Caught in the Crosshairs
Copyright (C) 1988 David Alexander
         Appeared in Gallery magazine
	To the Colonel, Rome was above all a city of contrasts.
Whores in white leather boots plied their trade on the Spanish
steps alongside nuns in simple black habits. The nuns and the
whores were as commonplace as the submachinegun-armed
carabinieri, positioned at practically every street corner:
Terrorism coexisted with Christ, the Renaissance with Armageddon,
antiquity with irreversible decay as the photochemical smog of
airborne pollutants slowly turned the marble walls of the Eternal
City's ancient edifices to soot-colored chalk.

	It was, the Colonel thought, life's supreme irony that
such contradictions could exist side-by-side. His personal
history was proof of that. He had killed in the name of his
country's survival, yet it seemed that violence to stem violence
only begat further violence, as the characters in the Bible had
begotten their numberless offspring. Katyusha rockets from the 
Syrian border had taken the lives of his wife and young daughter; 
he who had dared death so often had survived when innocents had

	With their deaths had come a new phase in the Colonel's
life. Joining the Mossad, and then the ultra-secret Sayaret
Matkal, called "The Unit." It was The Unit -- an elite
paramilitary strike force -- which was responsible for his
being here tonight to commit an act which he abhorred but which
the realities of his profession so often deemed necessary: kill.
Kill again in survival's name.

	The Colonel consulted the luminous dials of his
chronometer in the darkened hotel room and rose from the bed. He
walked to the window, opened four inches to permit a sniper rifle's
silenced barrel to protrude without drawing attention, and pulled
up a chair. Dusk had already thickened to night. Church bells
tolled the hour and clouds of screeching swallows dipped and
swooped across the roofscape of the ancient buildings his window

	Resting against the wall beneath the window was a slim
black attaché case with a numbered combination lock. The Colonel
quickly dialed a coded numerical series, snapped back the latches
and pulled open the lid, exposing a custom-molded interior
containing the broken-down elements of a Heckler & Koch 
G3SG/1 sniper rifle and an American-made Armson laser-
augmented starlight scope.

	Placing the empty attaché case on the floor beside him,
the Colonel quickly and methodically assembled the fire-selectable 
automatic weapon which was capable of firing twenty 7.62 millimeter
rounds as quickly as he could pull the trigger , either as single
shots or multiround bursts. He extended the  H&K's  bipod legs 
and propped them on the wide windowsill for support while 
moving his chair into a position from which he could command a 
diagonal line-of-sight across the spacious piazza below to a 
window in the shorter building opposite his own.

	He resisted the impulse to light a cigaret. As well as
the threat of its glow presenting a clear target, nicotine
jangled the nerves, and they would need to be rock-steady. 
Instead, he flicked on the Armson's night-vision optics. 
The dark field of view immediately turned a vibrant green 
with amazingly clear resolution of detail. He trained the 
scope on a window on the topmost story of the building 
across the wide, lozenge-shaped piazza with its baroque 
fountain by Bernini. All seemed still within the darkened 
room beyond, though the Colonel knew that it was 
otherwise. He knew a killer waited in that room, 
as he waited in the cage of his own rectangle of darkness.

	Then the Colonel angled the scope sharply downward to
the dimly lit piazza below. Two men lounged against a rust-
colored Lancia parked at the intersection of two broad avenues 
to the right of the Spanish Steps. Both, he knew, were Americans. 
A second team of two was positioned in the shadowy doorway 
of a nearby building at least 800 years old; a building which had 
certainly witnessed many acts of slaughter in its considerable 
lifetime, including, but not limited to, the Sack of Rome.

	None of the CIA ground assets knew that they had a 
guardian angel in the hotel room above. It was in the interest 
of the Colonel's government that the man they had been awaiting 
for the third consecutive night would survive intact. The man's face 
was not known. Only his code name: "Nightingale." All else that 
was known was that he was in possession of the entire clandestine 
operatives roster of the KGB's West European "illegals" directorate. 
Nightingale had a photographic memory. His insurance policy 
was that he carried all the names in his head. Espionage was 
a dirty game and one truly never knew the motives of any of its 

	The defector had been a deep-cover mole within the Soviet
hierarchy for twenty years. His motives for defection were not
clear; perhaps he had simply wearied of the game. The only
certainty was that, weeks before, through the clandestine network
of couriers he had used for the last two decades to channel
information to American intelligence in Europe, Nightingale had
informed the CIA that he would come in from the cold in Rome, on
one of three nights in early April.

