June 10, 2008

The Mysterious Shooter Trilogy (1)

Killing Song[1]
By Seno Gumira Ajidarma
Translated by Patricia B. Henry
almost night in Jogja
as my train arrived

The keroncong[2] song made me sleepy, despite the fact that tonight I had to kill someone. Of course, old people always like keroncong songs; they bring to mind to the good old days.

They were scattered around down there, around the swimming pool, but apparently not many of them were really listening to the keroncong music. They talked among themselves, noisy chatter and laughter from time to time breaking out of each group.

Indeed, not all of them were old; in fact, there were many young women. At the very least, that was enough to attract my attention. Though the telescopic gunsight, I watched them one by one, as if I were in amongst them. A lively party. There was goat roasted on a spit. Mmmm....

The cross-hairs on the telescopic sight continued to wander. Once in a while it rested on the brow of a person, and followed him. If I were to squeeze my index finger, obviously that forehead would get a hole. And the body of that person would collapse. It might collapse slowly, like a large tree falling to earth, or it might suddenly jerk and drop, causing great consternation among the groups of laughing people, causing the glasses to spill all over the trays borne by the waiters. Certainly it would be more interesting if the body fell sprawling into the swimming pool with a reverberating splash, so that the water spurted out wetting the clothes of the guests and the swimming pool quickly reddened from the blood and the women screamed “Oooow!”

But I hadn’t yet found the person I was supposed to kill. Indeed, it was not yet time. He would arrive momentarily. And as a matter of fact, I really didn’t need to be too concerned about finding him because the communication device in my ear would alert me to him.

“Are you ready?” asked a sweet and soothing voice frome my headphone.

“I’ve been ready for some time; which one is he?”

“Take it easy, just a bit longer.”

From the terrace on the seventh floor of the hotel, I continued to peer through the telescopic sight. The damp sea breeze tasted salty on my lips. To pass the time while waiting for my target, I looked for the person who had spoken to me. And I gazed on the passing faces through the gunsight. Women were dressed in elegant evening gowns. Some with bare backs. Very beautiful. The woman whose soft voice commanded me was also beautiful, I was sure. I had never thought a woman would be involved in a killing like this.

“Who is my target?” I had asked last week, when she orderd this shooting. Since the transaction was done by telephone, of course I could only guess at her appearance.

“You don’t need to know; this is part of our contract.”

Indeed, contracts like this were often the way things happened. I was just paid to shoot, who the target was being none of my business.

“But one thing you are allowed to know.”

“The person is a traitor”
“A traitor?”
“Yes, a traitor to his people and country.”
So, my target was a traitor to people and country. Would I be considered a hero for killing him? I moved my rifle again. From behind the telescopic sight I studied the people who were arriving in increasing numbers. There was an uncomfortable feeling every time I focused on one of the people down below.
Of course, their faces were the faces of perfectly fine people. I really didn’t know what was making me uncomfortable. Was it because so many of them wore formal clothes, the uniform that I hated? Or was it just a feeling I had? Whatever it was, I swore to God I would feel truly happy if my victim this time were someone loathsome. A traitor to people and country is certainly a loathsome person.
I swung my rifle around again. Spying on people’s actions without them knowing I was watching gave me a pleasant feeling.
a pair of flashing eyes
from behind the window
It still hadn’t come to an end, that keroncong song. It felt as if it had been going on a long time. Like the people down there, I didn’t really need to listen to it attentively. Keroncong music nowadays was like something preserved in a museum; those who performed it lacked the genius to develop it. Where was the women with the gentle voice?

Everywhere, people were chewing food, sucking down drinks, smiling and laughing. There were wives standing stiffly beside their husbands who were busily talking with their hands gesticulating in all directions. Men whose appearance revealed the souls of civil servants, respectfully keeping themselves inconspicuous, but eating greedily. Plainsclothes officers could be seen walking back and forth carrying walkie-talkies. It would seem that the goat -roast party by the swimming pool at this seaside hotel was being attended by important people.

The night was clear and the sky was full of stars. In fact, the moon was full. I put down my rifle to rest my aching muscles. I walked into the room, getting some peanuts from the table. I turned on the television, but quickly turned it off again. Television programs were always awful. It felt terribly quiet in the hotel room. I wanted to shoot my target quickly, then go home and have a beer.

