Caught in the Crosshairs Ch. 02

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The hit man walked to the parking garage that disfigured the far western side of the shopping center and took the stairs to the third floor. He used the automatic key to unlock the doors of his rented BMW 330Cic convertible, silver-blue with a black leather interior. At the hotel he’d said that he was a master carpenter called in to work on a fancy house some wealthy doctor was building nearby, which explained the van and the odd-looking cases. But he wanted as few people as possible to see him in that van, just in case something went wrong and he had to run, so he rented the BMW under another name, a car for tooling around town and, when his mission was completed, for escaping the city. He hadn’t expected this much free time, but since his American client couldn’t make up his mind about liquidating his wife the convertible had been worth the trouble.

The hit man drove north, past the endless malls and superstores the size of football fields, until he left the congestion behind and found a long, straight, four-lane road. Ten minutes later her reached the large park that provided a leafy refuge for the denizens of the city’s northern suburbs. A large lake sat at the center of the park, with a 5.5 mile road and bike trail along its perimeter, and the hit man drove around the lake several times, the breeze ruffling his light blond hair. As he drove he carefully studied the pretty girls enjoying this warm June day, and lost himself in thought. He thought about his mission, about his most recent phone call, but mostly about the gorgeous young woman he was contracted to kill.

He had no qualms about killing her, had the client given the order he would have put a bullet through her head without a second’s hesitation. But as he remembered what he saw later in the morning, saw the way the woman made love, he felt a pleasant ripple in his groin. He wanted her. That was not surprising-any man who saw her would want her. But the hit man wanted her badly enough that, as he drove, he started to toy with the idea of approaching her. It broke every rule of his profession, and though the hit man was not superstitious that of course bothered him. This would almost certainly be his last mission, and you don’t take reckless chances your last time out. He’d saved a small fortune over the years, the money safe in Cayman and Swiss bank accounts, and if his client paid as promised he would have enough money to retire and live in style the rest of his days.

He’d done well for himself, especially when one considered where he came from. The hit man’s father was a career diplomat, a dry, plodding sort who spent his entire life in identical charcoal-gray suits, doing the bidding of more intelligent and ambitious men. The hit man loved his father, but could never respect him. He was a quiet and meek man, good qualities in a low-level diplomat, but not so good in a father. The hit man barely knew his mother. She left them when the hit man was 8 years old, left her husband and son without so much as a good-bye. Her drinking embarrassed her husband, and disgusted her son, who already was building up a catalog of faults he found unacceptable in other people. He never missed her, and never wondered what became of her.

The hit man’s father was reassigned nearly every other year, and though he could not have known it, this itinerant life groomed his son perfectly for his chosen profession. By the time he was 18 the hit man was fluent in English, French, Italian, Spanish, German, and Russian. He was completely at home in nearly every major city in Europe and the United States, both from having lived in those cities and from accompanying his father on his diplomatic trips.

Moving so often, and to so many different countries, meant that the hit man had no close personal friends. At each new school he reinvented himself, passing himself off as the son of an English earl, a Russian count, or an American movie producer. He was a very skilled actor, and as he felt nothing but contempt for his peers he aggressively blocked all attempts his classmates made to find out who he really was. Those boys who tried to bully him soon found out that the tall, blond young man had extremely quick hands and a capacity for casual cruelty.

His father hoped his son would follow him into the diplomatic corps, but he might as well have hoped the hit man would become an opera singer. After so many hours wasted in classrooms and musty embassy offices the young man action and adventure. With his father’s humble connections the hit man could have gone to several good universities, but school didn’t interest him in the least. Already he was thinking about a career outside the pale of normal society, and the military seemed like it might be the answer. He enlisted in the army and, after a severe weeding-out process, won an assignment to an elite paratrooper unit. It was during his 8 years as part of this unit that the hit man developed his weapon skills, and where he decided to become a killer-for-hire.

