A full moon hung heavy in the sky as the clock tower struck half-past midnight. The wind rustling through the icicle-laden trees and the hooting of snowy owls were the only sounds on the deserted street. The snow sparkled in the headlights that sporadically came into view.

The closed sign in the bar’s window reflected on Douglas’ gold-rimmed spectacles. A frigid breeze cut through his wool skull cap. His gloved hand dug out a Cuban from his pocket before slipping it between his chapped lips. The cut end to his Zippo with the Marine Corps emblem engraved on it, he flicked his thumb until a tongue of fire leapt from the sparks. Leaning against a wall, he took a deep draw. A silken line of smoke rose from the ash-covered cherry. It wavered and then curled into tumultuous ribbons, drifting toward the razor-thin cloud that hung shapelessly above. Doug blew a series of perfect smoke rings into the icy Alaskan air.

A dapper, fortysomething man in a tuxedo, standing next to him, flashed a tight-lipped smile. Doug nodded for the sake of reciprocation and continued relishing the aroma of his seven-inch long cigar. Presumably, the man was waiting for someone, perhaps an Uber, since he was repeatedly glancing at his phone. He held a slim monogrammed briefcase close to his body.

Ah, Cuba! Commie country, but the finest tobacco. Doug’s lips slowly curved into a smile. That arrogant smile he sported when life was good. At $470 apiece, he felt a good cigar should be savored, not just smoked. The ember at the tip glowed as he drew in again, filling his nostrils with the rich, aromatic scent. The cloud filled the atmosphere with a dark, earthy aura.

Blowing another series of rings cascading upward, he adjusted his leather jacket as the nearby streetlamp made his long, silvery beard glisten. At sixty-nine, he was still trim, and at three inches over six feet, intimidating if he chose to be.

The man in the tux tapped his boots on the snow-covered pavement and blew his cheeks out. His eyes darted between the phone and the empty road. As his hands waved the smoky haze, his attention shifted to the oncoming headlights.

Out of nowhere, a black SUV shot toward the duo and screeched to a halt. The doors flung open and a gang of three ski-masked thugs piled out, wielding ice axes. They pounced on the man, trying to overpower him and snatch his briefcase.

Any other man his age would have run the hell out of there. But no, not Doug! He welcomed the challenge. Without batting an eyelid, he cracked his knuckles and pulled out the Fairbairn–Sykes knife he’d carried since his Vietnam days from its sheath on his hip. The cigar clamped between his teeth, he clutched a thug’s tattooed neck and slashed the jugular, allowing the blood to flow freely until his life extinguished. The blood sizzled in the white snow, leaving a pink, expanding stain.

One of the thugs struggled with the tuxedoed man as the remaining one charged at Doug. Nothing new to good old Doug. He’d seen enough of these theatrics before to know how to handle himself. Veins throbbing on his forehead, he hauled the axe from the assailant. With a flawless arc of movement, he hurled himself behind the thug, enveloping him in a tight stranglehold as the latter choked out, “What the fuck?!”

“I’ve been fighting assholes like you for longer than you’ve been alive,” Doug hissed, biting the cigar. His grasp was unwavering as he lifted his free arm and struck the man’s head. “Fuck with me, you’ll wish you were never born!” Doug released his grip and the thug fell to the pavement with a thud, an ice axe embedded in his skull. Rivulets of crimson saturated the fabric of the ski mask.

The third thug froze, his gaze shifting from his fallen gang members to the man twice his age. He released the tuxedoed man and ran for his life, diving into the car’s open passenger seat, dragging himself onto the driver’s side. Turning the key in the ignition, he slammed the SUV in drive, and sped off, leaving a long trail on the pavement.

Doug took a slow draw on his cigar, blowing yet another flawless ring. If smoking were an art, he’d be Da Vinci. Nonchalantly, he extended a hand to the tuxedoed man lying on the pavement.

“Holy shit!” The man gasped as he rose to his feet. He dusted the snow off his tux before picking his briefcase from the ground. “Tha…thanks for saving me. How can I ever repay you?”

“Wait!” Doug furrowed his brow and shifted the cigar in his mouth. “Who the fuck said I was saving you, punk?” He locked his eyes in a death stare with the man. “I couldn’t let a random bunch of amateurs take my job. Hell no, not in my lifetime!”

“What d’you mean?” The man’s eyes widened, and the tendons in his neck grew prominent. Beads of sweat formed on his forehead. As the old-timer in front of him brandished the knife, he screamed, “Jesus Christ!”

“That’s who you’ll be meeting tonight. Give him my warm regards.” Doug let out a sinister smirk. “Since you were grateful, I’ll make it quick.” With a jerk of his arm, he stabbed the knife through the man’s shirt. “So long, motherfucker!” He plunged it further through the rib cage. A dark splatter adorned the jet-black tux. Doug gazed at it like it was the final stroke in a masterpiece. His masterpiece.

The man in the tux lay on the ground, his pale face turned to the sky, the full moon’s light reflected in his lifeless eyes.

Picking the briefcase from where it fell, the Cali Killer, as he was professionally known among fellow hitmen, strolled down the street, whistling “What a Wonderful World,” leaving an elegant trail of smoke rings behind.