Snyder quickly drops the binoculars slung around his neck and homes the butt of the rife deeply into his shoulder. It takes only a second or two for him to find the target in his scope’s crosshairs and then with one deep breathe in and slowly released, he squeezes the trigger and watches the bullet hit the head of the target nearly 1000 yards away. Before the group around the target even hears the muzzle blast, Snyder is up, abandoning his rife, and working his way back his planned escape route. “This was an easy one”, he thinks to himself, taking his first drink of water in over 8 hours.
Snyder stares out the airplane window and thinks of home, his wife and now his young daughter. It is time. He knows it is time. He is good at what he does. Has always been good at it and probably could be good at it a while longer but he is tired of the lies to his wife about the out of town trips and he wants and needs to be home for his wife and daughter. And, deep inside him, he can feel something he cannot look at but knows it is there. “29 targets, 29 retirements”, he says to himself.
An airline hostess stops by to see if he needs anything but he waves her off, takes the iPod out of his bag, erases the mission tracks, selects an music album and begins listening. Laying his head against the airplane window, he closes his eyes and almost immediately falls asleep.
On Monday, Snyder goes the what he calls "the office", sits down and quickly drafts his retirement notice, signs it and marches it straight over to his boss’s office.
“Well,” says Lankton, “Not a complete surprise but I have to tell you, I can’t let you go immediately. There has been a problem and although we have recruited a new kid and he is good, he is not ready yet.” Snyder rubs his face with his trigger finger hand. This is not what he had expected.
“Tell you what, you help teach the new kid some tricks and maybe in 30 days we can talk retirement. Hate to be a hard ass about it but you know I have to sign the papers letting you out and so I am afraid we are going to have to insist. Sorry. Now see Steward about hooking up with the new kid, name is Taylor, I think.” And with that Lankton turns his chair around so his back is towards Snyder, making it clear there is nothing more to discuss about the matter. Snyder lines up the crosshairs on the back of Lankton’s head like he has done so many times before, turns around and leaves.
“Ok, you can go with the stock on whatever they give you but I suggest you shave down the grip until it feels like you are holding your dick. Now wrap your hand around the grip on your practice rife and tell me if it feels right,” Snyder says to Taylor. Taylor, mid 20’s, tall, clean cut, but with a very nasty scar along one side of his face and a large tattoo on the inside of his right arm, picks up the rife in front of him and moves it into firing position, griping the stock with his right hand. “No, it is way to fat around the grip.” “Well then start taking some wood off that sucker and I will be back”, Snyder says, knowing all along the stock was all wrong for the kid or anyone serious about shooting or at least wanting to hit the target. “Shaving down the grip,” Snyder thinks. Another one of the tricks his father taught him long ago along with a lot of other hunting techniques Snyder incorporated into his work. Snyder beings to wonder again about what his father would think of what he does with what his father taught him but he quick shuts down that thought stream and switches his mind back to Taylor.
Taylor, asleep now for hours, is awakened by the ringing of his phone but he does not pick up the receiver until he hears Snyder’s voice on the answering machine. “I am here,” he says, looking at the clock by his bed and wondering what Snyder could want at 4 in the morning. “Get your stuff. We have a little field work to do today,” Snyder says. “I will pick you up at your place and will call when I am outside. Ready in 30 minutes?” “Sure,” says Taylor and with that, he hears the line go dead and he gets up and starts some coffee. "4am. What has the old man got up his sleeve this time?"
When Taylor gets into Snyder’s car, Snyder does not say hello but hands Taylor a blindfold and tells him to put it on. “You have to be kidding,” Taylor says, looking straight at Snyder but does not receive a response. So on goes the blindfold. “Has to be tight,” Snyder says, his hands working the knot in the back.
With the blindfold on, Snyder starts the car and proceeds outside of town to a national park he has used plenty of times for his own practicing. It takes about an hour to get there and the whole time, neither man speaks. Finally, Snyder pulls off the main highway and onto a dirt road and then he is out of the car, unlocking a chain across an access road and then he pulls the car as far up the road as he can.
“Ok,” he says to Taylor, “We are here. I will be guiding you for a while and then I will have you take off your blindfold.” Taylor says nothing amused with the whole thing.
Snyder leads Taylor around and around, walking for over an hour when in fact, they are only several hundred yards from the car. Finally, Snyder says, “We are here. Take off the blindfold.” Taylor, grumpy from being lead around blind, quickly takes off the blindfold and finds himself in a dense woods, up on a ridge looking down on a small town to the East. “Ok, your target today is whoever I say it is coming out of the drugstore down there. Can you find the drugstore from here?” Snyder says sitting down on a fallen tree log.
