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Authors: Stephen Hunter

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He snapped the picture control and brought up a series of photos. They appeared to show, one after another, a hazy series of markings on the earth as seen from high up.

“That’s Rainbow working over central Iraq about two hundred miles above Baghdad, near a military installation at Ad Dujayi late one night a few weeks ago, trying to get a line on our old friends, the Medina Division of the Republican Guard. And what do you see? You see almost nothing. And then … a miracle.”

He clicked again.

The photo was dramatically clearer. What Bob saw was towers, very like the one he had perched in that morning, overlooking networks of roads or amphitheaters at varying distances, the geometry of each setting subtly different from its brothers.

“Lightning. Nature’s flashbulb, something nobody could predict; it lit the ground at the instant that Rainbow was snapping away. And yet the clouds weren’t sufficient to blot out our view of this rather elaborate arrangement.

“But what’s
really
interesting about this setup is they take it down every day. It must take hundreds of men. And just to keep our satellites from getting the snapshot we’ve just seen. Look, here’s what the daylight reveals.”

He clicked again; what Bob saw was simply a random pattern of roads across a desolate plain.

“Now can you solve the puzzle, Swagger. These photos. Solaratov in Iraq. Do you see it yet, Swagger?”

“Sure,” said Bob. “They’re prepping a shot. Those are buildings and streets. He’ll have handled the range and angle solutions already. It’ll be familiar to him.”

“We should have come to you in the beginning. It took a young man in the Agency, a photo analyst,
weeks
to come up with the same answer, and those are lost weeks. But he finally had the bright idea of coding the grids of buildings to streets by angle with the help of a computer and having the computer run a check on those same streets and angles. Swagger, it’s the Inner Harbor from the U.S.F.&G. Building in Baltimore, it’s the back porch of the White House from a roof at the Justice Department—the Justice Department!—and it’s Downing and Huguenot streets in North Cincinnati, and finally it’s North Rampart and St. Ann in New Orleans.”

“All right,” said Bob. “So it is.”

“Sergeant, those places have one thing in common. They are all sites of speeches to be given over the next several weeks by the president of the United States.”

Dobbler watched the two of them. They were both children of the superego. They had nothing in them that would ever tell them to stop, hold back, wait, consider. They were both forceful men, without ideological underpinnings, who approached the world simply as a set of problems to be solved.

He remembered when the colonel had found him working in a mill clinic in Rafferty, Massachusetts, prescribing aspirin and bandages to the children of mill workers.

The colonel had simply walked in, so vivid a presence that no nurse would hold him back, laid down the
Boston Globe
front page that carried the news of Dobbler’s sentence the year before across three columns, and said, “If you can keep your dick in your pants, I can get you some really interesting work. Lots of money. Fun, travel, adventure. Some of it’s even legal.”

“W-what do I have to do?”

“Supervise recruitment. Analyze prospects from a psychological-psychiatric perspective. Tell me which of ’em will jump when I say boo.”

“Nobody can do that.”

“No, but you ought to come closest. Or would you rather stay here and hand out bandages for the rest of your life?”

“It’s part of my arrangement with the cour—”

“Not anymore.”

The colonel laid a parole board exemption before him.

“Are you with the government?” asked Dr. Dobbler.

“You might say that,” said the colonel.

Bob let the silence hang in the air until it seemed to crack.

“They’re still trying to win that war,” said the man. “They think they can win it with one shot. And Solaratov’s the hired gun.”

“What do you want from me?”

“Swagger, you’ve done something damn few men have done. You’ve stalked and hunted men, hundreds of them. You are one of the world’s two or three best. Maybe an Israeli or two, maybe an SAS man somewhere, this Solaratov, Carl Hitchcock, but nobody else in the world is in your class. We need a man who’ll attack our problem for us the way a sniper would. We want to know how he’d put an operation together, where he’d shoot from, what sort of ordnance he’d use. We want you to brief our security people, who’ll find ways of making sure the information is inserted into the federal security mainstream and acted upon. Because we want to catch this piece of terrorist shit and turn him and empty out all his little secrets and use him as a club against his masters in Baghdad. We’ll smart-bomb them back to dust and cinders.”

