Authors: Andrew Peterson
Tags: #Snipers - United States, #Mystery & Detective, #Intelligence Officers - United States, #Intelligence Officers, #Fiction, #Suspense Fiction, #Undercover Operations - United States, #Thrillers, #Suspense, #Undercover Operations, #General, #Espionage, #Snipers
“Let’s do an RF check.” Nathan pulled the DAR-3 radio frequency detector from Harv’s pack and handed it to him. With a price tag over 4,000 dollars, it was a high-tech device and very reliable. About the size of a shoebox, it employed half-a-dozen dials, various jacks for input and output, and a small six-inch antenna. The DAR-3 could pick up signals from 50 kilohertz all the way up to 12 gigahertz.
Harv turned it on and after a minute or so said, “We’re good.”
Nathan secured the detector back into Harv’s pack, and they resumed their hike up the canyon’s wall. High overhead, a red tail hawk rode a thermal. The lonely whisper of wind through the pines was the only sound present. They diverted 200 feet to the east to avoid a granite face they couldn’t negotiate without climbing gear. Near the summit, Nathan slowed their pace. He turned toward Harv, pointed to his own eyes with two fingers, then pointed to the left. Harv went in that direction while he swept around to the right. He wanted to be certain there weren’t any sentries overlooking the compound. There were countless places to hide up here. The summit’s ridgeline was dense with pines, some reaching over 100 feet high.
After making sure the ridgeline was clear, they began scanning for a shooting position that would give them a clear view of the compound below. Although he was more than capable of hitting targets at longer distances, he didn’t want to be any farther than 600 yards. Six hundred yards was a good distance because the bullet arrived before the report of the rifle. From their current location, they needed to advance another 700 yards closer. Using field glasses, they took a few minutes to study the layout of the compound. Just as the aerial photos had shown, Freedom’s Echo was situated in a grass valley interspersed with mature pines. Twenty or so small cabins surrounded a larger central lodge along with several other metal outbuildings, presumably used for storage. The cabins were constructed in the classic log-cabin style with steep metal roofs. Several camouflage-painted pickups were parked next to the largest outbuilding.
Harv secured their field glasses into his pack before they started down.
Nathan kept his head up, always scanning the area. Wind, about ten miles an hour from the west. Temperature, about 60 degrees. Humidity was low, probably 20 to 30 thirty percent. The scent of pines hung in the air and triggered a memory of his early camping experiences. He issued warble-type whistle. Harv stopped and faced him. Nathan pointed to a small outcropping of rocks flanked by mature pines several hundred yards closer to the compound. Harv nodded his understanding. The approach to that location was going to be a little risky. The trees were sparse near the rock outcropping so they’d be out in the open for the traverse. They’d crawl the last fifteen yards on their bellies, camouflaged by their ghillie suits. Anyone looking in their direction wouldn’t see a human outline and by crawling slowly, an observer wouldn’t see any discernable movement, and movement is what usually caught the eye.
The valley below sloped gently to the west where the forest was much thicker. Most of the pine trees surrounding the compound had been cleared, creating a fire break nearly 200 feet wide, but more importantly, it forced any approach to be out in the open. Nathan gestured for his field glasses and Harv pulled them from his pack. He scanned the compound again. All quiet. No movement at all. He handed them back to Harv.
“What do you think?” Nathan asked. “Those rock spires over there.”
They freed their ghillie suits, put them on, and dropped to their bellies. With Nathan in the lead, they started their crawl across the sandy surface covered with pine-straw fallout. The 30-degree slope made the trek awkward. To keep from rolling down the hillside, they had to align their bodies at 45 degrees to their actual path. Crawling on your belly over sloped terrain wasn’t easy, even at a snail’s pace, but the damp earth made it tolerable. Nathan hated being out in the open, even for brief periods. If an enemy sniper spotted them, they’d be dead. It took five minutes to crawl the fifty-foot distance. One foot every six seconds. They made it to the outcropping without incident. So far, so good. It turned out to be an ideal shooting position. Shaped like a European cathedral, two large spires of granite each reaching twenty feet over their heads were leaning slightly to the east. The larger of the two gave them shade from the sun and put them securely in depth of shadow. Between the spires was a flat area of sandy soil that offered a full view of the compound below and the dirt road leading into it. Staying below the compound’s line of sight, they quickly unpacked their gear.