Taylor takes out his binoculars and looks down on the town, which must be a good 700, or 800 yards from their position. “Yes, I have it,” he says turning to Taylor. “Now what?” Snyder takes out a piece of beef jerky from a pouch in his pocket and offers Taylor a piece. “Ok, show me where you would set up to make a shot from here.”
Taylor looks around and sees a hefty size tree nearby, which has a tremendous root system sticking out of the ground. “Ok, over there. That tree with all the roots. I could get in behind it and the roots would make a great rest for the rife.” Snyder looks at where Taylor is pointing. “You sure? Any place better for concealment?”
Taylor is getting frustrated. He knows how to do his job. What is up with this old man?
“No, the root tree will be just fine,” Taylor says with an air of arrogance.
Snyder moves on the log he is sitting on and steps to one side of it and then kneels down and sweeping aside some leaves, crawls into a swallow hollow place in behind the log and then proceeds to cover himself up with leaves. When he is done, he pokes a hand out from under the log in the direction of the town and in a low voice, says, “I would vote for here, myself. Someone would have to actually step on you to ever find you and even if they did step on you, they probably would not recognize what they were stepping on. Almost bought the farm as a kid using a log like this. Was deep underneath calling turkeys and some damn fool hunter who liked to shoot before he could see the game, blasted his shotgun right into the log above me. Lucky for me, only one pellet got me but I could have killed that son of a bitch firing away like that. Anyway, good for turkeys, good for people: neither can see you.”
Taylor knows Snyder is right, having overlooked the fallen tree to start with as Snyder was sitting on it, the crafty old bastard, but does not say a word.
Snyder crawls out from underneath the log and again sits back down on top. “Ok”, he says, chewing on another piece of beef jerky, “Which way is your way out of here?”
Taylor is ready for this one. “Right back that way,” he says pointing exactly in the direction of the car. “And how far?” Snyder asks. “Couple of hundred yards at the most,” Taylor says with a sly grin. “Show me,” Snyder says with his own sly grin.
“You wanted to see me?” Snyder says to Lankton, hoping Lankton is ready to sign his papers. “Yes, well, understand the kid, Taylor, is coming along nicely,” Lankton says leaning back in his chair, hands clasp behind his head. “And who says that?” Snyder replies, “The kid?" "Well, of course he has said he is ready but others too. What do you think?” “He is good but he is not ready yet. Why? Why ask me now?” Lankton leans forward out of his chair, which is always a bad sign. “Something has come up and has to be taken care of right away. I don’t think the kid is ready either and so, you have to go. Know you want to retire and all but can’t be helped. One last out of town, one last retirement. Just one more and you can do this easy enough. Out of town maybe a week at the most. All set up. You leave tomorrow night. Details with secretary as usual. And oh, I would have liked to send the kid with you but he had to leave suddenly this morning. Something about his mother being ill. Gone a week, I think he said. Can’t be helped.” And with that Lankton leans back in his chair and starts shuffling papers on his desk.
“Shit,” was all Snyder could think. “Shit, shit, shit. Wonder if it is always going to be one more thing, like the kid and now this?” But he knows it is no use arguing with Lankton and he turns around and heads out to Lankton’s secretary who hands him the iPod and target images.
“Yeah, easy, right! Damn Lankton!” Snyder thinks sitting at 30,000 feet screaming along with another 8 hours ahead of him.
He takes 3 more antacids from his coat pocket and pops them into his mouth and begins to chew. Stomach is all in an uproar and seems like no matter how many antacids he chews, it just will not calm down. Never had any problems before but this past year, seems like just before every trip, damn stomach wants to give him fits. Has thought about seeing a doctor and maybe he will when he gets back but in the mean time, he just wants off this airplane and to lay down for a while.
He reaches under his seat and pulls up a small briefcase and reaches in for the iPod, which has all the information on it about the target. He has listened to it all before but he knows he needs to do it again and again until he knows everything by heart. “Last mission and no time to screw up,” Snyder thinks as he reaches for more antacids.
“Easy one,” he keeps hearing Lankton say over and over in his head as he reviews the information. “Nothing easy about this one and all in a week! What was Lankton thinking or rather not thinking? Going to take several days just to scout out a firing position and then the target might not show for days and days.”
He finishes reviewing the iPod material and puts it away just as food begins to be served in the airplane cabin, but this time, unlike most flights, he actually asks for a meal and then proceeds to eat it slowly, hoping it will calm his stomach. It does and afterwards he falls asleep with his head against the window and dreams of his wife and daughter.
