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Frank Ruland Nov 2014
I'll always know that you sincerely loved me...

or at least loved that I loved you...

or at least you were in love with the idea of love...

or at least you always treasured my love...

or at least you thought highly of us...

or at least you cared about my heart...

or at least you'd never hurt me...

or at least you wouldn't **** me...

or at least you wouldn't desecrate my soul...

or at least you wouldn't bury me alive...

or at least you wouldn't dance on my grave...

or at least you wouldn't fragment my heart...

or at least you wouldn't toss the pieces in my face...

or at least just tell me how little you ever cared...

or at least write a Post-It note to remind yourself to..:

or at least care enough to stifle your laughter.

"****."

At the least, you could've paid for dinner, once.
Gandy Lamb Feb 2019
Prologue
A raw, unfiltered scream filled the air. The boy dropped the gun and rushed towards the body lying beside the wooden stand. The man before him was clutching his stomach- his t-shirt soaked with blood. His eyes began to well up with tears as he cradled his father in his arms. Groaning softly, the man used his free arm to touch the boy’s cheek.
“Shhhh. It’s okay. I know it was an accident,” the man said.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. We’ll get you to a hospital,” the boy choked out. “The doctors will fix you. I promise.”
The boy was trembling with a sob caught in his throat, and his head buried in his father’s chest.
“Hey, you’re gonna be okay, son. Look at me-”
He coughed suddenly and a stream of blood began to spill from his mouth,
“I forgive you. But listen to me, you won’t be able to fix me. Just know that I will always be proud of you and the great man that you will one day become.”
With that final assurance, his hands finally fell limp.
You must understand: when a child opens his eyes for the first time, he is like a caterpillar. As the years go by, his growth is measured by the number of skins he sheds as he outgrows another version of himself. And for each one that he discards, there will be another, buried deep inside of him, that will be drawn closer towards reality. Then one day, he will collapse into himself.
For this freshly-bereaved little boy, it is time to seek refuge and rebuild. For many years he will be consumed with the thought that he is not ready to be a man. He will refuse to leave his chrysalis. Eventually, he will forget about the world that lies beyond its walls until the day finally comes where he will have to make a choice: remain a boy or become the man his father wanted him to be.

SCENE ONE
MANY YEARS LATER…
A medley of voices sounded in the air as hundreds of city-dwellers navigated their way around the rush hour traffic. Horns blared all around them, and the skies were grey and dripped with moisture.
Jaywalking across Oak and fifth with a cold cappuccino in hand, was a frazzled young man named John. His freckled face was lined with worry as he stole another glance at his wristwatch and quickened his pace. On days like this, John really hated having a day-job.
A welcome distraction presented itself as the sudden playing of ‘I Want It that Way’ by Backstreet Boys. The woman beside him raised her eyebrows and glanced at his front pocket. Smiling sheepishly, he pulled out his phone. After pushing up his glasses and bringing it within nanometres of his face, he finally made out the Caller ID. Eyes widening, he hastily answered the call.
“Hello, this is John speaking.”
“I expect that you are ready for tomorrow,” said the voice on the line.
“Of course. The scope I ordered arrived last night,” replied John.
John bit his lip and ran a hand through his messy red hair.
“Yet your last assignment left two of my men in prison” continued the voice. “Do not mistake me, if Oliver Baxter’s heart is still beating by the end of tomorrow, you will suffer the same fate as your father.”  John moved the phone away from his ear- fearful of going deaf.
“Whatever is left of your future relies on this mission. Don’t miss.”
Static took over the line. Then, silence.
John squeezed his eyes shut and became aware of the metallic taste in his mouth. His lip was bleeding. He rummaged through his bag and searched for pack of tissues. In his carelessness, his elbow banged up against his rifle. Quickly extracting the pack, he shoved the weapon further down the bag. He heaved a heavy sigh and nursed his elbow in his hand.
“Stop doubting yourself, John. He’s just another corrupt C.E.O.- he has it coming,” he muttered to himself. “Just get it done, Johnny, get it done.”

SCENE TWO

Just a block away from John, waiting impatiently at the corner of Oak and Robson, was a scowling dark-haired man with a 5 O’Clock morning shadow. The sleeves of his button-down were scrunched up to his elbows and his tie hung loosely around his neck.
Noticing the rain beginning to intensify, the man stuffed the rest of his croissant into his mouth in an attempt to salvage its flaky goodness. No such luck. With a guttural sigh, he tossed his napkin into a nearby trash bin and grumbled to himself about the disgrace that is cold, store-bought pastries.
Thankfully for him, his phone rang and interrupted his reverie of self-pity.
“Who’s calling?” He answered gruffly.
“James. Always the charmer,” drawled the voice from the other line. “Now, that's no way to greet an old friend.”
“Well, I didn’t get an answer for my question now did I?” James said through gritted teeth
Over the line, he could hear his caller clicking his tongue disapprovingly.
“It’s Aaron, my good man. Have you really forgotten?”
Oh yes, Aaron Benson. The pretentious Englishman he shared an apartment with in his college days- the one with a relentless infatuation with Kate Middleton.
“Of course. Aaron. I could never.”
He could only wish he had.
“I hear you’ve made a name for yourself as a photographer?” he questioned.
“What’s it to you?” James said.
“I have a job for you. My cousin is on a business trip to your side of the Atlantic over the weekend. Oliver Baxter, the CEO for some big menswear company in London. Top thirty under thirty kind of bloke. I can’t stand him, but he’s family. Anyway, his birthday’s coming up and my family wants you to have a photoshoot with him.” said Aaron
James sighed. “So you want me to take a couple headshots of pretty boy for his Forbes cover page?”
“No, no. Take my word, he is as unphotogenic as a dung beetle. I say that with love. Partially,” Aaron snickered. “Just take a couple pictures- he doesn’t need to look good. We just want something to add to the slideshow for a couple of laughs.”
“Alright, I’ll do it. Send me his specifics by the end of the day, and I’ll tell you where you should wire the payment.” said James
“I’m grateful. Aside from that, I just wanted to ask you again about that suit I left at our apartment when I flew back to London. Were you able to find-”
James hung up.
He was definitely not getting that suit back.
James didn’t feel too guilty. After all, he thought to himself, the guy has enough money to buy it three times over. If not, he could take a loan from Mr. Thirty under thirty.

SCENE THREE

Later that day, a bleary-eyed and yawning James stepped into a bar. Groaning softly, he massaged the crook of his neck- blistering red patches lined the areas where his camera strap had rested on mere minutes ago.  
The ever-familiar scent of liquor and sweat hung in the air. Suddenly, a cheer erupted from the back corner of the room. As his eyes finally adjusted to the dimly-lit space, he spotted a lanky, red-headed figure by the dart station. A stadium of intoxicated onlookers was chanting his name.
James’ fingers twitched to reach for his camera but he quickly quelled it. The lighting was not in his favour. He strode over towards an empty stool by the bar. Unsurprisingly, his eyes were still fixed on the strange fellow pushing up his tortoiseshell glasses and setting up his stance for another shot at the target.
Bullseye.
The crowd bellowed appreciatively.
Standing up from his table on the other side of the bar, a man called out to the stranger, “Hey kid! Bet you wouldn’t be so tough without those glasses!”
James scoffed. The guy had half of his shirt unbuttoned and a half-emptied beer mug in hand. Regardless, all eyes turned towards the ginger superstar.
The guy scratched the back of his neck and let out a nervous chuckle. Then, with a final shake of his head, he removed his lenses.
“How much?”
Drunken hollering ensued, as well as some severely off-target slaps on the back. James watched as he carefully placed his frames on the counter and caught the stranger’s eye. Leaning back on his stool, James raised his eyebrows at him and tilted his head. A boyish grin spread across the stranger’s face.
Laughing now, the man made his way back towards his station and readied himself. One, two, three…
The crowd roared. The dart, still quivering, was lodged precisely in the centre of the target.
James turned away from the mayhem and ordered a drink. Coming up from behind him, the dart-savvy stranger slid into the seat next to him.
“Just some water, please.”
“Sure thing, hon,” said the bartender.
James looked to the man beside him and nodded curtly. Eyes twinkling, the boy smiled back.
“I take it you weren’t impressed by my little stunt up there.”
No response.
“My name’s John. John Doe actually. I wish I was kidding.”
James finally afforded him his attention.
“Bond. James Bond. I know the struggle.”
“Our parents really did us wrong, didn’t they?” said John.
James raised his glass.
“Cheers to that.” After both men had taken a sip of their drinks, James continued, “So, you don’t really need those glasses do you?”
“Well, of course I need them,” said John “but it’s not like I’m legally blind without them. I take it you don’t have any lenses for yourself?” he asked
“Yes, I do actually- a different kind though. I carry all my lenses with me, even my scope,” James explained, gently patting the bag hanging across his shoulders.
John’s eyes widened.
“It’s nice to finally meet someone from my own line of work,” said John.
“Really? There’s a ton of us in the city. People here pay a pretty penny for just a couple shots,” James replied dubiously.
“Very true. One time an MLA candidate offered me over two million to take care of, and I quote, ‘an old friend,’” agreed John.
“****, that’s a real friend right there,” said James, shaking his head. “So, are you the type to schedule appointments with your assignments, or do you prefer candids?”
“I’d say candids for sure,” replied John. “It’s easier when people aren’t suspecting it. That way it’s just one and done. The real nightmare comes when you’re asked to shoot multiple people.”
“The worst part of the job!” James sighed, rolling his eyes, “It’s so much quicker to find the perfect angle when you only have to worry about one guy.”
“Exactly! Clients are always so demanding! Don’t even get me started on scheduling families,” exclaimed John, throwing his hands into the air. “Married couples are understable, though. I can see why you would want to do both at the same time- so you can make sure you don’t leave any loose ends.”
James nodded in agreement.
“It’s just a pain, given that some jobs can takes hours to complete,” said James. “The subject either keeps on moving, or you can’t get the right angle. It makes my hair turn grey.”
John sat up straighter, enjoying the conversation.“Hear me out, I have seen my fair share of husbands and wives calling in for me to take care of their spouse,” carried on John. “Honestly, it makes me reconsider having a love life…”
Sniggering, James replied, “The only thing worse is when they get their kids involved. It physically pains me to have to include them when I’m taking my shots.”
“Truthfully, I’ve gotten to the point where if a client asks me to take down a kid, I just hang up. It’s not worth the trouble… or the emotional scars.” John said, eyes darkening.
“I wish I had the ***** to do something like that,” said James, looking at John with admiration, “but I just can’t afford to. I have to pay my rent somehow, you know?”
“Well, I started out pretty young so I think I’ve made a name for myself among the more influential circles. Although, for the public, I try to keep a low profile. But it’s getting harder now that more of my shots are making the headlines,” said John.
“Not bad, kid.” said James. “I got into this whole business while I was still in college as a way to pay for my tuition. Man, you go in there, thinking that all those frat-boys and sorority-girls are just a bunch of alcoholic party-goers, but when they go and hire you… I still have nightmares about the things they made me do,” James whispered, shivering.
“Fascinating!” replied John. “I didn’t know that colleges dabbled in our kind of underground operations.”
“They come with occupational hazards,” said James.
“Most of my assignments nowadays consist of old clients calling in a favour,” shared John. “I’ll end up tracking down some really important people- world leaders and such.”
James whistled appreciatively.
John continued, “It’s especially fun to fire your shot while they’re making a speech. It’s all so dramatic, and the shot almost freezes time for a second.”
“Have you been assigned to any higher-ups recently?” Said James.
“Yes, actually. A shareholder for some big entertainment outlet put me on Stan Lee.”
“You shot Stan Lee! I’ve been a fan of him for years! Do you still have the pictures?”
“Uh, I mean, I don’t really save pictures of the people I shoot… “ said John, scratching his head. “It leaves a paper trail, and I prefer to stay anonymous. Their photos usually end up on the news anyway,” said John
“It’s a shame that he died. At least his legacy lives on,” said James, frowning slightly.
“Well, of course he’s dead. I did shoot him...” John said, furrowing his eyebrows, but James didn’t hear him.
The rest of the night passed by quickly as the two continued to share their stories,and marvel at their uncanny similarities. It was a miracle, truly, that they were able to find another man who understood them so deeply.

SCENE FOUR
THE FOLLOWING DAY...
John crept towards the edge of the rooftop. Across from him, a couple stories below, was the window to Oliver Baxter’s suite. His hands were shaking. You’re just cold he thought to himself, It's nothing more. He slowly unzipped the top of his bag and and pulled out his rifle. After he made sure his weapon was loaded, he reached back into his bag to pull out his scope and brought out-
“A camera lens? Why would I have a camera lens”- the realization struck him- “James. I’m so stupid. He’s not another hitman- he’s a photographer. And he’s got my scope, too.”
His musings were stopped short; Oliver Baxter had just re-entered his room.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” he muttered to himself. “Today of all days…”
John reluctantly returned the camera lens to his bag. He couldn’t waste any more time.
“I guess I’ll have to use the old one.”
Annoyed, he reached into the front pocket of his bag and pulled out a small, scratched contraption. A gun scope! Albeit, a rather unimpressive model. “It’s a good thing I kept my old one as a backup. Who doesn’t love a good case of Chanel versus Walmart?”
Hint: Not John.
Unaware of the hitman outside his window, Mr. Baxter finally ended his call and plopped down onto a nearby armchair. With his looming height, his neck easily rose above the top of the chair. Sighing, he ran a callused hand through his hair and leaned back.
John swiftly finished setting up his stand. Just as he was about to about to fire, a butterfly fluttered towards him and landed on top of the trigger. It’s miniature wings were coloured with vivid reds, sparkling greens, and candy-apple oranges. John shrugged it off.
It was time. John exhaled shakily and closed his eyes. Why was he hesitating? This was not his first assignment. Although, it was his first time being assigned to someone from outside the country. He knew nothing of Oliver Baxter. Unlike his past victims, John had no way to gauge that the man was worthy of his fate. Standing alone on the top of an abandoned warehouse, John desperately wished that he wasn’t making a mistake.
Suddenly, the image of his father lying in a pool of crimson flashed beneath his closed eyelids. His ears rang with the sound of the bullet that tore through his skin. His hands still remembered the weight of his dying body- the wetness of his blood that stained his fingertips.
“You won’t be able to fix me,” his father had whispered to him.
He was right.
Suddenly, another voice, booming and full of static, echoed throughout his mind.
“Don’t miss.”
John opened his eyes and a familiar calmness overtook him. He pressed the trigger.
Not so far away, Oliver Baxter slumped into his chair.
“I never miss.”

SCENE FIVE

By the time our friend James Bond came to pay his own visit to Mr. Baxter, John had already slipped in and cleaned up after himself. Assuredly, he had changed the man into a nondescript red hoodie and tucked him securely into his bed. He even took the liberty of placing Mr. Baxter’s phone on silent. John had a feeling that Mr. Baxter wouldn’t mind. When he was finally satisfied with his handiwork, he took his leave.
Not long after, a huffing and puffing James Bond arrived on the 15th floor. With his patchy red cheeks and sweaty brow, he was truly a sight for sore eyes. He stepped out of the stairwell and muttered a series of curse words underneath his breath. Gritting his teeth, he walked over to the shining elevator doors beside him and gave them a hard kick. The “Out of Order” sign hanging off of it floated to the floor, and James whimpered as he nursed his aching toe.
“I’ll be ******- taking a picture of a monkey would’ve been easier than this.”
He stood in the hallway for a little while longer and gathered his wits. After the pain subsided, he strode over to the C.E.O.’s door and knocked. He immediately positioned himself to capture a candid of Mr. Baxter as he opened the door. No one came. John tried again. No answer. Finally, his patience worn thin. James fished out the keys he had flirtatiously convinced the new receptionist downstairs to lend him and carefully unlocked the hotel door. He stepped inside and surveyed the suite in search of his assignment only to find him underneath the freshly-washed blankets of his bed- sound asleep.
“Well then… Aaron did say it didn’t have to be a good photo.”
Shrugging, James reached into his bag for his camera lens and pulled it out.
“What the hell? This isn’t mine.” James said. He narrowed his eyes and examined the object in his hand. The instrument was long and bulbous with two black clamps attached to the bottom. Although, the clamps did not open wide enough to fit a camera- it almost looked as if they were meant to be attached to some some sort of cylinder. He peered through and in the middle of the lens lay a bright red dot. He supposed he and John must have inadvertently swapped lenses in the bar.
Then, he came to a realization.
“I see what’s going on here!” James proclaimed a little too loudly, “John must use this for long range pictures. Must be some new tech- and pretty expensive too. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
For a split-second, James was tempted to pocket it, but a twinge of guilt urged him to return it to his bag. Sighing, he put away his camera and pulled out his phone. Aaron would have to make do with some lesser quality resolution.
James knelt down with his makeshift camera poised for the shot. Aaron had made no exaggerations about his cousin. The man was unnaturally pale and smelled strongly of… detergent? Honestly, a corpse would have looked more alive. His jaw was slack and, peculiarly enough, a red hoodie was pulled over his matted hair. A British thing, maybe? At the very least, he had the decency not to snore or drool.
Once satisfied with his pictures, James walked swiftly out the door and locked it behind him. By the time he had completed the tiresome journey back to the first floor, he had saved the photographs onto his USB drive. The only thing he had left to do was send them to Aaron.

SCENE SIX

When John entered the bar again, his eyes immediately fell on his companion from last night- the cynical James Bond. Given his current state, perhaps it would be wiser to keep his distance. Then again, when had he ever made the smart decision?
John greeted James as he collapsed into the stool next to him.
“Heard the news?” slurred James, “Oliver Baxter, up-and-coming C.E.O. of some big London company was found dead a couple hours ago.”
John’s heart skipped a beat. He responded carefully.
“No, this is news to me. I guess I was a little too busy today at work… You know, shooting my shots. In my photography studio. With my camera. That I use for photography, “ replied John.
James looked at him strangely.
John continued, “Poor guy. Never heard of him before, though. Oliver Brown, was it?”
“Baxter, not Brown,” James corrected him.
“Of course. Baxter. Sorry, I’m bad with names,” said John. He stole a glance at his friend, hoping he wasn’t seeing through him. Fortunately for him, James was too busy staring glumly into the frothy contents of his beer mug. “I’m sorry. Did he mean anything to you?”
“He was my assignment,” replied James. “When I came into his room for his shoot, he was asleep. My client, his cousin, said that he didn’t need to look good for the picture, so I snapped a couple shots of him like that and left. Turns out he wasn’t sleeping. Just dead.”
John’s throat tightened. Out of all the pessimistic photographers in the city, he just had to befriend the one who’s assignment he killed, didn’t he?
“It’s not your fault. No one would have expected him to be dead,” said John.
He had made sure of it.
Chuckling mirthlessly, James replied, “People always see the truth. One way or another, they see people for who they truly are, and see themselves for who they’ve become. They’re only either too scared to admit it, or they cover their eyes. What’s funny is that in our line of work it almost becomes the opposite. You don’t see anybody as either ordinary or extraordinary. You see them simply as people in front of your lens. Then one day, they stop being people at all.”
John’s stomach dropped. His friend did not give himself enough credit; James was not a horrible man. At least, he was not as awful as the man sitting beside him.
“Well, as photographers,” said John, “We also know that the truth can be ugly. And when you capture it with the perfect shot- when you shoot the right person, at the right time, in the right place- it comes back to haunt you.”
James lifted his eyes from the table and met his. Raising his half-empty glass to him, he whispered, “To the shots that haunt us.”
“To the shots that haunt us,” John repeated.

*
Not long after their grim declaration, John decided to return home. By that time, only streetlights continued to shine. His glasses could do little to aid his vision, but he still managed to make out the overstuffed mailbox in front of his house. With a roll of his eyes, he walked over to it, pushed the “No Flyers or Junk Mail” sign aside, and collected their ever-punctual delivery of coupons.
He swiftly unlocked the front door and closed it behind him. Just as he was about to reach for the remote and commence some much-needed binge-therapy, he realized that his mother was already seated on the sofa.
“Hey, mom,” he said as he walked over to her and kissed her forehead.
“You’ve come home late tonight, Johnny,” she said. “I’ve been spending the past few hours rifling through these albums.”
Surely enough, stacked up on the coffee table in front of them was a collection of his family’s photo albums. It was at that moment when the realization struck him.
“It’s been twelve years,” he whispered.
How could he have forgotten what day it was?
“Every day after your dad died feels like a lifetime.”
“Every day after I killed-”
His mother cut him off, “Don’t you finish that sentence.”
John cast his eyes downward and pursed his lips. Her eyes softened and she lifted the album off of her lap and placed it onto the table.
“Johnny, look at me,” she said. “What happened to your father was an accident- it was not your fault.”
John interrupted “I pulled that trigger. Me. I took him away from you.”
His mom sighed “Okay. You did. For years, after that day, I felt like someone had torn off my wings and left me to drown. I felt like I would never be able to fly again, like I would never be happy again. But raising you, watching you grow up, gave me hope. You have so much potential and a long life left to live, but your guilt keeps you trapped inside the past. I have already forgiven you, and I know he has too,” she paused, “It’s time that you forgive yourself.”
“What if I can’t?”
“You need to. You owe it to your father to be the man he wanted you to be. You’ll never be able to do that if you keep on punishing yourself.”
John did not know how to reply. James was right. He knew his mother was speaking the truth but all he wanted to do was cover his ears and shut his eyes. He had spent everyday for the past twelve years training and refining his accuracy- proving to the world that he would never miss another shot. All of this, just to make up for the one shot that took his father's life. Worse yet, he defiled himself; he painted his hands in crimson with the lives of his victims in an effort to conceal the blood he shed twelve years ago. But who was he to decide who would live or die? He was no god. He never was and never would be. He had only ever been a boy: honest, clumsy, and- dare he say it- faultless. Now, however, he was a man. A man who used other people’s lives to indulge in years of self-pity. This sin, he deserved to pay for.
In that moment, Johnny Doe finally broke free of his cocoon and unfurled his wings. For twelve years he had remained in that shell, unready to see the light that lay beyond. But now, he wanted to taste freedom- no matter what the cost may be.

SCENE SEVEN

“In an unexpected turn of events for the ****** case of Oliver Baxter, the city’s most elusive hitman has turned himself in and pleaded guilty,” said the voice from the bar’s flat screen TV.
A well-past-sober James lifted his head from the bar counter and turned up the volume.
“A complete genius, that one is,” he muttered to himself.
“The young man of 24 has identified himself as John Edwards Doe,” she continued.
James froze. He slowly turned his head towards the screen, frightened about what he might see. Plastered on the screen, with his unmistakable tortoise shell glasses and shock of red hair, was a mugshot of the man that sat beside him mere hours ago.
“Thanks to the city much-relieved police force, I can say with confidence that John Doe has finally taken his last shot,” she said.
The newscaster began to elaborate on the details of the trial but James was no longer listening. He rubbed his eyes and looked again at the screen. After a long moment of disbelief, he called out to the bartender.
“I think I need another shot.”
Prologue
A raw, unfiltered scream filled the air. The boy dropped the gun and rushed towards the body lying beside the wooden stand. The man before him was clutching his stomach- his t-shirt soaked with blood. His eyes began to well up with tears as he cradled his father in his arms. Groaning softly, the man used his free arm to touch the boy’s cheek.
“Shhhh. It’s okay. I know it was an accident,” the man said.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. We’ll get you to a hospital,” the boy choked out. “The doctors will fix you. I promise.”
The boy was trembling with a sob caught in his throat, and his head buried in his father’s chest.
“Hey, you’re gonna be okay, son. Look at me-”
He coughed suddenly and a stream of blood began to spill from his mouth,
“I forgive you. But listen to me, you won’t be able to fix me. Just know that I will always be proud of you and the great man that you will one day become.”
With that final assurance, his hands finally fell limp.
You must understand: when a child opens his eyes for the first time, he is like a caterpillar. As the years go by, his growth is measured by the number of skins he sheds as he outgrows another version of himself. And for each one that he discards, there will be another, buried deep inside of him, that will be drawn closer towards reality. Then one day, he will collapse into himself.
For this freshly-bereaved little boy, it is time to seek refuge and rebuild. For many years he will be consumed with the thought that he is not ready to be a man. He will refuse to leave his chrysalis. Eventually, he will forget about the world that lies beyond its walls until the day finally comes where he will have to make a choice: remain a boy or become the man his father wanted him to be.

