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Published Date:31-07-2017
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HIT-MAN’S HOLIDAY By B.J. McCall This is an authorized free edition from www.obooko.com Although you do not have to pay for this book, the author’s intellectual property rights remain fully protected by international Copyright law. You are licensed to use this digital copy strictly for your personal enjoyment only. This edition must not be hosted or redistributed on other websites without the author’s written permission nor offered for sale in any form. If you paid for this book, or to gain access to it, we suggest you demand an immediate refund and report the transaction to the author 2 Chapter 1 We watched as the Boeing’s huge wings swooped over the bright azure Caribbean Sea. Virtually every shade of blue and turquoise was represented here. Palm trees were in abundance; long spindly trunks reached high into the air as though in an attempt to worship their sun god. Ten year oldJenni sat next to me in the window seat. I would have preferred the window seat but children always win the argument and you have to give them what they want to prevent any arguments breaking out, and to give you peace of mind. After all this was a long flight from the UK. Grace and Brad sat in the row behind us. It seemed that despite this huge aircraft and the 300 odd seats it contained, a family of four were unable to sit together. At the check in desk back in Manchester, I was quite annoyed that the airline couldn’t accommodate us all together, but thinking about it now, it was probably for the best, as Jenni and her seven year old brother don’t always see eye to eye; they get on pretty well as a brother and sister unit, but they have their differences of opinions and are not afraid to voice them. So the seating arrangement did control the arguments to a high degree, but did not eradicate them entirely: Brad and Jenni would still manage to engage in some disagreement over the top of the seats, and generally regarding the movies each had watched on the headrest-mounted screens. So, I controlled Jenni and Grace had restrained Brad in the row behind. Jenni gasped in mild horror as she watched the flaps extending from the trailing edge of the wing like a turtle’s head popping from its shell. “Is there something wrong with the wing, Dad?” she enquired. I then explained that this was quite normal. All aircraft had flaps and these were extended in stages to compensate for the aircraft slowing down during its approach. I educated her in basic aerodynamics and how lift is formed by the cambered surface of the aerofoil- shaped wing. Jenni looked slightly interested but figuring she was on holiday and a long way from school, she nodded to indicate she had learned enough and I should now cease with my explanations. I reminded her that I used to be an avid ‘plane spotter’ when I was younger, and would go with my father to visit various airports and we would spend the day watching airliners take off and land, and would tick off each aircraft’s registration mark in our little book. I read many books on the subject and quickly learned how aeroplanes worked. The flaps moved out and down progressively during our approach and I had to agree with Jenni and admit that wing did look as though it was broken when the 40 degrees of flap was selected by the pilots. A gap in the wing made it look like a part had fallen off. I reassured her that, again this was normal and we would soon be safely on the ground. 3 More palm trees moved rearwards under the wing. Passengers were now getting excited as they were nearing the end of their long overseas voyage and a tropical paradise beckoned. Jenni pointed over to the starboard side of the plane. A group of young lads sat together and were boisterously mock fighting each other in their excitement. Jenni stated she thought they looked like a boy band, as they all wore fancy hairstyles. I told her that most people went for the obligatory ‘holiday haircut’ prior to jetting off. In fact I had attended my local barber shop only a few days ago and requested the old Italian barber to “cut it short.” He happily obliged, but trimmed it more than was necessary. As a result I looked like an army recruit. Brad took great delight in informing me I looked like a marine. To which I put on my best mock American accent and intoned: “Yes Sir, no Sir, three bags full Sir” I even saluted the family; this added to the act and had them all laughing. Soon tarmac swept past and we were now within the airport boundary. Rows of approach lights mounted on tall stalks confirmed the imminent landing and the runway appeared suddenly. The aircraft’s nose rose slightly in a flare and the tyres smoothly touched the concrete: we had landed safely on the idyllic Caribbean island of Isla paraíso - the Island Paradise. Jenni watched the wing transform yet again; this time the spoiler panels rose upwards in an attempt to destroy the lift generated by the wing and place the aircraft firmly on the runway. I quickly expelled her doubts as to the wing’s condition to which she nodded knowingly. Suddenly the boy band began cheering as though we had just survived a crash landing. They started ‘high fiving’ each other and patting their buddies on the back. A few of the nervous passengers visibly relaxed now the Boeing was on the ground and their long ordeal was almost over. The audible engine noise increased breifly as the thrust revers got to work by deflecting the engine thrust forward to slow the plane. Soon we had exited the runway onto a series of taxiways, and the big transport moved slowly as the spoiler panels lowered and the flaps retreated back into the safety of the wing. The holiday mood now commended and passengers began talking excitedly. One passenger attenpted to unfasten his seatbelt an in attempt to collect his baggage from the overhead lockers, to which he received a stern warning from the female flight attendant supervising our part of the cabin. Mr Anxious sat back down and fastened his seatbelt with a embarrassed look adorning his face. Brad’s face appeared through the gap between the seats. He smiled fervidly and asked, “When we get to the hotel, can we go in the pool?” “Calm down Brad, we’re still on the plane.” I admonished. Jenni entered the conversation and added, “Can we go in the sea, it looks lovely and warm.” “Dad, when can we go windsurfing and waterskiing and scuba diving and...” 4 Grace interupted and pointed out that we had just arrived and had a whole two weeks in which to do all the intended activities. I