During the last year of his military service the hit silivri escort man’s unit was deployed to the Balkans as part of a UN peacekeeping force. The UN forces were vastly outnumbered by the hostile Serbs, and it soon became obvious to the hit man and his fellow paras that they could be taken hostage or killed outright at any time. They had no armor, little air support, and no mandate to do anything more than watch as genocidal Serb soldiers rousted Bosnian Muslins from their homes and slaughtered them like cattle. The paras would patrol outside a village and then, the next day, find nothing but smoking ruins. They would see huge mounds of freshly raised earth surrounded by Serb soldiers, and they knew that underneath were the bodies of the murdered villagers.

The event that turned the young paratrooper into a professional assassin was a typically cold and rainy April morning. Out on routine patrol, the hit man’s unit was ambushed by a company of Serbian irregulars. Three of his comrades were killed and seven wounded. Before they could respond the enemy forces melted away into the forests. Because the hit man and the other survivors could not positively identify the men who ambushed them, they were not permitted to move against the local Serb army and militias, nor would the NATO commanders authorize any air strikes.

That was the last day the hit man followed a flag. Sitting in their tents, freezing to death, staring at their comrades empty bunks, the hit man asked his lieutenant, “Sir, do we still have those AK’s we confiscated from those bastards last month?”

“Yes,” the officer said. “So what?”

“So,” the hit man said, getting to his feet, “I need a magazine, and a night scope.”

The lieutenant stood to block him. “If you get caught, they’ll kill us all.”

“They might kill us anyway,” the hit man said. “Maybe this way, they learn that we know how to kill even better than they do.”

One of the paras said, “I’d rather have a fight than wait to get picked off while I take a piss.”

The lieutenant looked at the hit man, at the other grieving soldiers, and wisely stood aside. “Thank you, sir,” the hit man said, not wanting to humiliate his officer. He looked at his mates and grinned. “A hunting I will go, a hunting I will go…” For the first time since the attack the other paras laughed. The hit man was the best shot in the company, considered by all and sundry an extremely dangerous sort. Let the Serbs find out first hand how dangerous.

That first night he found two armed Serbs smoking cigarettes while strolling down a unpaved road. He left them lying on the ground with holes between their eyes. The next day he found a lone gunman walking between two nearby villages and left him for the crows. The next day three Serbs were killed, and the day after two more…

At first he targeted uniformed Serb soldiers or militia wearing insignia. Men like these would be found with neat holes through their foreheads and their brains splattered over the turf, and the militias would raise holy hell and send dogs and patrols into UN-secured territory. But when the Serbs dug one of the slugs out of a hillside one of the doomed men had been standing in front of, they found that it was a round from an AK-47, not a NATO-issued weapon, and that caused some confusion. There were considerable rivalries between militias, and soon the rumors spread that this might be the work of a provocateur trying to usurp a local warlord.

The hit man added fuel to this discussion by targeting the commanders who ran these militias. This was where the hit man truly left his military career behind and went to work on his own account. Thanks to his language skills the hit man was often used as an interpreter with the locals, and he soon developed relationships with a number of the most despicable and ambitious gunmen. He liquidated their rivals in exchange for assurances that the new leaders would not target UN personnel.

During a search and seizure raid on farm suspected of being a Serb arms dump, the hit man had cause to speak to a small man with thin, feminine eyebrows. “So tragic, all these men shot through the head,” the man said in flawless English.

The hit man said, “There’s enough tragedy around here I didn’t notice.”

The small man laughed. “No, you misunderstand. Not tragic that those pigs died, but that the one who killed them was so foolish as to do it for free! He must be quite extraordinary, to dispatch so many without getting caught, and each time a single shot to the head.” The man sighed. “If only this man knew that he could make a nice spot of money for himself if he knew the right people to talk to.”

The little man walked away, and the hit man followed him. “What kind of people?” he asked.

The Serb’s disturbing brows rose. “Why would I tell you? You would have them arrested.”

“That’s correct, I would be responsible for turning them over,” the hit man said. There was a long pause, the two men stared each şirinevler escort other down, and then the little man smiled, and they understood each other.

“My name is Zoltan,” the small man said. He handed the hit man a slip of paper. “This is where I can be reached. Perhaps we can do business together.”

