The man called Allen walked nervously through the jungle. He was an expert in jungle warfare, highly skilled both in the use of small arms and at hand to hand combat, and was easily capable of melting unseen into the surrounding foliage within seconds. Yet his mission today was not to conceal himself, but to actively seek out a man whose skill in all these matters far exceeded his own.
The mans name was Paul Oliver, though Allen had no idea if this was his genuine name, or one that had been allocated to him. Maybe Oliver wondered the same about him. Maybe Oliver didn`t even know Allen existed.
He was sweating profusely, not only from the oppressive humidity, but from the fact that he simply couldn`t will his muscles to relax. He knew his back and stomach were knotted tightly, involuntarily tensed against the impact he knew would surely come. He forced himself not to call out the other mans name. When the confrontation came he would take the criticism that would be hurled at him for his apparent nonchalance and deliberate disobedience of standing orders, and only then, carefully, slowly, would he explain.
A sudden disturbance in the bushes to his right made him react. Instinctively he dropped to one knee, and without thinking he reached for his pistol, though he knew he would not, should not, draw it in this instance. Too late he realised the rouse, and even as he began to turn he was hit heavily from the rear, the only sound being that of his body impacting with the jungle floor.
Oliver was now in Stones office. Most men would be stood to attention before someone of such rank, and Oliver was usually one of those men. Today though, the atmosphere was somewhat different. Stone sat on his desk and looked at his man slumped dejectedly in the comfy chair, amazed, not for the first time, how mere words could reduce even super human people to such wretched creatures so quickly.
Oliver himself simply stared at the floor. He knew the man called Allen was outside the office door, his dignity and pride bruised at having been trussed up like a squealing pig before he could explain his mission. Oliver knew this, but didn`t care. His feelings were shot to pieces at the revelation his boss had unveiled.
Oliver was upset too at the presence of the other man. Why did he need to be here? He wasn`t even military! Yet Jacobs sat quietly in the corner, somehow shifty and menacing - and even more disturbing, somehow in charge.
"I`m sorry I had to be the one to tell you this Oliver, really I am. But I`m also sure you can see the sense in what I`ve suggested. I can`t afford for you to go off like a loose canon. I need you here. I need your skills."
Oliver nodded slowly. "I need some time to...." He trailed off.
"Yes. I think that`s wise. Look, there`s no easy way for me to put this, so I`ll just say it. You mustn`t leave base for a while. And, I`m going to have to ask you not to try to draw your rifle out of the armoury."
"I understand. Just give me five minutes alone eh?"
Stone stood up. "Help yourself to a drink. Have a good think about this. I know she was a good wife to you. She was one of the best Oliver, and that`s the truth. But... Just don`t do anything rash. Take some time to clear your head."
As Stone turned to leave, Jacobs rising quietly also, Oliver asked, "How did they manage it? How did they even get close enough?"
Stone sighed heavily. "Sniper took her out from what we can tell. Took her out with a single round, then to make sure he got her he must have moved close and used a rocket launcher on the ranch. There`s not a lot left I`m afraid." He paused. "Think about it. I`ll be back in five."
Later that night Stone sat in a different office. He was not alone, though when he considered his present company, he would have preferred to have been. Jacobs was the sort of evil, manipulative man that Hollywood films could rarely even get close to portraying adequately. Stone was unsure exactly what department the other man worked for, but he knew as well as Oliver that this man wasn`t military. Possibly some shady branch of the Ministry Of Defence which probably didn`t officially exist. Maybe the man himself didn`t officially exist.
"Will he cope?" Jacobs asked.
Stone wanted to shout at the man, tell him what a man like Oliver was capable of and scare him. Or shoot him. Instead he simply shrugged.
"We train these men to deal with an incredible amount. Physical pain is something they can cope with. We can`t train them for the loss of their wives."
"But he must have known that sometime... I mean, he brought her out here."
