Loose Ends

A sniper hired to take out a target is all too aware that bad business can be deadly. Contains content which may offend.

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Public Domain

Through the heavy rain, John watched the little girl jump from one muddy puddle to the next; her parents shouted something that looked like “stop it.” She continued nonetheless; her little red wellingtons being used to their fullest. John decided her name was Molly as her smile and curly blonde hair reminded him of his departed niece. It made the job easier sometimes.

He stretched his neck slightly to the left and right, savouring the cool trickle of fresh rain water he allowed to run over him; never taking his eye from the scope.

He had been laying on the roof of the old boxing club in the relentless rain for three hours, thirty four minutes and sixteen seconds now, cradling his prized British-made AWM sniper rifle. Through his scope he watched tirelessly, waiting.

A young couple came into view, walking and holding hands. The woman, whose face was partly obscured by a scarf, was holding a butterfly umbrella which they both hid under. They weren’t talking, just walking by the river, hand in hand. John swallowed and flexed his trigger finger as her head passed the centre of his cross-hair; that place was reserved. They passed and left his sights.

His mark, a thirty-two year old male who goes by the name of Peta, had the smallest case file John had ever seen; just a name, several grainy photos and some notes. Whoever had been surveying him made reference to the targets frequent runs through Boundary Park on a Saturday and Thursday afternoon between the hours of fourteen and eighteen hundred. It was perfect hit material.

Setting up in the rain was a risk, but if the target was into his running as much as John hoped, a bit of wet wouldn’t stop him.

He gently shook his head, flicking the rain from his fishing hat.

He waited.

A runner came into view, the first since he started watch. John trailed his scope across to the target; the tightening of his obliques burning from the prior hours of stillness. The target runner was obscured, in a black-hooded poncho. Who runs in a poncho? John thought as he rested his index finger firmly against the trigger, keeping the target’s head within the cross hairs. About six feet tall – check, strong posture, flexed knees and head held high, male – check, and an experienced runner by his movements. John just couldn’t see his face yet; the chase was on.

The target came to a stop and appeared to be gesturing something, from the opposite direction an old female dog-walker approached. The dog was a small, pathetic looking Westie wearing a traditional tartan body-suit. The elderly owner wore an identically coloured bonnet. The target looked up to face the old girl, and John panned across to see her smile. They know each other, he thought.

John rolled his shoulders and steadied his aim, keeping a trained eye on the old woman. She dragged her reluctant mutt towards the target, saying something whilst gesturing to the rain. John kept the pressure on the trigger. The target nodded to her.

She spoke as she passed him.

He turned to face her, revealing himself: bearded, button-nosed and wide eyed. Not the target. He jogged on, unaware that his life was, for several moments, in someone else’s hands.

John exhaled. The rain grew heavier, as did his eyes. He waited.

A few minutes passed before another man came into view. John’s entire body tensed painfully as the face of his mark, Peta, filled his scope. John registered that his target was dressed in a full tailored suit and had red stains on his shirt and was hobbling. He’s injured? John thought.

John knew better than to hesitate. He scanned the leaves of the trees around the target, watching them dance in the wind and made a slight adjustment to his scope. He took one last look at the target’s pained face.

He squeezed the trigger.

The AWM recoiled slightly as the round left the barrel at nine-hundred metres per second. Through his scope, John watched as the target’s head jolted to the side; an eight millimetre hole blown through his skull and temporal lobe. John released the trigger as the target fell to his knees, before falling flat on his face. It only took a second for the puddle of water he’d landed in to become a puddle of blood. The target was motionless, well and truly dead.

John brought himself up to his knees, wasting no time in disassembling the rifle into three smaller pieces, all of which slotted into his custom-made briefcase. He scooped up the additional five-round magazine and spent cartridge from the floor and swapped it for the small mobile phone that he had put in the case to keep dry.

He vacated the roof via the steel stair case at the back of the building, briefcase and phone in hand.

When he reached the side alley between the club and charity shop he switched on the small Nokia, never breaking stride, and dialled the only number he cared to remember. As it rung, he made his way out onto Canon Street and over to his 1983 XR3i Ford Escort. He unlocked the boot and loaded it with the briefcase before quickly running around to the driver’s door, getting in and finally escaping the rain. The line connected.

‘Case seventeen is closed,’ John said.

‘Your feedback is appreciated.’ The electronic voice was quick and genderless as usual.

The line closed.

John threw the phone on to the passenger seat and rubbed his temples, watching the beads of rain run down the windscreen. The closure of case seventeen would be enough to keep John afloat for a good year or so, if he felt inclined. A drone of sirens broke through the pattering of rain. Time to move out. He keyed the ignition but stopped as a new sound invaded his quiet space; his phone. He pensively scooped it from the passenger seat and checked the caller ID which showed “Withheld” – it always was. He didn’t expect a call for another week or so and thought about ignoring it, but he knew that someone would visit him again and he didn’t want that. He let it ring once more in his hand before answering.

