Chapter 11: The Shot
The 17th day of the fifth month.
“The tip was right. See the grey suit over there?” the man in the leather jacket said with a grin.
“Finally,” the man in the sweater replied.
Both men watched through their binoculars as the blond man in the grey suit was led through the gates by a boy with black hair. His profiled face briefly came into view.
“An inspector from the Capital District Police. He’ll bring out the patsy soon. Kill them both.”
The men watched everything from an apartment building overlooking the school gates. They were surrounded by garbage.
All around them were empty liquor bottles, food packages, garbage cans overflowing with unfinished food, magazines, once-worn underclothes, and rotting leftovers from the past six days of surveillance.
It was a sight enough to give the landlord a heart attack.
In the hallway leading from the room to the front door was a 10-liter canister labeled ‘gasoline’. But the container actually contained kerosene.
There was a shelf for flowerpots jutting outside the school-facing window. A pair of scope-equipped bolt-action rifles stuck out of the open panes above it, just barely out of view. The shades concealed the barrels of the rifles.
The guns were military-issue weapons once used by the Confederation Army. Now outdated, they were a common and affordable model anyone with a driver’s license could purchase.
The room was furnished with an equally commonplace desk and cushions, which acted as makeshift tripods.
The men began loading their rifles with 7.62mm full metal jackets.
They would open fire when the target reached the gates, about 100 meters from the window. It was an easy distance to make with the rifles they had.
Though the room was dark, the world outside was drizzled in warm afternoon sunlight.
The man in the sweater loaded five rounds into his magazine.
Slowly, he raised the shades. Little by little, so that it was impossible to tell they were moving at all. Finally, he stopped when the shades were halfway up the height of the window.
The man peered into his scope without putting his finger on the trigger.
The crosshairs came into view. He took aim at the bobbing heads going out the campus gates one after another.
Then the man looked up with a deranged grin.
“Hah! Personally, I’m hoping to get a couple of girls—first- or second-years, preferably. Something so small and fragile that her parents’ll want to kill themselves after I kill her. I’ll let you take care of the inspector. That all right with you?”
“You’re disgusting. Don’t expect a long life with an attitude like that. But fine. Whoever gets fewer heads pays for drinks tonight.”
“I’ll take you up on that offer. It’s not like we’re gonna miss from this range with our models.”
“Lemme go over the plan one last time. After opening fire, you spray kerosene around the place and leave. I’ll set fire from the outside. I’ll drive, too. Once we’re out of the Capital District, we ditch the car in the Leine and board a cargo ship.”
“Right. Looks like it’s goodbye to the Capital District for a while. Should have had some crisps yesterday.”
The hitmen finished their preparations and waited for the suit-clad man to emerge again with the target in tow.
Twenty minutes passed.
The men peered into their binoculars impatiently.
“Yeah. I’m dying to fire a few shots already.”
But the time finally came.
“There!” cried the man in the leather jacket, spotting their target. “At the doors to the building further inside.”
The man in the sweater turned to the doors.
There walked the inspector the men had spotted earlier, along with the patsy.
The two targets were accompanied by a bald teacher in his fifties, who walked ahead of them as though he were a human shield.
They were followed by a handsome student with black hair, a rather short boy with blond hair, and a petite girl with red hair. The hitmen did not know what they had to do with the targets.
The hitmen put down their binoculars and took aim.
More and more students began pouring out of the buildings, but it was not yet crowded enough to impede the snipers.
The group was walking calmly to the gates, as though nothing was wrong. They had 30 meters left.
“Don’t open fire yet. Wait for them to leave the gates and reach the intersection. I’ll shoot the patsy first, and after that you’re free to do as you please.”
Side-by-side, the snipers took deep breaths. They had done such work many times in the past, but could not help their quickening pulses.
There were 30 meters left.
The oblivious voices of the students rode the wind and reached the hitmen’s ears.
“Lemme teach you a lesson, kids; today is the last day of your lives.” The man in the sweater grinned and took aim at the redheaded girl’s body.
