K ILLING ISN ’ T THE HARD PART . Gangbangers and other fear biters do it every day. Anger pumps you up, panic cancels consideration, you grab the gun, close your eyes, pull the trigger, Christ, an ape could do it, you don’t even need to be a man.
No, the truth is, killing is the easy part. Getting close to the target, though, that takes some talent. And making it look “natural,” which is my specialty, well, I’ve known of only one other operator who could consistently get that right, and I’m not sure he should count because I’m the one who killed him. And leaving no trail back to yourself, that’s no cakewalk, either.
But the hardest part? The part that you can’t plan for, that you can really understand only when it’s already too late? Living with it after. Bearing up under the weight of what you’ve done.That’s the hardest. Even with limitations like mine—no women, no children, no acts against non-principals—you’re not the same person after. You never draw the same breath again, or dream the same dreams. Trust me, I know.
As much as you can, you try to dehumanize the target. Accepting the target as human, a man just like you, creates empathy. Empathy makes killing more difficult and produces caustic regret.
So you employ euphemisms: in Vietnam we never killed people; we only “wasted gooks” or “engaged the enemy,” the same as in all wars. When possible, you prefer distance: air strikes are nice, bayonet range is horrible. You diffuse responsibility: crew-served weapons, long chains of command, systematic replacement of the soldier’s sense of self with an identification with the platoon or regiment or other group. You obscure features: the hood is used not to comfort the condemned, but to enable each member of the firing squad to pull the trigger without an anguished face to remember afterward.
But it’s been a long time since any of these emotional stratagems has been available to me. I typically operate alone, so there’s no group with whom to share responsibility. I don’t discuss my work, so euphemisms would be pointless. And what I do, I need to do from a very personal distance. By the time I’m that close, it’s too late to try to cover the target’s face or otherwise conceal his humanity.
All bad enough, even under the usual circumstances. But this time I was watching the target enjoy a Sunday outing in Manila with his obviously adoring Filipino family just before I killed him, and it was making things worse.
The target. See? Everyone does it. If I’m different than most, it’s only in that I try to be more honest. “More” honest. A matter of degree.
Manheim Lavi was his name, “Manny” to his business associates. Manny was an Israeli national, resident of South Africa, andcitizen of the world, which he traveled much of the year sharing bomb-making expertise with a network of people who put the knowledge to increasingly grisly use. Vocations like Manny’s once offered a reasonable risk-to-reward ratio, but post-9/11, if you sold your expertise to the wrong people, you could lose your rewards pretty fast. That was Manny’s story, as I was given to understand it, a tragic fall from a certain government’s grace.
Manny had arrived in Manila from Johannesburg that evening. A black Mercedes from the small Peninsula fleet had picked him up at Ninoy Aquino Airport and whisked him straight to the hotel. Dox and I were already staying there, outfitted with first-rate ersatz identities and the latest communication and other gear, all courtesy of Israeli intelligence, my client of the moment. Dox, an ex-Marine sniper and former comrade in arms of mine, had recently walked away from a five-million-dollar payday to save my life in Hong Kong. Bringing him in on this job was in part my way of trying to repay him for that.
Dox was waiting in the lobby when Manny arrived. I was in my room on the sixth floor, a tiny, flesh-colored, Danish-designed wireless earpiece nestled in my ear canal, a wireless mike secured to the underside of the left lapel of the navy blazer I was wearing. Dox was similarly equipped.
“Okay, partner,” I heard him say softly in his southern twang, “our friend just got here, him and the world’s biggest, butt-ugliest bodyguard. They’re checking in right now.”
I nodded. It had been a while since I’d worked with a partner, and not so long ago Dox had proven himself a damn good one.
“Good. Let’s see if you can get the name
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