nodded in agreement. Brad sat back in his seat dejected. Jenni saw his dissapointment and smirked at his discomfort. I waggled my index finger in her direction to try and quell any provocation. We taxied past some old looking buildings, in a state of disrepair. The odd small Cessna or Piper aircraft was parked near to a hanger, but no person was around. Soon the large terminal building appeared. It certainly wasn’t a modern building by British airport standards. A vast amount of concrete and the occasional window was the flavour and style. It didn’t even have the passenger piers or jetways seen at almost every moderately sized international airport. At last we stopped about twenty metres from the terminal. Suddenly: silence as the big tubofan engines were extinguished and the combustion chambers got a chance to cool. Jenni and I watched as two locals dressed in shorts and high visibility wastcoatsmaneouvered a set of stairs into position and a minute later the flight attendants wrestled with the big doors, pulling them inwards, then swinging them outwards into the humid Caribbean air. The clink of seatbelts unfastening was mixed with the excited chatter of holiday makers all keen to collect their belongings and get on their way. I reached up and opened the luggage locker, extracting the two rucksacks belonging to me and Jenni. Brad had proceeded down the aisle as though he might miss his turn to disembark and end up back in Manchester. Grace called for him to wait on the rest of his family. He stopped, turned and swung his rucksack onto his shoulder but it struck Jenni on the face. She cried out more in fright than pain. An argument then ensured and had to be quelled by Grace who expertly mediated to reinstate the peace. The sound of the flight attendant’s squeaky voice over the loudspeakers welcomed us to Isla paraíso, thanked us for flying with her and her crew today, wished us a pleasant holiday, then in a sterner tone, warned us to refrain from smoking until well inside the terminal building. Jenni then performed an impersonation of the flight attendant complete with exagerated hand movements. This had us all laughing, including some other passengers awiting to disembark. We all shuffled forward and the main door loomed ever nearer. The aforementioned flight attendant, whose name badge announced her to be ‘Trudy’, smiled pleasantly at us, her near perfect teeth on display, and wished us farewell. Jenni stepped off the plane and I followed. We were assaulted by a wall of intense, humid heat. As we walked down the stairway which creaked with every step, my nostrillsfilled with the scent of kerosene. We all moved in a heard and followed the others towards a door leading to the terminal. One of the workers who had moved the stairway into position, stood sentry at the door. He eyed us all like inconvenient intruders tresspassing in his country, and never cracked a smile. 5 “Oh, what a nice welcome.” Jenni remarked when past the man, then immitated his glum face and stiff posture. Grace warned her not to speak so loud as he might hear and be offended. Jenni, in defence stated that the language in this country was Spanish, so he probably wouldn’t understand her anyway. On we went snaking around barriers to reach the long awaitied ‘Passport control’. Chapter 2 Another churlish-faced official took our passports, looked at each of us in turn as though confiming the photographs were actually us, slowly and perfunctorily stamped each book and handed them back to Grace who filed them away in her handbag. We bade him farewell and he returned it with “Adios.” I immediately put my hand on Jenni’s shoulder in an attempt to stifle any inclination of performing an impression of the taciturn passport official. She turned around and glared at me. “I wasn’t going to.” she said sarcastically. We had now progressed to the baggage reclaim. The hand-made sign above the carousel told us this waswhere our luggage would appear, once the conveyer actually started up, although looking at the state of the thing, it looked as if it may be steam powered. Brad started complaining about the intense heat and lack of air conditioning in the building. The only form of air conditioning appeared to be a number of pedestal fans placed strategically around the vast room. The fans were fighting a losing battle and only succeeded in moving warm air around and provided little in the way of a cooling effect. “It’s too hot,” bemoaned Brad, “I want to go to the hotel and go into the pool.” “Well, we can’t until we get out bags.” chided his sister. “Come on, kids. Let’s not start an argument again.” Grace warned with a smile. “Too late.” I added flippantly, to which Grace shot me a glare. Ten minutes later, the machinery sprang into life. The conveyor belt began moving lethargically but it was another five minutes before the first suitcase appeared. Brad who was reclining on the floor and employing his rucksack as a pillow, sat upright in fright at the creaking and groaning noises. Instantly everyone moved forwards like rugby players performing a scrum manoeuvre. Some were evidently paranoid they might miss their luggage and never see it again. I suddenly realised we didn’t have a luggage trolley and the absence of such would render the remaining journey through the terminal difficult especially in this intense heat. As I would be required to lift the heavy luggage from the conveyer when it finally appeared, I suggested Brad go find one. He reluctantly made of in search of the elusive trolley 6 and returned a few minutes later with a rusty cart. It had evidently spent most of its life outside in the heavy downpours common in the Caribbean. People stood watching a weird and wonderful assortment of suitcases move slowly past as they fanned themselves with passports and boarding cards in a vain attempt to cool. After five minutes of a constant stream of luggage and no one actually collecting, some passengers looked perplexed as though this might be the wrong carousel and perhaps our luggage was elsewhere in the building. Someone pointed to the sign and confirmed our flight number and departure point. “That’s ours.” Jenni announced pointing to a set of matching cases we recently purchased from a supermarket. Jenni had cleverly attached bright pink ribbon to the items and this made them instantly recognisable. They arrived beside us and I grabbed hold of one swinging it back onto the rusty trolley, before reaching for the second one just before it disappeared out of range. Two suitcases, four rucksacks and four family members collected, we made our way towards the