	His resurfacing would take place in the Piazza di Spagna
on the north side of the Spanish Steps, at the intersection of
the vias Condotti and Borgognona. It was the last communication
Nightingale had sent. It was conjectured by some that his
appearance was timed to coincide with a Soviet trade delegation
to Rome and that Nightingale was a member of it; by others, that
he was a high-ranking officer of the KGB contingent watching over
the delegates.

	Regardless of Nightingale's identity or his motives, it
was obvious to the Soviets that if successful, his escape would
seriously jeopardize the espionage network which they had labored
for years to put in place. They were attempting to stop him at
all costs. Though they did not know his face, his name, or
anything about him, they did know that he was going to surface
here, for his last communication had been intercepted. The KGB
had taken measures to compromise Nightingale "with extreme
prejudice." They had sent out their best assassin.

	The Colonel's lips curled up in a bitter smile at this
thought as he brought the scope's crosshairs up again to the
darkened window of the ancient, apricot-colored building across
the piazza, within which a killer waited. The killer's identity
was as much of a mystery as that of Nightingale's. The Colonel
knew his name only as Dzabrailov. He had been trained by the 
KGB's First Directorate, the Soviet elite organization for mokri
dela jobs -- wet operations; terrorism, sabotage and assassinations.  
Dzabrailov was an expert marksman who had never been known 
to miss, as well as a master of disguise and an adept in the arts 
of infiltration, evasion and clandestine escape. The Unit wanted 
Dzabrailov terminated as much as it wanted Nightingale to 
reach the American camp unharmed.

	In the previous year alone, Dzabrailov had been
responsible for the deaths of one British, two American and three
Israeli operatives in cities across the globe. Most recently, he
had been an instructor to a mixed cadre of terrorists at a desert 
training camp near Benghazi, Libya. Dzabrailov's mission now 
was to assassinate Nightingale the moment he made his 
appearance. The Colonel had been sent by The Unit to see that 
Dzabrailov would himself be taken out before he had a chance 
to blow Nightingale away.


Hours had passed, and still Nightingale had not shown himself
The Colonel again consulted the luminous dial of his
chronometer. It was already half-past three. In a few more hours,
dawn would break. Perhaps Nightingale would not appear, after all.
Perhaps he had already been compromised. Perhaps the KGB had
staged it all as a diversionary gambit or had thrown out a piece
of tantalizing bait in order to see what sort of fish would rise to
the surface. The questions had no ready answers. The Colonel
began to think of sleep. He raised his head from the Armson
scope, rubbed his eyes and stretched.

	At that moment, from one of the narrow streets feeding
onto the broad piazza, he detected movement. A sudden surge 
of adrenaline made his heart jump. The Colonel swung the G3SG
forty-five degrees to his left.

	He saw a man walking slowly toward the American 
agents on the fountain side of the piazza. He had exited 
from one of the alleylike streets opening onto the wide 
cobblestone -paved expanse. The man was of medium 
build and height, wearing a short-sleeved white shirt, 
dark pants and sneakers. He looked neither to the left 
or to the right. He had his eyes fixed on the two 
American agents beside the Lancia.

	The Colonel knew the man in his sights was Nightingale.
Every instinct told him so. The Americans knew it to be him as
well. Their postures showed sudden alertness, and one of them
could be seen speaking into a small communications device he had
whipped from his pocket.

	Now the critical seconds would tick by. If Nightingale
crossed the piazza and reached the Americans, he would be safe.
But if Dzabrailov could get a clear shot at him, Nightingale would
certainly never make it. An expertly aimed hollownose bullet would
strike him squarely between the temples and send him 
crumpling to the cobblestones of the piazza, dead even as 
he fell, his brains pulped as the bullet fragmented like a 
miniature grenade. After that, it would be finished. The 
Americans would drive off and report the operation's failure. 
The Colonel would leave behind his assassin's bag of tricks 
for the Roman police to puzzle over and return to 
headquarters in Tel Aviv for debriefing and reassignment.

