Romance of a Hitman

ONE
I had been waiting three hours for Snake Anderson to show. At 7:16 a.m. my ten-power scope picked up his golf cart as he rode over the crest of the asphalt path and braked at number two hole. Just to make sure I had the right guy, I eyeballed him through the scope. It was Snake all right. I had seen his image a hundred times before on TV: tall, lean, sinewy, stooped over, light brown skin with freckles, a permanent sneer etched on his face as if challenging the world to defy him.

He climbed out of the driver’s seat and ambled to the tee. The other occupant of the cart, a balding, rotund white man in a lime green polo shirt that clung to his swollen belly, clambered out and pumped his golf ball up and down in a ball washer. Snake’s business manager.

Snake pushed his tee into the ground and balanced his golf ball on top of it. He took a few practice swings with his driver, then swerved around and said something funny to the balding man who laughed.

My weapon of choice, an M40A1 sniper’s rifle, rested on a tripod for stability and accuracy. Chambered for M118 7.62mm special ball cartridges, the rifle held a ten-power Unertl scope and a five-cartridge magazine. Not that I intended to take more than one shot, not at this range. Twenty years ago, I had been trained as a Marine Corps sniper to hit targets up to one thousand yards and sometimes beyond. Three hundred yards was easy pickings. A clean head shot, nothing less.

The sniper’s rifle had set me back a bundle, about three times its replacement cost. Still, it was well worth it. The rifle I held in my hands was untraceable. It had been built by skilled armorers at the Quantico, Virginia Marine Corp base, then hijacked along with a shipment of other rifles and ammunition and sold through the black market.

The rising sun was behind me, and the wind at this time of morning was four miles per hour, a negligible factor. I wore brown khakis and a leaf green shirt to blend with the colors of the surrounding woods. No face paint, no Ghillie camouflage uniform. Didn’t need them. I wasn’t up against a hardened platoon of guerrilla insurgents wise to the ways of snipers, just a solitary civilian target.

That is, if you wanted to label Snake Anderson an innocent civilian. Reptile was more like it. To millions of Americans, Snake was the symbol of everything that had gone wrong with this country. An overpaid 6’8” forward with the Charlotte Racers of the American Basketball League, Snake had a mean disposition exceeded only by his boundless arrogance. The guy fairly oozed resentment. Both on and off the court, he challenged authority and spit in the eyes of journalists and authorities who dared question his behavior. Snake had cut up one coach with a seven-inch switchblade knife, brawled with fellow players on several teams and slapped the face of the manager of yet another team. Outside the basketball arena, he duked it out with cops who had the audacity to attempt to curtail his lifestyle of drugs, rape and drunken brawls. Anybody who dared confront Snake was smeared with the label “racist,” a word that in today’s politically correct society sent whites scurrying for cover, cops included. He had yet to serve more than a few days in jail. His money bought skilled shysters who whisked him out of jail within days, if not hours, of his many arrests.

The American Basketball League refused to suspend Snake, fearful that his absence would lower box office receipts. Instead, it levied hundred-thousand-dollar fines against him, chickenfeed to a guy hauling in seven million a year.

Snake had fathered about a dozen babies. When a reporter asked exactly how many, he mumbled, “Don’t know, don’t care.” A couple of girls he knocked up who had the guts to go public about Snake refusing to take responsibility for his offspring, got the boot. Literally. Snake beat the shit out of them. The white community looked on with slack-jawed amazement and fear, refusing to raise even a feeble complaint lest it be denounced as bigoted. Besides, the cops often were awestruck of sports celebrities and let them get away with behavior that would land ordinary citizens in the slammer.

Snake’s unbridled arrogance finally got the better of him. He savagely raped and mutilated a twelve-year-old Asian girl during a frenzied drug orgy. The girl wound up catatonic. Even a frightened white America couldn’t ignore this barbarity. Put on trial, Snake hired a carload of $400-an-hour shysters who managed to intimidate the judge and load the jury with white-hating blacks. Skeptical journalists correctly predicted the not guilty verdict at the nationally televised trial. Minutes after the jury foreman read the verdict, and the judge dismissed him, Snake, ever scornful, told TV interviewers that he “raped the bitch, and I’ll do it again any muthafuckin’ time I want.” Already found innocent, he had nothing to fear from the law.

I focused on Snake’s head through the scope. He was still joking around with the balding man who screwed open a thermos and poured a steaming drink into two large paper cups. Both men drank and talked. No other golfers were in sight.

In the past, I took assignments only when I had total control over the method, time and place of the hit. This time it was different. My cutout had instructed me to take the target out slowly, to make him suffer a long time before dying. Apparently, Mr. Jones, code name for the highest-ranking executive in the organization that employed me, decreed that Snake Anderson should be “put to death in a manner befitting the dog that he is.” Never before had my employer displayed his feelings, and never before had he insisted—through my cutout, of course—how to make the hit. I made no comment at this remarkable declaration, just raised my eyebrows and grunted.

Still, it shouldn’t have surprised me. Guys like Snake make enemies faster than coin machines count nickels and dimes. I guessed that he had antagonized one of Mr. Jones’s many rich and powerful friends. Whatever the offense, probably a rape or beating of a daughter or niece of somebody important, Snake’s specialty, it triggered somebody’s thirst for vengeance and a contract on Snake.

