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Authors: Stephen Hunter

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And then that was gone too, as, suddenly, Bob had the position, had it, knew it, had the shot, had it right, had it perfect. He held as the car continued to slide and involuntarily, without having consciously decided to disobey orders, he began to take the trigger slack out. He was going to shoot anyway, fuck it.

“Charlie Four, gun is down, green light, green light, green li—”

But Bob had fired already by then, having already made the decision at some subconscious level. His brain had yielded to his finger; his finger had decided and in the instant before the blur took it all away from his eye, he saw the melon detonate into a smear of red against the green Maryland countryside as the bullet tore through it and mushroomed. And when the scope came back from the recoil he saw all four ballons still waving in the wind and the melon blown in half.

“Congratulations,” said Hatcher. “You win all the marbles. You solved it.”

Bob said nothing, just fixed him with a cool eye. He had climbed down from the tower, to be surrounded by admirers.

“When did you decide to shoot?”

“It just happened.”

“You were so fast when you got the green light. Damn, you were so
fast
!”

Bob didn’t tell them he was halfway through the pull when the word came.

“Here, you can read the transcripts yourself.” He handed them over to Bob, who looked at them briefly, enough to satisfy himself that yes, indeed, Base had been on the earphones to poor Memphis until almost the last second.

BASE
: Have you acquired the target?

AGENT MEMPHIS
: Yes, sir, uh, he’s at the bottom of my scope, he’s rising into my cross hairs, uh, he’s—

BASE
: Hold your fire, Charlie Four, until I have a confirmation that his piece is down.

AGENT MEMPHIS
: Base, goddammit, I have him, I
have
him, I—

BASE:
No authorization. Hold it, Charlie Four, I can’t let you shoot, I—

AGENT MEMPHIS
: [garbled]—have it, dammit, I can—

BASE
: Negative, negative, Charlie Two, can you give me a visual?

AGENT O’BRIAN
: I can’t see his gun, Base, I, oh, Christ, he’s going to fire—

BASE
: [garbled] Shoot, green light, fire, goddammit, take his ass down—

AGENT MEMPHIS
: [garbled]

BASE
: God, you hit the girl, he hit a girl, oh, Jesus, in the back—

AGENT O’BRIAN
: Suspect is firing on his hostages, Jesus, will somebody hit him, Nick, hit him, hit him,
hit him
!

AGENT MEMPHIS
: I can’t see, he’s behind, oh, Jesus, he’s shooting them, I can’t get another shot, oh, Jesus, help them, help them, somebody,
help them!

AGENT O’BRIAN
: He just blew his own head away. [obscenity], Nick, he put that gunbarrel
in his mouth and blew his [obscenity] head away, he—

BASE
: Get those people medical aid, get those people medical aid, Jesus Christ, get those;—

AGENT MEMPHIS:
Shit.

That was enough. Why hadn’t Memphis had a spotter, someone sitting next to him up there? Sniping was a two-man job, or it was a one-man, on his lonesome, job. It wasn’t for a guy with a radio playing in his ear. And Base. Base was the real enemy; Base had made it impossible for the guy to hit that shot, blabbering away like an old woman.

“They fucked him, but good,” said Bob through tight lips. He thought of the poor jerk, watching the great Tulsa massacre through his scope, helpless, enraged, and most of all unforgivingly furious at himself for having missed the shot and hit the woman.

“What happened to him?”

“He married the woman he hit. He quadded her, and he married her. Still in the Bureau, with a poor woman in a wheelchair to care for the rest of his life.”

Well, here’s to you, Nick Memphis, thought Bob. If I were still a drinking man, I’d lift a glass to you, and if I ever become one another time, then I’ll lift one for you too.

“It’s remarkable how institutions reveal themselves under stress,” said Hatcher. “See, the Bureau is basically a bureaucracy, and under everything it does, there’s a bureaucratic imperative. So Base had to monitor Memphis, even at the moment of firing.
Had to
, neurotically, pathologically. That was Base’s first operating principle, to cover his own ass. And poor Memphis, being a team guy, even though the solo artist, poor Memphis played along. And in so doing, completely compromised his shot.”

There was a pause.