	Nightingale was already closing the distance between the
piazza's far side and the fountain which stood between himself
and the Americans. He was now within range of the silencer-
augmented Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle which Dzabrailov's 
modus operandi indicated he would probably use. The Colonel 
swung the scope upwards until he had the dark window again 
in his field of view.

	Yes! There it was! The long black cylinder of a silenced
automatic rifle projecting from the room's dark interior. And 
beyond, the dim outline of the assassin's face to one side of 
the black, cylindrical bulge at the muzzle end of the silenced 

	The Colonel depressed the auto-targeting stud at the side
of his scope and crosshairs of solid green light flashed on,
framing a point directly beneath Dzabrailov's left eye. An LCD
display just beneath them, in glowing red numerals, quickly 
scrolled through a series of digital updates, computing the 
distance between muzzle and target. In a split-second, the 
display began flashing rapidly, indicating the laser now had 
its target locked on in a perfect line of fire. Dzabrailov was 
caught in the crosshairs. Firing now would assure the 
Colonel a clean, surgical kill.

	Then -- as though in response to someone else in the
darkened room across the piazza -- the face of the killer rose 
suddenly from the eyepiece and turned, momentarily showing 
itself in full profile. A sudden shock made the Colonel's heart 
skip a beat. He had now seen what had never before been 
witnessed. He had glimpsed Dzabrailov's face.

	He had glimpsed the long, dark hair, the small, delicate
nose, the sensuously full lips, before the face of the beautiful
young woman was once more pressed in concentration to 
one side of the sound suppresser-equipped barrel of the 
automatic rifle as Dzabrailov -- now more appropriately 
Dzabrailova -- squinted into the nightscope mounted atop 
her weapon. In a moment, the Colonel sensed, she would 
fire. And before that moment passed, he would have to put a 
bullet in her brain.

	As the tightening finger on the G3SG's trigger brought
it to within a hairbreadth of the point of no-return, the Colonel
suddenly remembered another young woman, killed in a 
Katyusha rocket attack a dozen years before. In that split 
instant, the Colonel reached a decision; one, he knew, that 
might spell the end of his career. The silenced automatic rifle 
coughed and jerked in his hands. Across the piazza, the 
Colonel could see the Kalashnikov leap from the girl's grasp. 
A moment later, she was being pulled back and away by 
unseen accomplices in the dark room.

	Nightingale broke into a run as the muffled reports of
silenced weapons from both the  KGB agents in the hotel 
window, and the CIA field team rapidly pulling the defector 
into the Lancia, resounded off the ancient cobbled surface 
of the deserted piazza. And then the Soviet defector was 
inside the Lancia, tires screaming as the car raced from 
the piazza toward the American embassy in the heart 
of the Eternal City.

	It was over. The Colonel turned and left the darkened hotel 
room. With luck, he would be at his own embassy before the sniper 
weapon was discovered. There  would be much he would have to 
explain. His superiors in The Unit would be furious with him for 
allowing the girl to live.

	But the Colonel had no regrets. To all practical
purposes, he had taken the girl out. She had been compromised,
and would be of no further use to the KGB. Alive, she would pay
far more dearly for her failure tonight than were she to have
died. In fact, a quick, clean death with a bullet in the brain
would have been merciful compared to what awaited her in the
dungeons of Moscow's Lubyanka prison once she had returned 
to her motherland.

	No, the Colonel felt no regrets. He would tell his 
superiors at the Sayaret Matkal to go to hell should they 
reprove him. He would then gladly hand in his resignation 
and go live in a kibbutz in the Galilee, spending his 
remaining years planting groves of Haifa oranges. 
He had done, at last, as his conscience had dictated, 
not what his duty had demanded. Finally permitting himself 
the nicotine he craved, he lit a cigaret, went down the steps 
into the hotel's lobby and out into the narrow street, walking 
in a direction opposite that of the Piazza di Spagna as he felt 
the cool, if polluted, night air of Rome against his face.