Like any craftsman, he knew his tools better than almost anything else. Whatever the nature of the task at hand, he could always find the right instrument at a moment's consideration. Pausing, he slipped his lithe, gloved fingers into one of the many concealed pockets of his black coat and withdrew the wafer-thin knife.

It had taken him weeks to get to this point. One week in the library familiarising himself with his target's movements in the newspaper reports, making notes of details discovered in biographies, obtaining maps and plans of the buildings the target would visit. Another week had been spent tracking – stalking, but from a distance - discovering the regular routines that made up the man's life. Once he knew the routines, he would be ready to begin the penultimate stage – the plan. Everything had to be perfect, a mistake could cost him his career, his freedom, and in this country, his life.

He had taken up a brief residence in the city, you could always find somewhere if you looked, an abandoned office or storeroom usually. The only condition was it had to be close to the railway line that lead to the airport. He could be out of the country at a moment's notice, just another businessman on an unexpected trip. That was important. If anything went wrong, he had to be able to escape before anyone realised. Of course, even if things went to plan, a swift departure was vitally necessary. Preferably before they started watching the airports. His passport was a good one, so good that it would take a microscope to prove it was a forgery. A customs official on a busy flight would never notice, not with the cursory glance they gave them. He'd never use it again. Someone might notice a pattern.

Poisoning was impracticable, from his biographies; the target protected himself with food-testers; an archaic technique, and one that would be ineffective with certain slow-acting toxins. However, there was no money in killing an innocent guard and even injected poisons had been known to fail. Some preferred silenced firearms, guns were easy to come by in this country, but the fact they left a bullet on the scene was potentially a fatal imperfection. He liked to leave no trace at all if possible, although a wound was usually a necessity. He had never favoured garrotting; it felt uncivilised and caused the target to suffer far more than was necessary. Knives were the real tools of his trade. Swift, efficient and clean, a well-placed blade would kill in moments, the victim feeling almost nothing. He could take the weapon with him when he left.

A knife of course could only be utilized at short range, and that had meant infiltration. This exercise was always easier in the day, the guards were busy watching the main entrance, and the sides were left almost unobserved. There were security cameras, but even they could not see through the high walls surrounding the mansion. An old pine tree growing just inside the grounds had given him enough cover once he was over, and since the fifteen feet of concrete was topped with barbed wire, it had been the work of half a minute to sling a thin rope around it and climb up. Once inside the grounds, his main tasks were securing an entrance, and more importantly, a getaway.

Although it was easier to get into the grounds by day, actually entering the building was far easier by night. Night, was when the work would be done. With any luck, the body would not be discovered until the morning, by which time he could have left the country. Years of daily training had brought him to the peak of physical fitness, lean and powerful, he had moved silently through the grounds, each step calculated to minimise the disturbance. The grass barely bent under his feet. Selecting a hiding place where a shrub grew up the side of the mansion he crouched down and waited.

This was always the hardest part of the operation. Although there was almost no risk of being seen, as time slowly ticked by, the paranoia could begin to grow. The trick was not to think. The plan was in place and was proceeding perfectly, the contingencies were there if he needed them. All that was necessary was to wait. To avoid getting cramp he moved through a careful routine of position changes calculated for minimum disturbance; he would not be seen even if his hiding place was being watched. At first his mind would be active, buzzing with the adrenaline that came with the job, but gradually, as the hours passed and the sun sank towards the horizon, he would become calm; moving silently from one stance, to another, to another, until his complete focus was on waiting for the time to move.

The waiting was a kind of meditation, as his mind calmed he would become aware of all the sounds around him. The rustle of leaves as a bird took off from a nearby tree, the gentle knock of a door closing somewhere inside the house. If a guard approached, he would know well in advance. Eventually, the shadows would lengthen and the light would dim, soon it would be time.

The most important discovery of his research was the target's sleeping habits. A man of political importance tends to get very little sleep, but that which he does achieve is extremely deep. This particular figure could be relied upon to be sufficiently unconscious within half an hour of retiring to bed, a careful watch of the lights in the target's bedroom ascertained when this had occurred. The bedroom was on the east side of the building, its light projecting a rough square onto the grass in front of his hiding place. At seven minutes past two it had become dark.

Before he moved, he had checked his escape. Nothing noticeable had been prepared, if someone found a rope on the wall or noticed a nearby vehicle, they would become suspicious. He kept the tools he needed on him and there was a bicycle a ten minute run away. The only obstacle was the wall and with his rope, that would be easy enough to climb back over. The moon was on the other side of the house, he had checked; the drama of being silhouetted for a moment was a ridiculous notion, unnecessary theatre was to be avoided. He was not even tempted.

His entrance had been by a window, he had not been happy about this, but the mansion doors were well guarded and locked with an intricate mechanism he would have trouble breaking. It was far easier to quietly cut the glass of his target's window, slip a hand in and open it. The real problem was the alarm. Crouched on the sill, he had unscrewed the box – mostly there as a deterrent – and carefully disabled the trigger mechanism, a reasonably easy task to accomplish if you had a light. He could do it blindfold. So that was it, now he was inside, crouched in the darkness as his target slept.

He was never bothered by killing people. That had surprised him at first, but he found himself unconcerned by it. He had no illusions about what he was doing, he was not simply the weapon, he was not simply someone else's will. He chose his actions and they resulted in death. And yet, he never felt a thing. He supposed it might get to him eventually, he might one day wake up in the night and feel the weight of all those souls, but for now, he was simply impassive.

The knife in his left hand, he looked around the room. On the chair by the dresser was a shirt. He picked it up and, lay the centre of it on his palm. Carefully, he laid his weapon across it and grasped the handle. The pillow case was for the blood, he preferred to be tidy. Slowly, he bent down and drew the covers back from the target's chest. Very gently he ran his fingers down the sleeping man's ribcage and found his heart. Covering the unfortunate person's mouth with his left hand, he surgically slid the knife between the fourth and fifth rib. And it was done.

Six hours later, somewhere over the Atlantic, the captain of the aeroplane announced the sad news.