He felt sweat trickling down his back and through the thread of his SWAT team uniform as he frantically scrambled up the emergency stairwell of the office building. He was not as young as he used to be and not as fit as when he served in the Special Forces in the Gulf. Still, his shot remained as true as ever and he was considered one of the greatest snipers of his generation.
Bursting through the exit onto the roof of the building he rushed, panting, to the ledge. Dumping his gear, he frantically began to set up his reconfigured, custom-made M24. The department store across the street was packed with holiday shoppers taken hostage by a terrorist who was threatening to blow up the building within the next two minutes.
“Echo One, do you have eyes?!” barked his commanding officer through his headset.
“Negative!” he shouted irritably. “Setting up!”
“We’re almost out of time!”
Loading a round into the chamber, he slung the rifle to his shoulder and started scanning the upper windows of the department store through the cross-hairs of the scope.
“Oh, my God…”
“Echo One. We didn’t copy that. Have you got eyes on the target?”
“Affirmative,” he said hoarsely. “I’ve… I’ve got eyes.”
“You have a green light to take out the target, Echo One.”
“Negative! The target has a child strapped to him.”
“Oh, shit! Can you get a head shot?”
“Negative. The boy covers him from his waist up to the middle of his face and he’s moving around too much. The… the… only way is through the kid.”
“Jesus Christ. I have the President on another line. He’s watching. Will advise.”
He listened to the crackle of his headset and all he could think about was his wife as he willed his hands to remain steady.
“You have a green light to take out the target through the kid. I’m sorry. Take… take them out now.”
“Negative! I cannot take this shot. You don’t understand.”
“Echo One, you have been given a direct order by your commander-in-chief. Hundreds will die in less than 30 seconds if you don’t. You are the only one with eyes. You TAKE that goddamn shot!”
“What if the detonator is on him and it will go off anyway?!” he pleaded, the tears rolling down his cheeks.
“Do you see a device in his hands?”
“Negative. Just… just a gun pointed at the boy’s head.”
“Repeat, Echo One – you have a direct order to take that shot! Right fucking now!!!”
He steadied his hands, took a deep breath, and pulled the trigger. After watching his son’s chest explode, he dropped the gun and watched the smoke lazily snake from the end of the barrel. Pulling his mobile from his pocket, he entered his wife’s number and wept uncontrollably when she picked up. Seconds later, the department store across the street erupted in an inferno of fire, concrete, glass and body parts.