SCENE ONE
MANY YEARS LATER…
A medley of voices sounded in the air as hundreds of city-dwellers navigated their way around the rush hour traffic. Horns blared all around them, and the skies were grey and dripped with moisture.
Jaywalking across Oak and fifth with a cold cappuccino in hand, was a frazzled young man named John. His freckled face was lined with worry as he stole another glance at his wristwatch and quickened his pace. On days like this, John really hated having a day-job.
A welcome distraction presented itself as the sudden playing of ‘I Want It that Way’ by Backstreet Boys. The woman beside him raised her eyebrows and glanced at his front pocket. Smiling sheepishly, he pulled out his phone. After pushing up his glasses and bringing it within nanometres of his face, he finally made out the Caller ID. Eyes widening, he hastily answered the call.
“Hello, this is John speaking.”
“I expect that you are ready for tomorrow,” said the voice on the line.
“Of course. The scope I ordered arrived last night,” replied John.
John bit his lip and ran a hand through his messy red hair.
“Yet your last assignment left two of my men in prison” continued the voice. “Do not mistake me, if Oliver Baxter’s heart is still beating by the end of tomorrow, you will suffer the same fate as your father.”  John moved the phone away from his ear- fearful of going deaf.
“Whatever is left of your future relies on this mission. Don’t miss.”
Static took over the line. Then, silence.
John squeezed his eyes shut and became aware of the metallic taste in his mouth. His lip was bleeding. He rummaged through his bag and searched for pack of tissues. In his carelessness, his elbow banged up against his rifle. Quickly extracting the pack, he shoved the weapon further down the bag. He heaved a heavy sigh and nursed his elbow in his hand.
“Stop doubting yourself, John. He’s just another corrupt C.E.O.- he has it coming,” he muttered to himself. “Just get it done, Johnny, get it done.”

SCENE TWO

Just a block away from John, waiting impatiently at the corner of Oak and Robson, was a scowling dark-haired man with a 5 O’Clock morning shadow. The sleeves of his button-down were scrunched up to his elbows and his tie hung loosely around his neck.
Noticing the rain beginning to intensify, the man stuffed the rest of his croissant into his mouth in an attempt to salvage its flaky goodness. No such luck. With a guttural sigh, he tossed his napkin into a nearby trash bin and grumbled to himself about the disgrace that is cold, store-bought pastries.
Thankfully for him, his phone rang and interrupted his reverie of self-pity.
“Who’s calling?” He answered gruffly.
“James. Always the charmer,” drawled the voice from the other line. “Now, that's no way to greet an old friend.”
“Well, I didn’t get an answer for my question now did I?” James said through gritted teeth
Over the line, he could hear his caller clicking his tongue disapprovingly.
“It’s Aaron, my good man. Have you really forgotten?”
Oh yes, Aaron Benson. The pretentious Englishman he shared an apartment with in his college days- the one with a relentless infatuation with Kate Middleton.
“Of course. Aaron. I could never.”
He could only wish he had.
“I hear you’ve made a name for yourself as a photographer?” he questioned.
“What’s it to you?” James said.
“I have a job for you. My cousin is on a business trip to your side of the Atlantic over the weekend. Oliver Baxter, the CEO for some big menswear company in London. Top thirty under thirty kind of bloke. I can’t stand him, but he’s family. Anyway, his birthday’s coming up and my family wants you to have a photoshoot with him.” said Aaron
James sighed. “So you want me to take a couple headshots of pretty boy for his Forbes cover page?”
“No, no. Take my word, he is as unphotogenic as a dung beetle. I say that with love. Partially,” Aaron snickered. “Just take a couple pictures- he doesn’t need to look good. We just want something to add to the slideshow for a couple of laughs.”
“Alright, I’ll do it. Send me his specifics by the end of the day, and I’ll tell you where you should wire the payment.” said James
“I’m grateful. Aside from that, I just wanted to ask you again about that suit I left at our apartment when I flew back to London. Were you able to find-”
James hung up.
He was definitely not getting that suit back.
James didn’t feel too guilty. After all, he thought to himself, the guy has enough money to buy it three times over. If not, he could take a loan from Mr. Thirty under thirty.

SCENE THREE

Later that day, a bleary-eyed and yawning James stepped into a bar. Groaning softly, he massaged the crook of his neck- blistering red patches lined the areas where his camera strap had rested on mere minutes ago.  
The ever-familiar scent of liquor and sweat hung in the air. Suddenly, a cheer erupted from the back corner of the room. As his eyes finally adjusted to the dimly-lit space, he spotted a lanky, red-headed figure by the dart station. A stadium of intoxicated onlookers was chanting his name.
James’ fingers twitched to reach for his camera but he quickly quelled it. The lighting was not in his favour. He strode over towards an empty stool by the bar. Unsurprisingly, his eyes were still fixed on the strange fellow pushing up his tortoiseshell glasses and setting up his stance for another shot at the target.
Bullseye.
The crowd bellowed appreciatively.
Standing up from his table on the other side of the bar, a man called out to the stranger, “Hey kid! Bet you wouldn’t be so tough without those glasses!”
James scoffed. The guy had half of his shirt unbuttoned and a half-emptied beer mug in hand. Regardless, all eyes turned towards the ginger superstar.
The guy scratched the back of his neck and let out a nervous chuckle. Then, with a final shake of his head, he removed his lenses.
“How much?”
Drunken hollering ensued, as well as some severely off-target slaps on the back. James watched as he carefully placed his frames on the counter and caught the stranger’s eye. Leaning back on his stool, James raised his eyebrows at him and tilted his head. A boyish grin spread across the stranger’s face.
Laughing now, the man made his way back towards his station and readied himself. One, two, three…
The crowd roared. The dart, still quivering, was lodged precisely in the centre of the target.
James turned away from the mayhem and ordered a drink. Coming up from behind him, the dart-savvy stranger slid into the seat next to him.
“Just some water, please.”
“Sure thing, hon,” said the bartender.
James looked to the man beside him and nodded curtly. Eyes twinkling, the boy smiled back.
“I take it you weren’t impressed by my little stunt up there.”
No response.
“My name’s John. John Doe actually. I wish I was kidding.”
James finally afforded him his attention.
“Bond. James Bond. I know the struggle.”
“Our parents really did us wrong, didn’t they?” said John.
James raised his glass.
“Cheers to that.” After both men had taken a sip of their drinks, James continued, “So, you don’t really need those glasses do you?”
“Well, of course I need them,” said John “but it’s not like I’m legally blind without them. I take it you don’t have any lenses for yourself?” he asked
“Yes, I do actually- a different kind though. I carry all my lenses with me, even my scope,” James explained, gently patting the bag hanging across his shoulders.
John’s eyes widened.
“It’s nice to finally meet someone from my own line of work,” said John.
“Really? There’s a ton of us in the city. People here pay a pretty penny for just a couple shots,” James replied dubiously.
“Very true. One time an MLA candidate offered me over two million to take care of, and I quote, ‘an old friend,’” agreed John.
“****, that’s a real friend right there,” said James, shaking his head. “So, are you the type to schedule appointments with your assignments, or do you prefer candids?”
“I’d say candids for sure,” replied John. “It’s easier when people aren’t suspecting it. That way it’s just one and done. The real nightmare comes when you’re asked to shoot multiple people.”
“The worst part of the job!” James sighed, rolling his eyes, “It’s so much quicker to find the perfect angle when you only have to worry about one guy.”
“Exactly! Clients are always so demanding! Don’t even get me started on scheduling families,” exclaimed John, throwing his hands into the air. “Married couples are understable, though. I can see why you would want to do both at the same time- so you can make sure you don’t leave any loose ends.”
James nodded in agreement.
“It’s just a pain, given that some jobs can takes hours to complete,” said James. “The subject either keeps on moving, or you can’t get the right angle. It makes my hair turn grey.”
John sat up straighter, enjoying the conversation.“Hear me out, I have seen my fair share of husbands and wives calling in for me to take care of their spouse,” carried on John. “Honestly, it makes me reconsider having a love life…”
Sniggering, James replied, “The only thing worse is when they get their kids involved. It physically pains me to have to include them when I’m taking my shots.”
“Truthfully, I’ve gotten to the point where if a client asks me to take down a kid, I just hang up. It’s not worth the trouble… or the emotional scars.” John said, eyes darkening.
“I wish I had the ***** to do something like that,” said James, looking at John with admiration, “but I just can’t afford to. I have to pay my rent somehow, you know?”
“Well, I started out pretty young so I think I’ve made a name for myself among the more influential circles. Although, for the public, I try to keep a low profile. But it’s getting harder now that more of my shots are making the headlines,” said John.
“Not bad, kid.” said James. “I got into this whole business while I was still in college as a way to pay for my tuition. Man, you go in there, thinking that all those frat-boys and sorority-girls are just a bunch of alcoholic party-goers, but when they go and hire you… I still have nightmares about the things they made me do,” James whispered, shivering.
“Fascinating!” replied John. “I didn’t know that colleges dabbled in our kind of underground operations.”
“They come with occupational hazards,” said James.
“Most of my assignments nowadays consist of old clients calling in a favour,” shared John. “I’ll end up tracking down some really important people- world leaders and such.”
James whistled appreciatively.
John continued, “It’s especially fun to fire your shot while they’re making a speech. It’s all so dramatic, and the shot almost freezes time for a second.”
“Have you been assigned to any higher-ups recently?” Said James.
“Yes, actually. A shareholder for some big entertainment outlet put me on Stan Lee.”
“You shot Stan Lee! I’ve been a fan of him for years! Do you still have the pictures?”
“Uh, I mean, I don’t really save pictures of the people I shoot… “ said John, scratching his head. “It leaves a paper trail, and I prefer to stay anonymous. Their photos usually end up on the news anyway,” said John
“It’s a shame that he died. At least his legacy lives on,” said James, frowning slightly.
“Well, of course he’s dead. I did shoot him...” John said, furrowing his eyebrows, but James didn’t hear him.
The rest of the night passed by quickly as the two continued to share their stories,and marvel at their uncanny similarities. It was a miracle, truly, that they were able to find another man who understood them so deeply.

SCENE FOUR
THE FOLLOWING DAY...
John crept towards the edge of the rooftop. Across from him, a couple stories below, was the window to Oliver Baxter’s suite. His hands were shaking. You’re just cold he thought to himself, It's nothing more. He slowly unzipped the top of his bag and and pulled out his rifle. After he made sure his weapon was loaded, he reached back into his bag to pull out his scope and brought out-
“A camera lens? Why would I have a camera lens”- the realization struck him- “James. I’m so stupid. He’s not another hitman- he’s a photographer. And he’s got my scope, too.”
His musings were stopped short; Oliver Baxter had just re-entered his room.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” he muttered to himself. “Today of all days…”
John reluctantly returned the camera lens to his bag. He couldn’t waste any more time.
“I guess I’ll have to use the old one.”
Annoyed, he reached into the front pocket of his bag and pulled out a small, scratched contraption. A gun scope! Albeit, a rather unimpressive model. “It’s a good thing I kept my old one as a backup. Who doesn’t love a good case of Chanel versus Walmart?”
Hint: Not John.
Unaware of the hitman outside his window, Mr. Baxter finally ended his call and plopped down onto a nearby armchair. With his looming height, his neck easily rose above the top of the chair. Sighing, he ran a callused hand through his hair and leaned back.
John swiftly finished setting up his stand. Just as he was about to about to fire, a butterfly fluttered towards him and landed on top of the trigger. It’s miniature wings were coloured with vivid reds, sparkling greens, and candy-apple oranges. John shrugged it off.
It was time. John exhaled shakily and closed his eyes. Why was he hesitating? This was not his first assignment. Although, it was his first time being assigned to someone from outside the country. He knew nothing of Oliver Baxter. Unlike his past victims, John had no way to gauge that the man was worthy of his fate. Standing alone on the top of an abandoned warehouse, John desperately wished that he wasn’t making a mistake.
Suddenly, the image of his father lying in a pool of crimson flashed beneath his closed eyelids. His ears rang with the sound of the bullet that tore through his skin. His hands still remembered the weight of his dying body- the wetness of his blood that stained his fingertips.
“You won’t be able to fix me,” his father had whispered to him.
He was right.
Suddenly, another voice, booming and full of static, echoed throughout his mind.
“Don’t miss.”
John opened his eyes and a familiar calmness overtook him. He pressed the trigger.
Not so far away, Oliver Baxter slumped into his chair.
“I never miss.”

SCENE FIVE

By the time our friend James Bond came to pay his own visit to Mr. Baxter, John had already slipped in and cleaned up after himself. Assuredly, he had changed the man into a nondescript red hoodie and tucked him securely into his bed. He even took the liberty of placing Mr. Baxter’s phone on silent. John had a feeling that Mr. Baxter wouldn’t mind. When he was finally satisfied with his handiwork, he took his leave.
Not long after, a huffing and puffing James Bond arrived on the 15th floor. With his patchy red cheeks and sweaty brow, he was truly a sight for sore eyes. He stepped out of the stairwell and muttered a series of curse words underneath his breath. Gritting his teeth, he walked over to the shining elevator doors beside him and gave them a hard kick. The “Out of Order” sign hanging off of it floated to the floor, and James whimpered as he nursed his aching toe.
“I’ll be ******- taking a picture of a monkey would’ve been easier than this.”
He stood in the hallway for a little while longer and gathered his wits. After the pain subsided, he strode over to the C.E.O.’s door and knocked. He immediately positioned himself to capture a candid of Mr. Baxter as he opened the door. No one came. John tried again. No answer. Finally, his patience worn thin. James fished out the keys he had flirtatiously convinced the new receptionist downstairs to lend him and carefully unlocked the hotel door. He stepped inside and surveyed the suite in search of his assignment only to find him underneath the freshly-washed blankets of his bed- sound asleep.
“Well then… Aaron did say it didn’t have to be a good photo.”
Shrugging, James reached into his bag for his camera lens and pulled it out.
“What the hell? This isn’t mine.” James said. He narrowed his eyes and examined the object in his hand. The instrument was long and bulbous with two black clamps attached to the bottom. Although, the clamps did not open wide enough to fit a camera- it almost looked as if they were meant to be attached to some some sort of cylinder. He peered through and in the middle of the lens lay a bright red dot. He supposed he and John must have inadvertently swapped lenses in the bar.
Then, he came to a realization.
“I see what’s going on here!” James proclaimed a little too loudly, “John must use this for long range pictures. Must be some new tech- and pretty expensive too. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
For a split-second, James was tempted to pocket it, but a twinge of guilt urged him to return it to his bag. Sighing, he put away his camera and pulled out his phone. Aaron would have to make do with some lesser quality resolution.
James knelt down with his makeshift camera poised for the shot. Aaron had made no exaggerations about his cousin. The man was unnaturally pale and smelled strongly of… detergent? Honestly, a corpse would have looked more alive. His jaw was slack and, peculiarly enough, a red hoodie was pulled over his matted hair. A British thing, maybe? At the very least, he had the decency not to snore or drool.
Once satisfied with his pictures, James walked swiftly out the door and locked it behind him. By the time he had completed the tiresome journey back to the first floor, he had saved the photographs onto his USB drive. The only thing he had left to do was send them to Aaron.

SCENE SIX

When John entered the bar again, his eyes immediately fell on his companion from last night- the cynical James Bond. Given his current state, perhaps it would be wiser to keep his distance. Then again, when had he ever made the smart decision?
John greeted James as he collapsed into the stool next to him.
“Heard the news?” slurred James, “Oliver Baxter, up-and-coming C.E.O. of some big London company was found dead a couple hours ago.”
John’s heart skipped a beat. He responded carefully.
“No, this is news to me. I guess I was a little too busy today at work… You know, shooting my shots. In my photography studio. With my camera. That I use for photography, “ replied John.
James looked at him strangely.
John continued, “Poor guy. Never heard of him before, though. Oliver Brown, was it?”
“Baxter, not Brown,” James corrected him.
“Of course. Baxter. Sorry, I’m bad with names,” said John. He stole a glance at his friend, hoping he wasn’t seeing through him. Fortunately for him, James was too busy staring glumly into the frothy contents of his beer mug. “I’m sorry. Did he mean anything to you?”
“He was my assignment,” replied James. “When I came into his room for his shoot, he was asleep. My client, his cousin, said that he didn’t need to look good for the picture, so I snapped a couple shots of him like that and left. Turns out he wasn’t sleeping. Just dead.”
John’s throat tightened. Out of all the pessimistic photographers in the city, he just had to befriend the one who’s assignment he killed, didn’t he?
“It’s not your fault. No one would have expected him to be dead,” said John.
He had made sure of it.
Chuckling mirthlessly, James replied, “People always see the truth. One way or another, they see people for who they truly are, and see themselves for who they’ve become. They’re only either too scared to admit it, or they cover their eyes. What’s funny is that in our line of work it almost becomes the opposite. You don’t see anybody as either ordinary or extraordinary. You see them simply as people in front of your lens. Then one day, they stop being people at all.”
John’s stomach dropped. His friend did not give himself enough credit; James was not a horrible man. At least, he was not as awful as the man sitting beside him.
“Well, as photographers,” said John, “We also know that the truth can be ugly. And when you capture it with the perfect shot- when you shoot the right person, at the right time, in the right place- it comes back to haunt you.”
James lifted his eyes from the table and met his. Raising his half-empty glass to him, he whispered, “To the shots that haunt us.”
“To the shots that haunt us,” John repeated.

*
Not long after their grim declaration, John decided to return home. By that time, only streetlights continued to shine. His glasses could do little to aid his vision, but he still managed to make out the overstuffed mailbox in front of his house. With a roll of his eyes, he walked over to it, pushed the “No Flyers or Junk Mail” sign aside, and collected their ever-punctual delivery of coupons.
He swiftly unlocked the front door and closed it behind him. Just as he was about to reach for the remote and commence some much-needed binge-therapy, he realized that his mother was already seated on the sofa.
“Hey, mom,” he said as he walked over to her and kissed her forehead.
“You’ve come home late tonight, Johnny,” she said. “I’ve been spending the past few hours rifling through these albums.”
Surely enough, stacked up on the coffee table in front of them was a collection of his family’s photo albums. It was at that moment when the realization struck him.
“It’s been twelve years,” he whispered.
How could he have forgotten what day it was?
“Every day after your dad died feels like a lifetime.”
“Every day after I killed-”
His mother cut him off, “Don’t you finish that sentence.”
John cast his eyes downward and pursed his lips. Her eyes softened and she lifted the album off of her lap and placed it onto the table.
“Johnny, look at me,” she said. “What happened to your father was an accident- it was not your fault.”
John interrupted “I pulled that trigger. Me. I took him away from you.”
His mom sighed “Okay. You did. For years, after that day, I felt like someone had torn off my wings and left me to drown. I felt like I would never be able to fly again, like I would never be happy again. But raising you, watching you grow up, gave me hope. You have so much potential and a long life left to live, but your guilt keeps you trapped inside the past. I have already forgiven you, and I know he has too,” she paused, “It’s time that you forgive yourself.”
“What if I can’t?”
“You need to. You owe it to your father to be the man he wanted you to be. You’ll never be able to do that if you keep on punishing yourself.”
John did not know how to reply. James was right. He knew his mother was speaking the truth but all he wanted to do was cover his ears and shut his eyes. He had spent everyday for the past twelve years training and refining his accuracy- proving to the world that he would never miss another shot. All of this, just to make up for the one shot that took his father's life. Worse yet, he defiled himself; he painted his hands in crimson with the lives of his victims in an effort to conceal the blood he shed twelve years ago. But who was he to decide who would live or die? He was no god. He never was and never would be. He had only ever been a boy: honest, clumsy, and- dare he say it- faultless. Now, however, he was a man. A man who used other people’s lives to indulge in years of self-pity. This sin, he deserved to pay for.
In that moment, Johnny Doe finally broke free of his cocoon and unfurled his wings. For twelve years he had remained in that shell, unready to see the light that lay beyond. But now, he wanted to taste freedom- no matter what the cost may be.

SCENE SEVEN

“In an unexpected turn of events for the ****** case of Oliver Baxter, the city’s most elusive hitman has turned himself in and pleaded guilty,” said the voice from the bar’s flat screen TV.
A well-past-sober James lifted his head from the bar counter and turned up the volume.
“A complete genius, that one is,” he muttered to himself.
“The young man of 24 has identified himself as John Edwards Doe,” she continued.
James froze. He slowly turned his head towards the screen, frightened about what he might see. Plastered on the screen, with his unmistakable tortoise shell glasses and shock of red hair, was a mugshot of the man that sat beside him mere hours ago.
“Thanks to the city much-relieved police force, I can say with confidence that John Doe has finally taken his last shot,” she said.
The newscaster began to elaborate on the details of the trial but James was no longer listening. He rubbed his eyes and looked again at the screen. After a long moment of disbelief, he called out to the bartender.
“I think I need another shot.”
Prologue
A raw, unfiltered scream filled the air. The boy dropped the gun and rushed towards the body lying beside the wooden stand. The man before him was clutching his stomach- his t-shirt soaked with blood. His eyes began to well up with tears as he cradled his father in his arms. Groaning softly, the man used his free arm to touch the boy’s cheek.
“Shhhh. It’s okay. I know it was an accident,” the man said.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. We’ll get you to a hospital,” the boy choked out. “The doctors will fix you. I promise.”
The boy was trembling with a sob caught in his throat, and his head buried in his father’s chest.
“Hey, you’re gonna be okay, son. Look at me-”
He coughed suddenly and a stream of blood began to spill from his mouth,
“I forgive you. But listen to me, you won’t be able to fix me. Just know that I will always be proud of you and the great man that you will one day become.”
With that final assurance, his hands finally fell limp.
You must understand: when a child opens his eyes for the first time, he is like a caterpillar. As the years go by, his growth is measured by the number of skins he sheds as he outgrows another version of himself. And for each one that he discards, there will be another, buried deep inside of him, that will be drawn closer towards reality. Then one day, he will collapse into himself.
For this freshly-bereaved little boy, it is time to seek refuge and rebuild. For many years he will be consumed with the thought that he is not ready to be a man. He will refuse to leave his chrysalis. Eventually, he will forget about the world that lies beyond its walls until the day finally comes where he will have to make a choice: remain a boy or become the man his father wanted him to be.

SCENE ONE
MANY YEARS LATER…
A medley of voices sounded in the air as hundreds of city-dwellers navigated their way around the rush hour traffic. Horns blared all around them, and the skies were grey and dripped with moisture.
Jaywalking across Oak and fifth with a cold cappuccino in hand, was a frazzled young man named John. His freckled face was lined with worry as he stole another glance at his wristwatch and quickened his pace. On days like this, John really hated having a day-job.
A welcome distraction presented itself as the sudden playing of ‘I Want It that Way’ by Backstreet Boys. The woman beside him raised her eyebrows and glanced at his front pocket. Smiling sheepishly, he pulled out his phone. After pushing up his glasses and bringing it within nanometres of his face, he finally made out the Caller ID. Eyes widening, he hastily answered the call.
“Hello, this is John speaking.”
“I expect that you are ready for tomorrow,” said the voice on the line.
“Of course. The scope I ordered arrived last night,” replied John.
John bit his lip and ran a hand through his messy red hair.
“Yet your last assignment left two of my men in prison” continued the voice. “Do not mistake me, if Oliver Baxter’s heart is still beating by the end of tomorrow, you will suffer the same fate as your father.”  John moved the phone away from his ear- fearful of going deaf.
“Whatever is left of your future relies on this mission. Don’t miss.”
Static took over the line. Then, silence.
John squeezed his eyes shut and became aware of the metallic taste in his mouth. His lip was bleeding. He rummaged through his bag and searched for pack of tissues. In his carelessness, his elbow banged up against his rifle. Quickly extracting the pack, he shoved the weapon further down the bag. He heaved a heavy sigh and nursed his elbow in his hand.
“Stop doubting yourself, John. He’s just another corrupt C.E.O.- he has it coming,” he muttered to himself. “Just get it done, Johnny, get it done.”