As the target moved, the barrel of the rifle tilted down.
Twenty meters left.
Two index fingers began to bend.
Two bullets flew over the 4th Capital Secondary School campus.
The moment he set foot outside the gates, Mr. Murdoch looked up.
“What’s wrong, sir?” asked Seron.
“Did you hear that?” Mr. Murdoch replied with a question of his own.
Students were chattering, engines were humming, and people were going to and fro on the streets.
All Seron heard was an everyday ambience.
“No, Mr. Murdoch. Did you hear something strange?” Seron asked.
“It must have been my imagination. Never mind,” Mr. Murdoch said with a shake of the head, and continued to walk. He followed behind the Capital District Police Force inspector and Edelmann.
The inspector and Edelmann got in the luxury car that had been waiting for them.
Mr. Murdoch, along with Seron and the others, made sure that they were safely in the car before passing by as though they had nothing to do with the departing duo.
When Seron cast the car a quick glance, he spotted Edelmann looking his way between the closed curtains.
‘Thank you,’ said Edelmann’s lips, over and over again.
Once the car had left the intersection, Seron and the others turned back and re-entered the school.
“Hm…” Deep creases dug into Mr. Murdoch’s forehead as he fell into thought. “Two rounds…” he muttered to himself. Rifle rounds flew faster than the speed of sound, creating a brief but sharp, explosive noise.
He felt like he had just heard the same noises that had haunted him on the battlefield 30 years ago.
But Mr. Murdoch was no longer on Lestki Island with its trenches and wastes.
The campus was exactly the way it always was. The sounds of cars outside the gates, the sound of honking, and the carefree young voices.
“This is ridiculous. I must be getting old.”
The former soldier shook his head as he went back inside.
* * *
A few days earlier. The 12th.
It was later in the very day the policemen had their chat in the park and Hartnett visited the campus.
Treize had gotten used to student life and avoided the scrutiny of the newspaper club.
“A peaceful life in the Capital District. A relaxed school life. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted,” he mumbled, lazily stretching in his dorm room.
That was when an announcement came over the speakers.
<Delivery for John Aylward, Catiua Nelson, and Treize Bain. Please come to the staff office and pick up your packages. I repeat—>
“Sweet! Must be a care package!” Treize cheered, getting up and putting on his tracksuit jacket over his green t-shirt.
Treize did not have many personal belongings in his room.
A few sets of clothes, including a leather jacket, hung from the otherwise sparsely-populated closet.
Textbooks and notebooks were atop the desk, and next to it a large and a small bag.
He also had a small, open box containing a camera from his mother. The camera had once been used as a weapon, and was broken as Treize had expected, but it had been repaired and was again in usable condition.
Finally, deep in the back of his closet, was a small safe containing a handgun and bullets.
Treize grabbed his room key, locked the door behind him, and went down the hall and down the stairs.
“Hey Treize! If you got snacks from home, you better share some of that!” said a fellow dormitory student.
“I wish!” Treize replied, and went all the way to the staff office next to the lobby on the first floor.
There was a large window in the wall of the office, but Treize knocked on the door anyway before entering.
“Hi, I’m Treize Bain. I’m here for my package.”
“That was quick!” said a matron in her forties, “just sign here.”
Treize signed the form. “Which one is mine?”
“The one on the floor.”
“Mhm. Be careful taking it upstairs.”
Lying on the floor was a cardboard box about 150 centimeters in length and about 50 centimeters in height and width.
Though the box had been wrapped up with tape, one of the corners had been completely crushed—likely because of its size.
“What the heck…”
“The papers say it’s some sort of athletic gear. I hope they didn’t break anything,” the matron said, and held the door open for Treize. Treize thanked her and hefted the packaged with both arms.
“It looks very heavy. Do you know what’s inside?”
“I have no idea, ma’am,” Treize lied.
Treize carried the box to his room, careful not to hit anyone on the way.
