YESTERDAY THE ASSASSIN HAD THOROUGHLY scouted out his assignment with the cold detachment and methodical efficiency that belied his professional skills and virtually guaranteed his ultimate success. He had left the front entrance of the hotel, and had walked the 300 or so yards to the front entrance of the Blue Mosque shrine. This was precisely the spot where Mohammed Abdul Barak would kneel down, facing the west, and recite his prayers along with several thousand other Muslims who had gathered to pray and celebrate Liberation Day in Mazar-I-Sharif, Afghanistan. Barak would kneel alone in front of all the others, for he was their spiritual leader and political icon. This would make him a relatively easy target. His assignment was simple - to eliminate him.
The people who employed his services never gave an explanation, nor did he require one. Most often, though, he always had an inherent intuitiveness with regard to their motives. In this case, it was probably the Soviets, who - with Barak out of the way - would initiate the chain of events necessary to facilitate a Communist takeover of the country.
Both sides of the dirt-covered street that led back to the hotel were littered with dozens of open-air shops that resembled some of the smaller angora shops in the Greek marketplaces. The vendors and customers alike were busy with the hustle and bustle of trying to take unbridled advantage of each other. No one would take notice of the barrel of a sniper rifle extending out a few inches of a top-floor hotel window. The weather forecast was to be nearly identical with today's, with sunny skies and a brisk breeze out of the west at ten to fifteen miles an hour. In his trade, the wind was always an important factor, coupled with the distance to the target and elevation angle of the rifle. In this particular case, all the necessary factors were well within reasonable tolerance levels. He rubbed his dark, stubbly chin and smiled at the thought of another perfected assignment.
The Casio alarm watch on his left wrist beeped audibly, waking him up at precisely twenty minutes before sunup. Over the years, he had trained himself to be alert and fully awake within sixty seconds of waking up. Quickly, he dressed in his garb of the previous day and then did his stretching exercises for the next four minutes. A mental alert went off within his head: fifteen minutes till sunup. The box springs squeaked loudly as he sat down on the thin, blue-striped mattress and laid the unopened rifle case down beside him on the bed.
He quickly unzipped the vinyl carrying case, revealing the ebony and woodgrain stock, MAPF Unique TGC sniper rifle. There were four main pieces in the eider-lined case, that included the rifl e stock, the barrel, a bipod, and a Leopold Vari-X-III Long Range Tactical 4.5-14 X 50 scope. The weapon had been manufactured in France where the Pyrenees Mountains met the Bay of Biscay. Most other professionals preferred the more well-known manufacturers, but he liked the French weapon because of its relative obscurity and dependability.
With a cleaning cloth in his right hand, he picked up the 20.3" stainless steel barrel, and methodically threaded it into the walnut-grain stock that had the adjustable cheek pad and pistol grip. Using the same cloth, he gently picked up the long-range Leopold scope and slid it into its mount on top of the rifl e. In one swift movement, he brought the rifle up shoulder high, and put the two-inch rubber cushion at the rear of the rifle expertly at rest on his right shoulder blade, while simultaneously staring through the scope with his dominant right eye.
The sheer power and confi dence this weapon gave him was unparalleled to any other feeling of superiority he had ever experienced. It was like he and the rifle were melded together as one, the resulting combination a deadly force of instant destruction that could end a person's life in less time than it took to blink the human eye.
As he took the rifle back down from his shoulder and laid it gently on the bed, the alarm in his head went off again, telling him he had ten minutes till the break of dawn. Quickly unfolding the bipod, he took it and snapped it into position on the bottom front end of the barrel. Taking the small metal magazine in his left hand, he inserted two Winchester .308-caliber 5.56 x 45mm cartridges with his right thumb and forefinger, and snapped the magazine into place in its position on the underside of the stock, just in front of the trigger. He then walked over to the corner of the room and slid the small wooden nightstand into position underneath the center of the window. He took the old wooden chair on the opposite side of the bed and moved it into position two feet behind the nightstand, quickly turning it around backward to face the window. There, he thought, that should be perfect. The mental alarm went off for the final time - five minutes till sunrise.
Unhinging the lower pane of the window, he raised it up a foot or so, just enough to allow the end of the rifle barrel to extend beyond it, and walked back around to the bed and picked the single-lens range finder. Sitting in the chair with his legs straddling either side, he brought the range finder up to his eye and pointed it directly at the front entrance to the mosque. In an instant, the distance flashed up on the lens - 325 yards. Pretty close to what he had anticipated, he thought. After setting the range finder down, he brought the rifle up into position on the nightstand; the resistance and weight of the weapon now rested on the small bipod at the front end of the rifle. Walking around to the back of the chair, he took a seat, prepared for the final, instant act of the fulfillment of his assignment.
Slowly closing his left eye, he brought the scope into focus with his right. The sight he saw as he looked through the lens was exactly what it was supposed to be. As he brought the strong lens into focus, he centered the crosshairs on the kneeling figure of Mohammed Abdul Barak. His head was nearly touching the ground, the proper position for his holy prayers. The expert calculations began to start forming in the frontal lobes of his brain. At 320 yards and an elevation of 70 feet, the 9.7-gram, 150-grain bullet would have dropped about 10 inches by the time it reached the target. But with the angle of incline being a little sharper, he dropped another inch from the equation. The wind was blowing out of the north, or to his left, at about eight miles an hour. This would cause the bullet to travel four inches to the right. The ultimate aiming position was then nine inches up and four inches to the left.