“Hey, are you still there?” suddenly the voice was heard again.

“Yes, what’s up?”

“Don’t play games! I know you aren’t in position!”

I hurriedly went back to the terrace.

“How about it? Has he showed up yet?”

“He’s wearing a red batik shirt, as it happens the only red one here, so it’s easy for you.”

I looked below; they were milling around like little animals; it certainly was not clear which one was wearing a red batik shirt from seven stories up like this. I raised my rifle again and tried to find a comfortable position. While chewing the peanuts, I peeped again through the telescopic sight. The cross-hairs went back to wandering from face to face. They were still laughing and smiling. I also smiled. In another minute your face will be overwhelmed with unabashed terror. I could shoot you all from here just as I pleased. But I won’t do that. I only work based on a contract.
“On which side is he?” I asked via the mike which hung below my chin.

“He’s by the corner of the swimming pool, on the south side, near the green umbrella.”

I swung my rifle to the right. Again I surveyed the greasy, shiny, glistening faces. The beautiful women I just had to pass by. And, there! that was him, a man wearing a red batik shirt.

He was a man with regular features and an authoritative bearing. He was middle-aged, but didn’t appear to be over the hill. His hair was combed neatly to the back. He wasn’t laughing or smiling excessively. People crowded around him respectfully. There were also those who looked like they were fawning on him. The cross-hairs of my gunsight stopped exactly between his eyes.

“Do I do it now?"

“Just a minute, wait for the command.”

And I studied his face. Did he feel any presentiment of his fate? From behind the gunsight, faces bring forth their own particular enchantment, which is different if compared to that which we experience when meeting the person face to face. He didn’t talk much, but apparently he had to answer many questions. And I felt that he answered very carefully. His countenance displayed an intention of courteousness without resentment. What was going to happen shortly when I shot him? I remembered the death of Ninoy [Aquino] in the Philippines....

But I knew nothing of politics. So while staring at the face that would soon have a hole in it, I thought about other matters. Perhaps he had a wife, had children. In fact, I thought it quite likely that he would have grandchildren. They would be wailing after hearing about the death of this person, and their weeping would be even more intense when they heard about how he had died. Let it be. Wasn’t he a traitor to his people and country? He had to get his punishment.

Somewhat tensely, I waited for the order to shoot. That was always the trouble with working according to a contract. I couldn’t do as I pleased. I was being paid to point the crosshairs of my gunsight towards the point where a shot would cause death most efficiently, and then to pull the trigger. I always told myself that I didn’t kill people, I just aimed and squeezed the trigger.

I stared at the face again, it felt so close -- even the pores could be seen clearly. It was as if I were studying the imagination of God, of divine fate. Who in fact will stop the life of this person, me or You? He is completely unaware that the angel of death is brushing against the back of his neck.

“How about it? Now?”

“I said, wait for the order!”

To hell with this little bitch, she really had her nerve, bossing around a paid hit man. My hand moved by itself, rubbing the gun. Relying on instinct, I searched for her among the crowded groups of people. One after another, beautiful faces filled my telescopic sight. I had to coax her into speaking.

“What are we waiting for?”

“You don’t need to know; the point is: wait!”

“This wasn’t in the agreement.”

“Yes, it was! Don’t act like an idiot!”
A silken scarf
A keep-sake from you
Bullshit! That keroncong song again, now very clear in my ear. For certain she was near the orchestra. I looked all around the orchestra. My scope alighted on the swelling bosom of the keroncong singer. There were several groups of people milling about. I could also hear the clinking of glasses and plates through my headphone. Maybe she was behind the orchestra, near the buffet table. There were several women, as well as plainclothesmen. Which one? I carefully looked them over one by one. Several among them were clearly only workers for the catering business. There was one women who looked like she was in charge. Maybe the one next to her. Her hair was straight and black, with bangs covering her brow. Her eyes stared in the direction of the red batik shirt!

“Shoot him now,” she said softly in my headphone, and I saw through the scope she was indeed talking to herself. It looked like she was the one. She was listening by means of an earpiece and spoke to me through a microphone which was hidden in the strands of her necklace. A beautiful pendant, displayed on her slight chest.

“What?” I asked again, because I wanted to be certain that she was indeed the person.

“Shoot now!”