As soon as he and the box were in his room, Treize locked the door behind him and even put on the chain lock.
And gingerly, he began to open up the cardboard box with a pocket knife.
Inside was a long, thin, heavy object secured with cloth and string. And a wooden box.
His suspicions confirmed, Treize left his room again without unwrapping the object.
Making sure to lock the door behind him again, he headed for the telephone booths in the lobby.
“What the heck is this supposed to be?!” Treize demanded under his breath, checking that no one was around him.
<Your High- I mean, Young Master, we were expecting you. I see that logistics services in the Capital District are unrivaled indeed. Have you opened it up yet, sir?>
The voice on the line belonged to a relaxed middle-aged woman. She was a member of the royal guard, who resided in a nearby apartment.
“Like I need to open it up to tell what it is. Please don’t do this. I’ve gotten in enough trouble with Lillia as it is! She told me to act more like a normal secondary school student!”
<Young Master, I have an urgent matter to discuss.>
The woman’s tone changed without warning, going cold and calm as ice.
“What is it?”
Treize’s voice went calm as well.
<Observers, sir. On the fifth floor of the apartment building across from the intersection at the gates. The fourth window from the right. We spotted binoculars between the window shades two days ago in the evening.>
“…I trust your judgement,” Treize replied quietly. He knew very well that no member of the royal guard would be mistaken about something so serious. “Who are they?”
<We aren’t sure yet, Young Master. We went to gather information yesterday morning and learned from the neighbors that people had moved in recently, but the new residents haven’t shown themselves or even greeted anyone.>
“That’s not unusual in the Capital District, though.”
<No, sir. But we staked out the residence and managed to catch a glimpse of the residents. Two men, one in a leather jacket and the other in a sweater. Both highly suspicious.>
<They returned to the residence soon after and are still keeping an eye on the school gates. We haven’t spotted a gun yet, but we sent you the package just in case.>
“In case of what?”
<In case they are assassins targeting you, Your Highness. We must strike before they can. The balcony of your dorm room is positioned well enough to shoot them both, although the reverse will also apply.>
“W-wait a sec! Why are we going in that direction? Didn’t you contact the Capital District Police?”
<We did, sir.>
<We did contact them. We left them a tip about two suspicious men in the residence; but they did not respond. When we pressed the police, they simply replied that they could not follow up without sufficient evidence.>
“Knowing you, you two probably tailed the guys, right?”
<Of course, sir. We spotted the men contacting a man in the city. The man was in a suit. We followed him and saw him enter the Capital District Police Headquarters. Then we learned that the man was a police detective.>
“What in the world is going on here?”
<We are unsure, Your highness. But we have determined that among those at the school, you are the most likely target of an assassination attempt.>
<We will continue our surveillance, sir. You’ll find a radio in the wooden box; make certain that it is on at all times when you are in your room. We also have a map marked out with safe travel routes on the campus. Please make use of them, even if it inconveniences you slightly. Do not step out onto the balcony, and do not use the main gates. You may use the doors behind the dormitory building, but please inform us beforehand if you ever plan to leave the campus.>
Treize nodded firmly. His eyes fell on the students relaxing in the lobby.
“All right. Thanks. I don’t want to get anyone dragged into this mess. I’ll make sure they’re okay.”
<We expected nothing less from you, Young Master.>
After the phone call, Treize rushed up the stairs.
“Was it food, Treize?”
“If you enjoy textbooks with a side of dictionaries, sure.”
“As if! Not like it’ll make me smarter or anything.”
After the exchange, Treize returned to his room.
He opened the wooden box and did as he was instructed. Inside was a small radio, a pair of binoculars, and live ammunition.
He pulled off the cloth around the automatic sniper rifle and the metal cylinder.
The brand-new automatic sniper rifle that had been used during the new year’s eve commotion in Ikstova had been donated to the royal family in the immediate aftermath. The rifle was a lightweight semi-automatic with a thin frame. One pull of the trigger could release up to 10 rounds.
