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Authors: Stephen Hunter

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And then he saw it. It was just a shimmer of motion, right at the crest line of the earthen wall fourteen hundred long yards away. A man’s head peeped over, and peeped back. He was coming.

Bob felt the tension in him begin to rise.

And then he realized, suddenly, though not in words, for there was no time for words in the blaze of the moment, that this shot was what it was all about. The rest of it, Accutech, Sniper Grade ammo, Nick Memphis in Tulsa, a DEA mission against a dope king—all that was prelude. This was the moment they’d been nursing him toward, by slow degrees, an inch at a time, coming onto it the way a man would come upon a final, and much waited for, much anticipated, threshold.

It was a terribly long shot, he now saw: almost nobody
in the world could make it. He calculated the ballistics roughly and quickly, because he’d done it a hundred thousand times before, trying at least to bracket what the bullet ought to do at the range from what other bullets of similar weight and trajectory had done, and felt the wind, and tried to dope his way toward a hold, tried to instinct his brain into the shot. But he felt that he was way out there. He was in undiscovered territory. Nobody had ever been where he was before. Who’d risk a shot like this? It was criminally dangerous, dope king or not.

All these thoughts, of course, fired through his head in nanoseconds. The man emerged from the wall, slithered over the top, and stood there, for just a moment, sloppy as shit, happy as a lark. He was a dot, a period, a pill. He was so very far away.

Bob made half a hundred minute corrections in a time span that has no human measure, found his spot in that weird moment of clarity, and felt the trigger go back on itself and break, and lost the picture from the scope in the blur of the rifle’s buck, and knew he’d sent the shot home, for he’d had a flash of the figure going instantly limp on him, and it fell and rolled without dignity down the slope.

Now Bob saw what he had done—what they had made him do.

And for the first time, Bob felt as if he’d blasphemed with a rifle.

Their enthusiasm didn’t mean a great deal.

“Mr. Swagger, by God,” burbled Hatcher, “do you realize we’ve had twenty-eight men in here. We’ve had some ex-Delta Force shooters, some top FBI people, the top gun on LAPD SWAT and half a dozen other big city SWAT teams, we’ve had the top shooters from the NRA thousand-yard championships, and nobody, none
of them, not a one of them, has hit that shot! You put that bullet within an inch of the heart. A one-shot kill at fourteen hundred yards.”

Bob looked at him, squint-eyed.

“It’s a nice rifle,” he said. “And whoever you got loading for you knows what the hell he’s doing. Yes, sir.”

Even Payne, so unimpressed yet curious, now looked at him with some strange glint in his eye.

“Hell of a shot,” he said, in a voice meant to suggest that in his time he too had seen, and maybe even taken, some hellacious long shots.

But Bob still felt tainted. It was like waking up after a night with a low woman, and hating yourself for what you sold to have her.

“Mr. Swagger, you all right? Damn, if you’d have been with DEA, Diego Garcia would be historical right now, instead of the richest man in Colombia.”

Bob smiled, trying to pin down the peculiarity he felt.

Daddy, what did I do? he thought, remembering when he’d taken his first shot at a deer, and gut-shot the poor creature and he’d felt shame and hatred for himself. His daddy had told him that it was all right, and tracked the creature down himself to finish it off, three long hours of following blood trails up and down some of the roughest slopes in the Ouachitas. His daddy had told him God forgives the bad shots if God knows that in your heart you were trying to put meat on your family’s table and that you truly loved the creature you were hunting and were making it and yourself a part of nature.

If God didn’t want man to hunt, why did he give him the brains to figure out gunpowder and the Model 70 Winchester rifle?

“Oh, I figure I know where I stand,” he said, because
it just flashed into his head and he knew what they’d done to him.

“And what I figure is, you’d best go get that phony colonel of yours, and get him fast, so he can explain to me why it is you went to all this trouble to turn me into the gook who hunted
me!

He turned, glaring.

“You motherfucker, you turned me into the sniper who crippled me and then killed my best friend.”