So this is how all the killings are carried out; just a link in a chain without end or starting point. This woman certainly was only one link in that chain. I turned my rifle back to its target. The middle-aged man was patiently listening to the story of someone who was standing in front of him. The person telling the story seemed to be aflame with excitement, but the man apparently was holding himself back from catching on fire. He nodded, while stealing glances at those around him. As if he was worried that someone would hear.

I was ready to shoot. One squeeze of my index finger would end that man’s life story. I shifted the crosshairs of the scope slightly to the side, so that the bullet hole in his head wouldn’t make too symmetrical a division. The bullet would pierce his left eye. And I stared at the man’s eyes. Good God. Was it true that he was a traitor?

“You’re not mistaken? Is it true that he’s a traitor?”

“There’s no need to ask all these questions, shoot now!” I looked into his eyes again, wondering what kind of traitor he was.

“What kind of traitor? Why wasn’t he just put on trial?”

“What business is it of yours, fool? Shoot him now, or I’ll cancel the contract!”

A strange feeling suddenly came over me. I pointed the rifle at the woman instead.

“The barrel of my rifle is now pointing at you, sweetie,” I said coldly.

“What the hell is this?” In my scope I saw her face jerk up in surprise toward me.

“Tell me,” I repeated, “what wrong did this person do?”

“Shoot him now, you fool, or you will die!”

“In fact, you’re the one who’s just about to die.”

“Empty threats! You don’t know where I am.”

“You’re wearing a cheongsam with a slit to the thigh, and you’re behind the orchestra.” And I saw her face turn pale.

“You’ve broken the contract.”

“I don’t want to shoot an innocent person.”

“That’s none of your business, last year you shot thousands of innocent people.”

“That’s my own affair; tell me quickly what this person did wrong.”

The woman looked as if she was making a move to run away.

“Don’t run, there’s no use. Nobody will know who shot you. This rifle is equipped with a silencer. You know I never miss my shot, and I can disappear immediately.”

Her face looked up in my direction. I saw she was in a cold sweat. Full of anxiety.

“What do you want?”

“Tell me his wrong-doing.”

“He’s a traitor, he blackened the name of our people and country abroad.”

“Only that?”

“He stirred up society with statements that weren’t true.”

“And then?”

“What do you want? I don’t know that much.”

“I want to know, does all that constitute a sufficient reason to kill him?”

“That’s not your business. This is politics.”

“My business is your necklace, sweetie, it could break into pieces from my bullet, and the bullet wouldn’t stop there.”

Her face once again stared in my direction, with a pleading look.

“Don’t shoot me! I don’t know anything!”

“Who gives you orders?”

“I don’t know anything.”

“Your necklace, sweetie...”

“Oh, don’t, don’t shoot! Please...”

“I ... I can get in trouble.”

“Right now you can get in trouble. I’ll count to three. One...”

“You’re crazy, you’re ruining everything.”

“Two...” Mmm, how panicked she was.

“He’s in front of the person you’re supposed to shoot.”

“Wearing glasses?”


I pointed the rifle there. And I saw that person. He was telling a story with great excitement. His hands gestured all around, clenching his fist and hitting it into the palm of his other hand. His face was cunning and full of trickery. Very loathsome. And to make it worse he was quite old.

I aimed the crosshairs of my scope at his heart, while in my ear the high nasal voice of the singer whined, starting up another keroncong song, a song pleasing to old people. This will indeed make them remember the good old days.

This is a keroncong fantasy!

The Mysterious Shooter Trilogy --> All three of these stories refer to the “Petrus (an acronym of penembak misterius, meaning mysterious shooter) killings” which took place in Indonesia, primarily during the 80’s. It is widely believed that some groups within the Indonesian Armed Forces, which included the police, were involved in eliminating criminals, some of whom had previously been made use of by these same groups for political ends.

[1] “Keroncong Pembunuhan” from “Penembak Misterius: Trilogi” (The Mysterious Shooter: A Trilogy), in Penembak Misterius: Kumpulan Cerita Pendek (The Mysterious Shooter: A Collection of Short Stories) by Seno Gumira Ajidarma. Jakarta: Pustaka Utama Grafiti, 1993.

[2]keroncong: popular Indonesian music, originating from Portuguese songs, seen as somewhat old-fashioned in modern Indonesia.