Authors: Stephen Hunter
“The mountains of Arkansas are the setting for
Point of Impact
, a harsh, visceral novel of conspiracy and betrayal by veteran author Stephen Hunter … a disturbing mix that plays on our sense of history while at the same time it appeals to our darkest fantasies of rough justice.”
“Bob Lee Swagger … explodes as a thinking man’s Rambo.… The characters, plot and courtroom finale will leave readers wrung out.”
“A HELLACIOUSLY GOOD THRILLER … THERE ISN’T ENOUGH PRAISE TO HEAP ON
POINT OF IMPACT.”
Rocky Mountain News
“Hunter has written a scorcher of a book.… It is apparent one is reading a master storyteller. The reader becomes caught up in a relentless surge of excitement.… And if when you finish this book, you feel a little tingle running down your back, don’t worry. It probably isn’t Bob Lee Swagger’s crosshairs tickling along your spine.”
The Tampa Tribune and Times
The raves continue for
Point of Impact
“A complex and worthwhile thriller.”
“Stephen Hunter returns the thriller to the individual, making a hero out of a human being instead of machinery and bureaucracy.… The combination of exciting action, technical lore and skilled plot manipulation places the novel far ahead of others in its field.…
Point of Impact
succeeds in all the right ways. It’s a hugely entertaining book.”
The Master Sniper
The Second Saladin
The Spanish Gambit
The Day Before Midnight
Dirty White Boys
Time to Hunt
Pale Horse Coming
American Gunfight: The Plot to Kill Harry Truman
and the Shootout That Stopped It
(co-written with John S. Bainbridge Jr.)
A Critic’s 13 Years on the Front Lines of Movie Mayhem
Now Playing at the Valencia:
Pulitzer Prize–Winning Essays on Movies
POINT OF IMPACT
A Bantam Book
Bantam hardcover edition published March 1993
Bantam mass market edition published December 1993
Bantam mass market reissue / February 2007
A Division of Random House, Inc.
New York, New York
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved
Copyright © 1993 by Stephen Hunter
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 92-27121
Bantam Books and the rooster colophon
are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
YOU TRIED LIKE HELL.
The author would like to thank the many people who helped him in the preparation of this book, while acknowledging that he alone is responsible for all errors of omission or commission. John Feamster of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, was especially generous in time and effort. Bob Lopez, Randi Henderson, Lenne Miller, Jean Marbella, Joe Fanzone, Mike Hill, and Weyman Swagger, in the Baltimore area, lent support when it was needed. In New York, my editor, Ann Harris, helped me find out what my own book was about and wouldn’t let me stop working until I did; and my agent, Victoria Gould Pryor, did her usual splendid job. My children, Jake and Amy, put up with the whole unruly process; and my wife, Lucy, watched me disappear toward shooting ranges, gun shows and my own office for nearly four years without complaint.
ONLY ACCURATE RIFLES ARE INTERESTING.
—Colonel Townsend Whelen
It was November, cold and wet in west Arkansas, a miserable dawn following on a miserable night. Sleet whistled through the pines and collected on the humps of stone that jutted out of the earth; low overhead, angry clouds hurtled by. Now and then the wind would rush through the canyons between the trees and blow the sleet like gunsmoke. It was the day before hunting season.
Bob Lee Swagger had placed himself just off the last climb that led up to Hard Bargain Valley, that flat splurge of tabletop high in the Ouachitas, and he sat in perfect silence and perfect stillness against an old pine, the rifle across his knees. This was Bob’s first gift: the gift of stillness. He acquired it naturally, without instruction, from some inner pool
where stress never reached. Back in ’Nam he was something of a legend for the nearly animallike way he could will his body reactions down, stiller than death.
The cold had fought through his wool leggings and up and under his down vest and begun to climb up his spine, like a sly little mouse. He gritted his teeth, fighting the urge to let them chatter. Now and then his hip throbbed from a wound from long ago. He instructed his brain to ignore the phantom ache. He was beyond will. He was in some other place.
He was earning Tim.