It is a little after midnight when Snyder arrives at the closest city to his target and makes his way through customs and out to the waiting car. Always a car is waiting for him and always, a rife to his specification, fully sighted in, at his hotel room.
The hotel is new or nearly new and has a large courtyard and swimming pool and lots of guests out dancing around and in the water, even at this late hour but Snyder has no interest and heads straight for his room and the bed.
Wishing he could call home to say he made it ok, but knowing he can not risk it, instead he says a prayer that God will look over his family while he is gone and that he will be back with them soon.
The next morning, Snyder is up early checking out the rife, which he found under the bed in a metal photographer’s case and then some light breakfast. Finally, ready for the day, he goes to the hotel desk and asks that his rental car be brought around for him. This time it is a Jeep but it varies on the mission and is always waiting for him at the hotel.
The target’s estate, house, is some 30 miles outside town and Snyder listens to the iPod directions on how to get there as he drives along.
Finally, he reaches the spot where he is told to park and begin on foot, so he gathers his pack and opens his compass and sets the course heading provided him.
It is tough going as the jungle here has never been cut or even thinned but he keeps more on less on course until he finally comes to about the right distance from the Jeep, some 3 miles. Using this binoculars and looking West, he finds the target’s house with no problem but is bothered by all the guards he sees on the gate leading to the house. Guards could mean jungle patrols and so he must be careful.
The distance to the house from where he is, is no more than 600 yards, a little close for his liking but after some additional scouting around for a better location to shoot from, he is back at the 600 yard spot. Going to have to be a quick escape or he just might get caught.
Now, his firing position? Looking around, he sees a log down, which could serve as an old turkey shoot location but when he begins to survey, leaves around it have been disturbed. Something or worse, someone, has been here, around this log. He quickly looks around as a wave of paranoia sweeps over him like it has never done before. After a few minutes of looking and listening and not moving a muscle, he is sure he is alone and again resumes looking for a hiding place but nothing on the ground seems to want to work, so how about the trees? Looking upward, he finds a great old tree with low limbs, which should let him climb up and down with ease.
Maybe 20 feet off the ground, on a large limb, which allows him to lay down in the direction of the house, the raised elevation gives him an even better line of sight than on the ground but also increases the down angle, which he will have to compensate for when he fires.
With route in and shooting location defined, Snyder makes he way back to the Jeep using a different route but it is still a hot, long trip and he is glad when he sees the jeep and sees that it is still parked where he left it. Now, back to the hotel and a shower.
Snyder makes 3 more trips out near the target’s house to be sure of everything but gets spooked when on the second trip, heading out, 2 black limo’s pull up behind him racing towards the target’s gated estate. No way they could know about him, just coincidence but Snyder does not like coincidence and with the disturbed leaves around that downed log and now this, he is getting a bad feeling all over. If this was some other mission, he would wait it out, make sure all was right, but he wants to get it over with and get home and retire.
According to the iPod, the target is supposed to be at his house on Thursday, tomorrow, and is set to leave for a meeting at around noon to 1 and thus should be out in the open for a shot. So, Snyder checks the rife one more time, his backpack of essentials and takes some more antacids before bed. Got to get up early tomorrow and be on site well before 9am.
At dawn, Snyder finds himself awake and he decides to get up and get on with it. Early to be leaving for the site and always the risk of being on site too long and getting caught or at least discovered but he just wants to get on with it and get home.
The city is quiet, although it is waking up, as he drives out away from it into the country and his last mission. Riding along, his focus is on the shot he must make and he really is unaware of his driving or the country side he is driving through. He has made this trip several times now and does not need the iPod to guide him, but as he makes the first turn of several required to get to his Jeep's parking location, at a gas station on the right side of the road, he catches the glimpse of a man standing beside a jeep like the one he has and the man appears to have a tattoo on the inside of his right arm. “What the shit?” Snyder says out loud to himself. He thinks about turning around to check it out but thinks better of it. "Just spooky shit, that is all", but deep inside, his guts are telling him there has been too much spooky shit already about this mission. "Could that really have been Taylor? Why would he be here? The odds of there being another mission around here at the same time as his mission is slim to none. What the fuck?” Snyder thinks, continuing on down the road but glancing in the rear view mirror every second or two.
Finally, he comes to his parking place and slowly gets out and listens and looks around. Nothing seems wrong but he is really spooked now. The photographers case comes out of the Jeep and he quickly assembles the rife, gathers his binoculars and backpack and heads into the jungle, hopefully, for one last time.
Just to be safe, Snyder uses his compass to guide him still a different route to the retirement spot and it seems to take longer than any other time he has been in the area but better safe than sorry.
Once at his tree, Snyder is quickly up it and stretched out in firing position. 11am exactly.