exit, or ‘Salida’. We stood looking around but no holiday representative or bus was present. The heat had seemed to intensify since leaving the aircraft, but was no real surprise as it was now midday. There was an acute shortage of shelters; the only option was to return to the terminal building but risk missing our transport. A long line of tourists stood exposed in the hot sun. Some were industrious enough to make hats from magazines and newspapers and some had the sense to bring sun hats and caps and extracted them from their hand luggage. We had brought hats, however they were packed deep inside the suitcases and opening of the cases here outside the terminal building was not welcomed. “Where is the bus to take us to the hotel?” enquired Brad in his irritable voice. “Should be here soon, son.” consoled Grace. Jenni put her rucksack on her head to try and shield the blazing sun from her long blond hair. I was starting to get irritable like Brad and began to criticise the holiday company for not showing up when they clearly knew our arrival time. Grace defended them by suggesting perhaps an emergency or a breakdown had hindered. The long line of tourists grew as more emerged from the terminal and added to the queue. Moans and groans were discernable as the heat and humidity tirelessly assaulted us like chickens cooking in an oven. A taxi drove up to the kerb-side; the driver got out and looked longingly at us for a fare. No one made eye contact as we patiently waited on the elusive bus to take us to our hotels, hopefully in an air conditioned interior. The taxi driver knowing that a hire was not imminent, returned to his taxi and drove off, the sound of calypso music emanating loudly from within. 7 A police jeep pulled up to where the taxi had just vacated and stopped. A second jeep parked behind this. Everyone stared as though a mass riot was about to break out and these officers were here to quell it. The doors opened in synchronisation as though rehearsed, and four police officers stepped out, put their caps on and stood surveying us through dark sunglasses. A few of our group looked nervously at the officers and wondered what they were here for, eager to hear some form of explanation. My immediate thought was that perhaps they suspected someone of possessing drugs, and my attention turned towards the boy band members standing nearby. Surely they were the likely suspects or was I unfairly stereotyping? The boy band didn’t flinch and continued their boisterous and good natured bantering and mock fighting, so I reconsidered the list of suspects and began scanning the remaining group to try and identify a dodgy type. One of the officers, a supervisory rank by the look of the coloured medals and braid adorning his dark blue tunic strode slowly but purposefully towards me. He stopped a few metres from me and beckoned me approach him. I froze and wondered why he had chosen me. I looked to my left and right as though to confirm it was I he was indicating. My mouth immediately went dry and I strode towards him. He turned and walked back to his police jeep and I followed. The three other officers stood sentry leaning on their cars and eyed me suspiciously. I was curious to find out what this was all about. He extended his hand and announced himself in a heavy Spanish accent to be Senior Superintendent Aranda of the Policia National de Isla paraíso. I reciprecated his gesture and awaited his explanation. He looked in his late fifties, was slim with a well groomedmostache. He stared at me with his intense brown eyes, barely visible below the peak of his cap and I could detect the smell of tobacco on his breath. “Welcome,” he greeted smiling, and added, “We are glad you have come to help us.” I stared in bewilderment at him. What was he talking about? “You come and do the job for us. We are very grateful.” he announced. I repeated his words in my mind and could not fathom the meaning. I turned and looked at Grace and the children. They stared back at me with equal astonishment. Aranda then turned and faced the other officers and began a conversation in Spanish. I tried to listen to what was being said but, despite knowing a fair amount of Spanish and able to at least converse in the language, I could not make out much of what was being discussed. The only words I could make out clearly were “El Presidente”; “Matar” and “Asesinar”, to my horror I knew to be ‘The President’; ‘Kill’ and ‘Assassinate’. Surely I had misheard the man. He continued his explanation to his subordinates all whilst pointing to me and mentioning the same three words. I realised this was clearly either a joke or a case of mistaken identity. I interrupted him by touching him on the arm. He stopped taking and turned to face me. He then thanked me for coming and helping his country and told me that I would be briefed shortly on mymission I can come to do. 8 I protested my innocence and told him he had the wrong person. He stared in surprise at me as though I had asked him to start singing his national anthem. “No, no. You do this job for us and rid our country of our President’s tyranny. He is a dictator and must be stopped, and that is why you are here.” he said with a wry smile. “No,” I laughed nervously, “I am not the man you are looking for. I am on holiday with my family.” I indicated to Grace and the children behind me as though in confirmation of my protest. He smirked conspiratorially and told me that I could stop using my cover story now as I was among colleagues and friends. I continued my objections that this was mistaken identity and I was a family man on holiday, and certainly not some assassin. The argument went on with an impasse. I noticed Grace approaching from over my shoulder and Aranda put up his hand to stop her. I turned to look at my wife and she wore as much of a worried look as I probably did. Aranda gestured for her to move back and the three police officers moved towards her as if to reinforce their supervisor’s request. Grace complied and walked back to the astonished children. “Can I speak to my wife, please?” I beseeched Aranda as I wiped copious amounts of sweat from my forehead. “No, you come with us and we brief you about your mission.” he returned, gruffly then indicated I step inside the police jeep. I repeated my protests and his error in mistaking me for a hired assassin, but he put his hand around my back and eased me to the waiting car. Two of his officers escorted me and the third one opened the rear passenger door and bade me enter. I turned and stared helplessly at my family. Grace looked back worriedly and the