A short story after a long time! I got caught with exams and could not post. For a change, this one is a thriller. Also, I set this in the US, unlike my usual stories. Enjoy!
Breathe in. Breath out. Stay calm.
After a year, it had finally come to this. He stood in the shade near the house, with the gun clutched tightly in his hand. He kept tightening his grip every now and then, as if to reassure himself that it was there. The wind howled around him and threw snow into his face. But his gaze was focused on the path from where his target would emerge. This winter cabin was on top of a small hill, and the rough path was the only way to the cabin. He would see his man before the target saw him.
He kept hearing the words of his instructor. Breathe in. Keep the hand steady. Keep your center of gravity low. Do not give the target a chance to respond. Aim for the center. Fire off multiple rounds. Breathe out. Part of him wondered whether now that it had come to this, he would be able to take another man’s life. Another part of him crushed the thought.
He was not used to outdoor work. His work was with computers. He was one of the best hackers in the country, working for the government. He used to stay in so much that his colleagues gave him a nickname – “The Vampire”. And yet, here he was, gun in hand, about to kill a man.
The face of his target swam in front of his eyes. It had been burned into his memory since that fateful day, when his life had been changed upside down. Almost against his will, his mind replayed, for the millionth time, the events of that tragic day, and the chain leading up to today.
He had married his high-school sweetheart and gone on honeymoon to Hawaii. They had stayed at the Royal Hawaiian, one of the best luxury resorts in the country. Celebrities routinely stayed there, and they heard that the Governor was staying there when they checked in. From their room balcony, they looked out onto the brilliant blue of the ocean, and the sunlight dancing on the waves. It was perfect.
Down at the swimming pool, they had made new friends. Most of them seemed the show-off type but there had been one guy he had liked. He had not quite remembered the guy’s name, but had enjoyed the conversation. An investment banker from New York. Seemed to know a lot about computers too, which was rare. They chatted on about their taste in music and books before parting to get ready for the party later that night.
The party was in full swing by the time they entered. They were excited to see the Governor there as well. She wanted to talk to the Governor, and so they weaved their way slowly through the crowd. Wherever they went, heads turned to look at her. He felt proud of her beauty. The Governor seemed nice, shook hands with them and made small talk. He looked behind the Governor and saw the glint of metal. He saw, almost in slow motion, as the investment banker raised a gun. Somebody else had seen it too, and a shout of “GUN” went up. He heard the blast of the gun. With reflexes beyond his age, the Governor dropped to the floor, barely missing the bullet intended for him. He turned to her and saw her chest covered with blood.
No. No. This cannot be happening. They were married just a few days ago. He had waited so long to marry her. She had been his entire life. Rushing, he carried her to the first aid ward. But it was too late. She clutched his hand and smiled. That sweet, radiant smile that he had fallen for, all those years ago. Everything stopped in the world, and he relived their moments over the years in a single instant. And then she was gone.
Everything was a blur after that. The present and the future held no meaning anymore, so his mind lived in the past. He vaguely remembered the funeral, and the meaningless sentences that everyone threw at him. He went through the motions of life like a zombie. It was while he was reading the newspaper one day that his remaining purpose in life came to him.
The search for the assassin had been called off, citing lack of leads. Another piece speculated that it was because the opposition party and the ruling party had made up, and hence the murder was not investigated anymore. He knew what he had to do. He used his contacts to gather as much detail as possible on the assassin. It was the first time he was glad he was working for the government. He traced the wire transfers that the assassin got as payment for a kill. The killer was clever, he would give him that. Every payment went back and forth over a dozen banks, and many bank accounts spread over different countries, making it almost impossible to get a court permit to look at all the records. But he was not working within the law.
One morning, after about a week of working non-stop, he finally found the killer. The assasin had just finished a major kill, and was planning to relax at his secluded winter cabin on the Devil’s Hill. How apt the name was. He had scrambled to get a gun and learn the basics from the his instructor. He knew he would be no match for a trained assassin. But the thought of trying gave him peace. The thought of being killed by the same man who killed her seemed strangely poetic. What if he would be killed? He would see her again.
And so it had come down to this. His breath caught in his chest as he saw the outline of someone walking up the hill. He hid a little more in the shadows. The guy came up and took out his keys to unlock the door. He stepped out of the shadows. “Hey”. The guy turned in shock. Yes, it was the same face. No time to think now. Do it! Do it! Do it!
He raised his gun and shot three times, right in the centre of the guy’s chest. The sound of the gun was deafening to his ears, even though he knew the storm would suppress the sound. The guy went down. He thought he saw a hint of a smile on the guy’s face as he dropped. He knelt and checked the pulse. It was gone. The thing was done.
He let out a primal scream that even the wind could not suppress. And then he started to cry, as everything that had happened crashed through his mind and losing her felt real in a way it had not before. He did not know how long he was on his knees, crying. Finally, he felt at peace. He rose up and walked down the hill.
After a while, the assassin rose. He opened the cabin and went inside. He removed the protective vest from under his shirt. He stood at the window and watched his would-be killer walk down the hill. So the old trick of reducing his pulse worked after all. He had known the hacker was on his trail for months. The hacker was good, but not the best. You did not survive in the assassin business if you were not the best at every aspect. He had tiny little sensors that would go off when anyone was checking his trail. They were impossible to detect unless you were looking for them. The hacker had missed them.
He had spied on the hacker after the first alert. He had seen the zombie life that the guy was leading. He had remembered the couple as they were at the resort. So full of life and excitement. And the look between them. It was true that love was in the eyes. He had remembered, how almost a lifetime ago, he had felt that sort of love. He had remembered his wife, and all that she had meant to him. It was the killing of his wife that had gotten him started in the assassin business all those years ago.
The killing of the hacker’s wife had been an accident. But he knew there were things for which you did not just say “Sorry” and walk away. The hacker’s life could be redeemed only by a death – either the hacker’s or his own. And so he had planned this. He had left information lying about that showed he would visit this cabin. He had chosen this place because it was secluded – nobody would hear the gun shot. Police did not patrol this way. He planned to wear the metal vest. He practised his pulse-lowering technique.
Of course, there had been risks. A professional would have popped two bullets into his head just to make sure he was dead. But he gambled that the hacker would not do so. He was willing to take that risk. After all, an assassin is an expert at assessing and managing risk. Another man would have actually died at the hacker’s hands, in repentance for all the kills, all the blood on his hands. But he was not that stupid.