An Assassin In The Family
by Annette Dashofy
Aunt Julie wasn't much older than I. She got me my job as a personal trainer at the Center about a year ago. That was probably the biggest, if not the only, mistake she ever made. While no one else paid particular attention to her frequent days off, I did. I asked her once over lunch why she disappeared every couple of weeks or so. She laughed that jubilant ringing cackle of hers.
“Oh, Sweetie, I have this beau in the Bahamas ,” she said, her eyes twinkling. “He flies me down to his private beach every chance he gets. Who am I to refuse?”
I believed her. How could I not? With that mop of golden curls framing a porcelain face, she looked like someone a millionaire would like to whisk away to a deserted island. Funny thing, though. She never came back with a tan. And Aunt Julie never gave me the impression that she was concerned about skin cancer. The speeds at which she drove her BMW suggested that living a long life didn't matter much.
And how did she manage to pay for a BMW on what the Community Center paid? They paid me, too. I drove a second-hand Chevy Cavalier with a dented front fender.
As months slipped past, I almost forgot that her behavior struck me as odd. Falling in love will do that to you. Matt joined the staff at the Center as the new Kick Boxing instructor on Monday. He bought me a bottled water from the machine on Tuesday, took me to lunch on Thursday. Friday, we went out to dinner and a movie. I'm not sure at what point I decided I wanted to have his children, but Aunt Julie and her frequent vacations no longer garnered my attention.
Matt, however, seemed mildly curious about her. Not so much that I would be jealous, but he asked questions about her. He asked questions about me, too, of course. Typical inquiries one would make of the new amour in his life. Every so often, though, he would pop up with one of the questions I used to ask. Where did she get that cool car? She misses a lot of work, doesn't she? Where does she go?
“The Bahamas ,” I told him.
“Get out,” he said. “Ever meet this ‘beau' of hers?”
I sighed. No, I hadn't. Strange. “Maybe he's some wealthy recluse who never leaves his beach,” I suggested. “Maybe they never leave his house.” That would explain the lack of a suntan.
Matt shrugged and changed the subject.
While Aunt Julie had no intention of sharing her mystery man with me, she expressed a great deal of interest in my new fellow. During a break between her water aerobics classes and my students, she grilled me. Where did he work before? Who is his family? Where's he from? I gave her answers, but her usually merry eyes had turned somber and stayed that way.
“What's wrong?” I asked her. “Don't tell me you don't think he's good enough for me? I've seen some of the guys you've been out with. Sorry, Auntie J, but you don't have any room to talk on the subject.”
She leaned back. Her well-manicured finger traced her lips. “You just can't be too careful,” she said and dropped the subject.
Or so I thought.
A week later, Matt charged into the weight room as I guided Mrs. Powell through a set of bicep curls.
“She's gone again,” he said.
“Who?” I asked, trying to keep count for my client.
“Your aunt. She didn't show up for class this morning.”
“…fourteen…fifteen. Good. You're done,” I told Mrs. Powell. Then, I turned my attention to Matt. “Aunt Julie? Yeah? So what else is new?”
“Any idea where she went?”
“The Bahamas ?” I suggested. He seemed awfully upset about her regularly unscheduled absence. “Why do you care? Were you planning on taking her class?” I joked, jabbing him in the ribs.
He shifted away from me and muttered something under his breath.
“What?” I asked.
“Nothing,” he said and stomped out leaving a wide-eyed Mrs. Powell and me to stare after him.
That afternoon, I spotted Matt and a guy in a black suit engaged in what looked like a heated discussion in the parking lot. The suit man wagged a finger in Matt's face before getting into a navy blue sedan and screeching out of the lot. Matt stomped to his Jeep. I called out to him, but he must not have heard me. He got in the Jeep and left.
The next day, Matt caught up to me at the vending machine and beat me to the money slot, sticking his dollar bill in ahead of mine.
“My treat,” he said, “as an apology for my mood yesterday.”
The old Cavalier needed an oil change and every dollar counted, so I accepted both the bottled water and the apology. I thought about asking him who the guy in the suit was, but decided maybe I didn't want to know.
Aunt Julie returned to work two days later still without a tan. In fact, if anything, she looked paler than usual. She invited me to lunch. On her. I was still saving for that oil change, so I agreed.
“You still seeing Matt?” she asked between bites of salad.
I told her I was.
Her face drew into a scowl. “What do you two talk about?”
“I don't know. Stuff.” I didn't want to let on how often her name crept into our conversations.
She poured more fat-free dressing onto her baby greens. “Does he ever say anything about me?”