“But Mr. Swagger, you didn’t. Because you’re not a member of a team, and you have no norms and traditions to live up to. You can just go for it. You see through to the necessary which is utmost concentration. That shot was probably within the furthest reaches of Memphis’s envelope, and under perfect circumstances, he’d have made it. But he got fucked. We tried to fuck you, and you just sailed on through it. Man, you whacked Willie Downing good.”

There were several other fans clustered around Bob, besides the gooney Hatcher. He could sense their admiration, and despised them for it.

“Now, Mr. Swagger, we’ve got one more test for you. Do you still want to play?”

Bob launched another gob into the dust, queerly uncomfortable but not entirely displeased with the awe that was being thrust upon him.

“I’ll take another shot,” he said. “Maybe I’ll get lucky again.”

“This one is straight up your alley. It’s pure sniper war. This one is based on an incident that took place outside Medellín, in Colombia, in 1988. It’s highly classified so I’ve got to ask you never to disclose specifics to anybody. Fair enough?”

“I’m just here to shoot, not talk.”

“As I explain it to you, I think you’ll understand the need for delicacy in the matter. It involves a DEA agent who took a fourteen-hundred-yard shot at a drug dealer who was responsible for the murder of a DEA team. The guy had fantastic security, bunches of Colombians packing a lot of automatic heat. And the word was out, if anybody tried to take the guy down, the Colombians would just start blasting. So, reluctantly and unofficially, DEA decided to take the guy out with a minimum of
fuss. Highly illegal, but it was felt a message had to be sent to certain parties in Colombia.”

“So it was a straight hit?” Bob asked.

“Yes. Your kind of work. No hostages, nothing. Just a man and a rifle and a hell of a long shot.”

“You’re not making any fourteen-hundred-yarder with a .308, I’ll tell you that.”

“You’re anticipating us again. The DEA shooter used a .300 H & H Magnum, with a Sierra 200-grain slug. Here, here’s the rifle. The same one.”

He nodded, and one of the technicians brought a rifle case over and opened it. Bob only saw a rifle.

But what a rifle.

“Goddamn,” he said almost involuntarily, “that’s a honey of a piece. Damn!”

It was a bolt-action Model 70 target, pre-’64, with a fat bull barrel and a Unertl 36× scope running nearly along its entire barrel length. Its dark gleam blazed out at him in that high sheen that was now a lost art but had reached its highest pitch in the great American gunmaking days of the 1920s and ’30s. It was almost pristine, too, clean and crisp, well tended, much loved and trusted. But it was the wood that really hit him. The wood, in that slightly thicker pre-’64 configuration, was almost black; he’d never seen a walnut with such blackness to it; but it wasn’t like black plastic for it had the warm gleam of the organic to it. Black wood?

“That’s a hell of a rifle,” he said. He bent quickly to look at the serial number: my God, it was a one followed by five beautiful goose eggs! 100000. The hundred-thousandth 70! That made it infinitely desirable to a collector and marked it as having been made around 1950.

“From the Winchester plant in 1948. The metal was heat-treated at higher temperatures to give it the strength to stand up to a thousand-yard cartridge.”

“Okay, let’s give it a whirl. You have the ammo?”

Hatcher handed over a box of Accutech Sniper Grade .300 H & H Magnum.

LAW ENFORCEMENT USE ONLY
, it said in red letters.

Bob opened the box, took out one of the long .300 H&H’s: it was like a small ballistic missile in his hand, close to four inches of shell and powder and bullet, heavy as an ostrich’s egg.

“What kind of ballistics?”

“It’s a thumper. We’re kicking it out off 70 grains of H4831 and our own 200-grain bullet boattail hollowpoint. About three thousand feet per second.”

Bob thought numbers and came up with a 198-inch drop at a thousand yards; figure maybe 355 for fourteen hundred yards.

Bob took the rifle. His first love had been a Model 70, often called the Rifleman’s Rifle, and he now owned several, including that recalcitrant .270 that had consumed him before coming up to Maryland, and whose problems he hadn’t quite mastered. So the rifle was like an old friend.

“Where can I take it to zero?”

“Uh, it’s zeroed. One of our technicians has worked it out to the yard. It’ll shoot to point of aim at the proper range.”

“Hold on, there, sir. I don’t like to shoot for money with a rifle I haven’t tested.”

“Ah—” said Hatcher, embarrassed at Bob’s flinty reluctance. “I can
assure
you that—”

“You can’t assure me of a thing if I haven’t done it myself.”

