An excerpt from THE HITTER
By Chris F. Holm
The plaza shimmered in the midday heat, flush with handsome brown-skinned people bedecked in the garish red so favored by their nation’s ruling party. They awaited the appearance of their newly reelected leader, a paunchy smile-and-haircut of fifty who fancied himself a revolutionary, and whose trademark fatigues always looked as clean and pressed as any banker’s suit.
I awaited his appearance, too, from my perch four stories above the square – my nerves jangling as they always do before a job, my rifle stock held flush to my shoulder in anticipation of the coming shot.
He was late.
Despite the wait and the oppressive heat, the crowd seemed jovial enough. Not exactly a surprise – everyone for blocks around had been screened six ways from Sunday to ensure a pretense of unity and good cheer. To ensure the cameras caught none of the starving, the torture-scarred, or the dissidents spurred to violence by the widespread reports of election fraud that, though suppressed here, were plastered across every newspaper in the western world.
Lucky for me, their screening wasn’t perfect.
If you want to kill somebody badly enough, no screening ever is.
Some below waved flags of yellow and green. Some held small children atop their shoulders as they jockeyed for position. Most laughed and whooped along to what I could only assume were charming ditties about the triumph of the proletariat, written in a language I didn’t speak and blasted through the PA so loud it shook droplets of sweat loose from the tip of my nose. As they fell, they tapped a lazy rhythm on my hotel room’s window frame. Reminded me of a radiator cooling, or the ticking of a watch in need of winding.
As if I needed reminding it was past time.
As if my itchy trigger finger wasn’t reminder enough.
I trained my gun sight on the PA for a moment, entertained the thought of quieting the fucking thing for good. But then, why prematurely pierce the plaza’s good cheer?
No. Best to wait.
And I was very good at waiting.
I’d been staying here a week. In this tiny island nation, in this tiny sweatlodge room. I watched the election on the rheumy black-and-white bolted to the wall in the corner. Watched UN officials cluck their tongues as, one by one, all challengers conceded. Watched last night’s drunken dancing in the square as party loyalists celebrated the only result that ever would have been allowed, all the while wondering if any of them suspected they were standing in the very spot their leader was to die.
I watched it all atop a mattress made lumpy by dint of the M40A3 sniper rifle I’d stashed inside it on my first day here. Sliced it open at one end with a blade taken from one of my own safety razors, stitched it back up with a sewing kit sent up by the front desk. One never knows who might wind up poking around one’s room, after all – and in a nation where the courtrooms sit suspiciously empty given the number of executions carried out, one can never be too careful.
For a moment, the PA fell silent. Then the bombastic strains of a victory march blared from its speakers. The crowd hushed in anticipation, and then erupted in cheers as their fearless leader bounded up the stairs to the bunted riser and headed toward the podium, all waves and gleaming teeth.
The music built to a thundering crescendo. The crowd seethed with ecstatic frenzy.
I exhaled a measured breath, willed my drumroll heart to slow.
He reached the podium and stood hands raised, palms out – a mock plea for quiet. The crowd raged on, as he no doubt hoped they would. The victory march continued.
My body still, I sighted my target and squeezed the trigger: three pounds’ pressure – no more, no less.
A crack like thunder echoed through the plaza. When Haircut heard the shot, he hit the deck. The man had a survivor’s instinct, I’ll give him that – he reacted a full second before anyone else in the square. But ultimately, his gesture of self-preservation was futile; by the time you hear the gunshot, the bullet’s come and gone.
Lucky for him, he’s not who I was aiming for.
To read the rest of Chris F. Holm‘s novella THE HITTER, pick up the Summer 2010 issue of NEEDLE: A Magazine of Noir, available here. His work has appeared or is upcoming in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Beat To A Pulp, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Spinetingler, and Crimefactory.