He felt like fighting. He turned and drove the Model 70 rifle butt into Payne’s mouth, literally lifting the man off the ground with the blow, and driving him to earth leaking shattered teeth and blood. He hated to tarnish the rifle’s glowing wood with such dreadful matters, but certain things demand to be done. The blow sounded like somebody hitting a haunch of beef with a steel pipe and it completely destroyed Payne’s fat ugly face and put fear into his little pig eyes. Then Bob reached down and yanked the hidden cut-down Remington 1100 from Payne’s shoulder holster, jacked the six red shells out into the dust, and tossed the piece behind him.

“My dog doesn’t like you and I don’t like you, Payne. I don’t like a man who carries a sawed-off semi-auto 12-gauge full of double-ought because he doesn’t want to miss.”

He turned back to Hatcher to find the educated man’s stunned disbelief at the rapidity and absoluteness of the violence.

“You still here? Get your colonel or I’ll whip up on old Payne here till the sun goes down.”

Then he watched them scamper.

CHAPTER FIVE

Myra died on Tuesday at 11:43
A.M
. The hospital called him, right there in his office. It was Dr. Hilton. Nick just said, “Yeah, oh, okay. I should have been there.”

“Nick, she wasn’t conscious. Okay? Don’t hold that against yourself.”

“Yeah, but I should have been there.”

They’d said it would probably come at the end of the week. The vital signs were very low and she hadn’t come out of the coma for nearly ten days. So it was not unexpected, but when these things happen, they carry a sort of devastation with them that is impossible to imagine. Nick was stupefied at how hard it hit him, sitting there in his office, listening to the chatter and hum of life going on about him.
He remembered that on one of her last clear days she herself had told him to be strong, to get himself ready, that her time was near.

And, of course, she told him not to feel bad. He’d done as much as any man could do, he’d paid all his debts, oh, lord, he’d paid them. It was worth it, she said. There’d never have been a Nick for her any way except the way it happened, and she was glad that it had happened the way it had happened. Now he was to go have some fun.

That was Myra. Never asked for much, and certainly didn’t get much, but somehow made her way through it, never picking up the bitterness some people who have far more seem to acquire. He wished she were with him now, because over the years he’d come to rely on her in special ways, almost as much as she’d had to rely on him. But that was stupid; he wished his wife were here to help him get through the death of his wife!

Instead, Nick got up and found Hap Fencl, and told him he had to go out for a little while. And that maybe he was going to take some time off now.

“Myra?”

“Yeah, finally. Boy, she fought.”

“You want a Valium or anything, Nick, old son?”

“Nah, I’m okay.”

“What you got ticking? Anything hot I can look over for you while you’re gone? Got a bust or two coming up? I love the hairy stuff, you know me. A commando type.”

This was a joke; Hap stood five feet eight and weighed about 150 pounds, while Nick was a wide man, thick and strong and a judo champ, black belt, and still the best shot in the office. But Nick didn’t laugh, because he’d sort of phased out there for a second. He blinked, and pulled himself back.

“Oh? Uh, nothing, no. The usual. Following Colombians
all over the town with Mickey Sontag, that’s all. Mickey’s out at the cop range today on that SWAT qualification. I was just going to push some paper, more or less, until he comes back.”

Hap was the supervisory agent in charge here in the New Orleans office, and a very good guy, easy to work with. He specialized in organized crime, while Nick worked drugs, usually in liaison with the DEA, mainly because he had a diplomatic touch and got along well with what most of the other men called the DOA boys.

So it was no problem for Nick to drive out to the hospital. He got there in fifteen minutes, on a drive so blank it could have lasted for fifteen hours and taken him from Omaha to Tallahassee.

They hadn’t moved her.

“Do you mind? Could I be alone with her for just a minute?” he said to the nurse.

“Sure. But we’ll have to take her to the mortuary soon enough.”

“Yeah. I know.”

They scurried out. Nick looked around, hating the goddamned room. It was like all the rooms he’d spent his life in, anonymous, personalityless, some fake paintings on the wall, the smell of plastic and disinfectant heavy in the air. Yet, hating it, he knew Myra wouldn’t have minded it. It was never her way to mind such things.

“I was meant to die that day,” she once told him, “like the other two girls, and that man. But your bullet saved me. It delivered me. It gave me you, Nick Memphis, it made me Mrs. Nick Memphis, and so what I’ve got is all gravy. It’s dessert. Six years of dessert.”

