Continuing the tale of Interstellar Hit-man Quint Grousch. Part 1 can be found here.
Down Range (Pt 2)
Lately though, after so many years in the trenches, it was getting harder and harder for me to keep the distance between my work and my sanity. Mountain chains eroded over time to fill in the valley between them, and such was the case for me. The gulf I’d maintained was slowly silting in to become an ever narrowing space- from a gulf one month to a bay the next week to a river channel. If I didn’t watch myself, I’d allow it to become a shallow stream trickling through a ditch. I always told myself I would quit the job when it started to get to me. Go off and be a sheep herder somewhere in a quiet mountain valley, where I could spend the rest of my days counting the herd and contemplating my navel.
The day hadn’t come yet, but there were a few points in my life I always used to gauge whether or not it was time to buy those sturdy hiking boots.
Whenever I let myself evaluate these points, I always did so in a pro-con fashion, like I was working through them on a ledger book, or some kind of karmic spreadsheet. It was in keeping with the whole dispassionate way I approached my work.
The one job I usually turned to was a hit on a politician. The man was embezzling funds, but that wasn’t why his wife wanted him killed, just the reason she wanted it to look like one of his victims had had him killed.
"Why do you want your husband dead, Mrs. Drebuki?"
The other end of the commlink went quiet for a moment, and I thought she’s changed her mind and hung up on me until I hear her say, sadly and with great remorse "He’s a cheating bastard."
It was a familial reason, then. I understood that. "Is there an insurance policy in play on your husband, Mrs. Drebuki?"
"Yes. Double indemnity if his death is ruled as an accident. That is what I want you to make this look like, an accident. He’s been embezzling funds from the government. Can you stage it so the fingers all point to the local government taking him out as expedient method of reducing corruption?"
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, but she seemed more worried about the collecting the insurance money than about her husband’s in ability to keep his rocket ship stored in the proper hangar. "Shouldn’t you be talking to a divorce lawyer, not an assassin?"
"I know what you charge, Mr. Voss. If you think I can’t afford to pay you, I can. In fact, I can arrange things so that a member of the government will contact you to perform this same job."
She wanted me to double dip? That was a rare opportunity, at least in my experience. I normally was only ever paid once for a particular job. However, I wasn’t against taking a double payday in the right situation. It was now up to her to prove that this was one of those situations.
"I have connections in the government. I can leave an anonymous tip about my husband with enough evidence to point the way to you." She really sounded determined to have her husband killed. Who was I to try to dissuade her?
"Fine, Mrs. Drebuki, you’ve made your point." Actually, she’d beaten me over the head with it. I got it. "My fee for either interested party is the same. I’ll need some details from you. I’ll send you an information request tomorrow."
That particular job turned into a boondoggle on several fronts, but I did get paid by both Mrs. Drebuki and her government to kill her husband, though for entirely different reasons.
I’d had to infiltrate the local police department, establish myself as a bona fide police agent- I’d never been, but I knew enough about their methods and mannerisms to pass myself as a convincing agent. After that, it took several weeks to work my way onto their local SWAT team. During this time I of course was turning down other jobs, so the double paycheck I would collect on this was starting to look better and better with each passing day.
The day for the hit was about as perfect as I could hope for. The weather was clear, calm breezes and the temperature was a comfortable degree, none too high or too low. That affects weapon performance for a sniper more than the average person would think. The SWAT team was covering the press conference for Mr. Drebuki, in case someone from the opposition party tried to be a nut and attack the platform. Little did they see the viper the unit had coiled to it's own bosom.
I was perched high on a roof top on the southwest corner of the plaza, with a clear line of sight to the crowd- and, conveniently to the platform- for the rally. The unit was one man short of having paired spotter-trigger teams, so I volunteered to work alone. I’d spun some line about having grown up hunting alone, that I was used to working without another person to distract me, and the commanders bought it.
Since I was alone, I switched out the ammunition in the police issued sniper rifle for something I used more regularly. I didn’t carry more than a couple of rounds of this ammunition on my, but it was easier to use their rifle than to bring my own and to try and explain why I was carrying two rifles on a call-out. I preferred to use my own rifle, as it was custom built, untraceable, and I was the most comfortable with it, but these are the little sacrifices I’d learned to make in the field. If it got me into position to make the shot and be inconspicuous doing so, I’d make do.
