The Hit by David Baldacci
FEELING ENERGIZED BY THE DEATH that was about to happen, Doug Jacobs adjusted his headset and brightened his computer screen. The picture was now crystal clear, almost as if he were there.
But he thanked God he wasn’t.
There was thousands of miles away, but one couldn’t tell that by looking at the screen. They couldn’t pay him enough to be there. Besides, many people were far better suited for that job. He would be communicating shortly with one of them.
Jacobs briefly glanced around the four walls and the one window of his office in the sunny Washington, D.C., neighborhood. It was an ordinary-looking low-rise brick building set in a mixed-use neighborhood that also contained historical homes in various states of either decay or restoration. But some parts of Jacobs’s building were not ordinary at all. These elements included a heavy-gauge steel gate out front with a high fence around the perimeter of the property. Armed sentries patrolled the interior halls and surveillance cameras monitored the exterior. But there was nothing on the outside to clue anyone in to what was happening on the inside.
And a lot was happening on the inside.
Jacobs picked up his mug of fresh coffee, into which he had just poured three sugar packets. Watching the screen required intense concentration. Sugar and caffeine helped him do that. It would match the emotional buzz he would have in just a few minutes.
He spoke into the headset. “Alpha One, confirm location,” he said crisply. It occurred to him that he sounded like an air traffic controller trying to keep the skies safe.
Well, in a way that’s exactly what I am. Only our goal is death on every trip.
The response was nearly immediate. “Alpha One location seven hundred meters west of target. Sixth floor of the apartment building’s east face, fourth window over from the left. You should just be able to make out the end of my rifle muzzle on a zoom-in.”
Jacobs leaned forward and moved his mouse, zooming in on the real-time satellite feed from this distant city that was home to many enemies of the United States. Hovering over the edge of the windowsill, he saw just the tip of a long suppressor can screwed onto a rifle’s muzzle. The rifle was a customized piece of weaponry that could kill at long distances—well, so long as a skilled hand and eye were operating it.
And right now that was the case.
“Roger that, Alpha One. Cocked and locked?”
“Affirmative. All factors dialed in on scope. Crosshairs on terminal spot. Tuned frequency-shifting suppressor. Setting sun behind me and in their faces. No optics reflect. Good to go.”
“Copy that, Alpha One.”
Jacobs checked his watch. “Local time there seventeen hundred?”
“On the dot. Intel update?”
Jacobs brought this information up on a subscreen. “All on schedule. Target will be arriving in five minutes. He’ll exit the limo on the curbside. He’s scheduled to take a minute of questions on the curb and then it’s a ten-second walk into the building.”
“Ten-second walk into the building confirmed?”
“Confirmed,” said Jacobs. “But the minute of interview may go longer. You play it as it goes.”
Jacobs refocused on the screen for a few minutes until he saw it. “Okay, motorcade is approaching.”
“I see it. I’ve got my sight line on the straight and narrow. No obstructions.”
“I’ve been watching the patterns of the people for the last hour. Security has roped them off. They’ve outlined the path he’ll take for me, like a lighted runway.”
“Right. I can see that now.”
Jacobs loved being ringside for these things, without actually being in the danger zone. He was compensated more generously than the person on the other end of the line. At a certain level this made no sense at all.
The shooter’s ass was out there, and if the shot wasn’t successful or the exit cues made swiftly, the gunner was dead. Back here, there would be no acknowledgment of affiliation, only a blanket denial. The shooter had no documents, no creds, no ID that would prove otherwise. The shooter would be left to hang. And in the country where this particular hit was taking place, hanging would be the shooter’s fate. Or perhaps beheading.
All the while, Jacobs sat here safe and drew bigger money.
But he thought, Lots of folks can shoot straight and get away. I’m the one doing the geopolitical wrangling on these suckers. It’s all in the prep. And I’m worth every dollar.
Jacobs again spoke into his headset. “Approach is right on target. Limo is about to stop.”
“Give me a sixty-second buffer before you’re about to fire. We’ll go silent.”
Jacobs tightened the grip on his mouse, as though it were a trigger. During drone attacks he had actually clicked his mouse and watched a target disappear in a flame ball. The computer hardware manufacturer had probably never envisioned its devices being used for that.
His breathing accelerated even as he knew the shooter’s respiration was heading the other way, achieving cold zero, which was what one needed to make a long-range shot like this. There was no margin of error at all. The shot had to hit and kill the target. It was that simple.
The limo stopped. The security team opened the door. Bulky, sweaty men with guns and earwigs looked everywhere for danger. They were pretty good. But pretty good did not cut it when you were up against outstanding.
And every asset Jacobs sent out was outstanding.
The man stepped onto the sidewalk and squinted against the sun’s dying glare. He was a megalomaniac named Ferat Ahmadi who desired to lead a troubled, violent nation down an even darker road. That could not be allowed to happen.
Thus it was time to nip this little problem in the bud. There were others in his country ready to take over. They were less evil than he was, and capable of being manipulated by more civilized nations. In today’s overly complex world, where allies and foes seemed to change on a weekly basis, that was as good as it got.
But that was not Jacobs’s concern. He was here simply to execute an assignment, with emphasis on the “execute” part.
Then over his headset came two words: “Sixty seconds.”
“Copy that, Alpha One,” said Jacobs. He didn’t say anything as stupid as “good luck.” Luck had nothing to do with it.
He engaged a countdown clock on his computer screen.
He eyed the target and then the clock.
Jacobs watched Ahmadi talk to the reporters. He took a sip of coffee, set it down, and continued to watch as Ahmadi finished with his prearranged questions. The man took a step away from the reporters. The security team held them back.
The chosen path was revealed. For the photo op it would present, Ahmadi was going to walk it alone. It was designed to show his leadership and his courage.
It was also a security breach that looked trivial at ground level. But with a trained sniper at an elevated position it was like a fifty-yard gash in the side of a ship with a billion-candlepower beacon lighting it.
Twenty seconds became ten.
Jacobs started counting the last moments in his head, his eyes glued to the screen.
Dead man arriving, he thought.
Almost there. Mission nearly complete, and then it was on to the next target.
That is, after a steak dinner and a favorite cocktail and trumpeting this latest victory to his coworkers.
Three seconds became one.
Jacobs saw nothing except the screen. He was totally focused, as though he were going to deliver the kill shot himself.
The window shattered.
The round entered Jacobs’s back after slicing through his ergonomic chair. It cleared his body and thundered out of his chest. It ended up cracking the computer screen as Ferat Ahmadi walked into the building unharmed.
Doug Jacobs, on the other hand, slumped to the floor.
No steak dinner. No favorite cocktail. No bragging rights ever again.
Dead man arrived.