children looked plain scared. None of this made any sense to them or to me. One of the policemen climbed into the rear beside me, another took the driver seat and Aranda sat in front of me in the front. The engine started and we moved off. The second police jeep followed behind. I looked out the dusty window at my family as I was whisked away to who knew where, leaving my helpless family to fend for themselves. None of this made any ounce of sense. Chapter 3 As we moved away from the staring crowd, who looked on in bewilderment at the guy who had just been lifted by the police, I once again attempted to demur my situation. I reiterated the fact that I was merely a family man on holiday with his wife and two children, but Aranda shook his head and smiled condescendingly reminding me that I could now cease my cover story as a vacationing family man and prepare for my part in the usurping of the tyrannical President of this Island. I considered any further protests to be futile and sat back in the dusty seat feeling dejected. How was I going to get out of this situation? I could only hope and pray that the real 9 guy turned up and I was released with a grovelling apology for the inconvenience caused. The only blessing was the fact the car had its air conditioning on full blast and this was the first time since stepping off the aeroplane that I had experienced cooling air. The beads on my forehead remained and I wiped them with the palm of my hand. “Where are we going?” I ventured. Aranda was silent for a moment before announcing,“We will go to police headquarters and you will be briefed there.” was his curt reply. I was about to protest again but the look from my accompanying officer made me stop. Aranda then picked up the car radio and spoke rapidly in Spanish: the gist of which he had picked up the assassin from the airport and was now heading for the mission briefing. I panicked even more as this now seemed official and was not some sick joke where I would be laughed at by a studio audience as being the butt of the joke. Somehow I would welcome this embarrassing ending in exchange for this present nightmare I was engulfed in. The driver sped along the road at a speed which seemed far too fast for the road conditions. Cars were frequently double parked but the driver merely swerved around them treating them as pot holes. People simply crossed the roads where and when they chose and we simply slalomed around them. Practically all of the drivers on this island were fond of their horns and used them more often than their brakes. Our police car was no exception and our driver frequently honked other road users out of the way. On occasion he used the siren, which had the desired effect. We drove for about fifteen minutes and finally, to my relief, drew up outside and old breezeblock building crying out for a makeover, which announced itself to be the town’s police headquarters. If this was the official headquarters, I would hate to see the local police station. Clearly the taxpayer’s money was not being spent on the police. Aranda exited and moved around to my door, opening it and gesturing me to get out. “Come on, my friend; follow me.” I had no choice but to comply. Hopefully this whole mess would be sorted out inside and I would walk out unscathed. I was escorted into a room, sparse of furniture save for a large rectangular table. The walls were an oppressive dark colour, the carpet a dirty worn rag with cigarette and cigar ash adorning it. An officer pulled out a chair and invited me to sit. We were back in the land of ‘no air conditioning’. A slight breeze was provided by a barred but open window and a small grumbling fan on a nearby desk. The air was heavy with cigarette smoke and dust. The room was dark and artificial light was provided by two low-wattage fluorescent tubes mounted on the ceiling. The sound of traffic from the nearby street invaded the quiescent state of the room. The only other person in the room was an officer who stood by the door as though to prevent any attempt of escape on my part. 10 I sat and contemplated my dilemma. How was I going to get out of here? What would Grace and the kids do without me. They must be worried sick not knowing what was going on. How could I convince Aranda and his repugnant team of his mistake? The door swung open and an entourage entered: Aranda and about five other officers similarly adorned in smart, clean tunic and displaying medals and braid. All removed their caps and placed them on the table in front of them. I stared at each in turn; would any of these characters see sense and let me go? Surely one of them would work out they had the wrong guy and release me. Aranda broke the silence and announced, in English, the other officials in the room. Although they were high ranking, it seemed Aranda out-ranked them all and he was the ‘head honcho’ here. He welcomed me and broke into Spanish when talking to his comrades. Again I struggled to interpret the conversation but the key words rang in my ears: I was the expected hit-man and I was here to carry out the shooting of the President. I attempted to appeal to the better judgement of the others and began my explanation of being on holiday with my family and being the victim of a gross case of mistaken identity. The others looked quizzically at me and Aranda intervened, systematically destroying my explanation and telling them that was my cover story and I was the actual assassin. The others nodded in acknowledge of this, much to my frustration. “It seems my friend here does not trust us and is sticking to his cover story.” Aranda said with a chuckle. The others joined in and laughed. This seemed to ease the tension in the room, thought not for me. Aranda then rose and walked over to one of the walls and pulled down a white projector screen. He moved over to the opposite wall and switched on an old style slide projector. It whirred as the bulb heated up and the tiny fan within provided protection against overheating. I sat with my hands in my face. When I looked up I saw one of the officials leafing through various documents which he extracted from a manila envelope. He looked at one sheet of paper which I could barely see from the rear, was a monochrome photograph of someone. His gaze shifted between the photograph and me. He nodded in confirmation as to my true identity. My hopes shattered even further as I now knew there would be no escape from this nightmare. I decided to go along with the charade to see if this new strategy could somehow rescue me. So, now I was an assassin and to kill the President was my mission which