The hands on the ruined clock remained still but time continued its flow. The church had been mostly demolished but one side of its tower remained intact, albeit at a lower level than before. The glass behind the dial was broken, of course, but the outer ring bearing the figures for the hours was still there, as were the hands, reaching out as though they needed rescuing. The main body of the building was wrecked though, its contents largely looted, with no sense of it once being revered.
A rat pushed its head up and out into the moonlight. It was hungry and although it felt safe in the ruins, there was little food to be found there. It would have to venture further away to find its supper. The man watching it raised his rifle to his eye and mouthed a single silent word.
Of course, the rat remained unscathed. Although the rifle was loaded, the marksman had other targets in mind. He’d been in position since late the previous morning, his pocket flask providing for most of his needs, the occasional sip being all he’d permit himself. His quarry was yet unknown to him, his employer assigning him his mission along with details of the location and the time he’d expected the contact to be there, picking up the money he’d demanded. The designated time was long past now and only the shooter’s professionalism had kept him here. Someone would come, he knew. No-one demanded three million dollars and then left it for someone else to find.
The night was still quiet at three in the morning though and the watcher was beginning to lose confidence in both himself and the target. A fox had followed the trail half an hour ago, its nose to the ground and its tail in the air, but nothing else had shown itself, even to his night-scope. He’d heard an owl’s hooting and the small sounds of its prey but neither of them had broken cover. Perhaps he’d been seen himself. A successful terrorist was usually as skilled as those sent to hunt him, although the marksman preferred to think he still had the edge. He’d been working this trade since the eighties and had put away more than enough to keep him in comfort for the rest of his life. But there was always the call of the challenge; the sport of the kill. It was an addiction that would never loosen its grip.
The undergrowth and the trees suddenly quietened, the soft noises ceasing as something disturbed the creatures that made them. The disc of his sight panned the trail, hunting.
He heard the child before he saw it, its heavy feet cracking and breaking the finer wood stems that were everywhere. The balloon came first; silver-green in his scope, bobbing at the end of its cord. It would be one of the easiest shots he would ever have made. One to be remembered forever. He’d never killed an American child. Not yet.
The low cough came from directly behind him, the cold nose of the pistol firm against his temple. He began to turn away then stopped.
He would never outrun the bullet. He’d seen many try to but the target always lost the race.
“Okay,” he said. “You’ve got me. Now what?”