SCENE TWO

Just a block away from John, waiting impatiently at the corner of Oak and Robson, was a scowling dark-haired man with a 5 O’Clock morning shadow. The sleeves of his button-down were scrunched up to his elbows and his tie hung loosely around his neck.
Noticing the rain beginning to intensify, the man stuffed the rest of his croissant into his mouth in an attempt to salvage its flaky goodness. No such luck. With a guttural sigh, he tossed his napkin into a nearby trash bin and grumbled to himself about the disgrace that is cold, store-bought pastries.
Thankfully for him, his phone rang and interrupted his reverie of self-pity.
“Who’s calling?” He answered gruffly.
“James. Always the charmer,” drawled the voice from the other line. “Now, that's no way to greet an old friend.”
“Well, I didn’t get an answer for my question now did I?” James said through gritted teeth
Over the line, he could hear his caller clicking his tongue disapprovingly.
“It’s Aaron, my good man. Have you really forgotten?”
Oh yes, Aaron Benson. The pretentious Englishman he shared an apartment with in his college days- the one with a relentless infatuation with Kate Middleton.
“Of course. Aaron. I could never.”
He could only wish he had.
“I hear you’ve made a name for yourself as a photographer?” he questioned.
“What’s it to you?” James said.
“I have a job for you. My cousin is on a business trip to your side of the Atlantic over the weekend. Oliver Baxter, the CEO for some big menswear company in London. Top thirty under thirty kind of bloke. I can’t stand him, but he’s family. Anyway, his birthday’s coming up and my family wants you to have a photoshoot with him.” said Aaron
James sighed. “So you want me to take a couple headshots of pretty boy for his Forbes cover page?”
“No, no. Take my word, he is as unphotogenic as a dung beetle. I say that with love. Partially,” Aaron snickered. “Just take a couple pictures- he doesn’t need to look good. We just want something to add to the slideshow for a couple of laughs.”
“Alright, I’ll do it. Send me his specifics by the end of the day, and I’ll tell you where you should wire the payment.” said James
“I’m grateful. Aside from that, I just wanted to ask you again about that suit I left at our apartment when I flew back to London. Were you able to find-”
James hung up.
He was definitely not getting that suit back.
James didn’t feel too guilty. After all, he thought to himself, the guy has enough money to buy it three times over. If not, he could take a loan from Mr. Thirty under thirty.

SCENE THREE

Later that day, a bleary-eyed and yawning James stepped into a bar. Groaning softly, he massaged the crook of his neck- blistering red patches lined the areas where his camera strap had rested on mere minutes ago.  
The ever-familiar scent of liquor and sweat hung in the air. Suddenly, a cheer erupted from the back corner of the room. As his eyes finally adjusted to the dimly-lit space, he spotted a lanky, red-headed figure by the dart station. A stadium of intoxicated onlookers was chanting his name.
James’ fingers twitched to reach for his camera but he quickly quelled it. The lighting was not in his favour. He strode over towards an empty stool by the bar. Unsurprisingly, his eyes were still fixed on the strange fellow pushing up his tortoiseshell glasses and setting up his stance for another shot at the target.
Bullseye.
The crowd bellowed appreciatively.
Standing up from his table on the other side of the bar, a man called out to the stranger, “Hey kid! Bet you wouldn’t be so tough without those glasses!”
James scoffed. The guy had half of his shirt unbuttoned and a half-emptied beer mug in hand. Regardless, all eyes turned towards the ginger superstar.
The guy scratched the back of his neck and let out a nervous chuckle. Then, with a final shake of his head, he removed his lenses.
“How much?”
Drunken hollering ensued, as well as some severely off-target slaps on the back. James watched as he carefully placed his frames on the counter and caught the stranger’s eye. Leaning back on his stool, James raised his eyebrows at him and tilted his head. A boyish grin spread across the stranger’s face.
Laughing now, the man made his way back towards his station and readied himself. One, two, three…
The crowd roared. The dart, still quivering, was lodged precisely in the centre of the target.
James turned away from the mayhem and ordered a drink. Coming up from behind him, the dart-savvy stranger slid into the seat next to him.
“Just some water, please.”
“Sure thing, hon,” said the bartender.
James looked to the man beside him and nodded curtly. Eyes twinkling, the boy smiled back.
“I take it you weren’t impressed by my little stunt up there.”
No response.
“My name’s John. John Doe actually. I wish I was kidding.”
James finally afforded him his attention.
“Bond. James Bond. I know the struggle.”
“Our parents really did us wrong, didn’t they?” said John.
James raised his glass.
“Cheers to that.” After both men had taken a sip of their drinks, James continued, “So, you don’t really need those glasses do you?”
“Well, of course I need them,” said John “but it’s not like I’m legally blind without them. I take it you don’t have any lenses for yourself?” he asked
“Yes, I do actually- a different kind though. I carry all my lenses with me, even my scope,” James explained, gently patting the bag hanging across his shoulders.
John’s eyes widened.
“It’s nice to finally meet someone from my own line of work,” said John.
“Really? There’s a ton of us in the city. People here pay a pretty penny for just a couple shots,” James replied dubiously.
“Very true. One time an MLA candidate offered me over two million to take care of, and I quote, ‘an old friend,’” agreed John.
“****, that’s a real friend right there,” said James, shaking his head. “So, are you the type to schedule appointments with your assignments, or do you prefer candids?”
“I’d say candids for sure,” replied John. “It’s easier when people aren’t suspecting it. That way it’s just one and done. The real nightmare comes when you’re asked to shoot multiple people.”
“The worst part of the job!” James sighed, rolling his eyes, “It’s so much quicker to find the perfect angle when you only have to worry about one guy.”
“Exactly! Clients are always so demanding! Don’t even get me started on scheduling families,” exclaimed John, throwing his hands into the air. “Married couples are understable, though. I can see why you would want to do both at the same time- so you can make sure you don’t leave any loose ends.”
James nodded in agreement.
“It’s just a pain, given that some jobs can takes hours to complete,” said James. “The subject either keeps on moving, or you can’t get the right angle. It makes my hair turn grey.”
John sat up straighter, enjoying the conversation.“Hear me out, I have seen my fair share of husbands and wives calling in for me to take care of their spouse,” carried on John. “Honestly, it makes me reconsider having a love life…”
Sniggering, James replied, “The only thing worse is when they get their kids involved. It physically pains me to have to include them when I’m taking my shots.”
“Truthfully, I’ve gotten to the point where if a client asks me to take down a kid, I just hang up. It’s not worth the trouble… or the emotional scars.” John said, eyes darkening.
“I wish I had the ***** to do something like that,” said James, looking at John with admiration, “but I just can’t afford to. I have to pay my rent somehow, you know?”
“Well, I started out pretty young so I think I’ve made a name for myself among the more influential circles. Although, for the public, I try to keep a low profile. But it’s getting harder now that more of my shots are making the headlines,” said John.
“Not bad, kid.” said James. “I got into this whole business while I was still in college as a way to pay for my tuition. Man, you go in there, thinking that all those frat-boys and sorority-girls are just a bunch of alcoholic party-goers, but when they go and hire you… I still have nightmares about the things they made me do,” James whispered, shivering.
“Fascinating!” replied John. “I didn’t know that colleges dabbled in our kind of underground operations.”
“They come with occupational hazards,” said James.
“Most of my assignments nowadays consist of old clients calling in a favour,” shared John. “I’ll end up tracking down some really important people- world leaders and such.”
James whistled appreciatively.
John continued, “It’s especially fun to fire your shot while they’re making a speech. It’s all so dramatic, and the shot almost freezes time for a second.”
“Have you been assigned to any higher-ups recently?” Said James.
“Yes, actually. A shareholder for some big entertainment outlet put me on Stan Lee.”
“You shot Stan Lee! I’ve been a fan of him for years! Do you still have the pictures?”
“Uh, I mean, I don’t really save pictures of the people I shoot… “ said John, scratching his head. “It leaves a paper trail, and I prefer to stay anonymous. Their photos usually end up on the news anyway,” said John
“It’s a shame that he died. At least his legacy lives on,” said James, frowning slightly.
“Well, of course he’s dead. I did shoot him...” John said, furrowing his eyebrows, but James didn’t hear him.
The rest of the night passed by quickly as the two continued to share their stories,and marvel at their uncanny similarities. It was a miracle, truly, that they were able to find another man who understood them so deeply.

SCENE FOUR
THE FOLLOWING DAY...
John crept towards the edge of the rooftop. Across from him, a couple stories below, was the window to Oliver Baxter’s suite. His hands were shaking. You’re just cold he thought to himself, It's nothing more. He slowly unzipped the top of his bag and and pulled out his rifle. After he made sure his weapon was loaded, he reached back into his bag to pull out his scope and brought out-
“A camera lens? Why would I have a camera lens”- the realization struck him- “James. I’m so stupid. He’s not another hitman- he’s a photographer. And he’s got my scope, too.”
His musings were stopped short; Oliver Baxter had just re-entered his room.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” he muttered to himself. “Today of all days…”
John reluctantly returned the camera lens to his bag. He couldn’t waste any more time.
“I guess I’ll have to use the old one.”
Annoyed, he reached into the front pocket of his bag and pulled out a small, scratched contraption. A gun scope! Albeit, a rather unimpressive model. “It’s a good thing I kept my old one as a backup. Who doesn’t love a good case of Chanel versus Walmart?”
Hint: Not John.
Unaware of the hitman outside his window, Mr. Baxter finally ended his call and plopped down onto a nearby armchair. With his looming height, his neck easily rose above the top of the chair. Sighing, he ran a callused hand through his hair and leaned back.
John swiftly finished setting up his stand. Just as he was about to about to fire, a butterfly fluttered towards him and landed on top of the trigger. It’s miniature wings were coloured with vivid reds, sparkling greens, and candy-apple oranges. John shrugged it off.
It was time. John exhaled shakily and closed his eyes. Why was he hesitating? This was not his first assignment. Although, it was his first time being assigned to someone from outside the country. He knew nothing of Oliver Baxter. Unlike his past victims, John had no way to gauge that the man was worthy of his fate. Standing alone on the top of an abandoned warehouse, John desperately wished that he wasn’t making a mistake.
Suddenly, the image of his father lying in a pool of crimson flashed beneath his closed eyelids. His ears rang with the sound of the bullet that tore through his skin. His hands still remembered the weight of his dying body- the wetness of his blood that stained his fingertips.
“You won’t be able to fix me,” his father had whispered to him.
He was right.
Suddenly, another voice, booming and full of static, echoed throughout his mind.
“Don’t miss.”
John opened his eyes and a familiar calmness overtook him. He pressed the trigger.
Not so far away, Oliver Baxter slumped into his chair.
“I never miss.”

SCENE FIVE

By the time our friend James Bond came to pay his own visit to Mr. Baxter, John had already slipped in and cleaned up after himself. Assuredly, he had changed the man into a nondescript red hoodie and tucked him securely into his bed. He even took the liberty of placing Mr. Baxter’s phone on silent. John had a feeling that Mr. Baxter wouldn’t mind. When he was finally satisfied with his handiwork, he took his leave.
Not long after, a huffing and puffing James Bond arrived on the 15th floor. With his patchy red cheeks and sweaty brow, he was truly a sight for sore eyes. He stepped out of the stairwell and muttered a series of curse words underneath his breath. Gritting his teeth, he walked over to the shining elevator doors beside him and gave them a hard kick. The “Out of Order” sign hanging off of it floated to the floor, and James whimpered as he nursed his aching toe.
“I’ll be ******- taking a picture of a monkey would’ve been easier than this.”
He stood in the hallway for a little while longer and gathered his wits. After the pain subsided, he strode over to the C.E.O.’s door and knocked. He immediately positioned himself to capture a candid of Mr. Baxter as he opened the door. No one came. John tried again. No answer. Finally, his patience worn thin. James fished out the keys he had flirtatiously convinced the new receptionist downstairs to lend him and carefully unlocked the hotel door. He stepped inside and surveyed the suite in search of his assignment only to find him underneath the freshly-washed blankets of his bed- sound asleep.
“Well then… Aaron did say it didn’t have to be a good photo.”
Shrugging, James reached into his bag for his camera lens and pulled it out.
“What the hell? This isn’t mine.” James said. He narrowed his eyes and examined the object in his hand. The instrument was long and bulbous with two black clamps attached to the bottom. Although, the clamps did not open wide enough to fit a camera- it almost looked as if they were meant to be attached to some some sort of cylinder. He peered through and in the middle of the lens lay a bright red dot. He supposed he and John must have inadvertently swapped lenses in the bar.
Then, he came to a realization.
“I see what’s going on here!” James proclaimed a little too loudly, “John must use this for long range pictures. Must be some new tech- and pretty expensive too. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
For a split-second, James was tempted to pocket it, but a twinge of guilt urged him to return it to his bag. Sighing, he put away his camera and pulled out his phone. Aaron would have to make do with some lesser quality resolution.
James knelt down with his makeshift camera poised for the shot. Aaron had made no exaggerations about his cousin. The man was unnaturally pale and smelled strongly of… detergent? Honestly, a corpse would have looked more alive. His jaw was slack and, peculiarly enough, a red hoodie was pulled over his matted hair. A British thing, maybe? At the very least, he had the decency not to snore or drool.
Once satisfied with his pictures, James walked swiftly out the door and locked it behind him. By the time he had completed the tiresome journey back to the first floor, he had saved the photographs onto his USB drive. The only thing he had left to do was send them to Aaron.

SCENE SIX

When John entered the bar again, his eyes immediately fell on his companion from last night- the cynical James Bond. Given his current state, perhaps it would be wiser to keep his distance. Then again, when had he ever made the smart decision?
John greeted James as he collapsed into the stool next to him.
“Heard the news?” slurred James, “Oliver Baxter, up-and-coming C.E.O. of some big London company was found dead a couple hours ago.”
John’s heart skipped a beat. He responded carefully.
“No, this is news to me. I guess I was a little too busy today at work… You know, shooting my shots. In my photography studio. With my camera. That I use for photography, “ replied John.
James looked at him strangely.
John continued, “Poor guy. Never heard of him before, though. Oliver Brown, was it?”
“Baxter, not Brown,” James corrected him.
“Of course. Baxter. Sorry, I’m bad with names,” said John. He stole a glance at his friend, hoping he wasn’t seeing through him. Fortunately for him, James was too busy staring glumly into the frothy contents of his beer mug. “I’m sorry. Did he mean anything to you?”
“He was my assignment,” replied James. “When I came into his room for his shoot, he was asleep. My client, his cousin, said that he didn’t need to look good for the picture, so I snapped a couple shots of him like that and left. Turns out he wasn’t sleeping. Just dead.”
John’s throat tightened. Out of all the pessimistic photographers in the city, he just had to befriend the one who’s assignment he killed, didn’t he?
“It’s not your fault. No one would have expected him to be dead,” said John.
He had made sure of it.
Chuckling mirthlessly, James replied, “People always see the truth. One way or another, they see people for who they truly are, and see themselves for who they’ve become. They’re only either too scared to admit it, or they cover their eyes. What’s funny is that in our line of work it almost becomes the opposite. You don’t see anybody as either ordinary or extraordinary. You see them simply as people in front of your lens. Then one day, they stop being people at all.”
John’s stomach dropped. His friend did not give himself enough credit; James was not a horrible man. At least, he was not as awful as the man sitting beside him.
“Well, as photographers,” said John, “We also know that the truth can be ugly. And when you capture it with the perfect shot- when you shoot the right person, at the right time, in the right place- it comes back to haunt you.”
James lifted his eyes from the table and met his. Raising his half-empty glass to him, he whispered, “To the shots that haunt us.”
“To the shots that haunt us,” John repeated.

*
Not long after their grim declaration, John decided to return home. By that time, only streetlights continued to shine. His glasses could do little to aid his vision, but he still managed to make out the overstuffed mailbox in front of his house. With a roll of his eyes, he walked over to it, pushed the “No Flyers or Junk Mail” sign aside, and collected their ever-punctual delivery of coupons.
He swiftly unlocked the front door and closed it behind him. Just as he was about to reach for the remote and commence some much-needed binge-therapy, he realized that his mother was already seated on the sofa.
“Hey, mom,” he said as he walked over to her and kissed her forehead.
“You’ve come home late tonight, Johnny,” she said. “I’ve been spending the past few hours rifling through these albums.”
Surely enough, stacked up on the coffee table in front of them was a collection of his family’s photo albums. It was at that moment when the realization struck him.
“It’s been twelve years,” he whispered.
How could he have forgotten what day it was?
“Every day after your dad died feels like a lifetime.”
“Every day after I killed-”
His mother cut him off, “Don’t you finish that sentence.”
John cast his eyes downward and pursed his lips. Her eyes softened and she lifted the album off of her lap and placed it onto the table.
“Johnny, look at me,” she said. “What happened to your father was an accident- it was not your fault.”
John interrupted “I pulled that trigger. Me. I took him away from you.”
His mom sighed “Okay. You did. For years, after that day, I felt like someone had torn off my wings and left me to drown. I felt like I would never be able to fly again, like I would never be happy again. But raising you, watching you grow up, gave me hope. You have so much potential and a long life left to live, but your guilt keeps you trapped inside the past. I have already forgiven you, and I know he has too,” she paused, “It’s time that you forgive yourself.”
“What if I can’t?”
“You need to. You owe it to your father to be the man he wanted you to be. You’ll never be able to do that if you keep on punishing yourself.”
John did not know how to reply. James was right. He knew his mother was speaking the truth but all he wanted to do was cover his ears and shut his eyes. He had spent everyday for the past twelve years training and refining his accuracy- proving to the world that he would never miss another shot. All of this, just to make up for the one shot that took his father's life. Worse yet, he defiled himself; he painted his hands in crimson with the lives of his victims in an effort to conceal the blood he shed twelve years ago. But who was he to decide who would live or die? He was no god. He never was and never would be. He had only ever been a boy: honest, clumsy, and- dare he say it- faultless. Now, however, he was a man. A man who used other people’s lives to indulge in years of self-pity. This sin, he deserved to pay for.
In that moment, Johnny Doe finally broke free of his cocoon and unfurled his wings. For twelve years he had remained in that shell, unready to see the light that lay beyond. But now, he wanted to taste freedom- no matter what the cost may be.

SCENE SEVEN

“In an unexpected turn of events for the ****** case of Oliver Baxter, the city’s most elusive hitman has turned himself in and pleaded guilty,” said the voice from the bar’s flat screen TV.
A well-past-sober James lifted his head from the bar counter and turned up the volume.
“A complete genius, that one is,” he muttered to himself.
“The young man of 24 has identified himself as John Edwards Doe,” she continued.
James froze. He slowly turned his head towards the screen, frightened about what he might see. Plastered on the screen, with his unmistakable tortoise shell glasses and shock of red hair, was a mugshot of the man that sat beside him mere hours ago.
“Thanks to the city much-relieved police force, I can say with confidence that John Doe has finally taken his last shot,” she said.
The newscaster began to elaborate on the details of the trial but James was no longer listening. He rubbed his eyes and looked again at the screen. After a long moment of disbelief, he called out to the bartender.
“I think I need another shot.”
Prologue
A raw, unfiltered scream filled the air. The boy dropped the gun and rushed towards the body lying beside the wooden stand. The man before him was clutching his stomach- his t-shirt soaked with blood. His eyes began to well up with tears as he cradled his father in his arms. Groaning softly, the man used his free arm to touch the boy’s cheek.
“Shhhh. It’s okay. I know it was an accident,” the man said.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. We’ll get you to a hospital,” the boy choked out. “The doctors will fix you. I promise.”
The boy was trembling with a sob caught in his throat, and his head buried in his father’s chest.
“Hey, you’re gonna be okay, son. Look at me-”
He coughed suddenly and a stream of blood began to spill from his mouth,
“I forgive you. But listen to me, you won’t be able to fix me. Just know that I will always be proud of you and the great man that you will one day become.”
With that final assurance, his hands finally fell limp.
You must understand: when a child opens his eyes for the first time, he is like a caterpillar. As the years go by, his growth is measured by the number of skins he sheds as he outgrows another version of himself. And for each one that he discards, there will be another, buried deep inside of him, that will be drawn closer towards reality. Then one day, he will collapse into himself.
For this freshly-bereaved little boy, it is time to seek refuge and rebuild. For many years he will be consumed with the thought that he is not ready to be a man. He will refuse to leave his chrysalis. Eventually, he will forget about the world that lies beyond its walls until the day finally comes where he will have to make a choice: remain a boy or become the man his father wanted him to be.

SCENE ONE
MANY YEARS LATER…
A medley of voices sounded in the air as hundreds of city-dwellers navigated their way around the rush hour traffic. Horns blared all around them, and the skies were grey and dripped with moisture.
Jaywalking across Oak and fifth with a cold cappuccino in hand, was a frazzled young man named John. His freckled face was lined with worry as he stole another glance at his wristwatch and quickened his pace. On days like this, John really hated having a day-job.
A welcome distraction presented itself as the sudden playing of ‘I Want It that Way’ by Backstreet Boys. The woman beside him raised her eyebrows and glanced at his front pocket. Smiling sheepishly, he pulled out his phone. After pushing up his glasses and bringing it within nanometres of his face, he finally made out the Caller ID. Eyes widening, he hastily answered the call.
“Hello, this is John speaking.”
“I expect that you are ready for tomorrow,” said the voice on the line.
“Of course. The scope I ordered arrived last night,” replied John.
John bit his lip and ran a hand through his messy red hair.
“Yet your last assignment left two of my men in prison” continued the voice. “Do not mistake me, if Oliver Baxter’s heart is still beating by the end of tomorrow, you will suffer the same fate as your father.”  John moved the phone away from his ear- fearful of going deaf.
“Whatever is left of your future relies on this mission. Don’t miss.”
Static took over the line. Then, silence.
John squeezed his eyes shut and became aware of the metallic taste in his mouth. His lip was bleeding. He rummaged through his bag and searched for pack of tissues. In his carelessness, his elbow banged up against his rifle. Quickly extracting the pack, he shoved the weapon further down the bag. He heaved a heavy sigh and nursed his elbow in his hand.
“Stop doubting yourself, John. He’s just another corrupt C.E.O.- he has it coming,” he muttered to himself. “Just get it done, Johnny, get it done.”

SCENE TWO

Just a block away from John, waiting impatiently at the corner of Oak and Robson, was a scowling dark-haired man with a 5 O’Clock morning shadow. The sleeves of his button-down were scrunched up to his elbows and his tie hung loosely around his neck.
Noticing the rain beginning to intensify, the man stuffed the rest of his croissant into his mouth in an attempt to salvage its flaky goodness. No such luck. With a guttural sigh, he tossed his napkin into a nearby trash bin and grumbled to himself about the disgrace that is cold, store-bought pastries.
Thankfully for him, his phone rang and interrupted his reverie of self-pity.
“Who’s calling?” He answered gruffly.
“James. Always the charmer,” drawled the voice from the other line. “Now, that's no way to greet an old friend.”
“Well, I didn’t get an answer for my question now did I?” James said through gritted teeth
Over the line, he could hear his caller clicking his tongue disapprovingly.
“It’s Aaron, my good man. Have you really forgotten?”
Oh yes, Aaron Benson. The pretentious Englishman he shared an apartment with in his college days- the one with a relentless infatuation with Kate Middleton.
“Of course. Aaron. I could never.”
He could only wish he had.
“I hear you’ve made a name for yourself as a photographer?” he questioned.
“What’s it to you?” James said.
“I have a job for you. My cousin is on a business trip to your side of the Atlantic over the weekend. Oliver Baxter, the CEO for some big menswear company in London. Top thirty under thirty kind of bloke. I can’t stand him, but he’s family. Anyway, his birthday’s coming up and my family wants you to have a photoshoot with him.” said Aaron
James sighed. “So you want me to take a couple headshots of pretty boy for his Forbes cover page?”
“No, no. Take my word, he is as unphotogenic as a dung beetle. I say that with love. Partially,” Aaron snickered. “Just take a couple pictures- he doesn’t need to look good. We just want something to add to the slideshow for a couple of laughs.”
“Alright, I’ll do it. Send me his specifics by the end of the day, and I’ll tell you where you should wire the payment.” said James
“I’m grateful. Aside from that, I just wanted to ask you again about that suit I left at our apartment when I flew back to London. Were you able to find-”
James hung up.
He was definitely not getting that suit back.
James didn’t feel too guilty. After all, he thought to himself, the guy has enough money to buy it three times over. If not, he could take a loan from Mr. Thirty under thirty.