I reluctantly chose to accept. The denim shirt I was wearing was soaked with sweat. What I would do for the offer of a shower right at this moment in time. I would even settle for a change of shirt. By contrast, my mouth was as hot and dry as the pavement outside. I indicated to an officer nearby for a drink. “Drink; thirst; agua?” I requested whilst miming supping from an imaginary cup. Aranda worked out my meaning and spoke rapidly to the officer at the door. He returned a few minutes later carrying a tray containing a jug of water and several glasses. He placed the tray in the centre of the table and retreated back to his sentry position. Aranda was still 11 busy preparing the slideshow, so I took the liberty of pouring myself a glass of water. The water was not clear and had some tiny objects floating within. I didn’t particularly care at this moment in time as I was parched and would have drunk anything. I swallowed the whole glass-full in an instant and sat back. Feeling slightly more refreshed now, I mentally prepared myself to get into character as the President’s hit-man. “Okay, John, You can do this; you have to do this.” I silently coached myself. Aranda cleared his throat and pointed to the screen on the wall as he switched off the fluorescent lights. We all turned and saw a photo of a distinguished man dressed in a dark suit. He was flanked by three other guys dressed in black suits and sporting dark sunglasses. “Gentlemen,” Aranda announced pointing to the screen, “President Marquina.” The others recognising their President nodded in agreement. I had never seen or heard of this guy in my life. Aranda pointed at me and added, “And this gentleman is here to remove our dictator President from power.” The others looked with reverence at me; I just nodded but inside I had a stomach full of butterflies. How was the assassin hired to kill the President supposed to act? Did I say “Hey, that’s me” or perhaps, “I’m the guy” I knew I had to get deeper into character. But how does an assassin act? The only information I had on the subject of assassins was the many spy thriller and action movies I had seen. As though in defiance of my new mindset, my thoughts kept returning to my family I had been separated from. I cut away and told myself I had to forget them for the time being and until I could find some form of escape route. Aranda clicked the projector and another photo flashed up. This was another of the country’s top man and wearing either same or an identical suit as the last. He was surrounded yet again by the Men in Black look-alikes who had to be his bodyguards. The next slide was yet another of Marquina in similar suit with his usual posse. This one was a close up and the President who was smiling, which seemed a genuine smile. He looked like a pretty decent chap to me and not, as Aranda was portraying, a tyrannical dictator. I had seen many pictures of Hitler, Stalin and even Saddam Hussein, but Marquina looked a lot different and seemed much friendlier - like someone’s favourite uncle. I couldn’t kill this guy; he had never done me any harm. This was indeed a struggle to step into and remain in character. I had guilty feelings about the job I was expected to do; surely a professional hit-man did not feel guilty about taking a life. 12 Chapter 4 The room was now sweltering and the lone fan was as useless as a square wheel. I poured myself another glass of stale water and greedily drank the lot; it tasted disgusting but it refreshed me. The other briefing members did not seem to be affected by the heat like me. Perhaps they were used to it, although they were all dressed in tunics with shirt and ties. If this was me, I would have removed my tie and opened my shirt. Aranda continued with the briefing in good English which was understood by all in this room. He outlined the plan which would be put into action the very next day: President Marquina would attend and perform the opening of a brand new government building in the town. He was expected to arrive around 12 noon in the Presidential bullet- proof car and would be surrounded by at least three members of his private Presidential security team, who were armed with concealed pistols. I, the assassin, would be secreted in a disused building across the road where I would have an elevated and clear view of the proceedings of a distance of about 200 metres. I would be expected to shoot the President from my window position and aim to fire two bullets in succession into his heart. I would thereafter, leave the gun in situ and proceed with great haste down the rear stairway and exit the building where a waiting police car would uplift me and take me to a safe location where I would wait until the ensuing excitement had calmed. He produced a briefcase which had been sitting at his feet and placed it on the table. “You will get your fee when you return here and after a successful killing of the President.” he announced as he opened the briefcase up to reveal it stacked full of banknotes. “Five hundred thousand American dollars, as agreed.” he announced looking at me for confirmation. I could not believe what I was seeing and hearing; half a million dollars for pulling a trigger and it could all be mine if I went through with this. I tried to look nonchalant and responded, “That’s correct.” This all seemed pretty straightforward, and would probably be a doddle to a real assassin however I was not he and couldn’t see how I could possibly perform this mission without going to pieces. ‘Just keep calm and try to work this out.’ I coached my self. Aranda then turned off the projector and turned on the lights. All eyes looked at me as though awaiting a confirmatory speech. I nodded slowly as if this would be a piece of cake and something I did on a regular basis. “Yeah, that’s fine.” I confirmed in a professional tone. “Do you have any questions?” Aranda enquired. I paused for effect and pretended to consider all the aforementioned details, whilst stroking my chin like Sherlock Holmes in deep contemplation. “What if I cannot get a clear shot of the President?” I asked. Aranda looked perplexed. I felt compelled to explain: 13 “Well he is always surrounded by his guards and I don’t want to hit them instead.” Aranda and the others realised my concern and all nodded. “Oh, I’m sure you will get an opportunity to aim for his heart.” the senior Superintendent said thoughtfully, “He will be in your sights for about half an hour.” I nodded as though this adequately answered my question. “And what sort of weapon will I be using?” I enquired with an air of confidence. I felt quite