Tom Grey had woken without needing the alarm; he always did. He preset his body and it listened to the instruction; you needed mastery over the trivial so the critical could be relied upon.
He took his handgun and rifle but left his documents hidden in the Wolmaransstad guesthouse. He was not anticipating trouble, but he had learned that a judicious approach was always beneficial. He took the car for his initial reconnaissance; he wanted to know all the vehicular ways in and out of the town before plotting the area on foot. He could already see where the digging for diamonds took place and the auction site. They were central and unlikely to cause any problems. Far too open as well, but he would not take shortcuts; his team’s security relied upon his knowledge and back-up.
It didn’t take long.
It was the proverbial one-horse town but there was no denying it had an old fashioned, frontier charm. There were tourists, not enough to lose yourself among, but they were always useful camouflage.
Tom ventured further past the town. There were two places that needed to be mapped and observed: the helipad, for select visitors like their package, and the unofficial diamond sale site.
Tom put the helipad off for last. Operationally it was an unlikely ambush site. The deal would have been done and the client already in possession of the diamonds if money had been exchanged. There was an outside chance that either the buyer or seller might try for a double cross, but the helipad was late in the game and had its own additional security. Not an ideal location or strategy. No, the blind spot was the unofficial trade. He had the coordinates and drove almost 45 minutes out of town and on a series
of dirt tracks till he found the spot. If Tom ever allowed himself a sigh, now would be the time. Instead he parked up and began to do his job.
A Ghillie suit would work here. There was sufficient dust, rocks and groundcover to lay in wait before the transaction. The auction and driving would be covered by the Close Protection Team. This was his primary area of operational input. He sat on his haunches and slowly mapped out the area. There were trees but they were not high enough for him to use. There was a ledge carved into a reasonably sized hill, but it felt too exposed. He would need to drive back and retrieve his rifle. From there he could scout until he found a hide. It would need to be some distance away from here but he had taken shots on a clear night with no wind up to 2 000 metres. He didn’t want to rely on his marksmanship for this mission – too many variables. He’d rather be closer where he could take out aggressors quickly and provide covering fire for the team to extract the package. His skin itched in irritation at the mosquito bites he had acquired last night, but accustomed to stillness, he did not respond.
And then he had to deal with the fact that he was not alone.
‘Are yous lost?’
The men approached in a group from a Westerly direction. They had made no attempt to disguise their advance and Tom had been waiting for them, although he affected surprise at their appearance.
He smiled and gestured to his binoculars, ‘I don’t think so. I’m tracking game. It’s a beautiful day and a beautiful country.’
‘That’s right.’ Tom exaggerated his pleasure at meeting a local so knowledgeable in international accents. ‘I came through for the Digger Diamond tour but was tempted at the last minute to explore the countryside.’
The men had edged closer. They didn’t look like friendly locals. They were dressed in baggy jeans, sunglasses and baseball caps.
‘Where’s the car?’
The men laughed but it was harsh and limited to a private joke. ‘Not yet mister, but yous will be.’
Tom was competent in hand-to-hand combat even though most of his military career had distributed death from a distance but he had a decision to make. As far as they knew, they had stumbled on a tourist and were about to fleece him of his wallet and valuables. But the car was a different matter: it had his rifle in it.
Options were considered as he raised his hands in ostensible surrender. If he broke cover and dispatched the threat at the sale site, word could quickly spread, endangering the operation and making protection of the client even harder. These amateurs might even be the sellers, which would render the operation null and void. What were the chances of meeting trouble at this exact spot? Then guns were drawn and he realised he had missed his opportunity. He’d need to lose this battle to win the war.
‘Where’s the car?’
Tom allowed his hands to tremble, although it was rage that coursed through his blood, and walked backwards out of the line of sight and motioned to where his car was kept.
‘Search him.’ The leader was no idiot and stayed with his gun pointed at Tom while one of his men began moving towards him.
Grey needed him away from his own weapon, ‘The keys are here, my wallet too.’
‘Don’t forget your binoculars.’ The men cracked up laughing. This time it seemed genuine. Clearly, the binoculars were a sign of his stupidity. He put them all at his feet and added his watch and observed as they were collected by the smallest of the group. The lackey.
‘Good boy. Now show us the car.’
Tom weighed options but saw no way to save his rifle without killing all four of them. He could do it but it would likely cause more problems than it would solve.
Fuck them all.
The exchange of fire was quick. Two were down, centre mass shots, before they realised he had drawn and was shooting at them. The third returned fire haphazardly and dived for cover. It took only a moment of patience before he reached out from behind the tree to take a shot. The sniper was waiting for him and put him down with a clean head shot. The fourth was nowhere to be seen. Then he heard the sound of an engine starting.
Tom ran fast enough to watch his car spit dust as it was driven away.
The rage that he felt had nothing to do with the men and everything to do with the rifle they had stolen from him. It was not an inanimate piece of engineering, but an extension of him, inextricably linked to his friend and fellow soldier who lay long discarded in a dry and dusty land very similar to this place.
It would not stand.
It was nothing to do with the mission. Operational protocol was explicit in this type of circumstance: report and wait for further instructions. Once again he took a perverse pleasure in doing what he knew to be right instead of what was correct. He strode back to the clearing and hoped that one of the first two men shot was still alive and coherent enough to be questioned.
He’d put him out of his misery after.
The man didn’t last long; these were criminals, not soldiers and it had taken relatively little pain to get the information he required. They worked for a local syndicate that promised uncut illegal diamonds and fleeced those stupid enough to believe their patter. The man knew nothing about a meeting on Thursday so it was either above his pay grade or there was more than one group working the area.
Everyone wanted to get rich the fucking easy way. Fodder for low-life like these, but not him. He had been a tourist, an easy target that had proved to be the death of them.
They would hardly be missed.
Tom wiped the sweat from his forehead with a hand smeared with blood and then sat under the shade of an Acacia tree to plan his next move.
Thirty-five minutes later he stood and started the long walk back to town.
One Shot is published by Pan Macmillan