A discreet beeping woke the man up. He silenced his watch and checked the time. 6.15 am. No rose pink dawn presaged a day of sunshine; instead, thin cloud filled the sky. That was good. No reflections and shadows to confuse things. And dry too. He smiled – yes, perfect weather. Time to prepare.
The waterproof sleeping bag had kept him warm and dry through the night. He crawled out of the bag, wiped it dry and clean, rolled it up carefully, stowed it in his rucksack. All of this he did without standing up, keeping low in the rectangular cutting he had made in the heather, just below the top of the ridge. As he worked he noticed a couple of deer watching him from further up the hillside. Eventually they lost interest and turned back to grazing.
He’d been careful in preparing. He worried about ticks, which multiplied here thanks to the island’s swollen deer population. His boots, camouflage trousers and dark green jacket were waterproof and treated with permethrin-based insecticide. He’d also sprayed his hands, neck and head with a DEET-based insecticide. Despite these precautions, he would nevertheless have to check himself thoroughly once he got back. He also wore a dark green woolly hat and had smeared his face with brown camouflage paint.
From a dark green waterproof bag he extracted the elements of the rifle, and assembled it with the smoothness born of much practice. The final piece was the telescopic sight. He fixed an ammunition clip into the slot below the plastic stock. Eight bullets. More than he needed.
He crawled forward to the top of the ridge. Looking over the edge, he could see the big house below him, several hundred yards away. In front of it a wide lawn ran down to the shore of the small bay. About two-thirds of the way from the house to the water he could see the helipad, a square black patch of tarmac with a large white circle on it and a cross at the centre. That gave him a frame about sixty yards wide to cover. He opened up the bipod fixed to the rifle’s barrel and set it carefully at a spot where, with the rifle resting on it, he could easily pan the weapon across the space between the house and the helipad. Then he tested the telescopic sight, so that the grey path leading from the front door of the house to the helipad was perfectly in focus.
Now to wait. He glanced at his watch again. 6.40. Plenty of time. Be patient, keep as still as possible. Nothing must be out of the ordinary.
At 6.55 he sensed, rather than heard, the beating of the rotors on the heavy air of the morning. Then the sound came too, and now he could see the small helicopter coming over from the east, from the mainland. As it neared the edge of the land the helicopter seemed to hesitate and hang back from the shore.
Then his eye caught another movement. The door of the house had opened. A man came out and waved to the helicopter, signalling it to land. It moved noisily forward and down, and then gingerly settled itself on the helipad. The man on the ground ran, head bent down, over to the helicopter and pulled open a door in its side. He held the door open. No-one got out. The man seemed to be talking to the pilot. After a couple of minutes, he went back towards the house. As he neared the door, he waved to someone inside.
Now the house-door opened again. More people were coming out. He eased the sights gently away from the helicopter and focused on the figures. He recognised the man as soon as he appeared. His face filled the sight. Now it was essential to keep calm. Focus on the task. Focus on the target.