proud of my apt question. “You will use a Heckler & Koch PSG1.” he announced and studied my face for a reaction. I nodded again as though this piece of hard-wear was as familiar to me as my car keys. “Great; that’s a fine gun.” I pretended. All faces smiled; it seemed the assassin was happy with the arrangements and planning thus far. We then left the warm and musty conference room and Aranda and his entourage led me down a long, cold concrete stairway to the building’s basement. The coolness of the stairwell was a welcome relief, although my shirt remained damp with perspiration. We entered a shooting range. This place was massive and looked much bigger than the actual building. The room was cool, being a considerable depth under street level. It even had air conditioning but this seemed superfluous given the ambient temperature. The walls were brick and the floor was concrete. It was a narrow but long room. There were six target boards suspended from the ceiling on a rail system so they could be moved into position and recalled for inspection. The boards were white with a black outline of a torso complete with markings on the centre mass. My mouth went dry again and the nerves returned. I knew nothing about shooting and they would soon find out I was a fraud. Perhaps they would turn the gun on me in retaliation. An officer walked over to greet the entourage and saluted the others. He looked at me with disdain as though a guy in civilian clothes should not be in this place. Aranda spoke to the officer and he nodded and hurried away. “You can get some practice in.” Aranda stated pointing to the targets. Soon the firearms officer returned with a long rifle and a box of ammunition. He placed the weapon on a small brick mock-up wall and extended the small tripod rest from the underside of the gun so it sat steady on the wall. He inserted some cartridges, readied the weapon, stood back and announced it ready for use. All eyes turned on me. I tried to control the rabble of butterflies which were going crazy in my stomach. I took a few deep breaths and knelt down behind the rifle. My only experience of guns was when I used to fire my dad’s slug gun at coke cans and wooden targets in our back garden, but this was about 25 years ago There was a world of difference between a slug rifle which fired small, light pellets and the metal monster which sat in front of me right now. Still, I had to do my best and impress my audience. Maybe after seeing my shooting they would reconsider my employment as the Presidential assassin and dismiss me. 14 I looked at the rifle. Was this a Heckler & Koch PSG1, the type I would be killing with? I hadn’t the faintest clue. All guns pretty much look alike to me; obviously I know the difference between rifles, pistols, revolvers and such, but particular gun types? I could be doing with having Andy McNab here to advise me. I took hold of the stock. To my surprise it was plastic; I imagined it to be metal. I then realised that it was both: matt black plastic wrapped around a metallic part, probably for ease of grip and to protect the metal stock. I extended my index finger around the trigger and looked through the telescopic sight. I had the target in sight. I deliberately took my time with this procedure as I’m sure this would be the way professionals would do it. None of my watchers seemed to find my technique odd, so I figured I was doing the right thing: they looked on in anticipation. The target was at its maximum distance – against the far wall of the range, which to me looked like about 50 metres. Now I was ready to do my thing; I took a deep breath to steady my breathing and squeezed the trigger. I remember from countless movies that a trigger is always squeezed and never pulled. Useless information which now came in handy Bang; the bullet was ejected at high speed and was on its way to the target. The recoil caused me to jolt but was less than I had anticipated. All eyes strained to see the target. The firearms officer pressed a button on a nearby control panel and the target whizzed along its overhead rail towards us. When it arrived, all crowded round the target. I couldn’t see my own handy-work for all the bodies. “Well, done. A perfect shot, amigo.” Aranda commended. The others nodded and smiled in agreement. They parted and I saw I had hit exactly the place I aimed for: right in the centre of the target. Even the firearms guy looked impressed. I thought maybe this was a fluke; could I hit another perfect shot? Aranda indicated to the instructor and he replaced the target and sent it to the rear wall with a mechanical whirr. I repeated my movements, took aim at the centre mass again, squeezed and waited. From this distance, it was almost impossible to see if I scored or not, so we all awaited the imminent arrival of the new target. Another perfect shot. I was very impressed. Perhaps I was cut out to be a professional assassin after all. I seemed to have a steady hand and correct aptitude for a shooter, which surprised me. I spent the next hour practicing my shooting, urged on by my supervisors. Strangely, I actually enjoyed this experience. After shooting hundreds of bullets at a series of targets, I found it very easy to aim and hit exactly where I intended. I could probably do it with my eyes closed. Aranda stood over me and announced, “One more target before we finish.” He pinned a large photograph of President Marquina on the target and sent it to the maximum distance. He smiled and announced, “Let’s see if you can hit our President, eh amigo?” 15 I responded to his challenge by putting two bullets slightly left of centre mass in the exact position I was requested to. This impressed Aranda greatly and he escorted me out of the firing range and back up the stairway. Chapter 5 As we ascended the stairs, a thought struck me; it was risky but I went ahead. After all I was a professional and had no time for the niceties of life. “I require ten percent of my fee up front.” I demanded rather than ask him; I figured this was the way of a true assassin. Aranda stopped and stared at me as though trying to work out if I were serious. I returned his stare andour eyes remained locked. I could almost hear the wheels of his mind whizzing as he contemplated the pros and cons of my request. “That will be fine.” he finally admitted. We had now reached the top of the stairs and went through a door into an office. He told me to wait here and he disappeared into another office. Two officers stood near to me as though guarding me from an impending assault. Senior Superintendent Aranda emerged about five