The Russian colonel’s head wavered in the rifle scope as Max adjusted his sitting position. He switched from the scope to a wider-angle view through a Bushnell spotting lens. The target was sitting in a frothing hot tub, a melon-chested girl on each arm, sipping from a champagne flute. His mostly bald pate glistened with sweat, and reflections of multi-colored lights from the yacht’s disco ball glinted from his head. Two bodyguards stood at attention several paces behind, their eyes roving restlessly over the undulating party.
Hoots and shouts and clips of music from the boat came through the open window. Three hot tubs were full of obese old men surrounded by hired girls. Partygoers carried bottles of Cristal in their fists. It was approaching midnight, and the festivities were in full swing.
Despite the cool breeze coming through the window, a bead of sweat dripped down Max’s forehead. While he waited, he absently fingered the rabbit’s foot he kept in his pocket, a token of safety given to him by his ten-year-old nephew.
Using a sniper rifle required that the assassin know exactly where the target would be ahead of time. That knowledge was usually hard to come by. Today, though, he knew. Max’s handler at the CIA had a source in the colonel’s organization – a Ukrainian sympathizer who had supplied minute details about the target’s schedule. Despite the intel, this was a rush job, and Max hated rush jobs. He prided himself on a spotless record and preferred to spend months researching a target’s habits. Killing a man was an intimate act, one not to be hurried. Still, Max’s new boss at the CIA wanted to take advantage of the opportunity, so here he was, perched in a decaying tenement, about to end the life of a man whose sin was profiting from supplying weapons to the pro-Russian rebels in Eastern Ukraine.
His target was about the length of two football pitches away. At this distance, using the Leupold scope and a M2010 ESR rifle, Max’s assignment was relatively easy, even with the long silencer attached to the barrel. The rifle was chambered for a .300 Winchester Magnum, a bullet proven to produce more long-range effectiveness with less weight than other .30 cartridges. It was probably overkill for this job, but that was how Max operated – he always stacked the deck in his favor. As he waited, he admired the workmanship of the matte-black, American-made rifle. Most of the gear he’d used in the KGB had been decades old and poorly maintained. Restlessly, his hand checked the SIG P226 at his side and the fighting knife strapped to his leg.
Max felt no remorse or conflict about killing a former colleague. He knew the FSB had played a role in his parents’ death and he’d recently sold his soul to the CIA in exchange for the protection of his family. He owed the FSB nothing.
He moved his eye back to the spotting lens and watched the colonel tip his head back to laugh at something one of the girls had said. An oversized gold diver’s watch glittered on the man’s wrist. In contrast to the colonel’s obese underlings, Konstantin Koskov was built like a rugby player – short and stocky, chest and arms rippling with muscle. He spent as much time working out as he did chasing girls and counting his money.
Max checked his own watch. Two minutes. He moved into firing position. The rifle’s bipod legs rested on a wooden kitchen table pushed up to the window. Next to the rifle, a Nikon digital camera fitted with a long-range lens sat on a pocket-sized tripod. A cord ran from the camera’s shutter to a foot pedal on the floor. A wireless data card in the camera would automatically transfer the photos to his smartphone. In his pocket was the remote control to a small block of C-4 he’d attached to the underside of the kitchen table. When the job was done, he’d activate the bomb and destroy the evidence. He reacquired the target in the scope. The man’s head came through the view finder in magnified clarity.
Max reached into his pocket and fingered the lucky rabbit’s foot again. He believed in making his own luck, but the little token reminded him why he was doing this job. He checked his watch again. One minute. He moved the chair back from the table, taking care not to make any noise, and took a wide stance. The flag on the pole visible through the window lay limp, but the spring air held significant moisture. Max went over his firing solution one last time, made a tiny adjustment, then re-acquired the target. The colonel was pawing at the girl next to him, who was trying to wiggle away.
As the second hand on Max’s watch jolted to the 12 mark, a loud explosion sounded a block away. The table rattled slightly. Glass bottles chattered above the stove. Max watched through the scope as Koskov looked up, startled by the diversion Max had planted hours before.
Max ensured the scope’s crosshairs were a shade above the colonel’s temple, breathed out, and let his heartbeat slow. Using the pad of his index finger, he pulled straight back on the trigger, simultaneously pressing down on the camera pedal with his foot. The muted thump from the bullet passing through the silencer and the whir of the camera’s servo motor were drowned out by the pounding music on the yacht. The target’s head disappeared from the view through the scope.
Max switched to the spotting lens and watched Koskov’s body slip into the roiling hot tub, the top portion of his head ragged and bloody. The two girls appeared frozen, their minds not yet registering what their eyes had just seen. The chest and neck of one of the girls was covered in a dark, silky liquid. Then, in unison, the girls started screaming. The bodyguards reacted more quickly, drawing weapons as they scanned the area. Their training made them act, but Max could see the incredulity in their eyes even from this distance. Max pulled the rifle back from the window and left it on the table.
Suddenly, he heard a creak in the floorboards behind him. To most, the sound would be imperceptible. To Max’s tightly honed senses, it was like a rifle shot in a still forest. Instinct took over and he ducked and rolled away from the table, coming up on both feet, the SIG in his hand.