SCENE THREE

Later that day, a bleary-eyed and yawning James stepped into a bar. Groaning softly, he massaged the crook of his neck- blistering red patches lined the areas where his camera strap had rested on mere minutes ago.  
The ever-familiar scent of liquor and sweat hung in the air. Suddenly, a cheer erupted from the back corner of the room. As his eyes finally adjusted to the dimly-lit space, he spotted a lanky, red-headed figure by the dart station. A stadium of intoxicated onlookers was chanting his name.
James’ fingers twitched to reach for his camera but he quickly quelled it. The lighting was not in his favour. He strode over towards an empty stool by the bar. Unsurprisingly, his eyes were still fixed on the strange fellow pushing up his tortoiseshell glasses and setting up his stance for another shot at the target.
Bullseye.
The crowd bellowed appreciatively.
Standing up from his table on the other side of the bar, a man called out to the stranger, “Hey kid! Bet you wouldn’t be so tough without those glasses!”
James scoffed. The guy had half of his shirt unbuttoned and a half-emptied beer mug in hand. Regardless, all eyes turned towards the ginger superstar.
The guy scratched the back of his neck and let out a nervous chuckle. Then, with a final shake of his head, he removed his lenses.
“How much?”
Drunken hollering ensued, as well as some severely off-target slaps on the back. James watched as he carefully placed his frames on the counter and caught the stranger’s eye. Leaning back on his stool, James raised his eyebrows at him and tilted his head. A boyish grin spread across the stranger’s face.
Laughing now, the man made his way back towards his station and readied himself. One, two, three…
The crowd roared. The dart, still quivering, was lodged precisely in the centre of the target.
James turned away from the mayhem and ordered a drink. Coming up from behind him, the dart-savvy stranger slid into the seat next to him.
“Just some water, please.”
“Sure thing, hon,” said the bartender.
James looked to the man beside him and nodded curtly. Eyes twinkling, the boy smiled back.
“I take it you weren’t impressed by my little stunt up there.”
No response.
“My name’s John. John Doe actually. I wish I was kidding.”
James finally afforded him his attention.
“Bond. James Bond. I know the struggle.”
“Our parents really did us wrong, didn’t they?” said John.
James raised his glass.
“Cheers to that.” After both men had taken a sip of their drinks, James continued, “So, you don’t really need those glasses do you?”
“Well, of course I need them,” said John “but it’s not like I’m legally blind without them. I take it you don’t have any lenses for yourself?” he asked
“Yes, I do actually- a different kind though. I carry all my lenses with me, even my scope,” James explained, gently patting the bag hanging across his shoulders.
John’s eyes widened.
“It’s nice to finally meet someone from my own line of work,” said John.
“Really? There’s a ton of us in the city. People here pay a pretty penny for just a couple shots,” James replied dubiously.
“Very true. One time an MLA candidate offered me over two million to take care of, and I quote, ‘an old friend,’” agreed John.
“****, that’s a real friend right there,” said James, shaking his head. “So, are you the type to schedule appointments with your assignments, or do you prefer candids?”
“I’d say candids for sure,” replied John. “It’s easier when people aren’t suspecting it. That way it’s just one and done. The real nightmare comes when you’re asked to shoot multiple people.”
“The worst part of the job!” James sighed, rolling his eyes, “It’s so much quicker to find the perfect angle when you only have to worry about one guy.”
“Exactly! Clients are always so demanding! Don’t even get me started on scheduling families,” exclaimed John, throwing his hands into the air. “Married couples are understable, though. I can see why you would want to do both at the same time- so you can make sure you don’t leave any loose ends.”
James nodded in agreement.
“It’s just a pain, given that some jobs can takes hours to complete,” said James. “The subject either keeps on moving, or you can’t get the right angle. It makes my hair turn grey.”
John sat up straighter, enjoying the conversation.“Hear me out, I have seen my fair share of husbands and wives calling in for me to take care of their spouse,” carried on John. “Honestly, it makes me reconsider having a love life…”
Sniggering, James replied, “The only thing worse is when they get their kids involved. It physically pains me to have to include them when I’m taking my shots.”
“Truthfully, I’ve gotten to the point where if a client asks me to take down a kid, I just hang up. It’s not worth the trouble… or the emotional scars.” John said, eyes darkening.
“I wish I had the ***** to do something like that,” said James, looking at John with admiration, “but I just can’t afford to. I have to pay my rent somehow, you know?”
“Well, I started out pretty young so I think I’ve made a name for myself among the more influential circles. Although, for the public, I try to keep a low profile. But it’s getting harder now that more of my shots are making the headlines,” said John.
“Not bad, kid.” said James. “I got into this whole business while I was still in college as a way to pay for my tuition. Man, you go in there, thinking that all those frat-boys and sorority-girls are just a bunch of alcoholic party-goers, but when they go and hire you… I still have nightmares about the things they made me do,” James whispered, shivering.
“Fascinating!” replied John. “I didn’t know that colleges dabbled in our kind of underground operations.”
“They come with occupational hazards,” said James.
“Most of my assignments nowadays consist of old clients calling in a favour,” shared John. “I’ll end up tracking down some really important people- world leaders and such.”
James whistled appreciatively.
John continued, “It’s especially fun to fire your shot while they’re making a speech. It’s all so dramatic, and the shot almost freezes time for a second.”
“Have you been assigned to any higher-ups recently?” Said James.
“Yes, actually. A shareholder for some big entertainment outlet put me on Stan Lee.”
“You shot Stan Lee! I’ve been a fan of him for years! Do you still have the pictures?”
“Uh, I mean, I don’t really save pictures of the people I shoot… “ said John, scratching his head. “It leaves a paper trail, and I prefer to stay anonymous. Their photos usually end up on the news anyway,” said John
“It’s a shame that he died. At least his legacy lives on,” said James, frowning slightly.
“Well, of course he’s dead. I did shoot him...” John said, furrowing his eyebrows, but James didn’t hear him.
The rest of the night passed by quickly as the two continued to share their stories,and marvel at their uncanny similarities. It was a miracle, truly, that they were able to find another man who understood them so deeply.

SCENE FOUR
THE FOLLOWING DAY...
John crept towards the edge of the rooftop. Across from him, a couple stories below, was the window to Oliver Baxter’s suite. His hands were shaking. You’re just cold he thought to himself, It's nothing more. He slowly unzipped the top of his bag and and pulled out his rifle. After he made sure his weapon was loaded, he reached back into his bag to pull out his scope and brought out-
“A camera lens? Why would I have a camera lens”- the realization struck him- “James. I’m so stupid. He’s not another hitman- he’s a photographer. And he’s got my scope, too.”
His musings were stopped short; Oliver Baxter had just re-entered his room.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” he muttered to himself. “Today of all days…”
John reluctantly returned the camera lens to his bag. He couldn’t waste any more time.
“I guess I’ll have to use the old one.”
Annoyed, he reached into the front pocket of his bag and pulled out a small, scratched contraption. A gun scope! Albeit, a rather unimpressive model. “It’s a good thing I kept my old one as a backup. Who doesn’t love a good case of Chanel versus Walmart?”
Hint: Not John.
Unaware of the hitman outside his window, Mr. Baxter finally ended his call and plopped down onto a nearby armchair. With his looming height, his neck easily rose above the top of the chair. Sighing, he ran a callused hand through his hair and leaned back.
John swiftly finished setting up his stand. Just as he was about to about to fire, a butterfly fluttered towards him and landed on top of the trigger. It’s miniature wings were coloured with vivid reds, sparkling greens, and candy-apple oranges. John shrugged it off.
It was time. John exhaled shakily and closed his eyes. Why was he hesitating? This was not his first assignment. Although, it was his first time being assigned to someone from outside the country. He knew nothing of Oliver Baxter. Unlike his past victims, John had no way to gauge that the man was worthy of his fate. Standing alone on the top of an abandoned warehouse, John desperately wished that he wasn’t making a mistake.
Suddenly, the image of his father lying in a pool of crimson flashed beneath his closed eyelids. His ears rang with the sound of the bullet that tore through his skin. His hands still remembered the weight of his dying body- the wetness of his blood that stained his fingertips.
“You won’t be able to fix me,” his father had whispered to him.
He was right.
Suddenly, another voice, booming and full of static, echoed throughout his mind.
“Don’t miss.”
John opened his eyes and a familiar calmness overtook him. He pressed the trigger.
Not so far away, Oliver Baxter slumped into his chair.
“I never miss.”

SCENE FIVE

By the time our friend James Bond came to pay his own visit to Mr. Baxter, John had already slipped in and cleaned up after himself. Assuredly, he had changed the man into a nondescript red hoodie and tucked him securely into his bed. He even took the liberty of placing Mr. Baxter’s phone on silent. John had a feeling that Mr. Baxter wouldn’t mind. When he was finally satisfied with his handiwork, he took his leave.
Not long after, a huffing and puffing James Bond arrived on the 15th floor. With his patchy red cheeks and sweaty brow, he was truly a sight for sore eyes. He stepped out of the stairwell and muttered a series of curse words underneath his breath. Gritting his teeth, he walked over to the shining elevator doors beside him and gave them a hard kick. The “Out of Order” sign hanging off of it floated to the floor, and James whimpered as he nursed his aching toe.
“I’ll be ******- taking a picture of a monkey would’ve been easier than this.”
He stood in the hallway for a little while longer and gathered his wits. After the pain subsided, he strode over to the C.E.O.’s door and knocked. He immediately positioned himself to capture a candid of Mr. Baxter as he opened the door. No one came. John tried again. No answer. Finally, his patience worn thin. James fished out the keys he had flirtatiously convinced the new receptionist downstairs to lend him and carefully unlocked the hotel door. He stepped inside and surveyed the suite in search of his assignment only to find him underneath the freshly-washed blankets of his bed- sound asleep.
“Well then… Aaron did say it didn’t have to be a good photo.”
Shrugging, James reached into his bag for his camera lens and pulled it out.
“What the hell? This isn’t mine.” James said. He narrowed his eyes and examined the object in his hand. The instrument was long and bulbous with two black clamps attached to the bottom. Although, the clamps did not open wide enough to fit a camera- it almost looked as if they were meant to be attached to some some sort of cylinder. He peered through and in the middle of the lens lay a bright red dot. He supposed he and John must have inadvertently swapped lenses in the bar.
Then, he came to a realization.
“I see what’s going on here!” James proclaimed a little too loudly, “John must use this for long range pictures. Must be some new tech- and pretty expensive too. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
For a split-second, James was tempted to pocket it, but a twinge of guilt urged him to return it to his bag. Sighing, he put away his camera and pulled out his phone. Aaron would have to make do with some lesser quality resolution.
James knelt down with his makeshift camera poised for the shot. Aaron had made no exaggerations about his cousin. The man was unnaturally pale and smelled strongly of… detergent? Honestly, a corpse would have looked more alive. His jaw was slack and, peculiarly enough, a red hoodie was pulled over his matted hair. A British thing, maybe? At the very least, he had the decency not to snore or drool.
Once satisfied with his pictures, James walked swiftly out the door and locked it behind him. By the time he had completed the tiresome journey back to the first floor, he had saved the photographs onto his USB drive. The only thing he had left to do was send them to Aaron.

SCENE SIX

When John entered the bar again, his eyes immediately fell on his companion from last night- the cynical James Bond. Given his current state, perhaps it would be wiser to keep his distance. Then again, when had he ever made the smart decision?
John greeted James as he collapsed into the stool next to him.
“Heard the news?” slurred James, “Oliver Baxter, up-and-coming C.E.O. of some big London company was found dead a couple hours ago.”
John’s heart skipped a beat. He responded carefully.
“No, this is news to me. I guess I was a little too busy today at work… You know, shooting my shots. In my photography studio. With my camera. That I use for photography, “ replied John.
James looked at him strangely.
John continued, “Poor guy. Never heard of him before, though. Oliver Brown, was it?”
“Baxter, not Brown,” James corrected him.
“Of course. Baxter. Sorry, I’m bad with names,” said John. He stole a glance at his friend, hoping he wasn’t seeing through him. Fortunately for him, James was too busy staring glumly into the frothy contents of his beer mug. “I’m sorry. Did he mean anything to you?”
“He was my assignment,” replied James. “When I came into his room for his shoot, he was asleep. My client, his cousin, said that he didn’t need to look good for the picture, so I snapped a couple shots of him like that and left. Turns out he wasn’t sleeping. Just dead.”
John’s throat tightened. Out of all the pessimistic photographers in the city, he just had to befriend the one who’s assignment he killed, didn’t he?
“It’s not your fault. No one would have expected him to be dead,” said John.
He had made sure of it.
Chuckling mirthlessly, James replied, “People always see the truth. One way or another, they see people for who they truly are, and see themselves for who they’ve become. They’re only either too scared to admit it, or they cover their eyes. What’s funny is that in our line of work it almost becomes the opposite. You don’t see anybody as either ordinary or extraordinary. You see them simply as people in front of your lens. Then one day, they stop being people at all.”
John’s stomach dropped. His friend did not give himself enough credit; James was not a horrible man. At least, he was not as awful as the man sitting beside him.
“Well, as photographers,” said John, “We also know that the truth can be ugly. And when you capture it with the perfect shot- when you shoot the right person, at the right time, in the right place- it comes back to haunt you.”
James lifted his eyes from the table and met his. Raising his half-empty glass to him, he whispered, “To the shots that haunt us.”
“To the shots that haunt us,” John repeated.

*
Not long after their grim declaration, John decided to return home. By that time, only streetlights continued to shine. His glasses could do little to aid his vision, but he still managed to make out the overstuffed mailbox in front of his house. With a roll of his eyes, he walked over to it, pushed the “No Flyers or Junk Mail” sign aside, and collected their ever-punctual delivery of coupons.
He swiftly unlocked the front door and closed it behind him. Just as he was about to reach for the remote and commence some much-needed binge-therapy, he realized that his mother was already seated on the sofa.
“Hey, mom,” he said as he walked over to her and kissed her forehead.
“You’ve come home late tonight, Johnny,” she said. “I’ve been spending the past few hours rifling through these albums.”
Surely enough, stacked up on the coffee table in front of them was a collection of his family’s photo albums. It was at that moment when the realization struck him.
“It’s been twelve years,” he whispered.
How could he have forgotten what day it was?
“Every day after your dad died feels like a lifetime.”
“Every day after I killed-”
His mother cut him off, “Don’t you finish that sentence.”
John cast his eyes downward and pursed his lips. Her eyes softened and she lifted the album off of her lap and placed it onto the table.
“Johnny, look at me,” she said. “What happened to your father was an accident- it was not your fault.”
John interrupted “I pulled that trigger. Me. I took him away from you.”
His mom sighed “Okay. You did. For years, after that day, I felt like someone had torn off my wings and left me to drown. I felt like I would never be able to fly again, like I would never be happy again. But raising you, watching you grow up, gave me hope. You have so much potential and a long life left to live, but your guilt keeps you trapped inside the past. I have already forgiven you, and I know he has too,” she paused, “It’s time that you forgive yourself.”
“What if I can’t?”
“You need to. You owe it to your father to be the man he wanted you to be. You’ll never be able to do that if you keep on punishing yourself.”
John did not know how to reply. James was right. He knew his mother was speaking the truth but all he wanted to do was cover his ears and shut his eyes. He had spent everyday for the past twelve years training and refining his accuracy- proving to the world that he would never miss another shot. All of this, just to make up for the one shot that took his father's life. Worse yet, he defiled himself; he painted his hands in crimson with the lives of his victims in an effort to conceal the blood he shed twelve years ago. But who was he to decide who would live or die? He was no god. He never was and never would be. He had only ever been a boy: honest, clumsy, and- dare he say it- faultless. Now, however, he was a man. A man who used other people’s lives to indulge in years of self-pity. This sin, he deserved to pay for.
In that moment, Johnny Doe finally broke free of his cocoon and unfurled his wings. For twelve years he had remained in that shell, unready to see the light that lay beyond. But now, he wanted to taste freedom- no matter what the cost may be.

SCENE SEVEN

“In an unexpected turn of events for the ****** case of Oliver Baxter, the city’s most elusive hitman has turned himself in and pleaded guilty,” said the voice from the bar’s flat screen TV.
A well-past-sober James lifted his head from the bar counter and turned up the volume.
“A complete genius, that one is,” he muttered to himself.
“The young man of 24 has identified himself as John Edwards Doe,” she continued.
James froze. He slowly turned his head towards the screen, frightened about what he might see. Plastered on the screen, with his unmistakable tortoise shell glasses and shock of red hair, was a mugshot of the man that sat beside him mere hours ago.
“Thanks to the city much-relieved police force, I can say with confidence that John Doe has finally taken his last shot,” she said.
The newscaster began to elaborate on the details of the trial but James was no longer listening. He rubbed his eyes and looked again at the screen. After a long moment of disbelief, he called out to the bartender.
“I think I need another shot.”
Prologue
A raw, unfiltered scream filled the air. The boy dropped the gun and rushed towards the body lying beside the wooden stand. The man before him was clutching his stomach- his t-shirt soaked with blood. His eyes began to well up with tears as he cradled his father in his arms. Groaning softly, the man used his free arm to touch the boy’s cheek.
“Shhhh. It’s okay. I know it was an accident,” the man said.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. We’ll get you to a hospital,” the boy choked out. “The doctors will fix you. I promise.”
The boy was trembling with a sob caught in his throat, and his head buried in his father’s chest.
“Hey, you’re gonna be okay, son. Look at me-”
He coughed suddenly and a stream of blood began to spill from his mouth,
“I forgive you. But listen to me, you won’t be able to fix me. Just know that I will always be proud of you and the great man that you will one day become.”
With that final assurance, his hands finally fell limp.
You must understand: when a child opens his eyes for the first time, he is like a caterpillar. As the years go by, his growth is measured by the number of skins he sheds as he outgrows another version of himself. And for each one that he discards, there will be another, buried deep inside of him, that will be drawn closer towards reality. Then one day, he will collapse into himself.
For this freshly-bereaved little boy, it is time to seek refuge and rebuild. For many years he will be consumed with the thought that he is not ready to be a man. He will refuse to leave his chrysalis. Eventually, he will forget about the world that lies beyond its walls until the day finally comes where he will have to make a choice: remain a boy or become the man his father wanted him to be.

SCENE ONE
MANY YEARS LATER…
A medley of voices sounded in the air as hundreds of city-dwellers navigated their way around the rush hour traffic. Horns blared all around them, and the skies were grey and dripped with moisture.
Jaywalking across Oak and fifth with a cold cappuccino in hand, was a frazzled young man named John. His freckled face was lined with worry as he stole another glance at his wristwatch and quickened his pace. On days like this, John really hated having a day-job.
A welcome distraction presented itself as the sudden playing of ‘I Want It that Way’ by Backstreet Boys. The woman beside him raised her eyebrows and glanced at his front pocket. Smiling sheepishly, he pulled out his phone. After pushing up his glasses and bringing it within nanometres of his face, he finally made out the Caller ID. Eyes widening, he hastily answered the call.
“Hello, this is John speaking.”
“I expect that you are ready for tomorrow,” said the voice on the line.
“Of course. The scope I ordered arrived last night,” replied John.
John bit his lip and ran a hand through his messy red hair.
“Yet your last assignment left two of my men in prison” continued the voice. “Do not mistake me, if Oliver Baxter’s heart is still beating by the end of tomorrow, you will suffer the same fate as your father.”  John moved the phone away from his ear- fearful of going deaf.
“Whatever is left of your future relies on this mission. Don’t miss.”
Static took over the line. Then, silence.
John squeezed his eyes shut and became aware of the metallic taste in his mouth. His lip was bleeding. He rummaged through his bag and searched for pack of tissues. In his carelessness, his elbow banged up against his rifle. Quickly extracting the pack, he shoved the weapon further down the bag. He heaved a heavy sigh and nursed his elbow in his hand.
“Stop doubting yourself, John. He’s just another corrupt C.E.O.- he has it coming,” he muttered to himself. “Just get it done, Johnny, get it done.”

SCENE TWO

Just a block away from John, waiting impatiently at the corner of Oak and Robson, was a scowling dark-haired man with a 5 O’Clock morning shadow. The sleeves of his button-down were scrunched up to his elbows and his tie hung loosely around his neck.
Noticing the rain beginning to intensify, the man stuffed the rest of his croissant into his mouth in an attempt to salvage its flaky goodness. No such luck. With a guttural sigh, he tossed his napkin into a nearby trash bin and grumbled to himself about the disgrace that is cold, store-bought pastries.
Thankfully for him, his phone rang and interrupted his reverie of self-pity.
“Who’s calling?” He answered gruffly.
“James. Always the charmer,” drawled the voice from the other line. “Now, that's no way to greet an old friend.”
“Well, I didn’t get an answer for my question now did I?” James said through gritted teeth
Over the line, he could hear his caller clicking his tongue disapprovingly.
“It’s Aaron, my good man. Have you really forgotten?”
Oh yes, Aaron Benson. The pretentious Englishman he shared an apartment with in his college days- the one with a relentless infatuation with Kate Middleton.
“Of course. Aaron. I could never.”
He could only wish he had.
“I hear you’ve made a name for yourself as a photographer?” he questioned.
“What’s it to you?” James said.
“I have a job for you. My cousin is on a business trip to your side of the Atlantic over the weekend. Oliver Baxter, the CEO for some big menswear company in London. Top thirty under thirty kind of bloke. I can’t stand him, but he’s family. Anyway, his birthday’s coming up and my family wants you to have a photoshoot with him.” said Aaron
James sighed. “So you want me to take a couple headshots of pretty boy for his Forbes cover page?”
“No, no. Take my word, he is as unphotogenic as a dung beetle. I say that with love. Partially,” Aaron snickered. “Just take a couple pictures- he doesn’t need to look good. We just want something to add to the slideshow for a couple of laughs.”
“Alright, I’ll do it. Send me his specifics by the end of the day, and I’ll tell you where you should wire the payment.” said James
“I’m grateful. Aside from that, I just wanted to ask you again about that suit I left at our apartment when I flew back to London. Were you able to find-”
James hung up.
He was definitely not getting that suit back.
James didn’t feel too guilty. After all, he thought to himself, the guy has enough money to buy it three times over. If not, he could take a loan from Mr. Thirty under thirty.