minutes later carrying a bulging manila envelope. He held out the envelope and I took it. “Ten percent or fifty thousand dollars.” he said quietly. Now I didn’t know what the correct protocol was here: did I just take it and assume the money was all correct, or did I count it in front of him. What would he expect me to do? All eyes watched in anticipation. I opened the envelope and had a quick look. All the notes looked real: genuine American dollars. I nodded my satisfaction and closed the package. Aranda walked a few steps to my left and beckoned my two flanking officers over. He made sure he was out of earshot of me and as a double precaution, spoke quietly to the two. I couldn’t hear any of the conversation and even if I could, I probably wouldn’t understand any of it. Either my basic Spanish was slipping or they spoke a different dialect from the Spanish I learned in school. Aranda then approached me and, pointing to the two officers said, “These officers will drive you to your hotel where you will eat and rest. They will drive you to the location tomorrow.” I nodded my understanding. “What time?” I enquired. He looked at his watch as though that would furnish him with the answer. “You will be picked up at ten thirty and will be in position for eleven o’clock.” I learned. “And the weapon?” I continued. “That will be arranged for you,” Aranda returned, “You only require to do your job.” Aranda then added as an afterthought, “Please make sure you kill this man.” 16 This statement sent chills down my spine but I had to mask my feelings, so I responded with a confident, “You can rely on me.” We then shook hands like customer and salesman and I was escorted out of the building by my accompanying police buddies. I slid into the rear seat of the police jeep and the officers sat in the front. We sped through the streets again at highly inappropriate speeds. I sat holding onto the seat with one hand whilst clutching the envelope containing the money with the other. Soon we arrived at a rather downtrodden hotel. This was not the type of hotel which is shown in any holiday brochure. If the exterior of the building was a guide to how the inside would look, I did not relish staying here. My door was opened and I got out. The heat of the day roasted me after the cooling breeze I had experienced on my short journey here. The officers escorted me into the Hotel Esmeralda. We approached the reception desk and one of my escorts spoke to the receptionist in the usual high velocity Spanish. The other remained with me as though ready to block any attempt of escape on my behalf. I found a nice cooling breeze about two metres away and moved to stand below the air conditioner vent. My escort saw this and immediately moved with me. I wondered if he fancied a game of ‘Simon says’ We waited. I wondered how long it took to check one person into a hotel in this town. Eventually, a man dressed in a badly fitting suit appeared and spoke to the officer. Nods and another series of conversations in hushed tones followed then the officer gestured for me and his colleague to follow him. We ascended a threadbare carpeted stairway up to the third floor. I wondered why we didn’t take the lift but figured the place maybe didn’t have one. Even if it did, it probably was unserviceable. The lobby smelled of cigarette smoke and dampness and we didn’t encounter any other guest. I couldn’t think of anyone who would want to stay in this dump. The infamous ‘Fawlty Towers’ was probably better than this. We followed the lead officer who held the room key in his hand, with a huge block of wood as the key fob. He stopped outside room 303, inserted the key and opened the door before going inside. We pursued him into the small but surprisingly clean room. It had the aroma of air freshener, which was probably to cover up the scent of cigarette smoke and other innocuous odours. The officers then began a systematic search of the room as though someone was hiding from them. They looked in the bathroom, behind the shower curtain and even under the double bed. Satisfied, they exited the room. I went over and sat on the bed. It was hard and creaked like crazy. The door was chapped and I answered it: if was my humourless police escorts. They handed me a menu and asked me to choose what I wanted to eat. I enquired if we were dining in the restaurant and he looked at me as if I had requested caviar in the Jacuzzi. “There is no restaurant here,” he responded gruffly and added, “Room service only.” 17 I looked at the card; the list of available dishes was small. Although I had not eaten since consuming a dry chicken dish on the plane, my appetite had diminished in the ensuing chaos of my life since landing in this horrid country. I requested a couple of sandwiches, potato chips and orange juice. The officer took a mental note of my order, snatched back the menu and went out. I assumed my food order would be delivered by a waiter, but twenty minutes later, the door was knocked and my police chums handed me the order on a tray. I thanked them and closed the door where I picked at the snacks whilst sitting on my solid bed. I cleared the tray from the bed and lay down. I contemplated the day’s events and shuddered. What had I inadvertently gotten myself into? The next day I would be expected to fire two bullets into the elected President’s heart. Could I go through with it? What if I missed or simply refused to do it? Would the Heckler and Koch be turned on me? Then it hit me: I could simply walk out and go into hiding. I got up and walked over to the door. I looked out of the peephole and, to my horror the two police officers were there. They were sitting on chairs, so they intended being here all night. I should have guessed; how could I have been so stupid to think I would be left unattended, especially with fifty grand in my pocket? This was almost certainly the instruction Aranda had given to them at the police HQ; ‘make sure he doesn’t do a runner with our money, and make sure he turns up and does his assassin thing’ I returned to the bed, dejected. I knew we were three floors up so climbing out the window was out of the question. Only in the movies does the protagonist safely escape down the side of a building using the down pipes. Only in old war movies does he make good his escape by tying bed-sheets together to form a rope. I decided a shower was in order and went into the bathroom. I removed my sweat- stained clothes and entered the shower. It took and age, but eventually some hot water emerged through the creaking and groaning pluming system. I adjusted the temperature