Stone knew that Oliver had been secretly training his wife. She knew more about survival than this idiot would ever know. But he was equally aware that if someone has paid to put a sniper on your tail, you`re as good as dead. Especially if the man paying was Claus!
"He`s my man," Stone continued. "I`ll keep an eye on him."
"And you`re sure he wont try -"
"I said I`ll keep an eye on him!" And though he said it forcefully enough to silence the other man, he wondered just what Oliver would be capable of in his present state of mind.
Oliver walked through the burnt wreckage of his ranch several days later. There was not much left to see, and he looked with uncaring eyes, his mourning having been done out in the jungle, alone. What little was left standing crumbled to the touch and fell in ashes to the floor. Everything was black.
There was nothing for him to do here, and he wondered why he had come. As he turned to leave a slight glint, something, caught his eye. He made his way into what used to be the bedroom, and there, black with smoke and laying dejectedly on the floor was her jewellery box. As it had fallen to the floor it had opened and several rings had spilled out, untouched by the smoke. Oliver stood and looked at them. Her rings. Her gold. Gold collected from all over the world - Thailand, Russia, Peru - wherever he had worked, he had brought her back some local gold. It was a fetish that he himself had never really understood. The only inanimate object Oliver had any feeling for was his bolt-action Parker-Hale M87 sniper rifle which lay in the armoury.
Carefully, slowly, he stooped, and one by one he began to dust off her rings and put them in his pocket - his only physical reminder that she had ever existed.
Claus`s defences were impressive. Regular border patrols, dogs, anti-aircraft missiles, mines, booby traps - and the very well known and realistic threat that if a sniper did manage to kill him, they would never make it out of the area. Despite these defences Claus himself was at this moment unaware that his chest lay squarely within the crosshairs of Taylors` 6 X 42 Kahles Helios ZF69 sniper scope, magnified 6 times, and held steady as a rock.
Oliver knew he should not be here. He also knew that the 1000 meter shot that he wanted to make - could make - he would not make. He knew all the facts and figures of both his rifle and its ammunition of course, as any sniper would. The NATO 7.62mm boat-tail round that his rifle fired would leave the barrel at a muzzle velocity of 840 meters per second. After a flight time of just over 2 seconds, it would hit his target - he had no doubt that it would hit, even at this extreme range - having slowed to 310 meters per second.
The man would almost certainly die from the single bullet wound, even (especially) if the round went higher than anticipated, and just assuredly so if it fell more than expected during its flight. This would be due to what was known as kinetic or sonic shock. This occurred when a rapidly moving bullet hits flesh, causing it to expand to many times the volume of the final wound channel. A vacuum would be created, into which air would flow. This would all happen in an instant, but the pressure caused would be so great as to severely rupture organs some distance away from the point of impact, causing death through blood loss or shock.
As Oliver considered all this, thought about all the gruesome wounds he had seen - wounds that he himself had inflicted - a movement caught his eye. The tiniest movement of the rifle at this distance changed his view drastically. What he saw took his breath away. It took several minutes for him to understand and to reach a rational course of action.
With an unlikely, yet somehow fitting plan forming in his mind, Oliver began the agonisingly slow return to base.
"This is..." Stone paced his office, lost for words. It was late at night, and he was tired. He wanted to ask Oliver if he was sure, really sure, but Stone knew the man was not mistaken. Abruptly he stopped pacing and sat on the edge of his desk, chin in hand, lost in thought.
"I know I shouldn`t have been there Sir. But I know now that I can do it. I`ve seen a chink in his armour. I can take him out and get out again!"
Stone looked carefully at Oliver. The biggest part of Claus`s defence was that he knew the Western speaking world had none of the suicide merchants the East possessed. Any plan would have to include a safe return of the killing squad or individual. His threat that no safe quarter would exist had kept him alive thus far. But now Stone had to consider the possibility that his man was actually contemplating a suicide mission.
"Tell me then. What`s the chink?"