Bob said nothing for a time. He was thinking things through and still he didn’t like all this, didn’t like the fact that these boys still had
Agency
on them like a smell. He wasn’t sure if he trusted them enough to have a cup of coffee with. But then he knew he didn’t really have a lot of choice. It was all set up, set up years ago.

He remembered the numbness and collapse as he went down and the way Donny scrambled down after him, his whole life ahead of him, and the way the light vanished instantly from Donny’s eyes as the bullet bit through to his spine. He finally turned to the colonel.

He said, “Put me on the rifle, Colonel. And I’ll body-bag this sly old boy for you.”

For the first time in many years, Bob the Nailer smiled, feeling just a bit reborn.

Aroused
, Dobbler wrote.

CHAPTER SEVEN

The funeral was on a Thursday, with all the office guys there, and most of their wives, even some of the office girls, and maybe a few dozen other people from the law enforcement community in which Nick moved, and their wives too. And some people who’d simply read of Myra in the
Times-Picayune
obit.

There must have been fifty or sixty. They stood quietly in the sunlight, not really moving or talking, but just by their radiance being there with him, trying somehow to help him and do something for Myra. It pleased Nick that so many showed up. Myra had been such a quiet little mouse about her life, taking what she was given; there should be medals for the Myras of the world but somehow
there never were, so a graveyard crowd was the next best thing.

The cemetery was out in Kenner, fifteen long miles west of the city, a place Nick had chosen on his own because it was so open and grassy. None of those looming, dark, jungly trees and the soupy ground sheathed in thatches of reeds that seemed everywhere in what passed for “country” around New Orleans, just an expanse of green overlooking some tract houses and, in the far-off, the lake. Nick liked it because it seemed midwestern to him, and he liked all the sun, the grass and the trees that weren’t cypress or fern.

And of course it was a bright and shiny day, a bit chilly, everybody at their best. It was formal in the most meaningful sense; it gave Myra the idea of having counted and being part of some larger, more organized whole, a society.

He even spoke a few words over the bier, after the minister had finished.

“Look, um,” he mumbled, “I wanted to thank all of you and your wives for taking time off to come on out and help me say good-bye to Myra. Uh, she was a terrific gal, as you all know, and it’s real great that you guys came on by. I know it would have made her real happy. So, uh, thanks again for, you know, coming on by.”

It sounded lame but he didn’t care.

Then they filed by and shook his hand and said dumb, stupid things and he nodded and watched them go.

“I’m so sorry, Nick,” said Sally Ellion, one of the pretty girls in the Computer Records Section.

“Oh,” he said, somewhat startled to see her here. “Yeah, well. Uh. Thanks for coming.”

“You were so brave,” she said.

“Huh? Me?”

“Yes, you, Nick,” and then she moved on.

One of the last in the line was Hap Fencl.

“Nick, take some time off, for Christ sakes. You been through a lot. Give yourself a break.”

“Hap, the best thing for me is to get back to work, you know? I’d just get bigger and dopier if I hung around the house. And there’s all the things to remind me. So I’ll see you in an hour or so.”

“Nick, you take care of yourself, you hear?” said Hap’s wife Marlee. “You need any help, you let me know.”

“Sure,” he said.

Then he watched them go, until he was alone with the box, except he could see some old black guys standing way off with shovels. They’d wait and wait until he left, and then they’d lower her and discreetly cover her over. With dirt. That was all. That was it. That was what had to be faced.

Okay, babe, he finally said. The guys with the shovels are here. Time to go. I’ll always remember. Goodbye.

“Now, people,” Hap was saying when Nick showed up, late, still in his dark blue suit, “we’re getting the buzz out of Washington on these Colombians still and DEA all over the goddamn board is howling that we’re not putting them in our loop so—”

“But if you give it to those guys, it’s all over the street in fifteen seconds—”

“Okay, DEA has a slightly different agenda than we do, you all know that, they’re going for the quality bust because they don’t have enough guys to burn small fry like us, so once in a while, yes, Mike, they do let a little something loose so as to turn it for something bigger. Still, what I’m giving you is the official word from on high, you guys
gotta
share with DEA.”

