The Contract Man

By: A P Bateman

For my family. Crazy, loud and lovely.


He studied the face of the teenager next to him, noting the scars on his otherwise youthful face. How old was he? Sixteen perhaps even seventeen but surely no older. It was the eyes which deceived. They belonged to someone who had seen and lived a great deal of life at its harshest. More than they should have. They were the eyes of a middle-aged man, perhaps older still.

The boy’s hands shook momentarily then tightened, forming a firm grip· around the battered wooden stock of the old Russian-made Dragunov sniper rifle. He sighted his right eye an inch or so away from the telescopic sight then gradually closed his left eye allowing his target to come into full view.

“Keep it steady. The target’s six hundred metres. Wind’s three to four, right to left,” the man paused as he glanced at the youth beside him. “Put the crosshairs a foot above and two to the right.” He swallowed, his teeth grit together in frustration as the youth carried out his orders with slow methodical movements, just as he had _been taught. Only now, weeks after he had first met him, taught him the finer skills of long range marksmanship he wished that it was he who was taking the shot. “Keep the mark on him, then re-sight when he stops walking.”

The youth grinned, then blinked profusely as a trickle of perspiration contaminated his eye. He moved his head and readjusted his aim. “This is for my people…” he smiled, forcing two decaying teeth over his dried and cracked bottom lip. “This is for Allah…”

The man tapped the youth on the back of the head. “Quiet,” he said. “Don’t even think it. Think only of the target, the wind and the bullet. When that bullet gets there almost two seconds after you squeeze the trigger, you’ll have time for another shot. You should be ready for a follow up.”

“But we don’t take more than one shot from a firing point,” the youth said, his eye still on the image in the scope. “Never. That’s the rule.”

“We do today,” the man kept his eye on the spotting scope. “That man to the target’s left – your right – is Jamil Betesh. I’ve been after him for two years. I’m not leaving here without a shot.”

“Very well,” the boy said nervously. His hand visibly shook on the weapon’s stock. “Would you not prefer to take the shot?”

“No, it belongs to you.” The man thought of the boy’s family. Thought of how the man in the sights beheaded them, their hands bound, begging on their knees…

The boy breathed out a long slow and steady breath and the man knew he was ready. The boy squeezed the hair-trigger then visibly flinched as the heavy rifle recoiled violently against his bony shoulder and discharged a loud, near-deafening ‘crack’.

The man kept his well trained eye against the rubber eyepiece of the spotting scope, waiting for the bullet to find its mark. It did so a full two seconds later and the man in the lens crumpled to the dusty ground, flailing his arms wildly.

The older man quickly turned to the boy who was readjusting his aim on the heavy rifle. “Akhim! The target’s down, but not out!” He forced his eye back against the spotting scope and then took a deep, steadying breath. “The bastard’s moving about all over the deck. It looks like a shoulder wound. He’s not going anywhere, leave him for now and put one in Betesh.”

The new target was crouched over the wounded man, his assault rifle held loosely in both hands. There was a moment of indecision as he surveyed the mountains and the clump of rocks they were sheltered behind. The boy fired again and the wounded man fell completely still.

“I said Betesh!”

The man grabbed the rifle and pushed the boy roughly aside. He checked the breach was closed and that the next round had chambered cleanly and sighted quickly in on the crouching man. Only he wasn’t. He was running and he was making good ground towards the Toyota pickup truck. And the fifty calibre machine gun fixed on top. There would be a moment when he stopped running and mounted the bed of the pickup truck and at two seconds of travel, more likely a second and a half now the barrel was warmed, there was a chance of hitting the man as he slowed. The sides of the vehicle were high, but the rear wheel would provide a step. The man kept the rifle moving in time with the target. He overtook slightly, aimed at a point three feet above the rear of the vehicle and squeezed.

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