The target presented his self onto the platform at the appointed hour, and began his speech. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but his wife had cued me into a particular gesture Mr. Drebuki liked to use in his speeches. It was an arm movement where he swept his right arm out to point in emphasis on some point or other. That was my mark.
I watched the platform as I slipped a silencer onto the end of the sniper rifle. It would cost me range and I didn’t normally like to use one on a job, but this time sound suppression was necessary to continue my cover. The last thing I needed was for another SWAT Team member to notice me taking the shot and wonder why I’d hit Drebuki and not some nut in the crowd. Precautions were the name of the game in the assassination business. Cover your ass against all possibilities, or one of them would bite you in said ass when you least expected it.
I lined up the shot on Drebuki, and waited. Time seemed to compress and expand as it normally did on any job of this stripe. Seconds stretched into hours lining up the target through the moment you nudged the trigger. After that time came crashing in again and everything seemed to happen in the same instant. Drebuki staggered back from the podium and fell to the stage floor. My assignment completed, I fell into my cover role as a SWAT sniper.
"Where is he? Who saw the shot?" I called out over the radio, sowing confusion among the ranks. More subterfuge to cover my ass. It was a necessary and often useful skill to have in your arsenal. "I’ve got nothing on the southwest corner."
* * *
I never normally went into such elaborate preparations for a single job, but this one was different. Metering out personal revenge was always a minefield. Would the client change his or her mind, get cold feet, or chicken out? Each was a possibility. That’s what made personal revenge cases such sensitive animals. If it did, I was stuck, any preparations I’d made would be wasted, and my client was forfeiting a large portion of their deposit. That’s why I kept questioning Mrs. Drebuki’s resolve about the job she wanted to hire me for. She continued to be adamant about the issue. Which was fine with me. I could kill her husband any time she chose. I suggested she be out of town when it happened. The farther away the better. That was standard advice I gave to any client. The further away they were then the assignment was completed, the longer it took for them to return and hear of the news- feigning shock and surprise- and to then become a suspect in the inevitable murder investigation. By that time I was long gone. That’s the other reason I gave such advice to clients.
I’d worked my way into the SWAT unit, and had actually been involved on a few calls around the city, which helped me establish myself with the unit, and gave me an inside look at how that particular unit operated in the local environment. I’d confirmed some universal truths during that period, and I like to think I might have learned one or two more.
So, there were the good and bad points of that job. They didn’t exactly fit neatly on a spreadsheet, but there they were.
* * *
I ignored Aldo’s pleading and looked through the scope again. I didn’t like what I saw and I adjusted my aim. I let my finger find the trigger on its own accord.
"Quint what are you doing? Don’t shoot!"
"Aldo, I’m doing my job. I was paid to assassinate the Butcher of Stromitz, that’s what I’m going to do. It’s called being a professional."
My finger caressed the trigger slowly and without hurry, like the two were new lovers discovering each other for the first time. The finger touched the trigger, touched it, and tightened smoothly…
Minister Mumbutu’ril took the round just below his right eye. Blood and brain matter splattered the steps behind him as the round created a large exit wound and buried spent itself on the stone of the steps.
"Quint! You shot the Minister!"
I didn’t answer him, not right away. Instead, I picked up my communicator and activated a small program I’d kept on the device in case I ever needed to lock an assistant out of my financial records. Now was the time. The program transferred all my credits to a separate account I’d held in reserve and never told Aldo about.
"I told you, Aldo, I was doing my job. And now it’s done, and so are you. Consider this your pink slip. You’re no longer employed by me and I’m going to inert the security device. You’ll be free and safe to have it removed at your leisure." I paused, and decided to tell Aldo two more things. "There will be an extra ten thousand credits on your last paycheck, as severance pay. Good bye, Aldo."
I wiped my prints off of the sniper rifle and anything else I thought I might have touched. I picked up my communicator, switched off Aldo’s babbled questions, and walked away. In my head were visions of a sheep ranch somewhere in an alpine valley.