“We know you have the skills. We have your file. More to the point, I think, we have Josephina and Adiela, your wife and daughter. You do this or they die unpleasantly. While you watch. It’s as simple as that.”
Through sleep-starved eyes, John could barely make out the interrogator standing before him. He could barely think as it was and not understanding what the man was saying didn’t bother to answer. They’d kept him awake for the last…how many days had it been? Dimly he realized he had no idea any more, but he just didn’t care. He knew he should be alarmed by that and it bothered him, but he just couldn’t hang onto the thought long enough to care.
There were voices in the background, then he was pulled to his feet and dragged away. The bed they dropped him into was a mere straw pallet, but to him it was the most luxurious bed he had ever slept in.
* * *
“Please, eat.” The man sitting across the table gestured at the small meal before John. “Carefully, please. We don’t want you getting sick now.”
Nothing more was said while John ate. The sleep he’d just awakened from had done him wonders. He was careful to eat slowly and chew thoroughly. He also restricted himself to sips of the water before him, but took plenty of them. When the simple meal was done, he simply sat there.
“Good. Now that you are awake and alert, we can talk. Constructively, I hope.” When John didn’t answer, the man across the table continued. “Now listen to me. Carefully.” He paused to let that sink in. “We know you have the skills we want,” the other man said as he gently tapped the file open before him. “We have your wife and daughter.” When John started to rise, he raised his finger and waggled it. “Sit down if you value them.”
When John was seated again, he continued, “Much better. Good.” He nodded happily. “You were a sniper and a mercenary. A paid killer. Not much different than many that work for me. So, if you want your wife and daughter to stay alive, you will do as I say. Understand?”
John merely nodded. The man nodded back, smiling.
After that John had been allowed to briefly visit with Josephina and Adiela. No more than five minutes, just enough to know they were okay and then they’d been whisked away. The next few days were spent going over the intelligence the Dictator’s Death Battalion had gathered. John finally made his decision and presented the plan to the man behind the desk. He was given the rifle he asked for and allowed to test it out and sight it in. Throughout it all John was aware of the armed guards constantly around him with their weapons always at the ready.
Finally the day had come when John was allowed to see his family again, this time for ten minutes before he was ordered away and into the car for the trip to the drop-off point. There, they’d unloaded his equipment and just before leaving dropped the bag of ammo out the window. It would have been amusing, their respect for him and the resulting caution, if the situation wasn’t so oppressive.
* * *
It had taken John a mere two days to work his way cross-jungle to his selected vantage point. He had given himself three days for the trek, so his arrival a day early gave him additional time to scout the area and find the best location to set up. Once the location was selected and his escape route established, John spent several hours carefully observing angles and working out ranges, paths, and trajectories. Once he had done everything he could, he settled in to wait. His target wouldn’t be coming through the area until noon the next day at the earliest.
With the waiting came the thinking.
At first John tried to not think about anything but the job at hand. As the wait dragged on, it became harder and harder not to think of his family, his situation, and to start second-guessing. He’d be watching a bug crawl along the branch before him, see it interact with another bug, and that would then remind him of when he met his wife. Or he’d see a condor circling lazily down the valley and his mind would wander to when they all flew to Spain for a holiday.
The longer John was forced to wait, the more his mind insisted on thinking things through. The more he thought things through, the more an inescapable fact came to the front of his mind.
That night was the worst John had ever spent. Every time he dozed off his family invaded his sleep. In the end, it was sheer exhaustion that let him finally fall asleep as the first signs of the false dawn started to appear.
* * *
The green-tinted sunlight streaming through the jungle canopy was coming from almost directly overhead when John finally woke. Having reached his decision while he slept, he knew exactly what needed to be done. He was surprised that he felt as calm as he did, but he knew deep down, without thinking about it, that his decision was the right one. Gone were all the doubts from last night, gone were all the what-if scenarios he’d deluded himself with. He knew the regime and what they would do. He would be patient and wait now, at peace with himself.
John did not have long to wait. It was no more than two hours later by the sun when the first scouts came over the distant pass. He watched as eventually the entire group passed through the defile and dropped down into the valley, hidden by the jungle canopy. It wouldn’t be long now before this was all over with.
As the first scouts ventured cautiously into the clearing across the valley, John felt a deeper calm settle over him. Deeper than any calm he had ever known, it was yet another sign to him that he had made the right decision. As he put his eye to the scope of his rifle, for some odd reason his eyes began to water.
Tears streaming from his eyes, he watched through the scope as the main group came into view on the trail across the valley. He made a slight adjustment to better bring into focus the spot where the revolutionary leader must pass through his rifle scope’s field of view. As the target’s head came into sharp view, John thought Forgive me, but I must do this.
Exactly as the leader was about to pass out the other side of the scope’s view, John pulled the trigger. When the shot rang out the group on the trail broke for cover wherever they could find it. In apparent anger, a small patrol broke away from the main group and stormed across the valley floor into the jungle cover and could be heard rushing up towards where the sound of the shot appeared to have come from.
Two members of the patrol eventually found where he lay, a bullet through his head from the pistol still in his hand. In his other hand was a note.
My beloved Josephina, my beloved Adiela, I love you dearly. I cannot do this after all. I am sure by now you both are dead. Our people must win, I have to believe that. Have mercy on my soul, I beg you.