Red Rock Canyon, Nevada


Deep in the underbrush of the Red Rock Mountains, the hunter crept through the rugged terrain toward the mansion nestled in the foothills. A moon hung low in the dark, desert sky. His eyesight as keen as the surrounding night predators, he slipped through the thicket, focused on his mission. The fragrant creosote bushes filled his senses as he eased through the woods, his booted feet crunching on pinecones on the dry carpet of the forest. A slight breeze stirred through the ponderosa pines, sounding like the wise old whispers of the Paiute Indians buried thousands of feet below in the windblown sand.

He fingered the weapon in his hooded jacket, a shuriken, a Ninja star, a throwing death star laced with poison. Oh, yes, he was coming. His heart jackhammered in his chest, adrenaline pumping. He licked his lips in eager anticipation. From deep in the woods, a coyote howled, barely distinct over the wild beat of his heart.

He spotted the mansion in the distance, a torch-lit courtyard, copper lanterns casting willowy shadows on stained-glass windows. A bell tower loomed in eerie silence. Smooth marble lions guarded the entrance gate.

Adrenaline surged through him, filling him with a sense of power as potent as a deadly cobra. His fingers tightened on his death star, itching to wield it into the betrayer’s throat. He emerged from the thicket, crouching low in the shadows of the undulating pines.

Sweat trickled down his spine despite the cold night air of the Mohave. Blending into the shadows of the mansion, he shimmied along the red bricks of the estate, camouflaging himself in the waivery branches. The throaty cry of a raven screeched, eerie and foreboding.

Keeping low to the ground, the sounds of the night predators at his back, he crept up the stone steps leading to the mansion, sheathed his hands in latex gloves, and inserted a key in the heavy, mahogany door. He stood in the foyer of the two-story mansion, contemplating his moves. He glanced at his watch. Quarter till midnight. And when the clock strikes twelve, the death star will hit the mark. Bulls eye.

Water gushed from the gaping mouth of a lion head fountain, giving the foyer the look of a Greco sanctuary. A grand sweeping staircase led to upper wings. From upstairs, the sultry vocals of Patsy Cline drifted down, the bittersweet lyrics laced with heart-wrenching pain. A lamp in the parlor cast an amber glow on leather sofas scattered with tiger skin pillows. A large screen television and wet bar took up an entire wall.

Creeping along the marble floors, the hunter liberated a bottle of finely-aged whiskey from the bar and tilted it to his lips, wishing he had time for a premium cigar from the walk-in humidor. He raised the jug. “Here’s lookin’ at you, Carlos DeVeccio.” He checked his watch. Just about show time.

Cocktails over, he strutted down the hallway, the lyrics of his favorite song playing in his head. A hunting we will go, a hunting we will go. Heigh ho the dairy-o, a hunting we will go. We’ll catch a fox and put him in a box. Heigh ho the dairy-o, a hunting we will go.

Reaching the great room, his majesty’s private domain, he stalked across the threshold and entered the hall, giving a mock salute with his middle finger. The roiling presence of Carlos DeVeccio reached out from every corner, traces of his power and prestige palpable. Anger glinted in the hunter’s eyes.

Twelve leather chairs surrounded the large ebony table where the big man presided every Saturday during meetings. A pair of Sabre swords gleamed in the muted light of the moon. Directly above the king’s throne, presenting a daunting aura, a fleshless face mask rested, the one the old man wore when ruling the world with his big shot fist. The hunter grinned as he removed that mask and fastened it around his face.

Shimmying up the staircase, focused on his mission, he merged into the shadows of the dark wood paneling, concentrating on every sight, scent, and sound, just as the old man had taught him when he was his number one assassin. From the bathroom, the shower was running, pellets of water hitting the glass door as steady as a cold, hard rain. He was singing, his low voice echoing through the corridor.

Entering the master bath, the hunter crouched down behind the doorjamb, fingering his Ninja weapon. The water stopped with a jarring screech. The hunter’s heart danced a wild rhythm in his chest, his fingers poised and ready to wield the throwing star at a second’s notice. Hurry up, he silently urged. Come on, come on out.

Carlos DeVeccio stepped out of the shower, reached for a towel just as the bell in the bell tower gonged out twelve piercing chimes. They reverberated in the hunter’s ears, but he kept focused, his blood pumping. His fingers tightened and released, tightened and released.

Just then, Carlos DeVeccio, still singing, made an about face. Using an underarm pitch, he wield the death star, the blade slicing through his jack-be-nimble fingers in a smooth, controlled slice. It whizzed through the air with a hissing zing, hitting the mark, is throat.

Stunned, Carlos DeVeccio dropped his towel, his face twisting in pain as the poison seeped into his jugular vein and into his system. Lying on the cold, tile floor, belly up and dying, blood pumping out of his naked body, his eyes grew wide with shock when the hunter took off his mask and grinned at him.

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