Taylors gaze did not drop, nor did his voice quaver. "No disrespect Sir, but I`m the one going in, and it`s my life that depends upon this. The fewer people who know, the better. I`d prefer the knowledge, the plan, to be solely mine."
Outside the crickets squeaked noisily. Stone rubbed his unshaven face, wondering if the decision he was about to make would kill his best operator. He also knew that though Oliver had not pulled the trigger the first time, he had got in close enough without asking permission. There was no guarantee he wouldn`t get close enough to do it again anyway, and Stone would far rather his man operated with a clear mind, unclouded with worries of recrimination upon his return. He also knew what everyone said about Oliver - he could get where water couldn`t. If anyone could pull this off, it was him.
He yawned, scratched his beard and nodded. "OK. Operation Zebadee. But only you and I know about it, is that clear."
"Crystal Sir. Why Zebadee though?
Stone shrugged. "Because it`s time for bed. Goodnight Oliver."
Hanly was the armourer and their munitions expert. He stood there looking at Oliver questioningly. Like Stone the night before, he wanted to ask Oliver if he was sure. He opened and closed his mouth several times. Finally he shrugged. "Yeah, I can do it if that`s what you want. You realise of course, that everything will change?"
Oliver nodded patiently. "Just let me have as many as you can and give me all the new weights and figures."
"We wont be able to do any tests -"
"I don`t want any done. Two, three if there`s enough - I`ll do the rest."
Hanly took the little bag Oliver gave him and walked away, musing that though he already knew all these guys were crazy, sometimes they still surprised the hell out of him.
Down in the ferns again, moving so slowly that even anyone looking directly at him would be hard pushed to notice any change in posture, Oliver moved into his shooting position. He had come prepared for a long wait, which for a sniper is several days. Yet within only four hours he heard the sound of an approaching helicopter, the whump-whump of the blades slowing as it set down within Claus`s lands.
Oliver brought the sights to bear on the helicopter, and though it was not expected, it was only a slight surprise to see the man Jacobs emerge from the passenger seat, walk across, and quite calmly shake hands with Claus.
Patience is the virtue of the sniper. It`s as much his tool as is his rifle. Armed with this patience Oliver waited for his third target to appear. He was not disappointed.
He sighted the rifle on Jacobs first, needing to double check that his specially prepared rounds would fly as he`d calculated. With care he tightened the trigger, feeling the familiar tension, enjoying the release of the round, at one with the rifle. During the flight time he quickly reloaded the next round, then re-sighted on Jacobs in time to see the round fall low, slamming into the mans groin, blowing away most of his lower half in a crimson fountain.
In less than half a second Oliver had sighted on Claus, aiming higher this time to compensate for the fall of the round. He hit the man in the dead centre of his chest, blowing out the mans heart through his back. He was dead before he hit the floor, his body laying next to the still screaming Jacobs.
He`d reloaded and bought the sights to bear on the third and final target even before Claus was dead. Cold, calculating and without a second thought, he fired. She had only just begun to realise what was happening, and even as she turned to look up into the jungle covered hills, Oliver saw her get her gold back at 280 meters per second. The round took her just below the nose, and he had the briefest glimpse of her face before it vanished forever - if not his then nobodies.
There had been no escape plan, no chink in the armour for him to exploit. Instead he had simply lain there for a few seconds, and then, as if possessed by a desire to die, he had jumped to his feet and run like a mad man for the perimeter. It had been sheer luck that no patrols were in the area, and though the guards near the chalet had reacted quickly, their shots fell pitifully short.
When he does talk, he doesn`t mention any of this now. His workmates at the factory leave him pretty much alone, though they saw what he was capable of when one of the bigger men tried to push him about.
He lives alone, in a quiet, small flat. Every month he goes and sees the one person who has any good things to say about him - the local jeweller. There he purchases a small gold ring, then returns to the flat and quietly places it on a shelf, where more than thirty others sit gathering dust.