SCENE THREE

Later that day, a bleary-eyed and yawning James stepped into a bar. Groaning softly, he massaged the crook of his neck- blistering red patches lined the areas where his camera strap had rested on mere minutes ago.  
The ever-familiar scent of liquor and sweat hung in the air. Suddenly, a cheer erupted from the back corner of the room. As his eyes finally adjusted to the dimly-lit space, he spotted a lanky, red-headed figure by the dart station. A stadium of intoxicated onlookers was chanting his name.
James’ fingers twitched to reach for his camera but he quickly quelled it. The lighting was not in his favour. He strode over towards an empty stool by the bar. Unsurprisingly, his eyes were still fixed on the strange fellow pushing up his tortoiseshell glasses and setting up his stance for another shot at the target.
Bullseye.
The crowd bellowed appreciatively.
Standing up from his table on the other side of the bar, a man called out to the stranger, “Hey kid! Bet you wouldn’t be so tough without those glasses!”
James scoffed. The guy had half of his shirt unbuttoned and a half-emptied beer mug in hand. Regardless, all eyes turned towards the ginger superstar.
The guy scratched the back of his neck and let out a nervous chuckle. Then, with a final shake of his head, he removed his lenses.
“How much?”
Drunken hollering ensued, as well as some severely off-target slaps on the back. James watched as he carefully placed his frames on the counter and caught the stranger’s eye. Leaning back on his stool, James raised his eyebrows at him and tilted his head. A boyish grin spread across the stranger’s face.
Laughing now, the man made his way back towards his station and readied himself. One, two, three…
The crowd roared. The dart, still quivering, was lodged precisely in the centre of the target.
James turned away from the mayhem and ordered a drink. Coming up from behind him, the dart-savvy stranger slid into the seat next to him.
“Just some water, please.”
“Sure thing, hon,” said the bartender.
James looked to the man beside him and nodded curtly. Eyes twinkling, the boy smiled back.
“I take it you weren’t impressed by my little stunt up there.”
No response.
“My name’s John. John Doe actually. I wish I was kidding.”
James finally afforded him his attention.
“Bond. James Bond. I know the struggle.”
“Our parents really did us wrong, didn’t they?” said John.
James raised his glass.
“Cheers to that.” After both men had taken a sip of their drinks, James continued, “So, you don’t really need those glasses do you?”
“Well, of course I need them,” said John “but it’s not like I’m legally blind without them. I take it you don’t have any lenses for yourself?” he asked
“Yes, I do actually- a different kind though. I carry all my lenses with me, even my scope,” James explained, gently patting the bag hanging across his shoulders.
John’s eyes widened.
“It’s nice to finally meet someone from my own line of work,” said John.
“Really? There’s a ton of us in the city. People here pay a pretty penny for just a couple shots,” James replied dubiously.
“Very true. One time an MLA candidate offered me over two million to take care of, and I quote, ‘an old friend,’” agreed John.
“****, that’s a real friend right there,” said James, shaking his head. “So, are you the type to schedule appointments with your assignments, or do you prefer candids?”
“I’d say candids for sure,” replied John. “It’s easier when people aren’t suspecting it. That way it’s just one and done. The real nightmare comes when you’re asked to shoot multiple people.”
“The worst part of the job!” James sighed, rolling his eyes, “It’s so much quicker to find the perfect angle when you only have to worry about one guy.”
“Exactly! Clients are always so demanding! Don’t even get me started on scheduling families,” exclaimed John, throwing his hands into the air. “Married couples are understable, though. I can see why you would want to do both at the same time- so you can make sure you don’t leave any loose ends.”
James nodded in agreement.
“It’s just a pain, given that some jobs can takes hours to complete,” said James. “The subject either keeps on moving, or you can’t get the right angle. It makes my hair turn grey.”
John sat up straighter, enjoying the conversation.“Hear me out, I have seen my fair share of husbands and wives calling in for me to take care of their spouse,” carried on John. “Honestly, it makes me reconsider having a love life…”
Sniggering, James replied, “The only thing worse is when they get their kids involved. It physically pains me to have to include them when I’m taking my shots.”
“Truthfully, I’ve gotten to the point where if a client asks me to take down a kid, I just hang up. It’s not worth the trouble… or the emotional scars.” John said, eyes darkening.
“I wish I had the ***** to do something like that,” said James, looking at John with admiration, “but I just can’t afford to. I have to pay my rent somehow, you know?”
“Well, I started out pretty young so I think I’ve made a name for myself among the more influential circles. Although, for the public, I try to keep a low profile. But it’s getting harder now that more of my shots are making the headlines,” said John.
“Not bad, kid.” said James. “I got into this whole business while I was still in college as a way to pay for my tuition. Man, you go in there, thinking that all those frat-boys and sorority-girls are just a bunch of alcoholic party-goers, but when they go and hire you… I still have nightmares about the things they made me do,” James whispered, shivering.
“Fascinating!” replied John. “I didn’t know that colleges dabbled in our kind of underground operations.”
“They come with occupational hazards,” said James.
“Most of my assignments nowadays consist of old clients calling in a favour,” shared John. “I’ll end up tracking down some really important people- world leaders and such.”
James whistled appreciatively.
John continued, “It’s especially fun to fire your shot while they’re making a speech. It’s all so dramatic, and the shot almost freezes time for a second.”
“Have you been assigned to any higher-ups recently?” Said James.
“Yes, actually. A shareholder for some big entertainment outlet put me on Stan Lee.”
“You shot Stan Lee! I’ve been a fan of him for years! Do you still have the pictures?”
“Uh, I mean, I don’t really save pictures of the people I shoot… “ said John, scratching his head. “It leaves a paper trail, and I prefer to stay anonymous. Their photos usually end up on the news anyway,” said John
“It’s a shame that he died. At least his legacy lives on,” said James, frowning slightly.
“Well, of course he’s dead. I did shoot him...” John said, furrowing his eyebrows, but James didn’t hear him.
The rest of the night passed by quickly as the two continued to share their stories,and marvel at their uncanny similarities. It was a miracle, truly, that they were able to find another man who understood them so deeply.

SCENE FOUR
THE FOLLOWING DAY...
John crept towards the edge of the rooftop. Across from him, a couple stories below, was the window to Oliver Baxter’s suite. His hands were shaking. You’re just cold he thought to himself, It's nothing more. He slowly unzipped the top of his bag and and pulled out his rifle. After he made sure his weapon was loaded, he reached back into his bag to pull out his scope and brought out-
“A camera lens? Why would I have a camera lens”- the realization struck him- “James. I’m so stupid. He’s not another hitman- he’s a photographer. And he’s got my scope, too.”
His musings were stopped short; Oliver Baxter had just re-entered his room.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” he muttered to himself. “Today of all days…”
John reluctantly returned the camera lens to his bag. He couldn’t waste any more time.
“I guess I’ll have to use the old one.”
Annoyed, he reached into the front pocket of his bag and pulled out a small, scratched contraption. A gun scope! Albeit, a rather unimpressive model. “It’s a good thing I kept my old one as a backup. Who doesn’t love a good case of Chanel versus Walmart?”
Hint: Not John.
Unaware of the hitman outside his window, Mr. Baxter finally ended his call and plopped down onto a nearby armchair. With his looming height, his neck easily rose above the top of the chair. Sighing, he ran a callused hand through his hair and leaned back.
John swiftly finished setting up his stand. Just as he was about to about to fire, a butterfly fluttered towards him and landed on top of the trigger. It’s miniature wings were coloured with vivid reds, sparkling greens, and candy-apple oranges. John shrugged it off.
It was time. John exhaled shakily and closed his eyes. Why was he hesitating? This was not his first assignment. Although, it was his first time being assigned to someone from outside the country. He knew nothing of Oliver Baxter. Unlike his past victims, John had no way to gauge that the man was worthy of his fate. Standing alone on the top of an abandoned warehouse, John desperately wished that he wasn’t making a mistake.
Suddenly, the image of his father lying in a pool of crimson flashed beneath his closed eyelids. His ears rang with the sound of the bullet that tore through his skin. His hands still remembered the weight of his dying body- the wetness of his blood that stained his fingertips.
“You won’t be able to fix me,” his father had whispered to him.
He was right.
Suddenly, another voice, booming and full of static, echoed throughout his mind.
“Don’t miss.”
John opened his eyes and a familiar calmness overtook him. He pressed the trigger.
Not so far away, Oliver Baxter slumped into his chair.
“I never miss.”

SCENE FIVE

By the time our friend James Bond came to pay his own visit to Mr. Baxter, John had already slipped in and cleaned up after himself. Assuredly, he had changed the man into a nondescript red hoodie and tucked him securely into his bed. He even took the liberty of placing Mr. Baxter’s phone on silent. John had a feeling that Mr. Baxter wouldn’t mind. When he was finally satisfied with his handiwork, he took his leave.
Not long after, a huffing and puffing James Bond arrived on the 15th floor. With his patchy red cheeks and sweaty brow, he was truly a sight for sore eyes. He stepped out of the stairwell and muttered a series of curse words underneath his breath. Gritting his teeth, he walked over to the shining elevator doors beside him and gave them a hard kick. The “Out of Order” sign hanging off of it floated to the floor, and James whimpered as he nursed his aching toe.
“I’ll be ******- taking a picture of a monkey would’ve been easier than this.”
He stood in the hallway for a little while longer and gathered his wits. After the pain subsided, he strode over to the C.E.O.’s door and knocked. He immediately positioned himself to capture a candid of Mr. Baxter as he opened the door. No one came. John tried again. No answer. Finally, his patience worn thin. James fished out the keys he had flirtatiously convinced the new receptionist downstairs to lend him and carefully unlocked the hotel door. He stepped inside and surveyed the suite in search of his assignment only to find him underneath the freshly-washed blankets of his bed- sound asleep.
“Well then… Aaron did say it didn’t have to be a good photo.”
Shrugging, James reached into his bag for his camera lens and pulled it out.
“What the hell? This isn’t mine.” James said. He narrowed his eyes and examined the object in his hand. The instrument was long and bulbous with two black clamps attached to the bottom. Although, the clamps did not open wide enough to fit a camera- it almost looked as if they were meant to be attached to some some sort of cylinder. He peered through and in the middle of the lens lay a bright red dot. He supposed he and John must have inadvertently swapped lenses in the bar.
Then, he came to a realization.
“I see what’s going on here!” James proclaimed a little too loudly, “John must use this for long range pictures. Must be some new tech- and pretty expensive too. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
For a split-second, James was tempted to pocket it, but a twinge of guilt urged him to return it to his bag. Sighing, he put away his camera and pulled out his phone. Aaron would have to make do with some lesser quality resolution.
James knelt down with his makeshift camera poised for the shot. Aaron had made no exaggerations about his cousin. The man was unnaturally pale and smelled strongly of… detergent? Honestly, a corpse would have looked more alive. His jaw was slack and, peculiarly enough, a red hoodie was pulled over his matted hair. A British thing, maybe? At the very least, he had the decency not to snore or drool.
Once satisfied with his pictures, James walked swiftly out the door and locked it behind him. By the time he had completed the tiresome journey back to the first floor, he had saved the photographs onto his USB drive. The only thing he had left to do was send them to Aaron.

SCENE SIX

When John entered the bar again, his eyes immediately fell on his companion from last night- the cynical James Bond. Given his current state, perhaps it would be wiser to keep his distance. Then again, when had he ever made the smart decision?
John greeted James as he collapsed into the stool next to him.
“Heard the news?” slurred James, “Oliver Baxter, up-and-coming C.E.O. of some big London company was found dead a couple hours ago.”
John’s heart skipped a beat. He responded carefully.
“No, this is news to me. I guess I was a little too busy today at work… You know, shooting my shots. In my photography studio. With my camera. That I use for photography, “ replied John.
James looked at him strangely.
John continued, “Poor guy. Never heard of him before, though. Oliver Brown, was it?”
“Baxter, not Brown,” James corrected him.
“Of course. Baxter. Sorry, I’m bad with names,” said John. He stole a glance at his friend, hoping he wasn’t seeing through him. Fortunately for him, James was too busy staring glumly into the frothy contents of his beer mug. “I’m sorry. Did he mean anything to you?”
“He was my assignment,” replied James. “When I came into his room for his shoot, he was asleep. My client, his cousin, said that he didn’t need to look good for the picture, so I snapped a couple shots of him like that and left. Turns out he wasn’t sleeping. Just dead.”
John’s throat tightened. Out of all the pessimistic photographers in the city, he just had to befriend the one who’s assignment he killed, didn’t he?
“It’s not your fault. No one would have expected him to be dead,” said John.
He had made sure of it.
Chuckling mirthlessly, James replied, “People always see the truth. One way or another, they see people for who they truly are, and see themselves for who they’ve become. They’re only either too scared to admit it, or they cover their eyes. What’s funny is that in our line of work it almost becomes the opposite. You don’t see anybody as either ordinary or extraordinary. You see them simply as people in front of your lens. Then one day, they stop being people at all.”
John’s stomach dropped. His friend did not give himself enough credit; James was not a horrible man. At least, he was not as awful as the man sitting beside him.
“Well, as photographers,” said John, “We also know that the truth can be ugly. And when you capture it with the perfect shot- when you shoot the right person, at the right time, in the right place- it comes back to haunt you.”
James lifted his eyes from the table and met his. Raising his half-empty glass to him, he whispered, “To the shots that haunt us.”
“To the shots that haunt us,” John repeated.

*
Not long after their grim declaration, John decided to return home. By that time, only streetlights continued to shine. His glasses could do little to aid his vision, but he still managed to make out the overstuffed mailbox in front of his house. With a roll of his eyes, he walked over to it, pushed the “No Flyers or Junk Mail” sign aside, and collected their ever-punctual delivery of coupons.
He swiftly unlocked the front door and closed it behind him. Just as he was about to reach for the remote and commence some much-needed binge-therapy, he realized that his mother was already seated on the sofa.
“Hey, mom,” he said as he walked over to her and kissed her forehead.
“You’ve come home late tonight, Johnny,” she said. “I’ve been spending the past few hours rifling through these albums.”
Surely enough, stacked up on the coffee table in front of them was a collection of his family’s photo albums. It was at that moment when the realization struck him.
“It’s been twelve years,” he whispered.
How could he have forgotten what day it was?
“Every day after your dad died feels like a lifetime.”
“Every day after I killed-”
His mother cut him off, “Don’t you finish that sentence.”
John cast his eyes downward and pursed his lips. Her eyes softened and she lifted the album off of her lap and placed it onto the table.
“Johnny, look at me,” she said. “What happened to your father was an accident- it was not your fault.”
John interrupted “I pulled that trigger. Me. I took him away from you.”
His mom sighed “Okay. You did. For years, after that day, I felt like someone had torn off my wings and left me to drown. I felt like I would never be able to fly again, like I would never be happy again. But raising you, watching you grow up, gave me hope. You have so much potential and a long life left to live, but your guilt keeps you trapped inside the past. I have already forgiven you, and I know he has too,” she paused, “It’s time that you forgive yourself.”
“What if I can’t?”
“You need to. You owe it to your father to be the man he wanted you to be. You’ll never be able to do that if you keep on punishing yourself.”
John did not know how to reply. James was right. He knew his mother was speaking the truth but all he wanted to do was cover his ears and shut his eyes. He had spent everyday for the past twelve years training and refining his accuracy- proving to the world that he would never miss another shot. All of this, just to make up for the one shot that took his father's life. Worse yet, he defiled himself; he painted his hands in crimson with the lives of his victims in an effort to conceal the blood he shed twelve years ago. But who was he to decide who would live or die? He was no god. He never was and never would be. He had only ever been a boy: honest, clumsy, and- dare he say it- faultless. Now, however, he was a man. A man who used other people’s lives to indulge in years of self-pity. This sin, he deserved to pay for.
In that moment, Johnny Doe finally broke free of his cocoon and unfurled his wings. For twelve years he had remained in that shell, unready to see the light that lay beyond. But now, he wanted to taste freedom- no matter what the cost may be.

SCENE SEVEN

“In an unexpected turn of events for the ****** case of Oliver Baxter, the city’s most elusive hitman has turned himself in and pleaded guilty,” said the voice from the bar’s flat screen TV.
A well-past-sober James lifted his head from the bar counter and turned up the volume.
“A complete genius, that one is,” he muttered to himself.
“The young man of 24 has identified himself as John Edwards Doe,” she continued.
James froze. He slowly turned his head towards the screen, frightened about what he might see. Plastered on the screen, with his unmistakable tortoise shell glasses and shock of red hair, was a mugshot of the man that sat beside him mere hours ago.
“Thanks to the city much-relieved police force, I can say with confidence that John Doe has finally taken his last shot,” she said.
The newscaster began to elaborate on the details of the trial but James was no longer listening. He rubbed his eyes and looked again at the screen. After a long moment of disbelief, he called out to the bartender.
“I think I need another shot.”
Prologue
A raw, unfiltered scream filled the air. The boy dropped the gun and rushed towards the body lying beside the wooden stand. The man before him was clutching his stomach- his t-shirt soaked with blood. His eyes began to well up with tears as he cradled his father in his arms. Groaning softly, the man used his free arm to touch the boy’s cheek.
“Shhhh. It’s okay. I know it was an accident,” the man said.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. We’ll get you to a hospital,” the boy choked out. “The doctors will fix you. I promise.”
The boy was trembling with a sob caught in his throat, and his head buried in his father’s chest.
“Hey, you’re gonna be okay, son. Look at me-”
He coughed suddenly and a stream of blood began to spill from his mouth,
“I forgive you. But listen to me, you won’t be able to fix me. Just know that I will always be proud of you and the great man that you will one day become.”
With that final assurance, his hands finally fell limp.
You must understand: when a child opens his eyes for the first time, he is like a caterpillar. As the years go by, his growth is measured by the number of skins he sheds as he outgrows another version of himself. And for each one that he discards, there will be another, buried deep inside of him, that will be drawn closer towards reality. Then one day, he will collapse into himself.
For this freshly-bereaved little boy, it is time to seek refuge and rebuild. For many years he will be consumed with the thought that he is not ready to be a man. He will refuse to leave his chrysalis. Eventually, he will forget about the world that lies beyond its walls until the day finally comes where he will have to make a choice: remain a boy or become the man his father wanted him to be.

SCENE ONE
MANY YEARS LATER…
A medley of voices sounded in the air as hundreds of city-dwellers navigated their way around the rush hour traffic. Horns blared all around them, and the skies were grey and dripped with moisture.
Jaywalking across Oak and fifth with a cold cappuccino in hand, was a frazzled young man named John. His freckled face was lined with worry as he stole another glance at his wristwatch and quickened his pace. On days like this, John really hated having a day-job.
A welcome distraction presented itself as the sudden playing of ‘I Want It that Way’ by Backstreet Boys. The woman beside him raised her eyebrows and glanced at his front pocket. Smiling sheepishly, he pulled out his phone. After pushing up his glasses and bringing it within nanometres of his face, he finally made out the Caller ID. Eyes widening, he hastily answered the call.
“Hello, this is John speaking.”
“I expect that you are ready for tomorrow,” said the voice on the line.
“Of course. The scope I ordered arrived last night,” replied John.
John bit his lip and ran a hand through his messy red hair.
“Yet your last assignment left two of my men in prison” continued the voice. “Do not mistake me, if Oliver Baxter’s heart is still beating by the end of tomorrow, you will suffer the same fate as your father.”  John moved the phone away from his ear- fearful of going deaf.
“Whatever is left of your future relies on this mission. Don’t miss.”
Static took over the line. Then, silence.
John squeezed his eyes shut and became aware of the metallic taste in his mouth. His lip was bleeding. He rummaged through his bag and searched for pack of tissues. In his carelessness, his elbow banged up against his rifle. Quickly extracting the pack, he shoved the weapon further down the bag. He heaved a heavy sigh and nursed his elbow in his hand.
“Stop doubting yourself, John. He’s just another corrupt C.E.O.- he has it coming,” he muttered to himself. “Just get it done, Johnny, get it done.”

SCENE TWO

Just a block away from John, waiting impatiently at the corner of Oak and Robson, was a scowling dark-haired man with a 5 O’Clock morning shadow. The sleeves of his button-down were scrunched up to his elbows and his tie hung loosely around his neck.
Noticing the rain beginning to intensify, the man stuffed the rest of his croissant into his mouth in an attempt to salvage its flaky goodness. No such luck. With a guttural sigh, he tossed his napkin into a nearby trash bin and grumbled to himself about the disgrace that is cold, store-bought pastries.
Thankfully for him, his phone rang and interrupted his reverie of self-pity.
“Who’s calling?” He answered gruffly.
“James. Always the charmer,” drawled the voice from the other line. “Now, that's no way to greet an old friend.”
“Well, I didn’t get an answer for my question now did I?” James said through gritted teeth
Over the line, he could hear his caller clicking his tongue disapprovingly.
“It’s Aaron, my good man. Have you really forgotten?”
Oh yes, Aaron Benson. The pretentious Englishman he shared an apartment with in his college days- the one with a relentless infatuation with Kate Middleton.
“Of course. Aaron. I could never.”
He could only wish he had.
“I hear you’ve made a name for yourself as a photographer?” he questioned.
“What’s it to you?” James said.
“I have a job for you. My cousin is on a business trip to your side of the Atlantic over the weekend. Oliver Baxter, the CEO for some big menswear company in London. Top thirty under thirty kind of bloke. I can’t stand him, but he’s family. Anyway, his birthday’s coming up and my family wants you to have a photoshoot with him.” said Aaron
James sighed. “So you want me to take a couple headshots of pretty boy for his Forbes cover page?”
“No, no. Take my word, he is as unphotogenic as a dung beetle. I say that with love. Partially,” Aaron snickered. “Just take a couple pictures- he doesn’t need to look good. We just want something to add to the slideshow for a couple of laughs.”
“Alright, I’ll do it. Send me his specifics by the end of the day, and I’ll tell you where you should wire the payment.” said James
“I’m grateful. Aside from that, I just wanted to ask you again about that suit I left at our apartment when I flew back to London. Were you able to find-”
James hung up.
He was definitely not getting that suit back.
James didn’t feel too guilty. After all, he thought to himself, the guy has enough money to buy it three times over. If not, he could take a loan from Mr. Thirty under thirty.

