Author : Jeromy Henry
Before the day ended, Tam knew someone would die.
He dug his claws into the tree branch and chattered to himself. Nearby, other squirrels scampered along the twisty highway made by branches of the great oak. Tails twitched, beady black eyes darted as they looked for nuts. A warm breeze blew, and leaves rustled all around him.
A lady passed below the branch. A gust of wind pressed her yellow daisy-print sundress against a slim figure, and she used tanned fingers to brush shoulder-length, auburn curls out of her face. A wide-brimmed straw hat with a pale blue ribbon wound around the top dangled from the other hand.
If she’d looked up, she might notice that Tam looked a bit different from the other squirrels. She might notice the odd bulge of his brain case, or his air of still watchful waiting. If she’d carried a Geiger counter instead of a hat, she might notice the needle lurch upward, and the ticks come faster and faster. But none of the brightly-clothed people in the park, laughing in the Spring sunshine, carried Geiger counters. No one looked up.
Tam balanced an acorn against a rough knot in the branch, and used one paw to scratch the loose skin on his side. He twitched his bushy tail. Unlike the other squirrels, his cheeks did not bulge with nuts. Though his stomach rumbled, he left these acorns for his brothers. His arms and legs hurt a bit from arthritis lately, and his fur was a bit patchy. He wondered when he could retire.
He thought of the comforts of his city apartment, with its closely drawn black drapes, and the specially designed windows that let him come and go. None of the neighbors guessed that the wealthy recluse next door did not belong to the human race. Tam hired and paid human minions over the internet. They stopped by the apartment in the guise of doctors every now and then, and told the neighbors that the poor old man inside had a skin condition that kept him out of direct sunlight. But even these paid helpers did not know the truth. He required a lot of money to hire human hands, human voices so that he could live a decent life.
There, below him, Tam saw the target! He tensed. A portly man in a tweed suit passed below. His smiling, reddish face beamed genially at the flowers and trees. A shock of white hair floated off from his head, gently tugged by the breeze, as if trying to join the like-colored clouds. That face matched the photo e-mailed to Tam’s computer the day before, along with a time and a place.
As the man passed underneath, Tam pushed the acorn.
An explosion rocked the tree. Red splattered. The woman in the yellow sundress screamed. Tam dug his claws in the branch and crouched. When the branch stopped shaking, he clambered face-first down the trunk. Grey-furred squirrels shrieked and sprinted in all directions, and he blended in perfectly as he ran for the edge of the park.
The most feared assassin on the planet got away once again.