You see, he’d tell you, if you were one of the two or three men in the world he talked to—old Sam Vincent, say, the ex–Polk County prosecutor, or maybe Doc LeMieux, the dentist, or Vernon Tell, the sheriff—you can’t just shoot an animal. Shooting’s the easy part. Any city dick can sit in a stand, drink hot coffee and wait till some doe goes prancing by, close enough to touch, and then put out the muzzle of his Wal-Mart rifle and squeeze-jerk the trigger and blow a quart of her guts out and find her three counties away, bled out, her eyes still somehow beaming dumb pain.
You earned your shot, Bob would tell you, by letting whatever was happening to the animal happen to you and for however long. Fair was fair, after all.
Through the pines and the saplings, he could see the clearing 150 yards ahead, a little below, coming gradually into what small, low light there’d be that day. A trail ran through it, and at dawn and again at twilight he knew the animals would filter through, one by one, a buck and his harem. Last night, Bob had seen twelve, three bucks, one a nice fat eight-pointer even, and their ladies.
But he’d come for Tim. Old Tim, scarred and beat up, with many an adventure behind him. Tim would be alone, too: Tim didn’t have a harem, and didn’t need
one anymore. One year Tim had had a prong of antler shot off by some lucky city dick from Little Rock and looked out of balance for a whole season. Tim had limped another whole year because Sam Vincent, not as spry as once he’d been, had held sloppy and put a .45-70 softpoint—too much gun, but Sam loved that old Winchester—into his haunches, and only bled him bad enough to kill any normal buck.
, Bob knew, and that was the kindest word he had for anybody, living or dead.
Bob was in his seventeenth hour of sitting. He had sat all night in the cold; and when, about four, sleet had started, he still sat. He was so cold and wet he was hardly alive, and now and again a picture of another time would come up before his eyes but always, he’d shake it out, keeping himself set on what lay ahead 150 yards.
Come on, you old bastard, he was thinking. I’m earning you.
Then he saw something. But it was only a doe and her fawn and in their lazy, confident, stupid animal way they came down the trail from the hill and began to move on down to graze in the lower forest, where some lucky city fool would certainly kill them.
Bob just sat there, next to his tree.
Dr. Dobbler swallowed, trying to read the mystery in Colonel Shreck’s eyes. But as always, Shreck sat there with a fierce scowl masking his blunt features, radiating power and impatience and somehow scaring everybody in the room. Shreck was scary. He was the scariest man Dobbler had ever known, scarier even than Russell Isandhlwana, the dope dealer who had raped Dobbler in the showers of Norfolk State Penitentiary in Massachusetts and made the doctor his punk for a very, very long three months.
It was late. Outside the rain drummed on the tin roof of the Quonset. A stench of rusting metal, old leather, dust, unwashed socks and stale beer hung in the room; it was a prison smell, though this wasn’t a prison, but the field headquarters of an outfit calling itself RamDyne Security on several hundred obscure acres of untillable central Virginia.
The planners sat in front of the darkened room; the brutish Jack Payne, the second scariest man in the world, sat across the table; and that was all, such a tiny team for the immense and melancholy task that lay ahead of them.
On a small screen, four faces had been projected, now glowing in the dark. Each represented a hundred other possibilities; these men had been discovered by Research, investigated at length by Plans, watched by the pros from Operations, and then winnowed to this sullen quartet. It was Dobbler’s job to break them down psychologically for Colonel Raymond Shreck’s final decision.
Each of the final four had a flaw, of course. Dr. Dobbler pointed these out. He was, after all, still a psychiatrist, if now uncertified. Flaws were his profession.
“Too narcissistic,” he said of one. “He spends too much on his hair. Never trust a man in a seventy-five-dollar haircut. He expects to be treated special. We need somebody who
special but has never been
As for Number 2, “Too smart. Brilliant, tactically brilliant. But always playing the games. Always thinking ahead. Never at rest.”
Of the third, “Wonderfully stupid. But slow. Exactly what we need so far as certain qualities are required, and experienced in the technical area. Obedient as a dog. But slow. Too slow, too literal, too eager to please. Too rigid.”
“I hear you flirting again, Dobbler,” said Colonel Shreck, brutally. “Just give us the information, without the charm.”
“Well,” he finally said, “that leaves us with only one.”