The left side profile of Lang Kim’s head was square in my sight. The pull of my pointer finger only a fraction of an inch towards me would blast a 5½ inch .50 caliber round through his brain. As I was trained, I lay as a stone, forcing shallow breaths of air in and out of my lungs to minimize movement. There would be no suffering. He wouldn’t know what hit him. I often thought about that split second when life left the bodies of the victims I killed, wondering which realm of the theoretical afterlives their souls entered (heaven, hell, purgatory) – if one existed at all. It didn’t matter. I forced the thought out of my mind. Do not think with your emotions, I was trained. I was a killing machine. Through psychological regimens, I grew numb to the emotional pains that entomb most ordinary people. And as stark a confession it is, I felt free. Free from sorrow, from grief. Guilt was as far away from me about killing as a distant galaxy. I was cold. And had I any emotion in me at all, I would have recognized my state as love, the love of killing without the slightest remorse. I had no wife and no children. An orphan with no-one to experience these things called emotions with; if it were ever possible for them to dwell in me at all.
One day while taking a stroll along a sidewalk in New York, a lady spat on my face and slapped me hard across it, calling me a fucking bastard. I gazed upon her with great astonishment – I have not yet determined if I was shocked by the spit, or the violent slap. A while passed before I realized why she was angry. For it was only a few moments prior to her assault that a small boy (five or six years old at best) approached me on the sidewalk. He carried a paper cup of some iced, orange beverage with a tall colorful straw stemming from the top. While passing, his elbow brushed against my thigh, sending him spiraling to the ground. The beverage flew upwards then fell, showering his white, sailor fashioned outfit. Instantly, he burst out in tears, screaming and crying in a deafening shrill. Some mysterious force drew me to bend down beside him, and I found myself gazing at him pitifully wriggling about. He looked helpless and defeated. While watching, I had no sympathy nor pity. He was just a child who had fallen hard on concrete. I felt no desire to aid him and did not. I only watched, and watched, until it seemed as though there were only the two of us alone in the universe. He appeared as a broken toy, like the little plastic ones with removable push and snap limbs. Numerous arms started reaching towards him like octopus tentacles. Soon there was a hedge of people surrounding him. It did not faze me – the numerous insults, the shoves, the pity showered on him by his mother and others. I was heartless. No life form was real to me. I was a destroyer of things.
The day before I would shoot the thing known as Lang Kim, I surveyed it at an outdoor plaza in the Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It was sitting outside eating chili peppered prawns and drinking beer at an umbrella covered table. The small café was semi-packed, so when I sat down at a table less than ten feet away, it did not know. If it did, it wouldn’t have mattered. It had never and would never see my face. I lived and operated as a ghost. I wore a sombrero style hat and dark sunglasses, looking like an average touring foreigner. And within less than twenty-four hours, I will have again transformed into someone else. That is a great attribute about my job: I can be whoever I want. A businessman, hobo, construction worker…the sky’s the limit.
I did not know why he was marked for death by the agency – that is never my concern. Observing him, I saw nothing extraordinary. He appeared a simple man, like the photograph of him stored in my disposable cellphone – the intelligence community utilizes all forms of technology to fulfil their agendas. He was a clean-shaven thirty-seven year-old Asian. He had straight, short, black hair. He was dressed casually in a white, silk, short-sleeved, button down shirt and tan slacks. Without instruction, the waitress removed his empty bottle and sat another ice-cold one in front of him. From that I determined he was a regular, and the staff knew his preferences. I mentally noted everything he did (the number of times he shifted in his seat, how often he used his cellphone, what he looked at, who he talked to, what he ate). Seeming irrelevant to ordinary people, that sort of intelligence information is invaluable to me and would help me determine the best time to kill him. I only had one shot. If I missed, game over.
I ordered green tea and a bowl of Miso soup, substances gentle on my digestion. Anything heavier may agitate my bowels. That night, I would not eat, read any literature, listen to any music, nor watch any television. I would meditate on every move I would make up until I pulled the trigger. After sleeping eight hours, I would jog four miles, shower, then drink a few ounces of Chamomile tea. When the time came, I needed to be extraordinarily relaxed and focused.
It was business as usual. Though I held a newspaper as if were reading it, I was listening to the conversations of the people around me. I was fluent in many languages including Cambodian, but I pretended I did not understand – the waitress communicated with me in broken English. Lang must have been an influential Cambodian because the people who spoke to him, did so in a very respectful and honorable manner. No one sat with him. Except one. She appeared as I exist: like a ghost. I did not see her when she came and sat down at the table with him. Am I slipping, I asked myself? I observed everything. I had learned that the waitress was recently engaged to an American airmen – the wedding was three months away. The owner of the café was indebted to a local gang of mobsters, and the couple beside me were having an adulterous relationship. It is amazing the things I learned from only listening and watching. So when this petite Asian woman slipped into my peripheral observational arena I grew alarmed. Is she one of us, I wondered?
This pale woman appeared to me as a mannequin. Her long black hair was pulled back, tied in a ponytail. She had dark eyes, outlined with dark blue eye-liner. Her eyebrows were decorated the same color with precise single stroked arched lines. Her lips were colored bright red. But what attracted me most was a flower that was neatly cradled behind her left ear. It was a lotus flower, pure white, faded into light pink at the tip of the pedals. Bright yellow stigmas sprouted in the center. It stood out like a bright star on a dark night. And for a moment I was captivated by its splendor. It shook me as an earthquake, more so than anything had since I can remember. It seemed alive, like it possessed a soul. Imagine that, I thought. In my world where all living things were as plastic objects, a simple gentle flower trapped me, holding me prisoner. It was magical. I tried to focus on the mission, but everything now seemed a blur. I looked away, focusing on the cheating couple (they now were talking about meeting later that night for sex). But I was drawn back to that goddamn flower again, like metal to a magnet. I became nervous, unable to focus. I had functioned as a well-tuned computer, but now my software was infected with a deadly Trojan. I wanted to get up, walk over to her, and yank the damn thing out, and stomp it – my anti-virus. Naturally that was out of the question.