During his 6 months in Bosnia the hit man killed 47 Serbs, and instigated a series of violent internecine battles that left hundreds of militiamen dead or wounded. The hit man considered his duty well-done, as the Serbs killed each other with such gusto that they hadn’t time to bother the local Muslims. With Zoltan’s help, the hit man also went home with a secret Swiss bank account that showed a balance in five figures. It was a start, a good start.

After Bosnia he knew what he was capable of, knew the unique gifts he possessed, and a career as a professional killer did not seem so outlandish or absurd as it might to a civilian. And thanks to the reputation that quickly spread from the Balkans throughout the underworld of Europe, a reputation publicized by Zoltan, who fled Bosnia before the War Crimes Tribunal got a good sniff at him, many others were aware of it as well.

And now, eleven years later, he was ready to retire. He was 37 years old, and this was not a business for middle-aged men. The more successful a professional killer, the more likely it was that he would have powerful enemies, and the hit man was very successful. It was time to fade from sight, forever. Europe was a bit too hot right now, and post-9/11 the United States was hardly a secure place for a man like himself. So he planned to spend at least the first few years of his retirement in Thailand, lounging on the beach, eating well, and enjoying the beautiful young women. He was looking forward to it. He’d earned his rest.

But the hit man found his thoughts returning again and again to one particular beautiful young woman. He had a job to do, and he wondered if there was a way that he could both complete this last mission and indulge himself as well. He needed to do some serious thinking, so he parked the BMW next to an empty pavilion and turned off the engine. He didn’t want to run over a jogger while deciding what to do.

He had to resist the lure of the client’s wife. Sleeping with her would not be much of a risk, as she would soon be dead and unable to identify him. But breaking cover in that way violated every rule in the book. Not that the hit man was obsessed with rules, but putting his face in front of his target seemed less the work of a professional than a madman.

He wondered idly if the client’s wife would find him attractive, if she would want to go to bed with him as badly as she wanted the gardener. He could not match the muscular stud in endowment, but, he thought with a smile, size isn’t everything. He was going to kill the client’s wife with a bullet as small as a jellybean. The hit man leaned back and watched birds flit from tree to tree. He couldn’t decide. He considered the possibility that, if he had sex with this woman, he wouldn’t be able to kill her. The hit man doubted that could possibly happen, but even if it did, he would just be out the money. Her husband was no threat, since he would also soon be dead.

The hit man was still debating the question when a girl’s voice spoke behind him. “Wow, this is a nice car.”

The hit man turned and saw two teenage girls teetering on Rollerblades. They were tan and very pretty, the one girl tall and leggy with light brown curls framing her oval face, the other a curvy little bombshell with rich auburn hair. They showed off their sexy young bodies in their belly shirts and Lycra shorts, and the hit man flashed them a toothy smile. “Thanks, I told my company that if I had to be out of town for a month I needed a sweet ride to cruise around town.”

“Is this leather?” the taller of the two girls said, running her fingers over the back seat. The other girl was half a head shorter and two cup sizes larger than her friend and when she leaned over to look the hit man admired the deep cleft between her breasts.

“Of course.” He looked down at their skates. “Nice day to put the top down, go for a drive, look at all the pretty girls…”

They both giggled. The hit man chatted with them for a few minutes, learned that the girls had just completed their freshman year at a small local college and were on a brief break before the start of the summer session. Their car was parked on the other side of the lake, and they were both SO tired…

“I’d offer you a lift,” the hit man said, “but I’m sure your parents said you should never get in a car with a stranger.”

“We could sit in the back seat,” the taller girl said, “I think we’d be safe back there.”

“You think so?” the hit man said, and then he laughed and motioned with his head to the back seat. “Jump in.”

“I’m Jessica,” the taller girl said, and her busty friend said, “I’m Mandy.”