Well, dammit, now he was crying, wasn’t he? She’d forbidden that. When it became clear that her collapse was accelerating and Dr. Hilton said there was almost
no chance at all, she’d told him she couldn’t have him crying.

You should be happy. No more lady in a wheelchair. You’re still a young man. Go out, get drunk, throw a party.

He went to the bed where she lay under a sheet. He’d seen corpses, of course, at crime scenes, in morgues, and when his mother had died in 1977, while he was at Quantico. And of course he’d seen them in the Tulsa street that day. But still he found himself shuddering and had to make himself pull the sheet back, wondering if he should. But he wanted to. He wanted to see her once more.

Of course the coma had drained the flesh from her face, and her eyes, those hot, bright, fascinating eyes, were closed, and some time ago they’d cut her red hair short, almost as a boy’s. But it was Myra.

She looked like a little bird. Her skin was pale, and her bones were as fragile and precise as doilies. But the pain was gone. Myra had pretty much lived in pain for six years. No arms, no legs, plenty of pain. So her face had a kind of repose it never quite achieved in life.

Oh boy, he thought, honey I am really fucking up. You said not to cry and I’ve just lost it, lost it, lost it.

“Nick?”

It was the doctor.

“Nick, you want us to get you anything?”

“No, I’m okay.”

“We have to take her now.”

“All right.”

He stood back and let them have his wife.

Nick went out into the sun, blinked, reached for a cigarette before he remembered he’d quit. He put on his sunglasses, because he felt his eyes swollen and pouchy. He tried to think. Then he remembered there wasn’t
much to think about. They’d made plans, he knew where she was going, and when the funeral would be. It would be in two days, which would make it, let’s see, Thursday. Between now and then, it was all automatic, all of it.

He supposed he ought to go home, maybe some people would come by or something, some guys from the office, maybe their wives. He’d taken Myra to some of the parties over the years, and once they’d gotten over their clumsiness about The Tragedy, as he knew it was called, they got to like her, and some of the wives grew close to Myra and had the habit of dropping in.

But he shook the image out of his head, feeling the temptation to slide back into the good old days. He knew that way was craziness, he’d end up in another crying jag. He tried to get hold of himself, thought the best thing might be to go for a long drive, just point the car toward Biloxi and go, maybe spend a couple of days lying at the beach. Jesus, maybe find a girl, like Myra said, get laid, for crying out loud.

But he knew he couldn’t and he wouldn’t do that. He didn’t know what to do. That was the hardest part. He just didn’t know what to do. Then he thought about going to the movies or something, anything to just take his head out of here for a few hours. But movies were usually filled with people getting killed or maimed and he didn’t feel up to it.

At last he hit on the lake. He’d just drive over there down by the water where it would be calm and cool and he could sit there and enjoy the scenery and let the sun melt on his face for a couple of hours, and just chill out, flatten out, drift a bit. But he figured he ought to call in, what the hell, just in case.

He found a pay phone and dropped the quarter.

Fencl answered.

“Hey, Hap, I think I’m shorted out for the day. I’m going to fade, okay?”

“That’s cool, big guy. Hey, the guys want to take up a collection.”

“No flowers. She didn’t want flowers. And don’t break any arms, okay? They want to give, fine. If not, that’s fine, too. And give it in her name to some charity. That would be very, very nice, I’d like that a lot.”

“Great, no problem. By the way, you got a snitch named Eduardo?”

“Huh?”

“Guy calling himself Eduardo calls in, ’bout half an hour ago. Said he had to talk to you. Very shook. Latino accent. Probably nothing, but you can’t tell.”

Nick ransacked his head. Eduardo? He had about fifteen investigations going, mostly small-time drug runners, most of them thought to be working for Gilly Stefanelli, the capo of the New Orleans organized crime branch. But he could place no Eduardo in this catalog of losers, grifters, sharpies and angle-players, though indeed the name sounded familiar.

Then, yeah, he had it. It was a pass-over. Wally Deaver, who’d just left DEA for private business, had told him he’d given his name to a few of his snitches and contacts, because he didn’t want the guys in
his
fuckin’ office making supervisor off of
his
snitches.

“What’s the number?”

BOOK: Point of Impact
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ads

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