Metal ornamentation decorated the left side of the gun, along with a scope capable of 4x to 9x zoom.
The cylinder was a silencer made by an Ikstovan artisan. It suppressed the sound of the gunshot so that the shooter did not have to wear ear protection. It came in handy in the snowy valleys of Ikstova, where avalanches were always a concern.
“Why is this happening? Lillia’s gonna get so mad if she finds out…” Treize sighed, trembling. “It’s not easy trying to be an ordinary secondary school student.”
Afterwards, Treize followed instructions and remained on campus, using only the routes marked out by the royal guard to keep himself safe from snipers.
Though he had been looking forward to gym class, he was forced to give excuses and sit out when the class went out into the grounds.
“You’ve been acting kinda fishy these days,” Lillia said one day over lunch. Because they were in the same classes, she had noticed the change in his behavior quickly.
“You got me. I’ve been trying not to stand out recently,” Treize replied with a half-truth.
“I guess that’s all right,” Lillia replied, nodding. “You know, Meg says we should go visit the newspaper club sometime. But I guess we can do that later.”
“Yeah. Thanks, Lillia.”
Treize also began to scope out the apartment building.
Because it would be too risky to observe from his own room, he looked for empty classrooms after class hours, traveling through the buildings instead of going outside. He would peer slightly out of the curtains and observe the apartment with his binoculars.
Just as the guards had said, the men were at the window every day.
However, they only kept a close eye on the school during the mornings and afternoons when students were coming and going to and from school. The rest of the time, the men were eating, napping, or even drinking.
“What are they up to?” Treize wondered on the way back to the dorms, when he ran into a familiar face. “O-oh. Hey there, Seron.”
“Treize. Fancy meeting you here.”
“I’ve been dropping by the library on the way back to the dorms these days. What about you? Shouldn’t you be at the newspaper club?”
“Things came up and we put our activities on hold for now.”
“By the way, Lillia told me that we could drop by the club some other time.”
“Yeah. Now’s not the best time, I don’t think. I’ll talk to you later.”
Treize gave Seron a wave as the latter departed, and noticed something. Seron was carrying freshly-laundered clothes. A box containing neatly-folded t-shirts, shorts, and underwear.
“Is he changing at the school? Is the newspaper club holding some sort of overnight event here? Must be fun,” Treize muttered. “…I can’t let these people get dragged into this.”
Gravely, quietly, he continued walking down the hall.
“I can’t let Treize get dragged into this…” Seron also muttered to himself as he walked in the opposite direction.
* * *
Five days later. The morning of the 17th.
It was early enough that almost no one in the dorms was awake.
A sharp hiss woke Treize from his slumber.
“Whoa!” he cried, sitting up.
<Young master, please wake up.>
This time, the voice from the radio under the bed whispered quietly. Treize put on his headset and set up the microphone.
“Morning. I’m listening. You’re up really early today,” he replied, glancing at the clock. It was six in the morning. The sky was clear.
The radio transmission was from, of course, the royal guard—the wife of the pair.
<We’ve spotted movement, sir. Both men have taken out their rifles. They may make their attempt today. Please be prepared.>
“Roger that. I’ll stick to the plan.”
That day, Treize did not go to class.
He made sure, however, to visit the cafeteria and have breakfast. There he picked up bread and fruit, along with bottled water and juice.
Upon returning to his room, Treize removed his mattress from the metal frame and pushed the frame next to the window with the curtains still drawn shut.
He fixed thick, heavy metal plates to the side of the bed frame with metal wire and cutting pliers. The royal guard couple had sent him the plates one by one over the past few days.
The bed frame had been transformed into a shield. Treize’s room was now a shooting range.
Treize inserted the barrel of the silencer-equipped rifle into a small gap in the shield, then placed a cushion under the gun.
He equipped the magazine and operated the lever. This first round was loaded into the firing chamber with a metallic noise.
Arming the safety, Treize took a seat on his desk chair.
And he finally opened the curtains and the window.