SCENE THREE

Later that day, a bleary-eyed and yawning James stepped into a bar. Groaning softly, he massaged the crook of his neck- blistering red patches lined the areas where his camera strap had rested on mere minutes ago.  
The ever-familiar scent of liquor and sweat hung in the air. Suddenly, a cheer erupted from the back corner of the room. As his eyes finally adjusted to the dimly-lit space, he spotted a lanky, red-headed figure by the dart station. A stadium of intoxicated onlookers was chanting his name.
James’ fingers twitched to reach for his camera but he quickly quelled it. The lighting was not in his favour. He strode over towards an empty stool by the bar. Unsurprisingly, his eyes were still fixed on the strange fellow pushing up his tortoiseshell glasses and setting up his stance for another shot at the target.
Bullseye.
The crowd bellowed appreciatively.
Standing up from his table on the other side of the bar, a man called out to the stranger, “Hey kid! Bet you wouldn’t be so tough without those glasses!”
James scoffed. The guy had half of his shirt unbuttoned and a half-emptied beer mug in hand. Regardless, all eyes turned towards the ginger superstar.
The guy scratched the back of his neck and let out a nervous chuckle. Then, with a final shake of his head, he removed his lenses.
“How much?”
Drunken hollering ensued, as well as some severely off-target slaps on the back. James watched as he carefully placed his frames on the counter and caught the stranger’s eye. Leaning back on his stool, James raised his eyebrows at him and tilted his head. A boyish grin spread across the stranger’s face.
Laughing now, the man made his way back towards his station and readied himself. One, two, three…
The crowd roared. The dart, still quivering, was lodged precisely in the centre of the target.
James turned away from the mayhem and ordered a drink. Coming up from behind him, the dart-savvy stranger slid into the seat next to him.
“Just some water, please.”
“Sure thing, hon,” said the bartender.
James looked to the man beside him and nodded curtly. Eyes twinkling, the boy smiled back.
“I take it you weren’t impressed by my little stunt up there.”
No response.
“My name’s John. John Doe actually. I wish I was kidding.”
James finally afforded him his attention.
“Bond. James Bond. I know the struggle.”
“Our parents really did us wrong, didn’t they?” said John.
James raised his glass.
“Cheers to that.” After both men had taken a sip of their drinks, James continued, “So, you don’t really need those glasses do you?”
“Well, of course I need them,” said John “but it’s not like I’m legally blind without them. I take it you don’t have any lenses for yourself?” he asked
“Yes, I do actually- a different kind though. I carry all my lenses with me, even my scope,” James explained, gently patting the bag hanging across his shoulders.
John’s eyes widened.
“It’s nice to finally meet someone from my own line of work,” said John.
“Really? There’s a ton of us in the city. People here pay a pretty penny for just a couple shots,” James replied dubiously.
“Very true. One time an MLA candidate offered me over two million to take care of, and I quote, ‘an old friend,’” agreed John.
“****, that’s a real friend right there,” said James, shaking his head. “So, are you the type to schedule appointments with your assignments, or do you prefer candids?”
“I’d say candids for sure,” replied John. “It’s easier when people aren’t suspecting it. That way it’s just one and done. The real nightmare comes when you’re asked to shoot multiple people.”
“The worst part of the job!” James sighed, rolling his eyes, “It’s so much quicker to find the perfect angle when you only have to worry about one guy.”
“Exactly! Clients are always so demanding! Don’t even get me started on scheduling families,” exclaimed John, throwing his hands into the air. “Married couples are understable, though. I can see why you would want to do both at the same time- so you can make sure you don’t leave any loose ends.”
James nodded in agreement.
“It’s just a pain, given that some jobs can takes hours to complete,” said James. “The subject either keeps on moving, or you can’t get the right angle. It makes my hair turn grey.”
John sat up straighter, enjoying the conversation.“Hear me out, I have seen my fair share of husbands and wives calling in for me to take care of their spouse,” carried on John. “Honestly, it makes me reconsider having a love life…”
Sniggering, James replied, “The only thing worse is when they get their kids involved. It physically pains me to have to include them when I’m taking my shots.”
“Truthfully, I’ve gotten to the point where if a client asks me to take down a kid, I just hang up. It’s not worth the trouble… or the emotional scars.” John said, eyes darkening.
“I wish I had the ***** to do something like that,” said James, looking at John with admiration, “but I just can’t afford to. I have to pay my rent somehow, you know?”
“Well, I started out pretty young so I think I’ve made a name for myself among the more influential circles. Although, for the public, I try to keep a low profile. But it’s getting harder now that more of my shots are making the headlines,” said John.
“Not bad, kid.” said James. “I got into this whole business while I was still in college as a way to pay for my tuition. Man, you go in there, thinking that all those frat-boys and sorority-girls are just a bunch of alcoholic party-goers, but when they go and hire you… I still have nightmares about the things they made me do,” James whispered, shivering.
“Fascinating!” replied John. “I didn’t know that colleges dabbled in our kind of underground operations.”
“They come with occupational hazards,” said James.
“Most of my assignments nowadays consist of old clients calling in a favour,” shared John. “I’ll end up tracking down some really important people- world leaders and such.”
James whistled appreciatively.
John continued, “It’s especially fun to fire your shot while they’re making a speech. It’s all so dramatic, and the shot almost freezes time for a second.”
“Have you been assigned to any higher-ups recently?” Said James.
“Yes, actually. A shareholder for some big entertainment outlet put me on Stan Lee.”
“You shot Stan Lee! I’ve been a fan of him for years! Do you still have the pictures?”
“Uh, I mean, I don’t really save pictures of the people I shoot… “ said John, scratching his head. “It leaves a paper trail, and I prefer to stay anonymous. Their photos usually end up on the news anyway,” said John
“It’s a shame that he died. At least his legacy lives on,” said James, frowning slightly.
“Well, of course he’s dead. I did shoot him...” John said, furrowing his eyebrows, but James didn’t hear him.
The rest of the night passed by quickly as the two continued to share their stories,and marvel at their uncanny similarities. It was a miracle, truly, that they were able to find another man who understood them so deeply.

SCENE FOUR
THE FOLLOWING DAY...
John crept towards the edge of the rooftop. Across from him, a couple stories below, was the window to Oliver Baxter’s suite. His hands were shaking. You’re just cold he thought to himself, It's nothing more. He slowly unzipped the top of his bag and and pulled out his rifle. After he made sure his weapon was loaded, he reached back into his bag to pull out his scope and brought out-
“A camera lens? Why would I have a camera lens”- the realization struck him- “James. I’m so stupid. He’s not another hitman- he’s a photographer. And he’s got my scope, too.”
His musings were stopped short; Oliver Baxter had just re-entered his room.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” he muttered to himself. “Today of all days…”
John reluctantly returned the camera lens to his bag. He couldn’t waste any more time.
“I guess I’ll have to use the old one.”
Annoyed, he reached into the front pocket of his bag and pulled out a small, scratched contraption. A gun scope! Albeit, a rather unimpressive model. “It’s a good thing I kept my old one as a backup. Who doesn’t love a good case of Chanel versus Walmart?”
Hint: Not John.
Unaware of the hitman outside his window, Mr. Baxter finally ended his call and plopped down onto a nearby armchair. With his looming height, his neck easily rose above the top of the chair. Sighing, he ran a callused hand through his hair and leaned back.
John swiftly finished setting up his stand. Just as he was about to about to fire, a butterfly fluttered towards him and landed on top of the trigger. It’s miniature wings were coloured with vivid reds, sparkling greens, and candy-apple oranges. John shrugged it off.
It was time. John exhaled shakily and closed his eyes. Why was he hesitating? This was not his first assignment. Although, it was his first time being assigned to someone from outside the country. He knew nothing of Oliver Baxter. Unlike his past victims, John had no way to gauge that the man was worthy of his fate. Standing alone on the top of an abandoned warehouse, John desperately wished that he wasn’t making a mistake.
Suddenly, the image of his father lying in a pool of crimson flashed beneath his closed eyelids. His ears rang with the sound of the bullet that tore through his skin. His hands still remembered the weight of his dying body- the wetness of his blood that stained his fingertips.
“You won’t be able to fix me,” his father had whispered to him.
He was right.
Suddenly, another voice, booming and full of static, echoed throughout his mind.
“Don’t miss.”
John opened his eyes and a familiar calmness overtook him. He pressed the trigger.
Not so far away, Oliver Baxter slumped into his chair.
“I never miss.”

SCENE FIVE

By the time our friend James Bond came to pay his own visit to Mr. Baxter, John had already slipped in and cleaned up after himself. Assuredly, he had changed the man into a nondescript red hoodie and tucked him securely into his bed. He even took the liberty of placing Mr. Baxter’s phone on silent. John had a feeling that Mr. Baxter wouldn’t mind. When he was finally satisfied with his handiwork, he took his leave.
Not long after, a huffing and puffing James Bond arrived on the 15th floor. With his patchy red cheeks and sweaty brow, he was truly a sight for sore eyes. He stepped out of the stairwell and muttered a series of curse words underneath his breath. Gritting his teeth, he walked over to the shining elevator doors beside him and gave them a hard kick. The “Out of Order” sign hanging off of it floated to the floor, and James whimpered as he nursed his aching toe.
“I’ll be ******- taking a picture of a monkey would’ve been easier than this.”
He stood in the hallway for a little while longer and gathered his wits. After the pain subsided, he strode over to the C.E.O.’s door and knocked. He immediately positioned himself to capture a candid of Mr. Baxter as he opened the door. No one came. John tried again. No answer. Finally, his patience worn thin. James fished out the keys he had flirtatiously convinced the new receptionist downstairs to lend him and carefully unlocked the hotel door. He stepped inside and surveyed the suite in search of his assignment only to find him underneath the freshly-washed blankets of his bed- sound asleep.
“Well then… Aaron did say it didn’t have to be a good photo.”
Shrugging, James reached into his bag for his camera lens and pulled it out.
“What the hell? This isn’t mine.” James said. He narrowed his eyes and examined the object in his hand. The instrument was long and bulbous with two black clamps attached to the bottom. Although, the clamps did not open wide enough to fit a camera- it almost looked as if they were meant to be attached to some some sort of cylinder. He peered through and in the middle of the lens lay a bright red dot. He supposed he and John must have inadvertently swapped lenses in the bar.
Then, he came to a realization.
“I see what’s going on here!” James proclaimed a little too loudly, “John must use this for long range pictures. Must be some new tech- and pretty expensive too. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
For a split-second, James was tempted to pocket it, but a twinge of guilt urged him to return it to his bag. Sighing, he put away his camera and pulled out his phone. Aaron would have to make do with some lesser quality resolution.
James knelt down with his makeshift camera poised for the shot. Aaron had made no exaggerations about his cousin. The man was unnaturally pale and smelled strongly of… detergent? Honestly, a corpse would have looked more alive. His jaw was slack and, peculiarly enough, a red hoodie was pulled over his matted hair. A British thing, maybe? At the very least, he had the decency not to snore or drool.
Once satisfied with his pictures, James walked swiftly out the door and locked it behind him. By the time he had completed the tiresome journey back to the first floor, he had saved the photographs onto his USB drive. The only thing he had left to do was send them to Aaron.

SCENE SIX

When John entered the bar again, his eyes immediately fell on his companion from last night- the cynical James Bond. Given his current state, perhaps it would be wiser to keep his distance. Then again, when had he ever made the smart decision?
John greeted James as he collapsed into the stool next to him.
“Heard the news?” slurred James, “Oliver Baxter, up-and-coming C.E.O. of some big London company was found dead a couple hours ago.”
John’s heart skipped a beat. He responded carefully.
“No, this is news to me. I guess I was a little too busy today at work… You know, shooting my shots. In my photography studio. With my camera. That I use for photography, “ replied John.
James looked at him strangely.
John continued, “Poor guy. Never heard of him before, though. Oliver Brown, was it?”
“Baxter, not Brown,” James corrected him.
“Of course. Baxter. Sorry, I’m bad with names,” said John. He stole a glance at his friend, hoping he wasn’t seeing through him. Fortunately for him, James was too busy staring glumly into the frothy contents of his beer mug. “I’m sorry. Did he mean anything to you?”
“He was my assignment,” replied James. “When I came into his room for his shoot, he was asleep. My client, his cousin, said that he didn’t need to look good for the picture, so I snapped a couple shots of him like that and left. Turns out he wasn’t sleeping. Just dead.”
John’s throat tightened. Out of all the pessimistic photographers in the city, he just had to befriend the one who’s assignment he killed, didn’t he?
“It’s not your fault. No one would have expected him to be dead,” said John.
He had made sure of it.
Chuckling mirthlessly, James replied, “People always see the truth. One way or another, they see people for who they truly are, and see themselves for who they’ve become. They’re only either too scared to admit it, or they cover their eyes. What’s funny is that in our line of work it almost becomes the opposite. You don’t see anybody as either ordinary or extraordinary. You see them simply as people in front of your lens. Then one day, they stop being people at all.”
John’s stomach dropped. His friend did not give himself enough credit; James was not a horrible man. At least, he was not as awful as the man sitting beside him.
“Well, as photographers,” said John, “We also know that the truth can be ugly. And when you capture it with the perfect shot- when you shoot the right person, at the right time, in the right place- it comes back to haunt you.”
James lifted his eyes from the table and met his. Raising his half-empty glass to him, he whispered, “To the shots that haunt us.”
“To the shots that haunt us,” John repeated.

*
Not long after their grim declaration, John decided to return home. By that time, only streetlights continued to shine. His glasses could do little to aid his vision, but he still managed to make out the overstuffed mailbox in front of his house. With a roll of his eyes, he walked over to it, pushed the “No Flyers or Junk Mail” sign aside, and collected their ever-punctual delivery of coupons.
He swiftly unlocked the front door and closed it behind him. Just as he was about to reach for the remote and commence some much-needed binge-therapy, he realized that his mother was already seated on the sofa.
“Hey, mom,” he said as he walked over to her and kissed her forehead.
“You’ve come home late tonight, Johnny,” she said. “I’ve been spending the past few hours rifling through these albums.”
Surely enough, stacked up on the coffee table in front of them was a collection of his family’s photo albums. It was at that moment when the realization struck him.
“It’s been twelve years,” he whispered.
How could he have forgotten what day it was?
“Every day after your dad died feels like a lifetime.”
“Every day after I killed-”
His mother cut him off, “Don’t you finish that sentence.”
John cast his eyes downward and pursed his lips. Her eyes softened and she lifted the album off of her lap and placed it onto the table.
“Johnny, look at me,” she said. “What happened to your father was an accident- it was not your fault.”
John interrupted “I pulled that trigger. Me. I took him away from you.”
His mom sighed “Okay. You did. For years, after that day, I felt like someone had torn off my wings and left me to drown. I felt like I would never be able to fly again, like I would never be happy again. But raising you, watching you grow up, gave me hope. You have so much potential and a long life left to live, but your guilt keeps you trapped inside the past. I have already forgiven you, and I know he has too,” she paused, “It’s time that you forgive yourself.”
“What if I can’t?”
“You need to. You owe it to your father to be the man he wanted you to be. You’ll never be able to do that if you keep on punishing yourself.”
John did not know how to reply. James was right. He knew his mother was speaking the truth but all he wanted to do was cover his ears and shut his eyes. He had spent everyday for the past twelve years training and refining his accuracy- proving to the world that he would never miss another shot. All of this, just to make up for the one shot that took his father's life. Worse yet, he defiled himself; he painted his hands in crimson with the lives of his victims in an effort to conceal the blood he shed twelve years ago. But who was he to decide who would live or die? He was no god. He never was and never would be. He had only ever been a boy: honest, clumsy, and- dare he say it- faultless. Now, however, he was a man. A man who used other people’s lives to indulge in years of self-pity. This sin, he deserved to pay for.
In that moment, Johnny Doe finally broke free of his cocoon and unfurled his wings. For twelve years he had remained in that shell, unready to see the light that lay beyond. But now, he wanted to taste freedom- no matter what the cost may be.

SCENE SEVEN

“In an unexpected turn of events for the ****** case of Oliver Baxter, the city’s most elusive hitman has turned himself in and pleaded guilty,” said the voice from the bar’s flat screen TV.
A well-past-sober James lifted his head from the bar counter and turned up the volume.
“A complete genius, that one is,” he muttered to himself.
“The young man of 24 has identified himself as John Edwards Doe,” she continued.
James froze. He slowly turned his head towards the screen, frightened about what he might see. Plastered on the screen, with his unmistakable tortoise shell glasses and shock of red hair, was a mugshot of the man that sat beside him mere hours ago.
“Thanks to the city much-relieved police force, I can say with confidence that John Doe has finally taken his last shot,” she said.
The newscaster began to elaborate on the details of the trial but James was no longer listening. He rubbed his eyes and looked again at the screen. After a long moment of disbelief, he called out to the bartender.
“I think I need another shot.”
Prologue
A raw, unfiltered scream filled the air. The boy dropped the gun and rushed towards the body lying beside the wooden stand. The man before him was clutching his stomach- his t-shirt soaked with blood. His eyes began to well up with tears as he cradled his father in his arms. Groaning softly, the man used his free arm to touch the boy’s cheek.
“Shhhh. It’s okay. I know it was an accident,” the man said.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. We’ll get you to a hospital,” the boy choked out. “The doctors will fix you. I promise.”
The boy was trembling with a sob caught in his throat, and his head buried in his father’s chest.
“Hey, you’re gonna be okay, son. Look at me-”
He coughed suddenly and a stream of blood began to spill from his mouth,
“I forgive you. But listen to me, you won’t be able to fix me. Just know that I will always be proud of you and the great man that you will one day become.”
With that final assurance, his hands finally fell limp.
You must understand: when a child opens his eyes for the first time, he is like a caterpillar. As the years go by, his growth is measured by the number of skins he sheds as he outgrows another version of himself. And for each one that he discards, there will be another, buried deep inside of him, that will be drawn closer towards reality. Then one day, he will collapse into himself.
For this freshly-bereaved little boy, it is time to seek refuge and rebuild. For many years he will be consumed with the thought that he is not ready to be a man. He will refuse to leave his chrysalis. Eventually, he will forget about the world that lies beyond its walls until the day finally comes where he will have to make a choice: remain a boy or become the man his father wanted him to be.

SCENE ONE
MANY YEARS LATER…
A medley of voices sounded in the air as hundreds of city-dwellers navigated their way around the rush hour traffic. Horns blared all around them, and the skies were grey and dripped with moisture.
Jaywalking across Oak and fifth with a cold cappuccino in hand, was a frazzled young man named John. His freckled face was lined with worry as he stole another glance at his wristwatch and quickened his pace. On days like this, John really hated having a day-job.
A welcome distraction presented itself as the sudden playing of ‘I Want It that Way’ by Backstreet Boys. The woman beside him raised her eyebrows and glanced at his front pocket. Smiling sheepishly, he pulled out his phone. After pushing up his glasses and bringing it within nanometres of his face, he finally made out the Caller ID. Eyes widening, he hastily answered the call.
“Hello, this is John speaking.”
“I expect that you are ready for tomorrow,” said the voice on the line.
“Of course. The scope I ordered arrived last night,” replied John.
John bit his lip and ran a hand through his messy red hair.
“Yet your last assignment left two of my men in prison” continued the voice. “Do not mistake me, if Oliver Baxter’s heart is still beating by the end of tomorrow, you will suffer the same fate as your father.”  John moved the phone away from his ear- fearful of going deaf.
“Whatever is left of your future relies on this mission. Don’t miss.”
Static took over the line. Then, silence.
John squeezed his eyes shut and became aware of the metallic taste in his mouth. His lip was bleeding. He rummaged through his bag and searched for pack of tissues. In his carelessness, his elbow banged up against his rifle. Quickly extracting the pack, he shoved the weapon further down the bag. He heaved a heavy sigh and nursed his elbow in his hand.
“Stop doubting yourself, John. He’s just another corrupt C.E.O.- he has it coming,” he muttered to himself. “Just get it done, Johnny, get it done.”

SCENE TWO

Just a block away from John, waiting impatiently at the corner of Oak and Robson, was a scowling dark-haired man with a 5 O’Clock morning shadow. The sleeves of his button-down were scrunched up to his elbows and his tie hung loosely around his neck.
Noticing the rain beginning to intensify, the man stuffed the rest of his croissant into his mouth in an attempt to salvage its flaky goodness. No such luck. With a guttural sigh, he tossed his napkin into a nearby trash bin and grumbled to himself about the disgrace that is cold, store-bought pastries.
Thankfully for him, his phone rang and interrupted his reverie of self-pity.
“Who’s calling?” He answered gruffly.
“James. Always the charmer,” drawled the voice from the other line. “Now, that's no way to greet an old friend.”
“Well, I didn’t get an answer for my question now did I?” James said through gritted teeth
Over the line, he could hear his caller clicking his tongue disapprovingly.
“It’s Aaron, my good man. Have you really forgotten?”
Oh yes, Aaron Benson. The pretentious Englishman he shared an apartment with in his college days- the one with a relentless infatuation with Kate Middleton.
“Of course. Aaron. I could never.”
He could only wish he had.
“I hear you’ve made a name for yourself as a photographer?” he questioned.
“What’s it to you?” James said.
“I have a job for you. My cousin is on a business trip to your side of the Atlantic over the weekend. Oliver Baxter, the CEO for some big menswear company in London. Top thirty under thirty kind of bloke. I can’t stand him, but he’s family. Anyway, his birthday’s coming up and my family wants you to have a photoshoot with him.” said Aaron
James sighed. “So you want me to take a couple headshots of pretty boy for his Forbes cover page?”
“No, no. Take my word, he is as unphotogenic as a dung beetle. I say that with love. Partially,” Aaron snickered. “Just take a couple pictures- he doesn’t need to look good. We just want something to add to the slideshow for a couple of laughs.”
“Alright, I’ll do it. Send me his specifics by the end of the day, and I’ll tell you where you should wire the payment.” said James
“I’m grateful. Aside from that, I just wanted to ask you again about that suit I left at our apartment when I flew back to London. Were you able to find-”
James hung up.
He was definitely not getting that suit back.
James didn’t feel too guilty. After all, he thought to himself, the guy has enough money to buy it three times over. If not, he could take a loan from Mr. Thirty under thirty.

SCENE THREE

Later that day, a bleary-eyed and yawning James stepped into a bar. Groaning softly, he massaged the crook of his neck- blistering red patches lined the areas where his camera strap had rested on mere minutes ago.  
The ever-familiar scent of liquor and sweat hung in the air. Suddenly, a cheer erupted from the back corner of the room. As his eyes finally adjusted to the dimly-lit space, he spotted a lanky, red-headed figure by the dart station. A stadium of intoxicated onlookers was chanting his name.
James’ fingers twitched to reach for his camera but he quickly quelled it. The lighting was not in his favour. He strode over towards an empty stool by the bar. Unsurprisingly, his eyes were still fixed on the strange fellow pushing up his tortoiseshell glasses and setting up his stance for another shot at the target.
Bullseye.
The crowd bellowed appreciatively.
Standing up from his table on the other side of the bar, a man called out to the stranger, “Hey kid! Bet you wouldn’t be so tough without those glasses!”
James scoffed. The guy had half of his shirt unbuttoned and a half-emptied beer mug in hand. Regardless, all eyes turned towards the ginger superstar.
The guy scratched the back of his neck and let out a nervous chuckle. Then, with a final shake of his head, he removed his lenses.
“How much?”
Drunken hollering ensued, as well as some severely off-target slaps on the back. James watched as he carefully placed his frames on the counter and caught the stranger’s eye. Leaning back on his stool, James raised his eyebrows at him and tilted his head. A boyish grin spread across the stranger’s face.
Laughing now, the man made his way back towards his station and readied himself. One, two, three…
The crowd roared. The dart, still quivering, was lodged precisely in the centre of the target.
James turned away from the mayhem and ordered a drink. Coming up from behind him, the dart-savvy stranger slid into the seat next to him.
“Just some water, please.”
“Sure thing, hon,” said the bartender.
James looked to the man beside him and nodded curtly. Eyes twinkling, the boy smiled back.
“I take it you weren’t impressed by my little stunt up there.”
No response.
“My name’s John. John Doe actually. I wish I was kidding.”
James finally afforded him his attention.
“Bond. James Bond. I know the struggle.”
“Our parents really did us wrong, didn’t they?” said John.
James raised his glass.
“Cheers to that.” After both men had taken a sip of their drinks, James continued, “So, you don’t really need those glasses do you?”
“Well, of course I need them,” said John “but it’s not like I’m legally blind without them. I take it you don’t have any lenses for yourself?” he asked
“Yes, I do actually- a different kind though. I carry all my lenses with me, even my scope,” James explained, gently patting the bag hanging across his shoulders.
John’s eyes widened.
“It’s nice to finally meet someone from my own line of work,” said John.
“Really? There’s a ton of us in the city. People here pay a pretty penny for just a couple shots,” James replied dubiously.
“Very true. One time an MLA candidate offered me over two million to take care of, and I quote, ‘an old friend,’” agreed John.
“****, that’s a real friend right there,” said James, shaking his head. “So, are you the type to schedule appointments with your assignments, or do you prefer candids?”
“I’d say candids for sure,” replied John. “It’s easier when people aren’t suspecting it. That way it’s just one and done. The real nightmare comes when you’re asked to shoot multiple people.”
“The worst part of the job!” James sighed, rolling his eyes, “It’s so much quicker to find the perfect angle when you only have to worry about one guy.”
“Exactly! Clients are always so demanding! Don’t even get me started on scheduling families,” exclaimed John, throwing his hands into the air. “Married couples are understable, though. I can see why you would want to do both at the same time- so you can make sure you don’t leave any loose ends.”
James nodded in agreement.
“It’s just a pain, given that some jobs can takes hours to complete,” said James. “The subject either keeps on moving, or you can’t get the right angle. It makes my hair turn grey.”
John sat up straighter, enjoying the conversation.“Hear me out, I have seen my fair share of husbands and wives calling in for me to take care of their spouse,” carried on John. “Honestly, it makes me reconsider having a love life…”
Sniggering, James replied, “The only thing worse is when they get their kids involved. It physically pains me to have to include them when I’m taking my shots.”
“Truthfully, I’ve gotten to the point where if a client asks me to take down a kid, I just hang up. It’s not worth the trouble… or the emotional scars.” John said, eyes darkening.
“I wish I had the ***** to do something like that,” said James, looking at John with admiration, “but I just can’t afford to. I have to pay my rent somehow, you know?”
“Well, I started out pretty young so I think I’ve made a name for myself among the more influential circles. Although, for the public, I try to keep a low profile. But it’s getting harder now that more of my shots are making the headlines,” said John.
“Not bad, kid.” said James. “I got into this whole business while I was still in college as a way to pay for my tuition. Man, you go in there, thinking that all those frat-boys and sorority-girls are just a bunch of alcoholic party-goers, but when they go and hire you… I still have nightmares about the things they made me do,” James whispered, shivering.
“Fascinating!” replied John. “I didn’t know that colleges dabbled in our kind of underground operations.”
“They come with occupational hazards,” said James.
“Most of my assignments nowadays consist of old clients calling in a favour,” shared John. “I’ll end up tracking down some really important people- world leaders and such.”
James whistled appreciatively.
John continued, “It’s especially fun to fire your shot while they’re making a speech. It’s all so dramatic, and the shot almost freezes time for a second.”
“Have you been assigned to any higher-ups recently?” Said James.
“Yes, actually. A shareholder for some big entertainment outlet put me on Stan Lee.”
“You shot Stan Lee! I’ve been a fan of him for years! Do you still have the pictures?”
“Uh, I mean, I don’t really save pictures of the people I shoot… “ said John, scratching his head. “It leaves a paper trail, and I prefer to stay anonymous. Their photos usually end up on the news anyway,” said John
“It’s a shame that he died. At least his legacy lives on,” said James, frowning slightly.
“Well, of course he’s dead. I did shoot him...” John said, furrowing his eyebrows, but James didn’t hear him.
The rest of the night passed by quickly as the two continued to share their stories,and marvel at their uncanny similarities. It was a miracle, truly, that they were able to find another man who understood them so deeply.