Harv handed Nathan a stripper clip containing five rounds of .308 NATO ammunition. Harv had used a black felt marker on the stripper clips, inside and out, to prevent an untimely glint of sunlight. Each hand-loaded round produced a muzzle velocity of 2,350 feet per second. Nathan preferred a lighter than normal load. Bullet time to the target at 600 yards was just under a second. He removed the bullets from the stripper clip, drove them individually into the rifle, and closed the bolt.
He handed the empty clip back to Harv.
“Time,” Nathan asked.
A gust of wind dropped a few pine needles past their position from right to left.
Harv spoke without being prompted. “Maybe ten miles an hour. Four clicks right.”
He made the adjustment to the external windage knob on his Nikon scope, while Harv set up his 10-to-50 spotter scope. Once in final position, they would be lying side by side with three feet of separation between them. He shouldered his weapon and began a slow visual sweep of the compound below through the rifle’s optic. “We’ll call the main building zero and vector from there.”
“Elevation?” Nathan asked.
“Copy, nine clicks to zero. Plus three to the far side of the compound, minus two to the near side. Concur?” Nathan asked.
Because his rifle was currently zeroed for a 300-yard shot, he knew an elevation adjustment for a 600-yard shot was twelve additional clicks, but since they were shooting downhill, a negative adjustment of three clicks was needed.
“Here we go,” Nathan said. Moving in classic leapfrog progression from tree to tree, six men in woodland SWAT gear were approaching the compound from the south, their movements crisp and rehearsed. “Six o’clock low,” he whispered.
Harv adjusted his scope. “Got them. I count six, with two more in flanking positions. I’ve got eight more moving in from the west.”
Nathan tracked the second team. Six agents were advancing with two more flanking for support. Both teams were advancing at right angles, staying out of each other’s line of fire. Tactically sound. As the two teams approached the compound, he admired their precision and stealth. Moving through the sunlight filtering through the trees, not a glint of reflection bounced off anything they wore. Their helmets were matte green and even their boots had a dull finish. These guys were damned good.
“Something’s wrong,” Nathan whispered.
“Talk to me.”
“It’s too quiet down there. We haven’t seen a damned thing. Nothing. No movement at all.”
“Start searching the trees. I’ll take the west end.”
Harv adjusted his scope and began a slow pivot around the east end of the compound. Halfway through his sweep he stopped. “Shit.”
“What’ve you got.”
“Spotter’s nest at one-five-zero east, elevation, three-zero feet.”
Nathan swung his rifle 150 yards east of the center of the compound and began looking in the trees thirty feet high. He saw it instantly. A sentry posted in a tree platform, the type deer hunters used. He was speaking into a radio and looking through a pair of field glasses in the direction of the advancing FBI SWAT team to the south. “They’ve been made.”
Harv stayed in his eyepiece and cranked the scope to maximum zoom. “Nate, he just put the radio down. He’s got something else. He’s pulling an antenna on a remote.”
Nathan swung his rifle back to the south and began sweeping the ground out in front of the SWAT teams. Through an opening in the trees, he saw a mound of pine needles at the base of a large sugar pine. The pile of needles was on the side of the tree facing away from the compound. Nathan searched for other piles. There. Two more piles, also facing away from the compound.
“Son of a bitch. I think they’ve got IEDs or M-eighteens on the perimeter. Those piles of pine straw.”
“Claymores,” Harv whispered.
“They’re walking into a shredder.”
“How close are they?” Harv asked.
“Shit, they’re in range. We have to warn them. Put one in the dirt out in front of the lead man. Elevation minus two. Clear to shoot.”
Sammy Bridgestone’s voice sounded metallic through the small radio speaker. “
We’ve got company.
Ernie stood up and looked at his older brother.
“What’s happening out there?” Leonard asked.
“SWAT team moving in from the south. At least a half dozen, probably more!”
“Calm down, Sammy. Are they at the perimeter minefield?”
“Not yet. Almost.”
“Blow the southern perimeter when they reach twenty yards. Wait a few seconds, then blow the rest. Hustle back here. Don’t wait. Understood?”
The radio clicked once in reply.
Ernie grabbed an M-4 and ran to the rear door. “He shouldn’t be out there alone. I’ll go get him.”
“Wait!” Leonard yelled, but his brother was already outside.