I could tell she was playing me. I decided to make up my own rules. I rolled my eyes in mock disgust and slammed my fork down on the table. “Oh, don't tell me. You've got the hots for my boyfriend. Auntie J, you slut.”
She tipped her head to one side and glared at me. “Get serious.”
“Well, listen to you. Like you think the whole world revolves around you. People can have a conversation without your name coming up, you know.”
“You haven't answered my question.”
“I think I have,” I said and changed the subject to some of the other off-beat characters that frequented the Center.
In the days that followed, things got weird. As if they weren't already. While Matt continued his romantic gestures toward me and I continued to imagine what our offspring would look like, his interest in Aunt Julie's comings and goings took on a darker tone. He seemed to—well—stalk her. Yet he avoided her at the same time.
She, on the other hand, made a point of keeping an eye on him and letting him know it. Hands planted on her hips, she glowered at him from the end of the hall or the far side of the room.
He would duck around a corner or anywhere out of her line of vision. Maybe he thought looks really could kill.
A couple days later, Aunt Julie cornered me in the locker room.
“You'd better stay clear of that so-called boyfriend of yours,” she said.
“What? Why?” I asked.
“He's not who you think he is. You keep hanging around him, you could get hurt.”
She refused to elaborate, no matter how hard I tried to wring details out of her. Instead, she waved me off and left me standing there with my hair getting frizzy from the humidity of the nearby showers.
Of course, having been warned to stay away from Matt, the first thing I did was try to track him down. Except I couldn't find him. He wasn't in the aerobics room or the weight room. He wasn't on the basketball court or playing racquetball. I asked a guy coming out of the men's locker room who reported Matt wasn't in there either.
Maybe Matt had taken off with Aunt Julie's rich beau to the Bahamas .
Then he showed up that evening in the parking lot as I fumbled with my keys for the Cavalier.
I gasped when he stepped out from between cars. Limped out, if truth be told. His clothes were torn and he appeared to be wearing a serious case of road rash beneath the tatters. “What happened to you?”
“Get in the car,” he said. “Get me out of here.”
I asked him again once we hit the highway.
“Your aunt,” he said. “She's what happened to me.”
And then he proceeded to tell me that he was working undercover for some government agency. Aunt Julie, he informed me, was an international assassin, responsible for a number of hits all over the world. Apparently, she wasn't particularly picky about who paid her or who she whacked. If she had stuck to snuffing the guys the government wanted out of the way anyhow, they'd have left her alone. But lately she had done away with a couple diplomats that our President considered friends. That made her a little harder to ignore. So Matt had been assigned to keep an eye on her and report her comings and goings and if need be, prevent any further unfavorable deaths.
I guessed favorable deaths would still be allowed.
Somehow, though, she had caught onto him and now he was on her list. He suspected the pickup truck that jumped the curb and spun him into the dirt hadn't been an accidental hit and run.
“So you were just using me,” I said, visions of our future children fading into the mist.
“It started out that way, but I've fallen in love with you. Honestly,” Matt said.
Yeah, right. What else was he going to say? I had an aunt who killed people and he was riding with me in a car that resembled a death trap. This wasn't a good time to confess that he had played me for a fool. Still, it's funny how a pair of chocolaty brown eyes affects me. Not to mention the kiss he laid on me when I dropped him at his front door. Okay, maybe the future kids were still in the picture.
The force of the explosion blew out the passenger side windows in my car, showering me in tiny greenish-blue glass pellets. I think it moved the Cavalier a couple feet into the middle of the road, too. Stunned, I looked up to find Matt's house in flames, bits and pieces of paper, shingles and probably Matt floated in the hot air currents overhead. I don't remember if I screamed, but I must have. All I remember is people running out of the neighboring houses and the shriek of sirens.
The ten-pound weight hung from my fingers. I stared at the shape hovering near the bottom of the otherwise empty pool. The shape wore an expensive-looking bathing suit.
Aunt Julie had been good at what she did. Rarely did she underestimate her prey. Too bad for her, she hadn't seen me coming or she might have noticed the look in my eyes. I made no effort to hide the dumbbell. She never heard the dull thud it made when it connected with the back of her blonde head.
I knelt and used the weight like a paintbrush to swirl a bright red smudge of Aunt Julie's blood on the edge of the pool. Then I washed the dumbbell clean in the chlorinated water.
I smiled as I replaced the ten-pounder on the rack. No one would ever believe that Aunt Julie had been a hired assassin. No one would ever suspect that I, her loving niece, would have reason to do away with her. “How sad,” the old ladies from water aerobics would tsk, “that sweet Julie slipped on the wet tile and hit her head.”
All the while, her own words echoed in my ears. “You just can't be too careful.”