SCENE FOUR
THE FOLLOWING DAY...
John crept towards the edge of the rooftop. Across from him, a couple stories below, was the window to Oliver Baxter’s suite. His hands were shaking. You’re just cold he thought to himself, It's nothing more. He slowly unzipped the top of his bag and and pulled out his rifle. After he made sure his weapon was loaded, he reached back into his bag to pull out his scope and brought out-
“A camera lens? Why would I have a camera lens”- the realization struck him- “James. I’m so stupid. He’s not another hitman- he’s a photographer. And he’s got my scope, too.”
His musings were stopped short; Oliver Baxter had just re-entered his room.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” he muttered to himself. “Today of all days…”
John reluctantly returned the camera lens to his bag. He couldn’t waste any more time.
“I guess I’ll have to use the old one.”
Annoyed, he reached into the front pocket of his bag and pulled out a small, scratched contraption. A gun scope! Albeit, a rather unimpressive model. “It’s a good thing I kept my old one as a backup. Who doesn’t love a good case of Chanel versus Walmart?”
Hint: Not John.
Unaware of the hitman outside his window, Mr. Baxter finally ended his call and plopped down onto a nearby armchair. With his looming height, his neck easily rose above the top of the chair. Sighing, he ran a callused hand through his hair and leaned back.
John swiftly finished setting up his stand. Just as he was about to about to fire, a butterfly fluttered towards him and landed on top of the trigger. It’s miniature wings were coloured with vivid reds, sparkling greens, and candy-apple oranges. John shrugged it off.
It was time. John exhaled shakily and closed his eyes. Why was he hesitating? This was not his first assignment. Although, it was his first time being assigned to someone from outside the country. He knew nothing of Oliver Baxter. Unlike his past victims, John had no way to gauge that the man was worthy of his fate. Standing alone on the top of an abandoned warehouse, John desperately wished that he wasn’t making a mistake.
Suddenly, the image of his father lying in a pool of crimson flashed beneath his closed eyelids. His ears rang with the sound of the bullet that tore through his skin. His hands still remembered the weight of his dying body- the wetness of his blood that stained his fingertips.
“You won’t be able to fix me,” his father had whispered to him.
He was right.
Suddenly, another voice, booming and full of static, echoed throughout his mind.
“Don’t miss.”
John opened his eyes and a familiar calmness overtook him. He pressed the trigger.
Not so far away, Oliver Baxter slumped into his chair.
“I never miss.”

SCENE FIVE

By the time our friend James Bond came to pay his own visit to Mr. Baxter, John had already slipped in and cleaned up after himself. Assuredly, he had changed the man into a nondescript red hoodie and tucked him securely into his bed. He even took the liberty of placing Mr. Baxter’s phone on silent. John had a feeling that Mr. Baxter wouldn’t mind. When he was finally satisfied with his handiwork, he took his leave.
Not long after, a huffing and puffing James Bond arrived on the 15th floor. With his patchy red cheeks and sweaty brow, he was truly a sight for sore eyes. He stepped out of the stairwell and muttered a series of curse words underneath his breath. Gritting his teeth, he walked over to the shining elevator doors beside him and gave them a hard kick. The “Out of Order” sign hanging off of it floated to the floor, and James whimpered as he nursed his aching toe.
“I’ll be ******- taking a picture of a monkey would’ve been easier than this.”
He stood in the hallway for a little while longer and gathered his wits. After the pain subsided, he strode over to the C.E.O.’s door and knocked. He immediately positioned himself to capture a candid of Mr. Baxter as he opened the door. No one came. John tried again. No answer. Finally, his patience worn thin. James fished out the keys he had flirtatiously convinced the new receptionist downstairs to lend him and carefully unlocked the hotel door. He stepped inside and surveyed the suite in search of his assignment only to find him underneath the freshly-washed blankets of his bed- sound asleep.
“Well then… Aaron did say it didn’t have to be a good photo.”
Shrugging, James reached into his bag for his camera lens and pulled it out.
“What the hell? This isn’t mine.” James said. He narrowed his eyes and examined the object in his hand. The instrument was long and bulbous with two black clamps attached to the bottom. Although, the clamps did not open wide enough to fit a camera- it almost looked as if they were meant to be attached to some some sort of cylinder. He peered through and in the middle of the lens lay a bright red dot. He supposed he and John must have inadvertently swapped lenses in the bar.
Then, he came to a realization.
“I see what’s going on here!” James proclaimed a little too loudly, “John must use this for long range pictures. Must be some new tech- and pretty expensive too. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
For a split-second, James was tempted to pocket it, but a twinge of guilt urged him to return it to his bag. Sighing, he put away his camera and pulled out his phone. Aaron would have to make do with some lesser quality resolution.
James knelt down with his makeshift camera poised for the shot. Aaron had made no exaggerations about his cousin. The man was unnaturally pale and smelled strongly of… detergent? Honestly, a corpse would have looked more alive. His jaw was slack and, peculiarly enough, a red hoodie was pulled over his matted hair. A British thing, maybe? At the very least, he had the decency not to snore or drool.
Once satisfied with his pictures, James walked swiftly out the door and locked it behind him. By the time he had completed the tiresome journey back to the first floor, he had saved the photographs onto his USB drive. The only thing he had left to do was send them to Aaron.

SCENE SIX

When John entered the bar again, his eyes immediately fell on his companion from last night- the cynical James Bond. Given his current state, perhaps it would be wiser to keep his distance. Then again, when had he ever made the smart decision?
John greeted James as he collapsed into the stool next to him.
“Heard the news?” slurred James, “Oliver Baxter, up-and-coming C.E.O. of some big London company was found dead a couple hours ago.”
John’s heart skipped a beat. He responded carefully.
“No, this is news to me. I guess I was a little too busy today at work… You know, shooting my shots. In my photography studio. With my camera. That I use for photography, “ replied John.
James looked at him strangely.
John continued, “Poor guy. Never heard of him before, though. Oliver Brown, was it?”
“Baxter, not Brown,” James corrected him.
“Of course. Baxter. Sorry, I’m bad with names,” said John. He stole a glance at his friend, hoping he wasn’t seeing through him. Fortunately for him, James was too busy staring glumly into the frothy contents of his beer mug. “I’m sorry. Did he mean anything to you?”
“He was my assignment,” replied James. “When I came into his room for his shoot, he was asleep. My client, his cousin, said that he didn’t need to look good for the picture, so I snapped a couple shots of him like that and left. Turns out he wasn’t sleeping. Just dead.”
John’s throat tightened. Out of all the pessimistic photographers in the city, he just had to befriend the one who’s assignment he killed, didn’t he?
“It’s not your fault. No one would have expected him to be dead,” said John.
He had made sure of it.
Chuckling mirthlessly, James replied, “People always see the truth. One way or another, they see people for who they truly are, and see themselves for who they’ve become. They’re only either too scared to admit it, or they cover their eyes. What’s funny is that in our line of work it almost becomes the opposite. You don’t see anybody as either ordinary or extraordinary. You see them simply as people in front of your lens. Then one day, they stop being people at all.”
John’s stomach dropped. His friend did not give himself enough credit; James was not a horrible man. At least, he was not as awful as the man sitting beside him.
“Well, as photographers,” said John, “We also know that the truth can be ugly. And when you capture it with the perfect shot- when you shoot the right person, at the right time, in the right place- it comes back to haunt you.”
James lifted his eyes from the table and met his. Raising his half-empty glass to him, he whispered, “To the shots that haunt us.”
“To the shots that haunt us,” John repeated.

*
Not long after their grim declaration, John decided to return home. By that time, only streetlights continued to shine. His glasses could do little to aid his vision, but he still managed to make out the overstuffed mailbox in front of his house. With a roll of his eyes, he walked over to it, pushed the “No Flyers or Junk Mail” sign aside, and collected their ever-punctual delivery of coupons.
He swiftly unlocked the front door and closed it behind him. Just as he was about to reach for the remote and commence some much-needed binge-therapy, he realized that his mother was already seated on the sofa.
“Hey, mom,” he said as he walked over to her and kissed her forehead.
“You’ve come home late tonight, Johnny,” she said. “I’ve been spending the past few hours rifling through these albums.”
Surely enough, stacked up on the coffee table in front of them was a collection of his family’s photo albums. It was at that moment when the realization struck him.
“It’s been twelve years,” he whispered.
How could he have forgotten what day it was?
“Every day after your dad died feels like a lifetime.”
“Every day after I killed-”
His mother cut him off, “Don’t you finish that sentence.”
John cast his eyes downward and pursed his lips. Her eyes softened and she lifted the album off of her lap and placed it onto the table.
“Johnny, look at me,” she said. “What happened to your father was an accident- it was not your fault.”
John interrupted “I pulled that trigger. Me. I took him away from you.”
His mom sighed “Okay. You did. For years, after that day, I felt like someone had torn off my wings and left me to drown. I felt like I would never be able to fly again, like I would never be happy again. But raising you, watching you grow up, gave me hope. You have so much potential and a long life left to live, but your guilt keeps you trapped inside the past. I have already forgiven you, and I know he has too,” she paused, “It’s time that you forgive yourself.”
“What if I can’t?”
“You need to. You owe it to your father to be the man he wanted you to be. You’ll never be able to do that if you keep on punishing yourself.”
John did not know how to reply. James was right. He knew his mother was speaking the truth but all he wanted to do was cover his ears and shut his eyes. He had spent everyday for the past twelve years training and refining his accuracy- proving to the world that he would never miss another shot. All of this, just to make up for the one shot that took his father's life. Worse yet, he defiled himself; he painted his hands in crimson with the lives of his victims in an effort to conceal the blood he shed twelve years ago. But who was he to decide who would live or die? He was no god. He never was and never would be. He had only ever been a boy: honest, clumsy, and- dare he say it- faultless. Now, however, he was a man. A man who used other people’s lives to indulge in years of self-pity. This sin, he deserved to pay for.
In that moment, Johnny Doe finally broke free of his cocoon and unfurled his wings. For twelve years he had remained in that shell, unready to see the light that lay beyond. But now, he wanted to taste freedom- no matter what the cost may be.

SCENE SEVEN

“In an unexpected turn of events for the ****** case of Oliver Baxter, the city’s most elusive hitman has turned himself in and pleaded guilty,” said the voice from the bar’s flat screen TV.
A well-past-sober James lifted his head from the bar counter and turned up the volume.
“A complete genius, that one is,” he muttered to himself.
“The young man of 24 has identified himself as John Edwards Doe,” she continued.
James froze. He slowly turned his head towards the screen, frightened about what he might see. Plastered on the screen, with his unmistakable tortoise shell glasses and shock of red hair, was a mugshot of the man that sat beside him mere hours ago.
“Thanks to the city much-relieved police force, I can say with confidence that John Doe has finally taken his last shot,” she said.
The newscaster began to elaborate on the details of the trial but James was no longer listening. He rubbed his eyes and looked again at the screen. After a long moment of disbelief, he called out to the bartender.
“I think I need another shot.”
Prologue
A raw, unfiltered scream filled the air. The boy dropped the gun and rushed towards the body lying beside the wooden stand. The man before him was clutching his stomach- his t-shirt soaked with blood. His eyes began to well up with tears as he cradled his father in his arms. Groaning softly, the man used his free arm to touch the boy’s cheek.
“Shhhh. It’s okay. I know it was an accident,” the man said.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. We’ll get you to a hospital,” the boy choked out. “The doctors will fix you. I promise.”
The boy was trembling with a sob caught in his throat, and his head buried in his father’s chest.
“Hey, you’re gonna be okay, son. Look at me-”
He coughed suddenly and a stream of blood began to spill from his mouth,
“I forgive you. But listen to me, you won’t be able to fix me. Just know that I will always be proud of you and the great man that you will one day become.”
With that final assurance, his hands finally fell limp.
You must understand: when a child opens his eyes for the first time, he is like a caterpillar. As the years go by, his growth is measured by the number of skins he sheds as he outgrows another version of himself. And for each one that he discards, there will be another, buried deep inside of him, that will be drawn closer towards reality. Then one day, he will collapse into himself.
For this freshly-bereaved little boy, it is time to seek refuge and rebuild. For many years he will be consumed with the thought that he is not ready to be a man. He will refuse to leave his chrysalis. Eventually, he will forget about the world that lies beyond its walls until the day finally comes where he will have to make a choice: remain a boy or become the man his father wanted him to be.

SCENE ONE
MANY YEARS LATER…
A medley of voices sounded in the air as hundreds of city-dwellers navigated their way around the rush hour traffic. Horns blared all around them, and the skies were grey and dripped with moisture.
Jaywalking across Oak and fifth with a cold cappuccino in hand, was a frazzled young man named John. His freckled face was lined with worry as he stole another glance at his wristwatch and quickened his pace. On days like this, John really hated having a day-job.
A welcome distraction presented itself as the sudden playing of ‘I Want It that Way’ by Backstreet Boys. The woman beside him raised her eyebrows and glanced at his front pocket. Smiling sheepishly, he pulled out his phone. After pushing up his glasses and bringing it within nanometres of his face, he finally made out the Caller ID. Eyes widening, he hastily answered the call.
“Hello, this is John speaking.”
“I expect that you are ready for tomorrow,” said the voice on the line.
“Of course. The scope I ordered arrived last night,” replied John.
John bit his lip and ran a hand through his messy red hair.
“Yet your last assignment left two of my men in prison” continued the voice. “Do not mistake me, if Oliver Baxter’s heart is still beating by the end of tomorrow, you will suffer the same fate as your father.”  John moved the phone away from his ear- fearful of going deaf.
“Whatever is left of your future relies on this mission. Don’t miss.”
Static took over the line. Then, silence.
John squeezed his eyes shut and became aware of the metallic taste in his mouth. His lip was bleeding. He rummaged through his bag and searched for pack of tissues. In his carelessness, his elbow banged up against his rifle. Quickly extracting the pack, he shoved the weapon further down the bag. He heaved a heavy sigh and nursed his elbow in his hand.
“Stop doubting yourself, John. He’s just another corrupt C.E.O.- he has it coming,” he muttered to himself. “Just get it done, Johnny, get it done.”

SCENE TWO

Just a block away from John, waiting impatiently at the corner of Oak and Robson, was a scowling dark-haired man with a 5 O’Clock morning shadow. The sleeves of his button-down were scrunched up to his elbows and his tie hung loosely around his neck.
Noticing the rain beginning to intensify, the man stuffed the rest of his croissant into his mouth in an attempt to salvage its flaky goodness. No such luck. With a guttural sigh, he tossed his napkin into a nearby trash bin and grumbled to himself about the disgrace that is cold, store-bought pastries.
Thankfully for him, his phone rang and interrupted his reverie of self-pity.
“Who’s calling?” He answered gruffly.
“James. Always the charmer,” drawled the voice from the other line. “Now, that's no way to greet an old friend.”
“Well, I didn’t get an answer for my question now did I?” James said through gritted teeth
Over the line, he could hear his caller clicking his tongue disapprovingly.
“It’s Aaron, my good man. Have you really forgotten?”
Oh yes, Aaron Benson. The pretentious Englishman he shared an apartment with in his college days- the one with a relentless infatuation with Kate Middleton.
“Of course. Aaron. I could never.”
He could only wish he had.
“I hear you’ve made a name for yourself as a photographer?” he questioned.
“What’s it to you?” James said.
“I have a job for you. My cousin is on a business trip to your side of the Atlantic over the weekend. Oliver Baxter, the CEO for some big menswear company in London. Top thirty under thirty kind of bloke. I can’t stand him, but he’s family. Anyway, his birthday’s coming up and my family wants you to have a photoshoot with him.” said Aaron
James sighed. “So you want me to take a couple headshots of pretty boy for his Forbes cover page?”
“No, no. Take my word, he is as unphotogenic as a dung beetle. I say that with love. Partially,” Aaron snickered. “Just take a couple pictures- he doesn’t need to look good. We just want something to add to the slideshow for a couple of laughs.”
“Alright, I’ll do it. Send me his specifics by the end of the day, and I’ll tell you where you should wire the payment.” said James
“I’m grateful. Aside from that, I just wanted to ask you again about that suit I left at our apartment when I flew back to London. Were you able to find-”
James hung up.
He was definitely not getting that suit back.
James didn’t feel too guilty. After all, he thought to himself, the guy has enough money to buy it three times over. If not, he could take a loan from Mr. Thirty under thirty.

SCENE THREE

Later that day, a bleary-eyed and yawning James stepped into a bar. Groaning softly, he massaged the crook of his neck- blistering red patches lined the areas where his camera strap had rested on mere minutes ago.  
The ever-familiar scent of liquor and sweat hung in the air. Suddenly, a cheer erupted from the back corner of the room. As his eyes finally adjusted to the dimly-lit space, he spotted a lanky, red-headed figure by the dart station. A stadium of intoxicated onlookers was chanting his name.
James’ fingers twitched to reach for his camera but he quickly quelled it. The lighting was not in his favour. He strode over towards an empty stool by the bar. Unsurprisingly, his eyes were still fixed on the strange fellow pushing up his tortoiseshell glasses and setting up his stance for another shot at the target.
Bullseye.
The crowd bellowed appreciatively.
Standing up from his table on the other side of the bar, a man called out to the stranger, “Hey kid! Bet you wouldn’t be so tough without those glasses!”
James scoffed. The guy had half of his shirt unbuttoned and a half-emptied beer mug in hand. Regardless, all eyes turned towards the ginger superstar.
The guy scratched the back of his neck and let out a nervous chuckle. Then, with a final shake of his head, he removed his lenses.
“How much?”
Drunken hollering ensued, as well as some severely off-target slaps on the back. James watched as he carefully placed his frames on the counter and caught the stranger’s eye. Leaning back on his stool, James raised his eyebrows at him and tilted his head. A boyish grin spread across the stranger’s face.
Laughing now, the man made his way back towards his station and readied himself. One, two, three…
The crowd roared. The dart, still quivering, was lodged precisely in the centre of the target.
James turned away from the mayhem and ordered a drink. Coming up from behind him, the dart-savvy stranger slid into the seat next to him.
“Just some water, please.”
“Sure thing, hon,” said the bartender.
James looked to the man beside him and nodded curtly. Eyes twinkling, the boy smiled back.
“I take it you weren’t impressed by my little stunt up there.”
No response.
“My name’s John. John Doe actually. I wish I was kidding.”
James finally afforded him his attention.
“Bond. James Bond. I know the struggle.”
“Our parents really did us wrong, didn’t they?” said John.
James raised his glass.
“Cheers to that.” After both men had taken a sip of their drinks, James continued, “So, you don’t really need those glasses do you?”
“Well, of course I need them,” said John “but it’s not like I’m legally blind without them. I take it you don’t have any lenses for yourself?” he asked
“Yes, I do actually- a different kind though. I carry all my lenses with me, even my scope,” James explained, gently patting the bag hanging across his shoulders.
John’s eyes widened.
“It’s nice to finally meet someone from my own line of work,” said John.
“Really? There’s a ton of us in the city. People here pay a pretty penny for just a couple shots,” James replied dubiously.
“Very true. One time an MLA candidate offered me over two million to take care of, and I quote, ‘an old friend,’” agreed John.
“****, that’s a real friend right there,” said James, shaking his head. “So, are you the type to schedule appointments with your assignments, or do you prefer candids?”
“I’d say candids for sure,” replied John. “It’s easier when people aren’t suspecting it. That way it’s just one and done. The real nightmare comes when you’re asked to shoot multiple people.”
“The worst part of the job!” James sighed, rolling his eyes, “It’s so much quicker to find the perfect angle when you only have to worry about one guy.”
“Exactly! Clients are always so demanding! Don’t even get me started on scheduling families,” exclaimed John, throwing his hands into the air. “Married couples are understable, though. I can see why you would want to do both at the same time- so you can make sure you don’t leave any loose ends.”
James nodded in agreement.
“It’s just a pain, given that some jobs can takes hours to complete,” said James. “The subject either keeps on moving, or you can’t get the right angle. It makes my hair turn grey.”
John sat up straighter, enjoying the conversation.“Hear me out, I have seen my fair share of husbands and wives calling in for me to take care of their spouse,” carried on John. “Honestly, it makes me reconsider having a love life…”
Sniggering, James replied, “The only thing worse is when they get their kids involved. It physically pains me to have to include them when I’m taking my shots.”
“Truthfully, I’ve gotten to the point where if a client asks me to take down a kid, I just hang up. It’s not worth the trouble… or the emotional scars.” John said, eyes darkening.
“I wish I had the ***** to do something like that,” said James, looking at John with admiration, “but I just can’t afford to. I have to pay my rent somehow, you know?”
“Well, I started out pretty young so I think I’ve made a name for myself among the more influential circles. Although, for the public, I try to keep a low profile. But it’s getting harder now that more of my shots are making the headlines,” said John.
“Not bad, kid.” said James. “I got into this whole business while I was still in college as a way to pay for my tuition. Man, you go in there, thinking that all those frat-boys and sorority-girls are just a bunch of alcoholic party-goers, but when they go and hire you… I still have nightmares about the things they made me do,” James whispered, shivering.
“Fascinating!” replied John. “I didn’t know that colleges dabbled in our kind of underground operations.”
“They come with occupational hazards,” said James.
“Most of my assignments nowadays consist of old clients calling in a favour,” shared John. “I’ll end up tracking down some really important people- world leaders and such.”
James whistled appreciatively.
John continued, “It’s especially fun to fire your shot while they’re making a speech. It’s all so dramatic, and the shot almost freezes time for a second.”
“Have you been assigned to any higher-ups recently?” Said James.
“Yes, actually. A shareholder for some big entertainment outlet put me on Stan Lee.”
“You shot Stan Lee! I’ve been a fan of him for years! Do you still have the pictures?”
“Uh, I mean, I don’t really save pictures of the people I shoot… “ said John, scratching his head. “It leaves a paper trail, and I prefer to stay anonymous. Their photos usually end up on the news anyway,” said John
“It’s a shame that he died. At least his legacy lives on,” said James, frowning slightly.
“Well, of course he’s dead. I did shoot him...” John said, furrowing his eyebrows, but James didn’t hear him.
The rest of the night passed by quickly as the two continued to share their stories,and marvel at their uncanny similarities. It was a miracle, truly, that they were able to find another man who understood them so deeply.