There was a murmur of disapproval from the twelve
agents of the New Orleans FBI narcotics squad. Outside, in the bright afternoon sun, the traffic snorted and honked up Loyola Street in front of the Federal Building. Nick slid in next to his partner, Mickey Sontag, who’d held a seat for him.

“I miss—?”

“Same old,” the Mick whispered, “just shit on paperwork flow, on some new buy-money regs due out, some news on qualifications and SWAT applications, the same old same-old.”

“Great,” said Nick.

The meeting continued, the usual early Thursday afternoon ordeal and Nick wondered why Hap didn’t just cancel. But Hap was old Bureau, no matter how much a one-of-the-guys type he pretended to be, with a dad and an uncle having retired as supervisory agents, and so he’d always play rules, rules, rules. That was the FBI way, as Nick knew better than most.

Then they moved to cases, as one by one the agents briefed their pals on what was hot and what was not, all of it standard and routine. The point was that in give-and-taking like this on a formal basis every week, maybe somebody would notice connections between cases, make quantum leaps or free associations, and it sometimes happened. But it didn’t this time: just droning men in their law enforcement-dud voices ripping fast as hell through stuff that nobody else much cared about, no patterns in it anywhere. Nick couldn’t pitch in, having not really leaned into his job since Myra died and that goddamned guy got whacked in the Palm Court Motel. But he made a noise when it came to Questions One and All.

“Questions one and all?”

There were a few, nothing much, and finally Nick got his hand up in symphony with Hap’s glance in his direction.

“Say Hap, on that guy whacked at the Palm Court, what’s the disposition?”

“Not much. DEA has no record on him in the dope loop and NOPD can’t commit any real manpower, thank you, you know how those guys are in throwing bodies at cases that look like they’re not headed to an arrest.”

“So where does that leave us? Guy was trying to reach me, he—”

“You know, Nick, it’s not really our bailiwick if he’s not fleeing a federal charge or committing a federal crime. I think it’ll end up in NOPD’s I-hope-somebody-tells-us-who-did-this file.”

“Come on, Hap, you know we can ride hard on anything if we can find the angle.”

“Yeah, but it doesn’t look remotely promising. Drugs, maybe, but there’s no evidence anywhere in the system. The guy’s not from here. You say he’s Agency, but the Agency doesn’t say he’s Agency.”

“The Agency
never
says they’re Agency. According to the Agency, the Agency doesn’t exist. But this guy’s not a Panamanian, Hap. My source told me he was a Salvadoran.”

“Yeah, well, the paperwork doesn’t bear it out. That was a legit passport.”

“Which could mean he’s major league spook.”

“Which probably means he’s minor league nothing. And if he were spook, you damn well know the Agency would be here running a damage control operation. They freak when we’re talking national security, you know how that bends them out of shape. They don’t care. No leads, no nothing. It could be jealous husbands, squabble over profits, family problems, that sort of thing. It’s interesting like a mystery novel, clues, that ‘Rom Do’ bit, yes, I give you that. But there’s gonna be two hundred fifty unsolved homicides in this area this
year, and I’m looking at one of them, eh, pardner? It’s just not
interesting
. You know in D.C. they want body bags to brag about, indictments, convictions, that sort of scalp hunting; so I can’t commit to big maybes.”

“You know—”

“Nick, I got something for you I think you’d like, you give me a chance to get to it.”

“Well, let me just throw a fast possibility at you. Okay? I’ve been thinking it over.”

“It’s late, Nick. And there’s some other—”

“Please!”

“Oh, go ahead. Shoot. Fire away.”

Nick cleared his throat.

“First, I have to ask myself, how’d those guys get in that room. The hitters? Guy was scared, guy was on the run, guy thought he’d been made, guy was sending out signals of catastrophe. But he’s only in the room maybe ten minutes before they’re on him?”

“Maybe he ordered out for room service and—”

“No room service in a crappy joint like the Palm Court. Plus, he wouldn’t have. No way. He was just going to sit tight until he talked to somebody he trusted, that being me, because he had my name from a guy he knew in DEA. Me, Bureau, rather than somebody in DEA, because, like we all know, DEA isn’t tight. We just joked about it a few minutes ago. They’re not tight, he doesn’t trust them, doesn’t that tell you the guy knows what he’s doing?”

BOOK: Point of Impact
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