The vibrant flower was interfering with my ability to concentrate, but I managed. Her name was Lee. Dressed in a red, decorative cheongsam, she leaned across and kissed Lang passionately on his lips. Listening further, I discovered they were married, and that they met there daily for lunch. They were making plans to take their children to a nearby zoo that weekend. Their daughter planned to become a biologist, so they visited there several times a year. The waitress delivered her a bowl of noodle soup and a tall glass of water. She asked him how many beers had he drunk. I gathered that he frequently drank too much. She worked as an administrator at the local hospital, often working long, late hours, so their lunches there allowed them more time together. I wondered if they would have made it more special – dressed in fine clothing, gone to a fine indoor establishment rather than a crowded sunny outdoor café with countless pedestrians, cyclist, and motorists zipping pass – if they knew it was their last lunch together. Would they have talked about all the wonderful things they accomplished in life, rejoiced that they were raising a wonderful teenage girl and a wonderful little boy, expressed how much they love one another? Would they have gone home and made love, or had wildly adventurous sex?
I finished my bowl of soup and drank all of my tea. She left Lang there, who was drinking another beer. I was glad she was gone. That flower haunted me like a bad dream. I was intrigued by Phnom Penh, the sounds (a variety of Asian music echoed from various sources), the aromatic smells of sautéed food and broths blended with exhaust and livestock. Unlike some of the other places I visited, the Cambodians seemed to always be busy, zipping about, reminding me of a colony of ants.
Now, the moment had come; it was time to kill him. All the necessary preparations were made. I positioned myself on a rooftop across the boulevard from the café. I needed to ensure the trajectory of the bullet after exiting his temple, hit a solid target. So I positioned myself at an angle that would allow the bullet to enter into an adjacent concrete wall and not hit anyone else. No one knew I was there. After assembling my rifle, I laid prone on the surface. Once I had Lang targeted, I did not move a muscle, other than that of my trigger finger, until a tunnel was through his head.
He came to the café like clockwork, and sat at the same table as if it were reserved solely for him. He did not order beer. He instead ordered a bottle of Cola. Lee would arrive an average of ten minutes afterwards so I had to be quick. I could have waited until she arrived and sat with him, waited until they were well into their lunch, then shot him in front of her – terrorize her. But I was a killer, not a psychopath. For this assignment the agency provided an additional expert, sniper spotter since there was so much activity in the plaza. Though anonymous, they provide vital information, like approaching pedestrians, wind speed, police, and most of all, the pristine moment to take the shot.
After a brief communication check with the ghost spotter through my earpiece, it was show time.
A few minutes later, Lang was eating the wontons he had ordered. With the scope of my rifle, I zoomed in close. He appeared so close that I saw small blemishes on his skin. Then I began the ritual of shallow breathing. Within a minute, I was in a trance-like state. “Calm, calm, calm”, I thought repeatedly. The most opportune time was right after he takes a bite of wonton, the spotter suggested and I concurred. Other than his chomping jaws, that was the time when the rest of his body was stillest. I needed to lay as stiff as a board because the slightest movement while firing from that distance could send the bullet inches or possibly feet away from his head, potentially killing someone else.
“The spouse is approaching,” the spotter said. “She is walking up about 100 yards from the south.”
I was fine with that. If she witnessed her husband’s assassination, so be it. I visualized her doll-like face, and then…then that flower. I had killed enough men and women to fill a cemetery, and now here I was confounded by a precious botanical. It was as clear in my mind as they day I saw it, the purest snow-white, subtle pink, and vibrant yellow. I struggled to force it out, but I could not. I did not understand why. I closed my eyes, hoping for something (anything) to replace it. Many times I had rehearsed this very moment, and there was nothing left to do now except pull the trigger, and flee. I felt a small trickle of sweat roll down my cheek. Lang took a drink of cola, then picked up another wanton with his chopsticks and a dipped it in a bowl of sauce. When he bites it, I will pull the trigger, I thought. Mission accomplished.
“Fifty yards,” the spotter excitedly announced.
I felt off cue; I had to regain my composure. Lang placed the wanton between his teeth, and bit.
I had to kill him right then.
I framed his temple dead center in the cross-hairs of my scope, and remained as still as a brick. I had to pull the trigger at the end of my exhale. I took a deep breath, feeling the air engorge my lungs. Then I slowly let it out.
Within a second he would be dead. He would never see his beautiful wife again, taste the sweetness of her lips while they kissed, feel the softness of her breasts of her naked body against his while making love. They would never hold hands again while walking barefooted along the seashore. He would never taste the wonderful food at the small café where they met daily for lunch – never again see the wonders of the spectacular city of Phnom Penh. He would never see his daughter become a prize-winning biologist, nor experience the joy of playing with his little boy, who idolized him, in the park. In a few seconds, he would never breathe again. He will be dead.
“Now! Take it! Take the goddamn shot!” the spotter demanded.
Applying minimal pressure, I felt my finger pull ever so gently on the trigger, then release.
“I don’t have the shot.”
Banner photograph: Lotus flower photograph taken at the Humble Administrator Garden (Suzhou, China)