SCENE FOUR
THE FOLLOWING DAY...
John crept towards the edge of the rooftop. Across from him, a couple stories below, was the window to Oliver Baxter’s suite. His hands were shaking. You’re just cold he thought to himself, It's nothing more. He slowly unzipped the top of his bag and and pulled out his rifle. After he made sure his weapon was loaded, he reached back into his bag to pull out his scope and brought out-
“A camera lens? Why would I have a camera lens”- the realization struck him- “James. I’m so stupid. He’s not another hitman- he’s a photographer. And he’s got my scope, too.”
His musings were stopped short; Oliver Baxter had just re-entered his room.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” he muttered to himself. “Today of all days…”
John reluctantly returned the camera lens to his bag. He couldn’t waste any more time.
“I guess I’ll have to use the old one.”
Annoyed, he reached into the front pocket of his bag and pulled out a small, scratched contraption. A gun scope! Albeit, a rather unimpressive model. “It’s a good thing I kept my old one as a backup. Who doesn’t love a good case of Chanel versus Walmart?”
Hint: Not John.
Unaware of the hitman outside his window, Mr. Baxter finally ended his call and plopped down onto a nearby armchair. With his looming height, his neck easily rose above the top of the chair. Sighing, he ran a callused hand through his hair and leaned back.
John swiftly finished setting up his stand. Just as he was about to about to fire, a butterfly fluttered towards him and landed on top of the trigger. It’s miniature wings were coloured with vivid reds, sparkling greens, and candy-apple oranges. John shrugged it off.
It was time. John exhaled shakily and closed his eyes. Why was he hesitating? This was not his first assignment. Although, it was his first time being assigned to someone from outside the country. He knew nothing of Oliver Baxter. Unlike his past victims, John had no way to gauge that the man was worthy of his fate. Standing alone on the top of an abandoned warehouse, John desperately wished that he wasn’t making a mistake.
Suddenly, the image of his father lying in a pool of crimson flashed beneath his closed eyelids. His ears rang with the sound of the bullet that tore through his skin. His hands still remembered the weight of his dying body- the wetness of his blood that stained his fingertips.
“You won’t be able to fix me,” his father had whispered to him.
He was right.
Suddenly, another voice, booming and full of static, echoed throughout his mind.
“Don’t miss.”
John opened his eyes and a familiar calmness overtook him. He pressed the trigger.
Not so far away, Oliver Baxter slumped into his chair.
“I never miss.”

SCENE FIVE

By the time our friend James Bond came to pay his own visit to Mr. Baxter, John had already slipped in and cleaned up after himself. Assuredly, he had changed the man into a nondescript red hoodie and tucked him securely into his bed. He even took the liberty of placing Mr. Baxter’s phone on silent. John had a feeling that Mr. Baxter wouldn’t mind. When he was finally satisfied with his handiwork, he took his leave.
Not long after, a huffing and puffing James Bond arrived on the 15th floor. With his patchy red cheeks and sweaty brow, he was truly a sight for sore eyes. He stepped out of the stairwell and muttered a series of curse words underneath his breath. Gritting his teeth, he walked over to the shining elevator doors beside him and gave them a hard kick. The “Out of Order” sign hanging off of it floated to the floor, and James whimpered as he nursed his aching toe.
“I’ll be ******- taking a picture of a monkey would’ve been easier than this.”
He stood in the hallway for a little while longer and gathered his wits. After the pain subsided, he strode over to the C.E.O.’s door and knocked. He immediately positioned himself to capture a candid of Mr. Baxter as he opened the door. No one came. John tried again. No answer. Finally, his patience worn thin. James fished out the keys he had flirtatiously convinced the new receptionist downstairs to lend him and carefully unlocked the hotel door. He stepped inside and surveyed the suite in search of his assignment only to find him underneath the freshly-washed blankets of his bed- sound asleep.
“Well then… Aaron did say it didn’t have to be a good photo.”
Shrugging, James reached into his bag for his camera lens and pulled it out.
“What the hell? This isn’t mine.” James said. He narrowed his eyes and examined the object in his hand. The instrument was long and bulbous with two black clamps attached to the bottom. Although, the clamps did not open wide enough to fit a camera- it almost looked as if they were meant to be attached to some some sort of cylinder. He peered through and in the middle of the lens lay a bright red dot. He supposed he and John must have inadvertently swapped lenses in the bar.
Then, he came to a realization.
“I see what’s going on here!” James proclaimed a little too loudly, “John must use this for long range pictures. Must be some new tech- and pretty expensive too. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
For a split-second, James was tempted to pocket it, but a twinge of guilt urged him to return it to his bag. Sighing, he put away his camera and pulled out his phone. Aaron would have to make do with some lesser quality resolution.
James knelt down with his makeshift camera poised for the shot. Aaron had made no exaggerations about his cousin. The man was unnaturally pale and smelled strongly of… detergent? Honestly, a corpse would have looked more alive. His jaw was slack and, peculiarly enough, a red hoodie was pulled over his matted hair. A British thing, maybe? At the very least, he had the decency not to snore or drool.
Once satisfied with his pictures, James walked swiftly out the door and locked it behind him. By the time he had completed the tiresome journey back to the first floor, he had saved the photographs onto his USB drive. The only thing he had left to do was send them to Aaron.

SCENE SIX

When John entered the bar again, his eyes immediately fell on his companion from last night- the cynical James Bond. Given his current state, perhaps it would be wiser to keep his distance. Then again, when had he ever made the smart decision?
John greeted James as he collapsed into the stool next to him.
“Heard the news?” slurred James, “Oliver Baxter, up-and-coming C.E.O. of some big London company was found dead a couple hours ago.”
John’s heart skipped a beat. He responded carefully.
“No, this is news to me. I guess I was a little too busy today at work… You know, shooting my shots. In my photography studio. With my camera. That I use for photography, “ replied John.
James looked at him strangely.
John continued, “Poor guy. Never heard of him before, though. Oliver Brown, was it?”
“Baxter, not Brown,” James corrected him.
“Of course. Baxter. Sorry, I’m bad with names,” said John. He stole a glance at his friend, hoping he wasn’t seeing through him. Fortunately for him, James was too busy staring glumly into the frothy contents of his beer mug. “I’m sorry. Did he mean anything to you?”
“He was my assignment,” replied James. “When I came into his room for his shoot, he was asleep. My client, his cousin, said that he didn’t need to look good for the picture, so I snapped a couple shots of him like that and left. Turns out he wasn’t sleeping. Just dead.”
John’s throat tightened. Out of all the pessimistic photographers in the city, he just had to befriend the one who’s assignment he killed, didn’t he?
“It’s not your fault. No one would have expected him to be dead,” said John.
He had made sure of it.
Chuckling mirthlessly, James replied, “People always see the truth. One way or another, they see people for who they truly are, and see themselves for who they’ve become. They’re only either too scared to admit it, or they cover their eyes. What’s funny is that in our line of work it almost becomes the opposite. You don’t see anybody as either ordinary or extraordinary. You see them simply as people in front of your lens. Then one day, they stop being people at all.”
John’s stomach dropped. His friend did not give himself enough credit; James was not a horrible man. At least, he was not as awful as the man sitting beside him.
“Well, as photographers,” said John, “We also know that the truth can be ugly. And when you capture it with the perfect shot- when you shoot the right person, at the right time, in the right place- it comes back to haunt you.”
James lifted his eyes from the table and met his. Raising his half-empty glass to him, he whispered, “To the shots that haunt us.”
“To the shots that haunt us,” John repeated.

*
Not long after their grim declaration, John decided to return home. By that time, only streetlights continued to shine. His glasses could do little to aid his vision, but he still managed to make out the overstuffed mailbox in front of his house. With a roll of his eyes, he walked over to it, pushed the “No Flyers or Junk Mail” sign aside, and collected their ever-punctual delivery of coupons.
He swiftly unlocked the front door and closed it behind him. Just as he was about to reach for the remote and commence some much-needed binge-therapy, he realized that his mother was already seated on the sofa.
“Hey, mom,” he said as he walked over to her and kissed her forehead.
“You’ve come home late tonight, Johnny,” she said. “I’ve been spending the past few hours rifling through these albums.”
Surely enough, stacked up on the coffee table in front of them was a collection of his family’s photo albums. It was at that moment when the realization struck him.
“It’s been twelve years,” he whispered.
How could he have forgotten what day it was?
“Every day after your dad died feels like a lifetime.”
“Every day after I killed-”
His mother cut him off, “Don’t you finish that sentence.”
John cast his eyes downward and pursed his lips. Her eyes softened and she lifted the album off of her lap and placed it onto the table.
“Johnny, look at me,” she said. “What happened to your father was an accident- it was not your fault.”
John interrupted “I pulled that trigger. Me. I took him away from you.”
His mom sighed “Okay. You did. For years, after that day, I felt like someone had torn off my wings and left me to drown. I felt like I would never be able to fly again, like I would never be happy again. But raising you, watching you grow up, gave me hope. You have so much potential and a long life left to live, but your guilt keeps you trapped inside the past. I have already forgiven you, and I know he has too,” she paused, “It’s time that you forgive yourself.”
“What if I can’t?”
“You need to. You owe it to your father to be the man he wanted you to be. You’ll never be able to do that if you keep on punishing yourself.”
John did not know how to reply. James was right. He knew his mother was speaking the truth but all he wanted to do was cover his ears and shut his eyes. He had spent everyday for the past twelve years training and refining his accuracy- proving to the world that he would never miss another shot. All of this, just to make up for the one shot that took his father's life. Worse yet, he defiled himself; he painted his hands in crimson with the lives of his victims in an effort to conceal the blood he shed twelve years ago. But who was he to decide who would live or die? He was no god. He never was and never would be. He had only ever been a boy: honest, clumsy, and- dare he say it- faultless. Now, however, he was a man. A man who used other people’s lives to indulge in years of self-pity. This sin, he deserved to pay for.
In that moment, Johnny Doe finally broke free of his cocoon and unfurled his wings. For twelve years he had remained in that shell, unready to see the light that lay beyond. But now, he wanted to taste freedom- no matter what the cost may be.

SCENE SEVEN

“In an unexpected turn of events for the ****** case of Oliver Baxter, the city’s most elusive hitman has turned himself in and pleaded guilty,” said the voice from the bar’s flat screen TV.
A well-past-sober James lifted his head from the bar counter and turned up the volume.
“A complete genius, that one is,” he muttered to himself.
“The young man of 24 has identified himself as John Edwards Doe,” she continued.
James froze. He slowly turned his head towards the screen, frightened about what he might see. Plastered on the screen, with his unmistakable tortoise shell glasses and shock of red hair, was a mugshot of the man that sat beside him mere hours ago.
“Thanks to the city much-relieved police force, I can say with confidence that John Doe has finally taken his last shot,” she said.
The newscaster began to elaborate on the details of the trial but James was no longer listening. He rubbed his eyes and looked again at the screen. After a long moment of disbelief, he called out to the bartender.
“I think I need another shot.”
The repetition symbolizes the cycle of life.
Hank Van Well Jr Sep 2018
At least for a day

At least for a day America came together
At least for a day , no one cared what color our skin was , or where we came from.
At least for a day we honored law enforcement and first responders in the like, as they charged toward the unknown danger to keep the rest of us safe.
At least for a day we let our military do what they were trained to do , instead of sit on their hands .
At least for a day we could do whatever we had to , to keep the country safe from further attacks.
At least for a day their was no partisan politics , where the government worked together for the greater good and put aside the petty bickering and said “ what do you need Mr President “.
On a day where the enemy tried to break America , we stood together as Americans , one body ,not identified by skin color , religion , or preferences , we all cried together, we all brushed off the dust , built a taller building , even though that is not the symbol of who we are , it was a symbol of what we aren’t .
At least for a day , we couldn’t be broken .
17 years later ..... we are fighting against ourselves , being encouraged to disobey law enforcement , divided again by our skin color , or religion , or preference , for a while , I couldn’t even say Merry Christmas without potentially offending someone.
Hatred is spewing on both sides of our government , we are being told to “resist “.
What happened ?
Do we need another tragedy to show us all we bleed the same color ?
The Bible says “ a house divided against itself can not stand “ Matt 12:22.
I will never forget the sorrow of that day , all the souls lost then , and the ones still recovering , I cried that day , and I cry now , because at least for a day , we forgot about all the other ******* and fought back as Americans , mourned as Americans , re built as Americans .
At least for a day , we stood together !
At least for a day!
Nath Rye Jul 2016
When I was a little boy biking through the lush greeneries of our local park,
I fell down and scraped my knee.
Tears in my eyes, with blood coming out of the tear on my leg, I came to my parents.
Their reaction at first was what I had expected. Shock and fear for their son’s well-being came to their faces, but after realizing I was mostly okay, they uttered a line I still remember quite clearly.

It went like this:

“At least it’s just a scratch.”

And so with that began a life of “at leasts” and compromise.

“At least you passed the test”
“At least you made it on time”
“At least you were only late to the first 30 minutes of the movie”
“At least you were able to cram your homework”
“At least you managed, somehow, some way”
“At least you didn’t die”
“At least you were given part of what you wanted”

Part of what I wanted.


Now, I’ve grown wise enough to know that you aren’t always going
To attain or achieve everything you desire.
But when life always sells you short, you lose hope

But the most cruel "at least" that life decided to bestow upon me was...

“At least…. You met her.”

Yup.

The compromise was I couldn’t have her
I couldn’t make her my home
Because she was never there to stay.
“At least, you met her”

It was a tragedy
But a part of her will always remain
Because that part of her, no matter how small
Somehow changed something in me-
And, dear god, I hope it’s for the better.
It's a half-done poem. I might upload a complete version of this soon.
Lucanna  Nov 2014
Car Crash.
Lucanna Nov 2014
The second that the inanimate vehicle
was no longer mine to control
and I fish tailed out
like I often fantasize about doing among the sea
wheels, bumper, lights
battled
median, gravity, and hope
As the same air that I ****** in
flew my mobile above the median
I caught a glimpse of that beautiful mountain
of where I accepted I would roll and be at the bottom of
no longer a mermaid swimming in air
all I could hold was my hope in salvation
"Please let there be a heaven, and please let me in."

As a little girl I was told I was "saved"
and I remember so specifically dunking my body under water
and no longer did heaven allude me
I made the choice with  myfather
hoping that as he was submerged in that "holy water"
that he would no longer be addicted to the "devil's drink"
I made the choice to be renewed
Clean.
Reborn into new skin and better more brilliant choices

As the snow reflected off of the mountain innocently
I prayed that the holy water, my prayers, my altruism, my heart would allow all of it to be true, for me
Bouncing back off of the median
another thought snapped into my cortex
"I hope Alex will be okay. I hope this doesn't ruin his life."
I spun exactly 4 times, crossing exactly four lanes

On the other side of the freeway
I felt the vibration of the vehicles flying past me
shaking my damaged car
I was in fact "saved."

What would I regret?
Who would I have wronged that would celebrate my passing?
Would there be anyone?
Who did I right?
Who would have regrets in the time they made for me, or the conflicts that always arise in relation with others?
Who did I change? What have I done with this life?

At least I would be dying at a time that I started turning my life around
and at least I would be dying at a time that I sat with a woman alone in the hospital trying to make the decision to keep her baby or put him up for adoption.
At least I got to hold him, and hold her heart in that space. At least I did that.
At least I loved Alex the way I always should have in the last two weeks. At least I gave him that.
At least I finished that painting for one of my closest, dearest friends.
At least I spent a weekend with my family, truly listening, truly being present.
At least I got to connect with my brother in a way I never have before.
At least I was a good friend to the people important to me.
At least I went to Europe and traveled.
At least I stopped drinking so much, and started giving more.

I didn't get to finish that really good book
and I didn't get to bring life into this world
and I didn't get to enjoy my relationship deeper
or my incredible friendships longer
I didn't get to go back to Paris
or learn French
or do that water color workshop inFebruary
and I didn't get to swim in the ocean one last time
I didn't get to master healthy boundaries
or get work published
or recite slam poetry
or say "I'm sorry" to all those men I wronged.
I didn't get to heal and repair from how far my ego took me
I didn't get to meditate or do hot yoga one last time

Humbling.
I hated the whole experience, because it was so **** humbling
I'm not invincible
I am mortal
And I cannot be the fearless strong woman
I try to be
every second of the day.
I will die,
but it won't be my corpse on that day
at the bottom of the mountain
in those mustard cords
and messy locks
listening to Heart "Crazy On You."
two minutes after a conversation with Bri
about silly childish plans and
how she was doing better,
even after I had gone
how much she wanted to hug me
and loved me.

Not that day.
but someday
death will undo me.
j carroll  Mar 2014
at least
j carroll Mar 2014
i came out of despairing with the help of two words
that kissed my eyelids and sighed smiles in my hair:
                                                                             at least
i can curl my toes in soft mud one moment and thousand count cotton the next
at least this is a world where hyacinths smell like forgiveness each spring
at least i have the luxury of dreaming
at least i can sit in sanctuary with my thoughts far from my safety
at least there are kids like aphasia spouting precisely what you know but can't think
at least strawberries taste like blooming on my tongue
at least there's a whole day devoted to mischief and my boy was born heir to april
at least  i can find solace in the belly fur of a sleeping cat
at least there's patience in sadness
vanessa Jan 2014
I may idolize the boy who always saved me, he belongs in books but amazingly this is non-fiction
I might pay close attention to the way he runs his fingers through his hair, but I could watch him run through forests for hours on end
I may always want to have the last word in an argument even though the boy himself is what I'm focused on the entire debate, I don't care who wins I just want you to stay
I may be insanely jealous maybe even ****** but at least I love you more than she ever could and you know it's true.
I may get upset over small things you do, but you'll always be my favorite correction to mark with red pen, don't worry I promise I'll forgive you in the morning
I may be a pain every now and again but at least you know I'm alive today, because without you I hope you know I would have given up a long time ago.
I may love too passionately and too fierce but at least I will never desert you in the dark or want you to be reduced to cold red slashes on the most beautiful parts of your body
I may be complicated and more in love with you than I am with my own reflection
But at least I am self-less, at least I care whether or not the boy I love more than life itself is breathing in the morning. At least I know the difference between love and pity, at least I fight the will every morning with my shadow to make sure I have a chance to let you know how much I love you, you really should cherish it, because who knows if you'll hear it tomorrow. I'm a lost cause who loves your little pieces of stardust more than the sparkles on my skin but at least I love you enough-- to let you know.

*vm
Aaron LaLux Sep 2018
"Can we make love,
at least a couple more times,
before we never see each other again?”,

Her voice is soft,
sweet,
almost innocent,
and adds an aphro-ambiance,
to the incessant crash of the ocean waves in the background,

her pleading eyes,
intercept my retreating lies,
it can be so hard to argue with the truth.

I am all out of excuses,
as we lay naked as the day we were born,
in this bed at this beachside bungalow in Baja,
clouds gathering outside for the coming post sunshine storm,

two tainted souls,
in a rare moment of purity,
as we lay there I can not lie here,
I can not tell her I will see her again,
I can not tell her everything will be okay,
I can not tell her I love her,
at least not in the same way,
as she loves me,
which of course is unconditionally,

we’ve just made love,
and as she’s mentioned,
possibly for the last time,
and though she wants to make love again and again,
until we both grow old,
wants and realities can compete in this existence,
and in this moment is where they both meet,

“Can we make love,
at least a couple more times,
before we never see each other again?”,

she asks me again,
shaking me from the depths of my thoughts,
she pulls my submarine from the dark depths,
and shakes me out to dry in the sunlight of her attention,
her question,
comes with a hint of offense,
honestly no offense was meant,
at least not from me,
it’s not that I was ignoring her in that moment,
at least not completely,

it’s just that it’s difficult for me to stay in the moment,
when the past keeps dragging me back,
and the future keeps pushing me forward,
and there’s a needy media monster that doesn’t want to be ignored,

where were,
we,
where have we gone,
and what has become,
of the innocence in which we were born?

We lay,
naked as the day we were born,
in this bed at this beachside bungalow in Baja,
clouds gathering outside for the coming post sunshine storm,

nothing covering our skin,
except a thin layer of post *** perspiration,
for even though the sun has already set,
the humid heat still sits there,
like the soon to be cloud covered moon,
that hangs lazily in the sky,
seeming neither amused nor moved by our human drama.

Her question,
is reasonable enough,
and she is,
beautiful enough,
so why,
when she asks,
“Can we make love,
at least a couple more times,
before we never see each other again?”,
can I not say yes?

Well,
for one,
I respect her too much to lie to her,
plus lying to such an honest question,
would seem so taboo,

reason number two,

they say,
we do not choose love,
they say,
love chooses us,
and I do not love her,
even though I may want to,
I do not love her,
because she is not the one Love had decided to choose,

I do not love her,
as amazing as she is,
even if I should love her,
for she is everything a mortal man could ask for,
she is,
a gorgeous and successful model,
with a sharp and receptive mind,
a big heart,
and maybe most importantly,
an undying devotional love for me,
so logically,
I should love her,

but love is not logical,
love is as passionate and irrational,
as the weather here in Baja,
one moment shining bright with clear skies,
the next moment dark and ominous with gathering clouds,

so when she asks me,
“Can we make love,
at least a couple more times,
before we never see each other again?”,

I simply say nothing,
for what can I say,
how can I explain the irrational,
how can I say the one word,
that will break her heart open,
then watch that heart break right in front of me,
how can I say “No”,
to the one question,
that the girl that has said “Yes”,
to my every question,
asks me?

So I say nothing,
I simply open this writing book,
as these skies open above us,
and write down these thoughts upon these pages,
as the desert rains fall down upon us,

I write this poem,
as we lay naked as the day we were born,
in this bed at this beachside bungalow in Baja,
as the incessant crash of the ocean waves in the background,
adds to the aphro-ambiance,
of this bittersweet moment in time,
so that even when I am gone,
and she is gone,
and we are gone,
these words,
from these thoughts,
will live forever,
immortalized in this verse,
forever resting,
somewhere in the collective psyche,
of our unified broken hearts,

as we lay there,
as we mutually mourn,
all that has been loved,
and all that has been lost,
in this impermanent moment called Life,

and she asks,
"Can we make love,
at least a couple more times,
before we never see each other again?”,

∆ Aaron LaLux ∆
My new book (Was a best seller) is now available FREE here: www.scribd.com/document/388173677/The-Holy-Trilogy-Volume-2-Mandalas
maxine  Oct 2017
but at least...
maxine Oct 2017
they always said writing would help
and it does
but i'm not talking to you
i'm facing a piece of paper
which starts me off somewhere...
so dear dad,
how have you been?
still sober?
still raising her children?
still blaming all of your life's misfortunes on me?
how am i doing?
i'm doing alright
i get sad at night
when i'm alone
and i think of all the things you've said
and then everything is piled up in my head and i can't hear anything but your voice
your coy, manipulative, voice
if only you would have known how wrong you were
when you said i'd never make it in the real world
or find somebody to love me
or be happy
you see, i listen to the songs we used to listen to in the car while i drive
but at least i'm driving
and when i lay in my girlfriend's arms i get scared of how vulnerable i'm being
but at least i don't have a wall up
and i still hurt myself in more ways than one
but at least it's not as bad as it was
and i still see your face when i look in the mirror
but at least i have individuality and i'm molding myself to be better than you
and i still think about the night that i was assaulted in your home, and i know you heard me scream "NO, NO, NO"
but at least i still have respect for myself
and i still ponder on the thought of ending my life whenever i remember you handing me your pocket knife
but at least i'm still alive
and i still think about when you said i'd never have friends and i'd be all alone once i was dead
but at least i make a social effort
while you don't speak to your children
and granted i don't make an effort to speak to you
but it's because you are wrong
in every thing you say
and in every thing you do
you are wrong
in the way that you laid your hands on me
or in the way that you watched as so many others did
you are wrong
in that i am alone
because i am not
you are wrong
in that i'll never find happiness
because for once in my miserable life i realize when the sun is shining and the birds are chirping
you are wrong
when you say that i'm going to hell for loving
because right now i feel like i'm in heaven
you are wrong
when you say that no one will ever love me like you
because i now know that a father doesn't treat me like you
but at least...
i know you are wrong
and that is all of the gratification that i need to be done with you and this letter
so i sign this saying, you are wrong, but at least... i am strong.
- Maxine

— The End —