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
The air cracked as the supersonic bullet arrived.
Behind him, the rock wall exploded in a barrage of hot copper, molten lead, and pulverized granite. Something stung his face. A second later, the thump of the discharge reached his position. Nathan pointed his rifle at the ground and fired. A burst of earth blew upward, giving himself and Harv a few seconds of cover.
They scrambled backward as another deafening crack tore the air. Son of a bitch! That shot hadn’t missed by more than six inches. Three more shots smashed the stone above their heads. Nathan protected his face with his forearms, but the rest of his body didn’t fare as well. Blood began oozing from a dozen minor wounds on his back and legs.
* * *
Ernie burst through the door and laid Sammy down. If the bullet hadn’t killed his brother, the fall would have. Sammy’s blue eyes stared blankly into space.
“Those fuckers,” Ernie said. “Those lousy motherfuckers.”
Leonard grabbed his brother’s shirt and yanked him closer. “I nearly lost both of you out there. There’s a sniper team on Eagle Rock. I just saved your fuckin’ life. You were two seconds from getting nailed.”
“I don’t give a shit. I’m gonna kill every one of those fucks.”
“Damn it, Ernie, I’m pissed too. But there’s nothing we can do for him now. He’s dead. If we go out there, we’ll die too. I promise we’ll get some payback, but not now.”
“I can’t believe this.”
“Ernie, we have to go.”
* * *
Harv was crouched down, looking at his partner. “How’d you know?”
“Can’t explain it, I just did.”
“That guy’s a good shot. He nearly lit us up.”
“Probably the older Bridgestone brother. I doubt he’s still there, but we need to relocate. Can you sneak a look without getting your head blown off?”
“I think so.” Harv inched his way forward, crawling on his elbows until he could just barely see over the sand. He peered through his spotter scope.
“He was standing in the doorway of the main building.” Nathan saw that Harv was also bleeding from half-a-dozen spots on his back and legs.
“Nobody’s there now.”
“Okay, let’s bug out. Sprint to tree cover. Ready?”
The two men grabbed their gear and took off, dashing across the sloped open ground. Within seconds, they were deep within the safety of mature sugar pines. They looked at each other in unspoken relief.
“I know we’re not here officially, but I think we should head down there,” Nathan said. “I’m betting there are more claymores, and we need to let them know about the sniper in the main building, I doubt they saw him through all the dust.”
“We need to let the SWAT teams know we’re coming,” Harv said. “Any ideas?”
“Yeah, we can yell.”
“Any other ideas?”
“Sorry, fresh out. As far as they’re concerned, we just took a shot at them.”
“Why do I get the feeling I’m going to regret this?”
“Relax, Harv, I’ve got things under control.”
His partner snorted. “I was afraid you’d say that. Hell, I guess it’s a good day to die. Let’s go.”
They took off their bulky ghillie suits and started down the mountain. Two minutes later, they reached the bottom of the incline. Not wanting to appear threatening in case they were spotted, Nathan had slung his rifle over his shoulder. There wasn’t much he could do about his Sig Sauer secured in his waist holster, because he wasn’t willing to approach an FBI SWAT team who had just been trashed by several dozen antipersonnel mines without being armed. Without a doubt, they were thoroughly pissed off.
Harv took out his scope and scanned the area ahead. “I’ve got a spotter at one o’clock, two hundred yards. Are you sure about this? Those guys are high-strung. They’ll shoot first and ask questions later.”
“Wait here.” Nathan handed Harv the rifle and shucked off his backpack. “I’ll make the approach. Just don’t let anyone shoot me.”
“I’ve got your six.”
Nathan worked his way through the trees, covering the 200 yards in just under a minute. Twenty-five yards from the SWAT spotter, he ducked behind the thick trunk of a ponderosa and looked back toward Harv. He had to lean several feet to his left to get a clear view. Harv gave him the okay sign. Now came the really tricky part. He was pretty sure how he’d handle it. The SWAT spotter had positioned himself behind a fallen tree branch, which gave him solid chest-high cover from the front and broken cover to his right. This was a small man, he could see that right away. An old adage flashed through his head. How did it go?
God made men
different sizes, but Sam Colt made them all equal
, something like that. Well, this guy was a little more equal. Nathan’s pistol was no match for a fully automatic MP5 in the right hands, and he figured this guy knew how to handle one. Hell, the guy was a damned expert with the thing, of course he knew how to handle it.
The downed branch where the spotter was crouched was thick, nearly two feet in diameter. Its structure fanned out to the spotter’s left while the meaty part of its splintered end faced Nathan. He judged the distance between them again: twenty-five yards, give or take. The spotter was down on one knee, sweeping the area in a back-and-forth motion with his upper body, gun at the ready. Every fourth or fifth sweep, he’d keep the arc of his motion going and look behind him. Nathan studied him for about thirty seconds and formulated a plan. Precious seconds were passing and he didn’t have the luxury of conducting a prolonged surveillance. And he sure as hell didn’t want to get sprayed with MP5 fire, so it was all about timing. He needed to make his presence known at the exact moment the man was lined up on his position. If he timed his move too early or too late, it would be interpreted as unintentional. The most likely result would be a horizontal maelstrom of copper and lead traveling at 800 miles an hour. Not a pretty picture, especially if you’re on the business end of those slugs.