Treize took aim. Through the scope he could see the unit where the snipers lay in wait. The shaded window looked close enough for him to reach out and touch.
Treize did not move.
He remained still in his chair with his aim fixed on the window.
Around when the students had all made it to the campus and classes had begun, the husband of the royal guard couple sent Treize a transmission.
<They’ve begun moving, sir. The men are readying their guns.>
Indeed, the men were bringing their rifles to the window. Treize could see the muzzles.
But the rifles were aimed, not at Treize’s room, but the gates.
<They are using binoculars, sir. They may not have discovered your room yet, but please do not let down your guard.>
For the following eight hours, he was constantly listening out for orders, and constantly ready to open fire.
He ate with the gun still aimed.
He did his business in an empty bottle with the gun still aimed.
“The most important thing in hunting is not the ability to read the target’s movements, or even one’s marksmanship skills. It is patience. The kill belongs only to those who wait.”
Treize remembered the lesson from his old teacher, who had passed away on the first day of the new year.
He became one with the rifle. He became part of the barrel.
It was after class, when the chattering of students was beginning to fill the campus.
<They’re moving, Your Highness.>
Treize tensed at the title that was usually off-limits. He pressed the call button with his left hand.
“I see them. They’re raising the shades.”
<They’ve loaded their weapons and are ready to fire.>
Treize could also see the nearly-imperceptible movements of the muzzles jutting slightly out of the window.
Because of the lighting, he could not see inside the unit and he could not make out the shooters’ faces. But that was not a problem.
“That’s all I need to know.”
From the angles of the muzzles, he calculated the positions of the snipers’ heads.
<The muzzles are moving. They’re taking aim at the gates.>
The words and the images caught Treize off-guard.
“What? What are they doing?”
<Two possibilities, sir. One, they have mistaken someone else for you. Two, you are not the target,> the guard replied in an eerily mechanical tone. Treize had to make a snap decision.
“Either way, I can’t let them shoot. Worst-case scenario, I get expelled or arrested for murder.”
<We knew you would say so, Your Highness. Gods save Ikstova. The decision is yours, sir. We are ready.>
Treize pulled the trigger.
Two suppressed gunshots resounded through the air.
Two shells popped out of the rifle, hit the inside of the shield, and fell to the floor.
Two bullets flew faster than the speed of sound, connecting the dorm room at the apartment unit across from the gate.
Inside the unit, the man in the sweater lost his head.
The bullet entered his right temple, blowing off his cranium from the side of the head to the back with tremendous force.
Zero point three seconds later, the second bullet hit the man in the leather jacket directly in the right shoulder, shattering bone and changing course as it pushed out his back and hit a pile of garbage.
The man screamed as he fell to the floor. The rifle he never got to fire fell on his head. The scope struck him hard on the forehead and left a deep wound.
But he did not have time to feel that impact.
The moment he forced himself up and turned to his partner, he spotted the younger man who had ended the last day of his life. His body was bent forward, brain spilling out of his skull and eyes bulging wide.
The door seemed to open behind him, but the man heard nothing more.
Everything from his shoulder to his back throbbed in pulsating pain. His vision swam.
And there, he spotted a middle-aged woman, the type he might spot grocery shopping in the neighborhood—
—and the tip of the exceedingly ordinary hardware-store hammer she had swung without a word.
<Excellent work, Young Master. Leave the rest to us. Focus on cleaning up your room. We apologize for forcing you to miss classes today.>
Treize was on standby, ready to fire a third shot if necessary. But he was now clear to relax.
Taking his right hand off the gun, he armed the safety again.
“Phew…” he sighed. “If Lillia finds out about this, I’m a goner…”
The neighbor of the snipers Treize had shot was a curmudgeonly old man.
He walked into the hall as he left to buy groceries like he always did.
That was when he ran into a middle-aged couple, both wearing aprons and rushing up and down the stairs with armfuls of garbage bags.
“Haven’t seen you around here. Moved in recently?”
