor" banner and dug into the empty stage floor.
A quarter of a mile away, Wagner stood from his prone shooting position just inside the tree line at the edge of the park. He grabbed a corner of the tarp he had lain upon and dragged it behind him through the woods, obscuring any footprints he might have left behind as he walked to his beige SUV. Standing under the opened rear window, he disassembled his Stevens rifle, dropping the barrel into a large box. The tarp went in after that. Wagner changed shoes, and put the work boots he had been wearing on top of the tarp. He removed his gloves and threw them in last. Police sirens neared as he closed the back window and got in the driver's side, tossing the rifle stock and bolt onto the passenger’s seat. The scope went into a protective, hard-shell case. It took a minute to find a good song on the radio before he could pull away.
Making sure he obeyed all traffic laws, Wagner followed the MapSite directions, winding his way to the eastern outskirts of the city. He pulled into a strip mall and parked in front of a Postboxes Inc. In the rearview mirror, he made sure the baseball cap and cheap aviator sunglasses covered his face well enough before he got out of the vehicle. After a quick visual scan of the area, he opened the back of the SUV. Wagner taped the box shut and affixed a pre-printed, overnight shipping label to it. Inside, the teenager behind the counter barely looked away from the video playing on his smart phone as he accepted the package. It would be four states away, incinerated, and the remainders crushed and put on a garbage scow by ten the next morning, guaranteed.
Taking back roads, Wagner weaved his way south to Lake Gough. A short walk from the parking lot, a long pier served as a dock for local fisherman. Smaller tri-hull boats bobbed closer to the shore, while a couple of ski boats and a small fishing boat were tied up at the end of the pier, in deeper waters. Later in the year, the area would be teeming with swimmers and bass masters. Today, no one was in sight. Wagner strolled to the end of the pier, pulled the bolt from his pocket, and dropped it into the muddy water. He hadn’t had a cigarette since he chose his position early that morning. Now seemed a fine time for one. He reached into his coat pocket for his Zippo.
Wagner clenched the small, spring-loaded pocketknife in the pocket alongside the lighter. He mentally prepared to kill again, if he had to; he would not be taken to prison. Slowly, he turned to face the voice. A man stood on the deck of the fishing boat. His broad smile exaggerated the wrinkles on his weathered face.
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to startle you,” the man said. “I was taking a nap down in the cuddy cabin and I heard you come walking up. Didn’t expect any company out here. Thought you might be the missus, trying to track me down.”
“Nope.” How much did he see?
The old man bent and reached down toward the floor of the boat. Wagner tensed. His thumb found the button on the knife handle. The man stood up, holding something in each hand.
“Care for a cold one?”
Wagner relaxed and let go of the knife. The corners of his mouth rose slightly, as much of a smile as he ever allowed. “Sure.”
One domestic later, Wagner merged onto the highway, heading for the opposite side of town. Every decent radio station in town had switched to non-stop coverage of the Blakely shooting, so he turned the damned thing off and drove in silence. Following the printout, he took the Vincent Street exit. A few blocks from the off-ramp, he passed the Firearm Emporium. He eased the SUV into the alley behind the store. A woman rooted through a dumpster, throwing aluminum cans into the shopping cart that held her entire world. She paid no attention to her audience.
Wagner checked the clock. Then he looked for security cameras. The only one in sight pointed toward the back door of the gun shop, not toward the parking lot. Wagner had time on his side, and there was no danger in waiting. He could afford patience. With the SUV in park, he waited twenty minutes for the woman to finish treasure hunting and move on from the alley. He pulled up next to the dumpster, and through the driver’s window, threw in the rifle stock. Only one detail left.
Back on the highway, Wagner drove downtown to City Centre. He pulled the SUV into the large parking structure and found an empty space. From the glove box he pulled a disinfecting wipe and cleaned every smooth surface in the interior. He gathered his remaining belongings. After using another wipe to clean the door handles on both the driver’s side and rear, he locked the SUV and threw the keys into a garbage can near the stairs. On the next level up, he threw away everything but the hard-shell case. Climbing farther, he tossed out the hat and glasses. Three flights up, he found the white, four-door sedan he had parked there first thing in the morning. He opened the trunk and placed the scope on top of a metal, combination-locked suitcase.
He still had hours to kill before the drop. Shoulda stayed for two, he thought as he got in the sedan.
Wagner waited in darkness at the edge of an empty lot atop a hill. Below, the brilliant city lights provided an outstanding view. If the economy hadn’t tanked and taken the city down with it, the lot would have been snapped up long ago. From his vantage point, Wagner followed the high beams of the approaching car all the way up the hill. The hybrid—Figures.—stopped at the end of the dirt road, blocking the only exit. Mitch Sherman stepped out.
Sherman wore the same suit that he had worn to the rally, though his tie was loosened, and his shirt unbuttoned. The bottom of his left pant leg had been cut in two. With a grunt, he pulled a duffel bag from the back seat. He hobbled across the lot toward Wagner. Wagner showed him a little mercy, and met him half way. Sherman laid the bag on the ground.
“Hey. Blakely says thanks for coming through.”
Wagner nodded. Once.
“He’s fine, by the way, thanks for asking.” Sherman pointed at his leg. “And thanks for this, too. I really appreciate it.”
“Had to cover myself, make it look sloppy. A pro doesn’t hit anything he doesn’t want to.”
“Yeah. Well the press is already turning Mark into a hero thanks to you, and Freeman’s supporters are looking like nut jobs. Which they are.”
Sherman looked down at the duffel. “Anyway, it’s all—”
“I know,” Wagner said.
“Don’t you want to cou—”
“And you know what you stand to lose if I’m not happy. That’s my insurance policy.”
“Okay.” Sherman nodded. “Well, then.” He started to offer a handshake, but thought the better of it and stopped short. He turned and limped back to his car. Wagner watched as he made a U-turn and drove back down the hill.
Wagner picked up the bag and put it in the trunk, next to the suitcase. He leaned on the back bumper. He took the mp3 recorder out of his coat’s inside breast pocket and hit stop. Then he pulled out a prepaid cell phone and dialed.
“It’s me,” Wagner said.
“You got the proof?”
He hit play. Sherman’s voice said, “Hey. Blakely says thanks for coming through.”
“It gets better from there,” said Wagner. “You’ll have it by the six o’clock news tomorrow.”
“311868. Best half-mil I ever spent. You earned every penny, son. Enjoy it.”
“I will. I’m thinking about taking up fishing.”
The plot for the story above was written during the Bush/Kerry election cycle. Somewhere in my serial-killer-style notebooks, it says, "Politician hires own assassin to get good PR," or something close to that. That plot-line, like many others buried in my notes, went unused though often rekindled in my head over the years. Until, that is, the call came for submissions to the Burning Maiden Quarterly magazine. This, coupled with the then-somewhat-recent flap involving Brad Goehring's Facebook comments brought the story back to mind, and made it seem wise to finally flesh it out. About time.
Then I went to see the latest Robert Rodriguez movie. While I enjoyed the heck out of it, I realized that this story, now appearing derived from his plot, was useless not only for the submission I'd already sent, but for any other venue. So on the blog it goes, another fun project that otherwise would probably not see the light of day elsewhere. I hope you enjoyed it, even though it doesn't have all the badassery or 70s kitsch that Machete does. By the way, if you haven't seen Machete (or Black Dynamite, for that matter), please do. They are both fantastic films, though Machete does get a bit gory at times, so be warned.