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A Shot in the Dark

By: Phil Neale 1952

Page 1, A hired assassin\'s view of his assignment, the pitfalls he needs to avoid which test his skills to the limit, and which will ultimateley decide whether he lives or dies.

One clear and uninterrupted sight line would be all that he required. One shot would complete the job and then he could pack up all his kit and leave. Exit would be a lot easier than getting in. There would be no need for radio messages – radios were too bulky anyway, would only get in the way and might even lead pursuers straight to him. No, one brief coded line in the form of an encrypted e-mail bounced off a satellite from his Blackberry to a secure IP address and arrangements would be activated for a collection at designated co-ordinates known only to himself and the client.

The job had taken a fair amount of setting up due to the ultra tight security which surrounded the target at all times, and entry into the country had been by means of a covert action within a set of scheduled army movements in a neighbouring territory. Arrangements had been made for him to go AWOL whilst on manoeuvres and his ‘name’ and serial number never appeared on any roll call sheet. He simply slipped away during the darkness hours, making his way across country and keeping off all roads. The thick vegetation afforded ample cover from prying eyes and after he changed out of his army fatigues into the special uniform which he had carried in his back pack, all unnecessary equipment was buried deep enough so as not to attract any unwanted attention.

Now it was a case of keeping out of sight and away from all settlements between him and the border. He reckoned it would be a three day hike, and he would have to live off the land on the way – not a problem as this was what all the Special Forces training had taught him to do in the seven years he served with the unit. The real difficulty would be the approach to and the crossing of the frontier, as regular border patrols with orders to shoot first and ask questions later ensured that very little human activity went on around there.

He reached his first destination point half a day early and settled down under cover to monitor patrol activity for the next week. The border guards were heavily armed, regular and very efficient in their routines. All local buildings were checked, rechecked the following day and, he was sure, booby trapped to catch any unsuspecting travellers seeking concealment. They rotated their shift patterns, but he was able to work out very quickly when the next visit was likely, and they were always on time. On day eight he decided to make his move and used a dried up river bed for the initial part of his journey. The guards were clad in standard olive drab uniforms which made them highly visible against the scrublands and maybe that was the point – visibility in itself being a potent form of deterrence.

His clothing was a reversible olive drab and khaki, and the latter shade was currently keeping him out of the immediate sight of any government army units. Nevertheless this was a time for caution and the slightest slip would find him inside one of their infamous interrogation compounds, and he had never heard of anyone coming out of there alive. Time was on his side as the target was not scheduled to be in the area for another week or so. The man was fastidious in his insistence upon reviewing army units himself, and this caused obvious security problems for his personal guard. Army camps were always located in open ground, thus denying cover to any would-be assassin and last minute forays into neighbouring undergrowth had always been used to flush out potential snipers. This tactic had been successfully used on a number of occasions in the past, and the remains of several corpses were hung from trees around the country as messages to the locals.

He was not a local. He had no name. He carried no identification and all labels and serial numbers had been carefully removed from every item of equipment. He simply didn’t exist and no government on earth would acknowledge him. This was what made him special, and he had operated in all of the world’s war zones since the early 1990s coming out of each assignment completely unscathed and undetected. This one was no different – the target was merely an embarrassment that certain powers wished to have removed and their reasons were none of his business. As long as they paid for the service he was more than happy to be their agent.

He had acquired the target’s itinerary and had insisted upon choosing the location of the hit himself to avoid any possibility of detection. He selected a camp two days travel from his current hideaway and had allowed himself plenty of time to disappear into the undergrowth and at a distance of some six hundred metres from the site of the inspection. His specially built, high-powered night vision sniper rifle came fitted with its own laser sight and silencer. Guards surrounding the target would have no idea where the shot came from, and as he was certain that a single bullet would take care of this assignment.

He spent a couple of days setting up his line of fire from a number of possible sites in the undergrowth and the pile of bones buried in a shallow grave was the only evidence of his presence and its impact upon the indigenous mammal population. Finally he was ready and settled down to await the arrival of his victim, a wait which was to last two more days. This was the main problem in his line of ‘work’ and there was always the danger of boredom setting in and disrupting all his preparations. This was another area where his years in the Special Forces had trained him in the art of patience, a skill which had been used on many occasions.

At last, in the gathering gloom, there was a sudden burst of activity in the camp compound, and an advance army unit quickly spread out into the immediate area of bush. His camouflage rendered him invisible to the naked eye, and complete stillness made him impossible to detect. The soldiers returned to their troop carrier and a message was obviously sent out that the area was clear and safe to enter. The dictator’s convoy now entered the camp and after several bodyguards had made a protective shield, he stepped down from the vehicle to be greeted by the local commander.

He had the target in his sights immediately and tracked every movement to ensure that he had a clear shot. With his breathing under control and his finger squeezing the trigger very slowly he waited for the first stationary moment. The recoil from the rifle was minimal and the sound of the gunshot barely discernible. Keeping the target in sight he watched as the uniformed figure of the president crumpled and fell with a single but fatal wound to the front of his head, right between the eyes. Panic was instantaneous and automatic gunfire peppered the area in all directions, fanning outwards from the camp. He took no notice – there was no chance of his position being located, and he packed up his gear, removed all trace of his position and carefully backed out of the tree line until he was clear.

He had three days until the pick up he had arranged from his palm top computer, but he had chosen a very different route out of the country from the one which brought him there. A forty mile march across open scrub after dark in a northerly direction took him far away from the hive of activity along the border to the west, and the chopper arrived at exactly the time arranged. No words were exchanged between him and the pilot – they both had jobs to do and saw no profit in idle conversation. His arrangement had been for a drop just inside the border of the northern neighbour, giving him ample time to cross over and lose himself in a friendly country.

He watched the helicopter depart and held his position for an hour, listening with heightened senses for any signs of pursuit. Satisfied that he was clear, he gathered up his belongings and headed for the crossing. He never got there. An army troop transport appeared to his left, and he knew that it would be useless to try to outrun it. He put down his kit, laid his rifle clearly on the ground and raised his hands. If he anticipated execution on the spot he was to be mildly surprised. The soldiers collected his things, dropped the tailgate of the transport and assisted him inside. The journey lasted about two hours, and apart from being offered a drink nothing was said to him.

They pulled up outside another army camp and he was escorted inside, taken to the main building and shown into a room where a single figure stood looking out into the grounds. The man turned around.

“Mr Sharpe, that was certainly a very impressive display of covert operations, and a highly efficient method of disposal. I assume that I have your permission to examine the rifle?”

Sharpe, for that was his name, stood unblinking before the dictator whom he had assumed to have been the victim of his assignment. Joseph Maninga smiled a broad toothy smile and poured two glasses of Jim Beam, offering one to his captive.

“Do not be disappointed Mr Sharpe, I have a number of doubles around my country. Men who are willing, for a price to put their lives on the line. You were not to know that your target was one of them.”

Sharpe stiffened, took the drink in one go and prepared himself for the inevitable torture and execution which had been the fate of so many before. Instead, Maninga waved him to a leather armchair and sat down opposite in an identical one.

“A man in my position, Mr Sharpe, makes many enemies in the course of his lifetime and I have the need of someone with, shall we say, a certain level of skill. You are that man and now that I have found you, there is really no option but that you will work for me. No government in the world will open its doors to you, and I have a little job that requires some attention before you leave my country…………….”

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