I followed the target for two weeks and constructed a timetable displaying his daily activities. Found that he spent much of the off-season on the golf course at Riverdale Heights, a semi-private country club in the Charlotte suburbs.

Snake was always first man on the links, which made his movements predictable. I sneaked onto the golf course several times after dawn and hiked the nature trails and asphalt paths to scout the layout. The hilly, forested terrain provided plenty of cover, a perfect place to ambush Snake. The trails were deserted until 9:00 a.m. or so when the earliest nature lovers and hikers arrived, about an hour-and-a-half past my planned hit time.

The only problem was pinpointing the moment of the hit. If I took Snake up close and someone was with him, I’d have to kill that particular someone. There might even be three others along in a golfing foursome. All would have to die, a contingency that went against the grain. I was a consummate professional and prided myself on quick, clean kills, but only of targets and bodyguards I knew about going in, not innocent bystanders. Unless, of course, somebody happened unexpectedly to come upon me at the time of the hit. That exception had yet to happen, and for good reason. I planned my hits carefully, had been doing so for my ten years in the business and the two years before that working as a hitman for a secret government agency.

It was unrealistic to believe I could kill Snake slowly from a distance. If I gut shot him or blasted a kneecap, he might roll into a gully or fall behind the golf cart, out of sight. Then I’d have to run a few hundred yards to face him, shoot him in the head, catch and kill the others in his party and try to escape cops who by then might be on the scene. Everybody carried cell phones today, which meant instant 911 calls.

No, a slow kill was impractical. A sniper, that is an experienced sniper, doesn’t have the luxury of time to waste. His job is to take out the target and escape quickly so he can live to shoot another day. My intentions were to kill Snake with one head shot, despite instructions to the contrary.

Besides, how I accomplished my assignments mattered a great deal to me. I took pride in dispatching my targets quickly to minimize their suffering. This business already had enough assassins who enjoyed inflicting pain, and I didn’t want to be counted among them.

I laid out the hit in my mind and examined every possibility. The only effective way was to ambush Snake from a few hundred yards out using my scout-sniping skills to locate the best spot to shoot from. I’d have plenty of natural cover, an easy escape route and the full element of surprise.

The golf course at Riverdale Heights runs alongside a creek and nature trail that meanders between a forest of tall pines. Three-quarter-million-dollar homes flank the wide hilly forests on both sides of the fairway. I was lying on the crest of a wooded ridge in the middle of the narrow forest, hidden from sight of the homes or the asphalt trail, three hundred yards from the tee of number two hole, with a clear line of sight to the target.

The crack of the bullet traveling along the nature trail would confuse Snake’s golfing partner, not to mention nearby home-
owners, most who had never heard any noise more threatening than an approaching thunderstorm. They would believe the shot came from much closer on the nature trail than my actual position. By the time the police arrived, I’d be long gone, and in the opposite direction.

I shifted around in the prone position and zeroed in on Snake who still was kibitzing with his manager on the tee. Waited patiently until he threw his paper cup into a waste container and turned around and stood as still as a grave’s headstone while addressing the golf ball. The exact moment was at hand. I sucked in some air, held it and released it slowly as my finger ever so gently squeezed the trigger. The rifle cracked, and the side of Snake’s head disappeared in a mist of red and white matter. He dropped his golf club and collapsed to the ground like a sack of fertilizer dumped from the tailgate of a pickup truck. His body flopped around for a few seconds, then lay still.

Snake wouldn’t be mutilating children anymore.

I pushed up to my knees and glanced around. After the thunderous crack of the rifle, a roar of silence greeted me. I stood, dusted off my pants and shirt, broke the rifle into its component parts and inserted them into my backpack.

After cleaning up and policing the site so nobody could tell I had been there, I deliberately left a few misleading clues should the cops accidentally tumble to the spot. I scattered a few blonde hairs (I have light brown hair), dropped a tissue with lipstick smeared on it and a cigarette butt I had found on the way into the golf course. Then shucked off the surgical gloves I wore, shrugged into the backpack, adjusted the load on my back and sauntered away. Merely an average everyday hiker with nothing more pressing to do than enjoy the woods and the birds.

I left the nature trail in a clearing near the golf course’s maintenance shed. Nobody in sight. My old Chevy pickup truck was parked on an adjoining dirt road behind a tall hedgerow. I had
bought it with cash and fake ID from an ad in the Sunday classifieds and planned to abandon it in a parking lot at the Charlotte airport.

I removed the backpack, climbed into the pickup and leisurely drove away. Once well clear of the golf course, I peeled off the fake mustache, sideburns and hairpiece.

It was a lovely spring day. Normally, after a successful hit like this, I find a small bar or outdoor café and relax over a cold Stolichnaya and an illegally imported Cuban cigar. Today was going to be an exception. I knew full well how my employers would react to the quick Snake Anderson kill. They’d view it as a failure to follow instructions, and I wasn’t at all sure what might happen to me as a result. I focused hard and pushed the problem aside, knowing the difficult task facing me later that afternoon. A task that my employers, should they find out, would make the quick kill of Snake Anderson seem insignificant. Which could result in my imminent retirement under less than pleasant circumstances.