and stood below the spray letting it refresh my weary body and wash away the stress of the day. Most hotels supply at the very least, small sachets of shampoo and shower gel, however the budget at Hotel Esmeralda clearly didn’t stretch this far. The only thing I had was a sliver of soap which had been used by who knew how many people. Beggars couldn’t be choosers, so I used up the morsel of soap, rubbing it like mad to generate a lather which I used as both shampoo and body-wash. It felt good to have a wash after what seemed a long and gruelling day; probably the worst day of my life actually The room was hot and the standard means of air conditioning was a small fan mounted on a chest of drawers. I turned on the fan and lay down on the bed, with only my underwear. I would have to put on the same clothes tomorrow; hopefully the sweat would have dried by then. 18 I closed my tired eyes and thought about my wife and children. Where were they at this moment in time? What were they thinking? When would I see them again? As I lay, I noticed a telephone on a desk near the window. I sat bolt upright: I could use this to call the hotel that we were booked into as part of the package deal. I searched my memory for the name. I knew it but could not recall it. I had read the name countless times before we departed from the UK and the kids had poured over the brochure page until it was dog-eared and worn. It listed all the facilities it had from swimming pool to games room. But what was it called? The Magdalena Grand: that was it. I excitedly went over to the telephone. I was about to lift the handset but had second thoughts. I strode over to the door and looked through the keyhole. My guards sat there looking bored. One was leafing through a newspaper but there appeared to be nothing newsworthy to pique his attention. No doubt tomorrow would be a huge news day I figured they could not hear through the heavy closed door and decided to take the chance. Chapter 6 I perched on the desk next to the telephone and extracted a small card which lay nearby. It furnished the user with instructions on how to operate the device. I scanned the Spanish and got the details I required. Although the phone was the other side of the room, I decided to speak quietly to avoid arousing the suspicions of my guards outside the door. Picking up the handset, I dialled the number for an outside line and to my surprise I received a confirmatory tone. I keyed in the number of the operator and almost instantly I heard a young female voice asking me, in Spanish, what name I was requiring. “Magdalena Grand Hotel, porfavor.” I responded in a hushed voice. She told me to wait a moment and a few seconds later the line rang out. “Magdalena Grand.” another female voice informed me. “Grace Fenton, Porfavor.” She asked me to supply the room number to which I admitted I didn’t know. I could hear her clicking a computer keyboard. My heart was racing at breakneck speed. Would this work? “I’ll put you through to room 522, please hold.” she said, switching to English, probably in response to my bad Spanish. A moment later I heard the most welcoming sound in the world: my wife answered the telephone with a cautious “Hello.” “Hi Grace, it’s me.” I announced dumbly as though she wouldn’t recognise my voice. “John,” she exclaimed excitedly, “Where are you; what happened; are you safe?” I told her to calm down and that I was safe in a hotel somewhere in the town. 19 She sounded so relieved to hear my voice and probably envisioned never seeing or hearing my voice ever again. I thereafter told her the whole story since meeting with Aranda at the airport and our subsequent separation under duress. I told her of my mission I was expected to carry out. She audibly recoiled in horror at the thought. “It’s alright honey,” I consoled, “I’ll think of some way out of this mess and get back to you and the kids.” “I’ve been so worried and going out of my head with nerves.” Grace confessed. I reassured her I would find an escape route, although at the moment I couldn’t for the life of me think of one. I enquired as to the children’s welfare and Grace told me they were worried but were trying to enjoy the facilities of the hotel whilst they could. Both were in the pool at the moment, which was a short distance from the room. “Did you have any dealings with the police?” I enquired. “No. After you were taken away our bus arrived and we were taken to this hotel.” She then recalled the difficulty in explaining the absence of her husband to the tour rep. and told them he was helping police with an enquiry. I ended the call after wishing her and the kids well and promising to rendezvous with her as soon as I could manage. I felt much better, knowing my family were safe, as though a weight had been lifted. I still had another massive burden to deal with, though. Darkness was beginning to fall but the steady buzz of traffic from the street below never ceased. One problem off my mind for the time being, I turned my thoughts to my titanic problem. I considered the limited options available: I could go through with the planned kill, collect my fee and go free a rich man, albeit a killer; or I could deliberately miss and claim extenuating circumstances for my negligence, blaming it on the wind or some other distraction. But how would Aranda and his corrupt posse react. Would I become the target in place of President Marquina? I could, if at all possible, try and escape; but how easy would this be? And I would then be on the run. No doubt the entire corrupt police force would be searching every nook and cranny for me and would not rest until I was captured. This result would most likely end in disaster for me: life in an odious prison or much, much worse. Instantly, a series of scenes from ‘Midnight Express’ filled my mind, and I shuddered in response. I figured that I could not do anything further at this moment in time and would conclude my deliberations in the morning after, hopefully, a decent sleep. I had a quick look through the peephole and noticed two policemen still performing sentry, although it was now two different guards who looked equally bored; Dumb and Dumber had obviously gone off duty. I turned off the light and headed for my solid bed. Pulling back the covers, I was surprised to see very clean, white sheets and virtually stain free. I climbed in and tried hard to relax. After numerous turns in a vain attempt to locate the softest part of the worn mattress and the most comfortable position, I fell into a shallow, disturbed sleep. 20

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