Author: Roger Ley

‘Cadmus,’ his codename for the purposes of this mission, lay motionless on top of the dune. His ghillie skin made him indistinguishable from a clump of the scrubby local vegetation, which wasn’t surprising considering the amount of it he’d incorporated into the surface of the garment the day before. The sun beat down, and he was grateful for the thermal system that kept the outer part of the suit at the temperature of his surroundings and made his heat signature hard to detect, while at the same time keeping the inner part cool enough to prevent him frying in the midday heat. He turned his head slightly and sipped water from the tube of his hydration pack and continued to wait. He was good at waiting; it was his job to wait. He had learned this at the Royal Marine Commando Training Centre years ago, before he’d become a private contractor. When he’d waited long enough, he would squeeze the trigger and leave. The Saudi Land Forces would be onto his position within minutes but he’d be gone.

A voice spoke quietly in his ear.

“Target acquired, Cadmus, stand by for imminent completion.”

He chambered a self-steering round and prepared to take the shot. It was ironic that the three small deployable fins on the body of the bullet and the small pack of quantum electronics in its nose had relieved him of the need for accuracy. He’d calculated the approximate angle of inclination, although it wasn’t critical, and he knew the general direction of the target, four kilometres away in an open area outside Riyadh. As long as a targeting beacon was in position on the victim, the round would lock on to it and arrive seconds after he discharged it. The customer had specified a mercury-filled bullet, so he assumed it was a headshot. Old-fashioned but effective. After the bullet’s casing had penetrated the victim’s skull, the mercury would continue as a cloud of supersonic droplets, pulping their brain. No deflections off the bone and a miraculous recovery, a binary result: life if he missed, certain death if not.

He didn’t know who the target was, neither did he want to. There were other ways of getting the job done, but they all required larger, more trackable items of military hardware. He assumed that the need for deniability on the part of his customer was paramount. It was the limited range of the steerable bullet that required his presence.

“Immediate go, Cadmus.”

He fired, stood, broke down the rifle and piled it with the other equipment he was leaving behind. He triggered the timed incendiaries. All the evidence would be burned or cauterised a few minutes after he’d left, there would be no specks of DNA to trace the assassination back to him. He jogged across the sand to the motorway two hundred metres away, where a beaten-up pickup half-full of goats was parked on the hard shoulder. The bonnet was up and the driver was fiddling under it. When he saw Cadmus, he dropped the bonnet and got into the driver’s seat. Cadmus climbed into the back, thumped the back of the cab, lay down, and pulled the ghillie skin over himself. The goats began to nibble at it as the truck drove sedately away. A few minutes later, he heard the clatter of choppers passing over, heading back in the direction of his pitch. He’d been counting off seconds ever since he’d triggered the incendiaries and reckoned that they’d fire about now. He settled down and made himself as comfortable as he could for the drive to Bahrain, several hours away.

His ride dropped him at a back-street hotel. He left the ghillie skin and went inside. After a quick change of clothes in his room and a taxi ride to the airport, he boarded a commercial flight to his home in Cyprus. A substantial deposit had already been paid into his numbered Zurich bank account. He wouldn’t know if the mission had been a success until he read about it on the news screens or, if it was hushed up, when the second half of the money arrived.