* * *
Nathan took two clicks off the elevation knob, aimed for a spot twenty feet in front of the lead SWAT man, and squeezed the trigger.
His rifle jumped.
Nearly 2,000 feet distant, the ground erupted in front of the lead SWAT member. Both teams instantly dropped to the ground. Four seconds later, at least eight claymore antipersonnel mines detonated simultaneously.
From high above, the effect was horrifying to watch. As if coming alive, the forest shuddered as though a giant shiver had raked across its body. The concussive thump of the blasts reached their position a full second later. An area the size of a football field had been turned into a maelstrom of flying dirt, rocks, and splintered tree branches. An angry cloud of dust began drifting down the valley toward the west. Nathan swung his rifle in the same direction of the wind and saw the other SWAT team on the ground. If there were more claymores, they hadn’t been detonated yet. The answer came five seconds later. Another giant concussion shook the forest to the west, followed by a third to the east and a fourth to the north. The compound now looked like a huge doughnut, untouched in the middle, total mayhem on the outside.
As Nathan tapped his memory for what he knew about the devices, a curved block of C4 explosive blew hundreds of steel balls outward in a 60-degree pattern. Like its Scottish broadsword namesake, the claymore could literally cut a swath through the ranks. If those guys hadn’t been on the ground…
“I want that shit bird in the tree,” Nathan said. “He just tried to frag a dozen federal agents.”
“We can’t see him until the dust clears.”
“Break out your RF detector, let’s see if the good guys are talking.”
Harv reached to his right and grabbed the detector out of his pack and turned it on. “I’d say so, we’ve got a spike in the fifteen-megahertz range, signal’s close by. It wasn’t there before.”
“Can we listen?” But Nathan already knew the answer.
“No way, encrypted for sure.”
“There might be a second ring of claymores down there.”
“Probably is. At least the feds are aware of them now. We saved a bunch of lives with that warning shot.”
Nathan grunted. He wanted that spotter in the tree.
The sound from sporadic bursts of automatic gunfire reached their position, sounding like firecrackers. “Here we go,” Nathan said. “Windage.”
Harv had already given him four clicks right. From the speed of the dust cloud moving toward the west, Harv gave him one more click right.
“Corrections to the tree stand,” Nathan said.
“Give me the two clicks back on elevation plus one more and give me a final click right. A few more seconds, I can almost see him.… Got him. Nate, he’s got a rifle. He’s lining up on the SWAT teams.”
Nathan swung his weapon back to the tree and saw the man bench resting his rifle on the rail of the tree platform, taking careful aim. He was dressed in cheap catalog camo with shiny black boots. His ball cap masked his facial features, but Nathan had the impression he was young, maybe mid-twenties. He moved the crosshairs onto the man’s chest, took a deep breath, and blew half of it out.
* * *
Ernie had made it halfway to Sammy’s tree stand when the first salvo of claymores detonated to his right. For a split second, the air seemed to shimmer as if suspended in time. Then the concussive shock wave vibrated his body like a bowstring. Knowing more blasts were coming, Ernie crouched down and covered his ears. The ground shuddered and shook with each progressive detonation surrounding him. The perimeter of Freedom’s Echo disappeared into a choking cloud of dust and flying debris.
Ernie called, “Get down, Sammy. Come on.”
“I can nail some of those bastards when the dust clears.”
“Sammy, get your dumb ass down from that tree. We’re buggin’ out.”
* * *
“Clear to shoot,” Harv whispered.
Nathan began a controlled squeeze of the trigger.
His rifle bucked against his shoulder.
“That’s a bingo,” Harv said. “Solid impact. Center mass.”
* * *
Ernie Bridgestone recognized the sound. The bullet’s supersonic arrival sounded like a giant bullwhip crack. He watched in horror as his little brother shuddered from the impact. From thirty feet high, Sammy fell like a rag doll into a pile of crumpled arms and legs.
“Sammy!” Ernie sprinted to the base of the tree and slung his brother’s limp form over his shoulder.
* * *
“I see him,” Nathan said as he ejected the spent shell and closed the bolt on another. He placed the crosshairs on the running man’s hip. Then something twitched on his spine and caused a shiver. It was the kind of premonition he couldn’t ignore. He’d felt it before and had never been wrong. He swung his rifle back toward the lodge. A man was standing in the open doorway using the jamb to steady his stance. Nathan found himself looking directly into the business end of a sniper rifle.