The hit man shook their şişli escort cool hands. “My name’s…Jack.” “Jack” told the girls that he was a businessman. They didn’t ask him what kind of business he was in and he didn’t volunteer the information. The girls took off their skates and sat on the top of the rear seat, their hair blowing in the slipstream, waving at boys and showing off in their new friend’s car. The park speed limit was just 25 miles an hour and the girls had plenty of opportunity to scream and giggle at the passersby. The hit man enjoyed their girlish enthusiasm, and enjoyed watching their breasts thrust against their tight T-shirts.

The hit man saw a Tastee-Freeze around the corner and said, “Anyone want ice cream?” He stopped and bought three twist cones and they ate them in the parking lot, lounging on the soft leather seats. The two girls licked the soft ice cream with pink tongues and the hit man felt his penis quiver pleasantly inside his shorts. When he resumed driving he considered the situation. There were two of them, and that was one too many. A few times in the past the hit man had seduced a young woman while on assignment, both for the diversion and to provide cover in case something went terribly wrong.

During a mission in Romania his contact person had been arrested and had immediately told the authorities everything he knew about the hit man. After some surprisingly good police work the Romanian security forces learned the name he was traveling under and began an extensive manhunt. He would probably still be languishing in a jail cell had he not, the week before, seduced a dark-eyed girl who waited tables at the restaurant near his hotel. The two nights he dined there he tipped her extravagantly, and a third night met her for drinks afterward. He tenderly made love to her, pleasuring her with his lips and tongue before even removing his own clothes. She was used to men taking what they wanted of her and then leaving, she told him after he finally satisfied his desire for her body. “I’ve never been so happy,” she whispered in the darkness. “I would do anything, anything, if you would stay.”

Two days later, when his cover was blown, that’s exactly what the hit man did. He showed up at her tiny flat, told the girl he was hopelessly in love with her, and that he wanted to take her back to London with him. He was traveling under British papers, papers that were useless now, and during those four days the hit man waited for one of Zoltan’s forgers to provide him with the passport he needed to make his escape.

The girl loved taking care of the hit man, she cooked for him every night, even called off work twice to spend the day making love with him. The tiny black-and-white TV was kept switched off, at his insistence. She might never have learned his identity had it not been for the old man who delivered the local newspapers to the tenants of the old apartment house. He put the paper intended for the flat next door in her box. He watched her take it out of the box, shaking her head, “This is the hundredth time he’s…he’s…” She stared at the front page of the paper, at the picture of the man who had spent the last three days in her bed.

Before she could scream the hit man covered her mouth with his hand, dragged her inside, and quietly shut the door. What happened next was done quietly as well. He spent the fourth day alone in her flat, until he heard the coded knock on the door that signaled his new papers had arrived. Three hours later he was on a plane headed for Istanbul, and safety. The discovery of the girl’s body rated only three column inches in the local newspaper that had unintentionally contributed to her death.

Odd, that he couldn’t remember that girl’s name now. He remembered her eyes, and how much she weighted, but not her name. Odd.

So, what to do with the two girls in the back seat? It seemed a waste to just let them go. If nothing else, they might provide enough of a diversion to end his interest in his client’s wife, and that alone was reason enough to take the next step. And, the professional in him said, they might be of assistance after all. He was still edgy, thinking about Zoltan.

He made up his mind. Instead of wishing the two pretty girls a good afternoon, he asked, “Do you ladies have to be home by a certain time?”

“No,” Jessica said. “Why?”

“I thought maybe you’d show me around town a bit. I heard you just opened up a new baseball park, I think the Cubs are in town…”

“Oh, I’d love to go see a game,” Mandy said. “But I don’t think we’re really dressed to go out.”

“Well, maybe we could do some shopping first,” the hit man ventured, and that was the magic word. He drove the girls back to their car, where they swapped their ‘Blades for sandals, and after they got back in the BMW they gave the hit man directions to a huge mall just a quarter-mile from his hotel room. At the mall the girls found that their new friend was a most patient and generous man. He didn’t object when they tried on scores of different outfits at a half-dozen stores, and every time he liked what they showed him he told them to buy it. “Jack” bought them cute little tank tops and too-short miniskirts and expensive designer dresses and beautiful Italian sandals. He didn’t mind spending the money because, after all, his client was the one footing the bill.

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