‘Bradbury pest control, how can I help?’ he said.

The line was silent save for an electronic hum. He waited for the coded response.

‘Do you deal with field mice?’ The female voice sounded chirpy, authentic almost.

‘Only if the price is right,’ he said, the line changing pitch as authentication was verified.

‘Seventy-six, Paines Drive, today.’ This time the voice was electronic. The line closed.

They must be desperate, John thought as he stared at blank Nokia screen. Paines Drive was roughly seven miles away, he’d still be home in good time to drown the day away. He pulled a Mayfair from a crumpled cigarette packet in the glove compartment and lit it, quickly enjoying the long pull of hot smoke before starting the old Ford and driving off into the rain, leaving the sirens and the dead behind him.

The ride to Paines Drive was short and quiet, relentless rain keeping the Sunday drivers and shoppers at bay. The road itself reminded John of the street he grew up on: council houses, boarded-up windows, neglected front gardens used for old white goods and the occasional forty-something smoking a roll-up at their door. Number seventy-six fit the area rather well in that respect, only better kept.

John pulled up outside and surveyed the property for a minute. The plain grass garden had been recently cut, the knee-high bush squarely trimmed and the yellow stained net curtain replaced for a cream one; it looked lived in, drawing no unwanted attention.

John got out of the car and leant against the driver’s door. He took a look around – a few parked cars and no one appeared to be paying any attention to him. He unzipped a small pocket on the hip of his combats and carefully pulled out a single silver key and made his way into the house.

John did his part and collected up the takeaway leaflets and local newspapers that had accumulated inside the door and added them to the pile above the gas-meter cupboard. The small detached house was as elaborate as they come, with a fully-furnished open-plan living area complete with sofas, a television and a bookcase. The company made no mistakes when setting up a place like this; it was just another home on the street. He stood and listened, smelling the clean air; he was alone. He wiped his shoes on the mat and headed to the compact kitchen which was fully equipped like any other. John felt like he was intruding in someone’s home as the company had even made an effort to leave a glass jar of biscuits beside a red kettle.

Behind the sink, ahead of the small netted window overlooking the garden, John ran his finger along the tiled window frame, looking for the fault line. As he applied pressure, it lifted slightly to reveal a small recess; an envelope hidden within.

‘Bingo,’ John muttered to himself as he broke the seal of the package which felt much lighter than usual. From it, he pulled a single sheet of paper that was precisely folded. John felt a wave of unease, something didn’t feel right. He opened it regardless.

“Thank you for your service.” Written in neat blue ink.

A sudden realisation burned through him.

The small window shattered into a million pieces. The kitchen came to life as everything behind John exploded from a blanket of automatic gunfire coming from the small garden. He covered his face as lumps of plaster and glass rained down on him.

‘JESUS FUCKING CHRIST!’ He crawled across the kitchen floor, still bombarded by the debris. He got up and charged for the door, making a swift exit whilst fumbling for his car keys. It took three attempts to ram the key into the door; he quickly realised why central locking was so popular. He threw himself in and fired up the old Ford but before he could even put her into gear his driver side window exploded across his face; bullets peppering the dash board. He slammed his foot on the accelerator and wheel-spun as the tyres fought to find grip of the wet road.

But it was in vain.

The gunman sprayed a carpet of gunfire across the back of the car, bursting the passenger side tyre. John quickly wrestled the wheel to bring back control but couldn’t stop the car from spinning around to face the house he had just escaped. He threw the car into reverse but was immediately incapacitated as three bullets ploughed through his left shoulder and bicep. He screamed in agony and tried to open the door, everything inside him telling him to run.

* * * * *

Michael kept his rifle trained on his target who was clearly injured. The old Ford XR3i would have been a nice prize but he hadn’t expected his target to make it as far as he did. He marched to within a metre of the bonnet and aimed at the man’s face. This man, who’s case file was one of the smallest Michael had ever seen, didn’t look scared, sad or angry. He seemed to accept the situation, knowing his fight was over. Michael pulled the trigger, and watched the targets head jolt back violently; skull and brain-matter blending nicely into the brown leather headrest. Michael heard a nearby woman scream and the clatter of opening doors and windows. He slid the compact rifle into his oversized trench coat and jogged swiftly into the alleyway opposite, leading to Pickering Street where his black BMW awaited. He unlocked it using the keyfob and opened the boot, lifted the carpet and slotted the rifle into the space where a spare wheel formerly lived. He slipped into the black leather driver’s seat and pulled out his Nokia, dialling the only number he needed to remember.

‘Case fifteen is closed,’ he said.

‘Your feedback is appreciated.’ The electronic voice was quick and genderless. The line closed.

Before Michael pocketed his phone, it rang in his hand. The caller ID showed “Withheld” as usual. He answered.

‘Princes pest control, how can I help?’

‘Do you deal with field mice?’

Sam is a full-time working father of three, a fitness bod, and a writer; often sighted drinking fine ales and riding motorbikes.

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