“Would you like me to get the colonel?”

“Why don’t you just do that?”

“All right. But I can tell you that the man who zeroed the rifle to that load and range—he won a thousand-yard championship with it in the mid-fifties. It’ll shoot. I
guarantee you it’ll shoot. He’s got the trophies to prove it.”

Bob squinted.

Finally he said, “Goes against my principles, but, goddammit, if it says Winchester, I’ll take a crack at it.”

Bob lay in a spider hole. It was cramped and dirty. The walls seemed to press in. His view of the world consisted of only a slot, maybe six inches by four inches, and through it he saw a series of low ridges. Far, far away, there was a raw wall where the earth had been bulldozed up to form a bulwark.

“He waited in that hole for two weeks,” Hatcher had told him. “Just be glad we don’t put you through that. And after all that waiting the shot came, and he missed it. A shame.”

Garcia Diego, for this was the dope dealer’s name, was a careful man, and had extended his security arrangements out a thousand yards from his hacienda. He was the most hunted man in Colombia after wiping out the team in Miami. Now DEA had tracked him down and knew that if he slipped out, it would be at dawn, over the back wall of his hacienda, and he’d be visible for just a second or two before he scurried away to his ATV and disappeared into the jungle.

“What you’ll see, Bob,” said Hatcher, “is a remarkably lifelike human form. It’s an anatomically correct dummy. We’re pulling it over the ridge on guy wires that won’t be visible to you, and it’s suspended in a frame, but it should, from this distance, look startlingly like a man. You’d best go for a center body shot.”

Now, alone, Bob settled in behind the rifle. The old Winchester was the rifle he’d learned to shoot on all those deer seasons back in Arkansas. It was like a letter from home, or from the early fifties, and it made him think of his old dad. Earl Swagger was a dark and hairy
man, with a voice like a rasp being drawn over bare iron, a man of solemn dignity and quietude, well packed in muscle, who nevertheless never ever raised his voice or struck anybody who hadn’t first broached the issue of violence himself and who treated all men, including what in those days everybody called niggers, with the same slow-talking courtesy, calling everybody, even the lowest scum of earth, sir.

He stood over Bob patient as the summer sun, endlessly still and steady.

“Now, Bob Lee,” Bob could remember him saying, “now, Bob Lee, rifle’s only as good as the man using it. You use it well, it’ll stand by you come heaven or hell. You treat it mean and rotten like an ugly dog, or ignore it like a woman who complains too much, and by God it’ll find a way to betray you. Hell hath no fury, the good book says, like a rifle scorned. Well, the good book don’t say that exactly, but it could, Bob Lee, you hear me?”

Bob Lee nodded, swearing that he’d never mistreat a rifle, and these many years later, that was, he felt, the one claim he could make: he’d never let a rifle or his father down.

He looked down to the firing ground.

There was no movement at all. It was quiet, except that the wind had picked up; he could hear it thrumming like a cicada, low and insistent.

Beyond a thousand yards, you’re in a different universe. The wind, which under three hundred yards can be a pain in the butt, becomes savage. The bullet loses so much velocity on its down-range journey that its trajectory becomes as fragile as a child’s breath. The secret is to make the wind work for you, to read it and know it; it’s the only way to hit.

Beyond a thousand yards, even with a scope, there’s no chance of bull’s-eye, no talk of X-rings; you’re just
trying to get on the target, though an exceedingly gifted shooter with the best rig in the world can bring his shots in within four inches.

With his thumb, he snicked the safety off the Winchester, locked his hands around the grip and pulled it in tight to his shoulder, and ordered his body to relax as he looked for his spot-weld.

Scrunched into the spider hole among the stench of loam and mud, he was in something as close to the classic bench shooter’s position as he could get, rifle braced on sandbags fore and aft, with just the softest give in the rear bag so he could move the piece in the brief period of time he’d have to track the moving man. His breath came in soft wheezes, half a lung in, half a lung out, as he adjusted to the lesser stream of oxygen.

Finding the spot-weld at last, he was amazed at how bright and clear the world looked through a Unertl 36.

Good thing he was indexed in the right direction. The bigger the scope, the smaller the field of view; if he’d had to hunt for it through the little bit of world the scope allowed him, it could take all day.

BOOK: Point of Impact
6.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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