It’s a chilly, overcast afternoon in February when I get the order to shoot the President.
It isn’t raining, but moisture infests the soggy air and fogs up the windows, condensing into small drops that meander down the glass and puddle at the bottom of the panes. A sharp wind whistles through the keyhole and under the door, bringing the winter indoors despite the double glazing I had installed three years ago. It was put in by a cowboy from out of town. I didn’t want the local man in, getting too inquisitive, asking questions.
I don’t like shooting people in the public eye. They’re too often surrounded by minders, or fans, or protesters. Often all three. Even when you do manage to get close to them, you always get the feeling you’re being watched.
When you’ve been waiting in the cold all evening a sort of torpor sets in, so when the target finally shows up everything happens in a rush – and that means you make mistakes. I worry that the mechanism will fail, that my finger will slip, that I’ll miss the shot.
The most important thing is to stay calm. It affects your breathing. Keep still, breathe deeply, and focus. Get there early, get your sight lines in.
I specialise in scumbags. Corrupt politicians, bribe-taking officials, dodgy dealers. Sometimes you catch them out on the street, sometimes indoors, always in a public place – a restaurant, a hotel lobby. But that means avoiding being spotted by security, which presents its own problems. If it’s tight you may have to shoot through a window. It’s tricky, but it means you can get a quick getaway: one shot and that’s it, their lives are over.
Of course the pay is less for unknowns. But then the job is so much easier when they’re not expecting it. Shoot a cheating husband and you won’t see his face on the front page the next day, staring back at you, the way you do with celebrities. Usually it’s all over in a few minutes and the only person who knows about it is the wife, and that’s because she’s paying you. Job done. But I’m freelance, and when you’re freelance you take the jobs you’re offered.
Do I feel guilty? No. These are bad people. Otherwise the good people who pay me wouldn’t want them out of the way. They’ve done a lot of damage. Their wives, their constituents, the punters they’ve ripped off – everyone’s better off without them. I’ve buried my fair share of lowlifes, and I generally feel good about it. I’ll see their face in the papers the next day, and it’s worse when there are photos of their tearful families. Sure, I feel sorry for the kids, but it’s the parents’ fault for being scumbags.
So I accept the job, as you do. As you have to do. It’s all set for the next day. My informant tells me that the President is due to visit a lady of doubtful reputation for a spot of extracurricular foreign relations. I don’t know how my informant had access to this detail of the President’s itinerary, but then I don’t know my informant. I’ve never met him. Or her. Spying is so much easier these days, when the business of dead letter drops and clandestine meetings on park benches has given way to a simple disposable hotmail address.
All my direct contact is through The Company. They give me the jobs, sort out the finances, deal with the paperwork. If I’m lucky they’ll supply me with an informant who will take the trouble to pin down the target to a specific time and location. Usually, though, it’s just a vague outline of their movements, leaving me to fill in the details and pick the exact moment. This is one of the better times.
I wake early. Shower, shave, weetabix, coffee. Spend the day checking my gear, then off to the location, a full hour before the President is due to show up. It’s important to scope out the lie of the land, so I can check the best angles unimpeded by curious passers-by.
It’s a shopping street in a shabby residential district – a road lined with hairdressers, tattoo parlours, and cut price grocery stores whose owners believe the best way to improve the quality of their sagging fruit and veg is to display it outside where it can soak up the traffic fumes.
The address I’ve been given is a part glazed blue doorway sandwiched between a builder’s caff and a dvd rental store advertising its closing down sale. As luck would have it there’s an alleyway next to the chemist directly opposite, so I grab an instant coffee and a processed cheese sandwich and settle down to wait, hidden by a recycling bank.
Bang on time – he’s keen, this one – a black limo purrs down the street and stops outside a newsagent’s three doors down, the nearest parking place he can get. That’s good: it means the target will be on the street for longer. A man in a grey suit gets out on the driver’s side and slips round to open the passenger door. And there he is, sliding out onto the street just like any other citizen, his collar pulled up, hands thrust into his pockets.
He walks the few paces to the blue door, rings the bell, and in a moment it’s opened by a girl young enough to be his granddaughter, wearing a broad smile and not much else.
This is it. I stand up.
‘Hey!’ I yell, ‘Scumbag! Who’s the tart?’
Crude, maybe, but it works: he turns and looks straight at me, and I fire off a volley of shots. A dozen of them, one two hundredth of a second at f4.8, and it’s done. Tomorrow he’ll be all over the local rag, and his wife will start looking for a lawyer.
And the Rotarians will have to find themselves a new President.