But she wasn't ready for the toddler.
How can you have a family? She watched through the scope of her sniper rifle as the target picked up his young son and whirled him around.
She should have been prepared for him. It was all in the dossier: "devoted father", "loving husband". She'd studied it all in detail. She'd paid enough for it; she couldn't afford to miss anything. But reading it wasn't the same as seeing it.
The target set the boy on his shoulder. The tow-headed child laughed and hugged his father's head as his sister ran up and tackled her father's legs.
How can you have a family when you took mine away from me?
It had been twenty years since she had seen him in person. She had not forgotten his face: the crooked nose, the dimpled cheeks, the warm, incongruous smile as he put a bullet through her mother's head. He had looked so happy as her father charged him wielding a kitchen chair as a weapon. He shot him six times before he fell. Her adolescent brother tried to run and he shot him in the back. Her older sister whimpered while she was hidden in a cabinet; he heard her and shot her through the door. All the while smiling and smiling, as he sprayed bullets into the bodies of her family, as blood splattered across the white lace curtains bordering the windows, as he turned their clean bright kitchen into an abattoir.
Now he put his son down on the patio of his own clean bright home. His children tugged at his hands, pulling him towards the swimming pool. A few feet away, his wife smiled at him, calling out something Mistletoe was too far away to hear.
How can you smile at him? Don't you know what he's done?
She had been hiding behind the water heater in the pantry, peering out between boxes and the crack of the door. She heard one of his men yell, "Anyone seen the last girl?" They searched for her for several minutes, while her father's last breaths bubbled out of him and his fingers twitched just a few yards away.
Then he said, "Screw it. She's, what, four? She's harmless. Torch the place and let's get out of here."
Now he put inflatable armbands around his little boy's arms and pumped up a plastic seahorse for his daughter.
Mistletoe didn't have time for this. The cameras for this spot were playing spliced loops of routine footage, but the next patrol would be by in minutes when the guards whose bodies were cooling beside her didn't check in. She double-checked the gauges for wind and distance, braced the sniper rifle, and aimed a little up and to the right of her enemy's head.
Beside him, his daughter danced with anticipation as his arms worked the pump. Mistletoe had a sudden vision of the girl, twenty years later, holding her own sniper rifle to slake a thirst for vengeance. His family will always remember this day, too.
Her resolve wavered.
Her aim didn't. Screw it. They're better off without you, you bastard. Mistletoe pulled the trigger.
As she fled the scene, the deaths of her family no longer haunted her. Nor did the image of her enemy, the back of his head shattered and fallen face-first into the pool, a red stain diffusing through the water.
But she could still hear the young girl screaming, long after she'd driven away.
This word probably gets a fair amount of use in horror stories, but even though I'm familiar with it I've never used it much myself. It's such a gruesomely evocative word.