Pieter Malherbe isn’t a very impressive man. Nor can one describe him as handsome. In fact, you’ll walk right past him on any street corner you care to mention, and you wouldn’t spare him a second glance. Between short and tall; blond-brown hair parted demurely on the left; with an average nose and a medium-sized chin, he’s just not remarkable enough to make you look twice.
Maybe that’s why he’s such a good sniper.
People don’t notice him…until they can’t notice anything at all anymore.
Give him a good old R1 silenced rifle and a good scope, and you’ve got a killing machine second to none. One can only imagine what he would have been able to do with a DSR-Precision rifle – but that would have made him remarkable, which we of course know he isn’t.
What isn’t noticeable – and therefore doesn’t compromise his unremarkable label – is his inability to forget faces. You’d never guess that he has this extended memory bank inside his mind if you happened to look at his dull eyes. Never.
But he knows: once he’s had somebody’s features framed by the round blackness of his scope, that face will remain burned into his brain forever.
And now, when the man enters the second-hand car lot just off Main Street in Upington, that this is The One That Got Away…
The bush in Angola can be extremely dense next to the rivers. Here, where Pieter Malherbe has been waiting for the last day, he has had to break off twigs, pull out weeds and remove a rock to get a clear vision on the track running next to the flowing water. Oh, he left no obvious traces of his labour – no sir, he may be unremarkable, but he isn’t stupid. Part of his secret of success is that he takes his unnoticed features to a next level by never giving a clue of his presence. He doesn’t sneeze. Doesn’t scratch mosquito bites. Never coughs. Just lies there, quietly, waiting…
They showed him a photograph, a good one, detailing the features of his victim. Tall. Dark. Handsome. Distinctive scar on the left cheek, ending near the ear. In the photograph, he is dressed in the uniform of Castro’s Cuban army, but out here in the bush he’d be wearing something else. According to the fact sheet, he is a doctor, which is sad. The man could have done so much good…
But no. He joined the terrorists who are infiltrating South West Africa, and he is an expert on chemical warfare. The knowledge inside his head can contaminate water supplies, poison crops or paralyse the defenders on the borders.This is the man he has to … eliminate.
And then, with the faintest rustle of vegetation brushing against boots, a patrol walks by. Pieter Malherbe scans the faces, one by one, through the powerful scope. There are sixteen of them.
There’s no doubt about it. No doubt at all. The doctor is right in the middle of the column, keeping up easily with the brisk pace of the patrol. The first six are obviously troops, predictably armed with AK 47’s . Then the doctor. Then nine more troops, carrying heavy rucksacks.
Visualise. He always visualises the scene before the shot. It helps getting away such a lot if you know what to expect. Sooo…One shot with the silenced gun. Confusion. Slip away while the troops scurry around and eventually attend to the doctor. Easy. He’s done it so many times before – but then with commanders and senior officers – never with a doctor.
One for the record books…
But there’s something wrong with the picture. Big time wrong. The doctor is carrying a small boy on his shoulders. Unacceptable collateral damage. No can do.
And here he is now, again, only this time defenseless. No troops. No AK 47. No boy on his shoulders. Just him. Alone.
“Go get him,” his senior whispers.
Pieter Malherbe glances over at Sergeant Basson. They’ve been together for…oh how many years now? A formidable team. Basson is technically his boss, if you consider everything. The spotter. That’s the man who has all the info. Distance. Windspeed. Temperature. Trajectory. Everything. Also…the man with vision, the entrepreneur; that’s why he can sit back and let Malherbe do the work.
You can snipe without a spotter, that’s true. The first time he saw the doctor, he didn’t have Basson with him. No spotter. The mission to deep into Angola, the details too secret. Tense.
But today? Today he can smile casually at Basson and mouth the words ‘thank you’. Basson knows about his target. It’s been a bad month and he’s falling far short. Now it’s up to him. Get the man into your sights, take careful aim, Go for the kill.
Oh, time has passed in the meantime. A lot of time. Angola is history. The war is past. The enemy won.
But not today. Today he’s not going to let this one get away. He needs this – he needs this badly. A sniper, he tells himself, is as good as his last effort. Lately he missed a few targets, he’ll have to make up today.
It’s funny how life works, Malherbe thinks. Circles…circles within circles being completed as the years roll by. What you can’t understand today becomes logical tomorrow. Relaxing the finger on the trigger one day, becomes a way of putting bread on his table the next. How weird is that?
He gets up behind the rickety desk, shoves the tie-knot into position,
Going for the kill. Breathe in. Breathe out. Relax.
“Good day sir! Welcome to our collection of lovely pre-owned cars. Boy, have you come to the right place.” Flash a big smile. Shake hands – look confident. “Now I can see you’re a man of great taste. Over here we have just what you’re looking for. An almost-new model, sir, barely 5000 km on the clock. Come on, take a test drive, will you…”