Not at all, the couple had replied, claiming to be janitors.
The people who had rented the unit had taken off without paying the rent, so the landlord had asked the duo to clean it out, they claimed. They added that they would be finished by nighttime.
“I see. I’ve seen them a couple of times. Shady fellows. Ain’t no future for young people who don’t even bother greeting their neighbors,” the old man snorted.
The couple heartily voiced their agreement.
* * *
<Yes, this is Hartnett.>
<Ah, Inspector. How did it go?>
<I suppose I can tell you, as much as I’d hate to. Edelmann and his family will be taken into protective custody. We have a lot of questions for them.>
<Excellent. And I presume information on their location will be shared only on a need-to-know basis?>
<Of course. They’ll be in a safe house. If their location gets leaked, we’ll know immediately who the mole is.>
<You almost sound as if you want a leak to happen.>
<Don’t be a smartass. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s a clever smartass.>
<Thank you, sir.>
<Apologies. I have some movement to report as well. Do you have time?>
<We’ve pinpointed someone who may have a connection to the organization. He may not be connected directly to the case, but we ID’d him anyway.>
<In other words, you’re telling the Capital District Police to keep its mitts off this one?>
<I’m glad you’re quick on the uptake, sir.>
<Tch. Give me the details.>
<Right. There’s a possibility that a Westerner may be involved with one of the larger drug cartels on our radar.>
<He lives in the Capital District. We can confirm, however, that he cleared all legal procedures for entry and residence.>
<So he was working undercover.>
<Yes. He must have been planning to map out a new distribution route for Western cartels, getting in contact with Eastern groups regularly. Of course, our investigation hasn’t even scratched the surface yet.>
<Don’t bother telling me if you’re not gonna give me the details. Just listening to this crap is sickening. I almost want to strangle the guy myself.>
<I see you’re quite unfond of Westerners, Inspector.>
<Sure. Although I suppose a youngster like you wouldn’t understand.>
<Please do not let your personal sentiments hinder your work.>
<Weren’t you telling me to not get involved in this case? This is a riot.>
<If it makes you feel any better, I could give you his name and you can write it down on your targets for shooting practice.>
<The man’s name is Travas. He is a major in the Royal Army and served as a military attaché at the Sou Be-Il embassy in Roxche until recently.>
<Hm. A soldier?>
<Yes. We don’t have all the details yet, but he seems to be quite capable.>
<Do you know him, Inspector?>
<…In any case, multiple sources have cited his name. Please do take care. However—>
<It seems the man left the Capital District last month for Sou Be-Il for some reason. We’ve been tracking his whereabouts but ran into a wall.>
<It seems that he may have been killed in an aeroplane crash.>
* * *
Just as the Capital District Police inspector demanded more information from Hartnett—
Lillia took a telephone call.
“No, my mother’s out right now. I’m not sure when she’ll be back. I could take a message if that’s all right.”
She still had a pen in hand from doing homework in the living room. She began to jot down the message on a notepad.
“Yes, go ahead.”
The person on the other end of the line spoke.
“Major Travas…is dead?”
* * *
Late that evening.
“I’m home. Man, I am starved.”
Allison returned in plainclothes. Lillia greeted her, handing her a note.
“Welcome back, Mom. Someone left a message for you. I don’t really know what to say, so I’m gonna go to bed now.”
Allison received the piece of paper and watched her daughter go to her room. Then she flipped it over.
Scrawled in trembling letters were the words:
[Call from embassy. Major Travas dead. Plane crash. Military plane from Raputoa. Went missing. Body found by Lutoni. ID’d by clothing. Face badly damaged. Cremated on scene. No funeral. Contacted Sfrestus, home. Got word he was your (mom’s) friend. So they called.]
Allison read the note to the end and glanced again at Lillia’s closed door.
“I’m sorry for worrying you, Lillia…” she trailed off, hanging her head.
When she looked up again, however, she was smiling.
“Playing dead again, are we?”