Nathan timed it perfectly. When the man swung toward his position, he leaned out from behind the tree and said, “Don’t shoot.” He said it loudly and forcefully, somewhere between a command and a request. A tense movement of shock and surprise raked the spotter’s body with a predictable result.
He ducked behind the ponderosa a split second before the MP5 erupted. With his back to the trunk, he felt a continuous vibration as dozens of bullets slammed home. Pulverized chunks of bark shot out from either side of the tree as if sprayed with a fire hose. When the gunfire stopped, he knew he had two or three seconds while the shooter ejected the spent magazine, slammed another home, and cycled the bolt.
“Hold your fire. I’m on your side.”
“Bullshit.” The unmistakable voice of a woman. He knew she’d already communicated with the rest of her team and he figured he had less than thirty seconds to get control of the situation before being surrounded by angry FBI SWAT agents who were—as Harv suggested—going to shoot first and ask questions later. What he said next was perfect for the situation he faced.
“My name is Nathan McBride,” he shouted. “I’m not one of the bad guys. I fired that warning shot before the claymores went off.”
“It’s not bullshit.”
“How do I know you’re telling the truth?”
“You’ve got a pair of field glasses?”
“Take a look at your five o’clock position, two hundred yards. My partner has a rifle trained on you. If we’d wanted you dead, we wouldn’t be talking right now.” He figured it would take about five seconds for the spotter to verify his claim. It happened faster than that. What the agent saw must have caused her some concern. Nathan knew what seeing a sniper lined up on you felt like, he’d just seen it a few minutes ago.
“Very slowly, I want you to step out from behind that tree.”
“You aren’t going to shoot, are you?”
“That depends entirely on you.”
“Okay, I’m coming out. I’m wearing a sidearm. Don’t shoot or we both die.” He slowly pivoted from behind the trunk and faced the spotter, holding his arms out to his sides. Nathan watched her whisper something into the boom mike of her combat helmet. He knew she was strung tight from the claymore detonations. He also knew she was now facing a large, menacing man in a woodland combat uniform with his exposed skin painted in black, green, and brown. Nathan’s sidearm closed the deal. In essence, she was face-to-face with a special forces soldier whose colleague had a sniper rifle trained on her. Harv wouldn’t hesitate to shoot if she made a wrong move. He hoped she’d be delicate with her actions. Nothing sudden. Nothing threatening.
“Place your hands on the top of your head and lace your fingers together. Please do it now.”
. A good sign. Nathan complied.
She whispered something into her boom mike again, probably responding to the other team members who were on their way. Nathan glanced to the right and saw three camouflaged figures advancing in leapfrog progression again. He figured he had twenty seconds before being surrounded. “I need to give my partner an all-clear sign.”
“Please don’t move,” she said, her tone more relaxed.
Nathan saw her backup was seconds away, and security came with numbers. He kept his hands atop his head and turned to face the first SWAT member to arrive. Under his olive-colored helmet and clear protective goggles was a four-part expression of pure intensity: one part curiosity, three parts anger. His woodland combat uniform had turned tannish gray from being blasted with dust and debris. Charred pine needles clung to his backpack. He’d been up front when the mines detonated. Had to be hell on earth. His MP5 aimed from the hip, the SWAT member stopped ten feet short. With a bloodstained hand, he issued a crisp signal for the others to advance. Two more SWAT figures appeared in front of Nathan, seemingly out of nowhere. They too were covered with dust and burned pine needles. A hand signal was given to the woman near the fallen tree branch and she assumed a sentry’s demeanor again.
“Are you McBride?” the man asked.
That question spoke volumes. Ortega had gotten the word out. This man knew he would be here, but the woman who shot the hell out of the ponderosa hadn’t.
“All right. Let’s do this delicately. I want you to ask Mr. Fontana to stand down.”
“I need to give him a hand signal.”
Nathan unlocked his fingers from the top of his head and turned to face Harv’s position. He slowly took his right hand, formed a fist, and placed it across his chest with the knuckles touching his right shoulder. He interlocked his fingers atop his head again.
“Thank you,” the man said.
“No problem. Your teams are top-notch,” Nathan added.
The slightest hint of a smile touched the man’s lips, but vanished instantly. “You fire that warning shot?”
Nathan brought his hands down from his head.
“We’ve got three down, one dead.”
“Took a fragment down through his shoulder close to his neck. Clipped his carotid. The toll could’ve been a lot worse.”
Nathan looked at the man’s bloody hands again. “There’s probably another ring of claymores closer to the buildings.”
“We’re on hold for now. I’m Assistant Special Agent in Charge Larry Gifford with the Sacramento Joint Terrorism Task Force.” He closed the distance and held out his right hand.
Nathan shook it, ignoring the sticky feel of drying blood. “I’m sorry about your man.”
“How are the other two?”
“One has a concussion from a tree branch. Clocked him pretty good, but he’ll be okay. His bucket saved his life. The other has a separated shoulder. At least his vest worked. I heard a shot about a minute after the mines detonated, followed by several shots coming from the compound.”
“I killed the man who detonated the mines. He was in a tree platform sighting in on your team with scoped rifle when I nailed him. I’m damned sorry I didn’t get him sooner.”
“This isn’t your fault. If our teams hadn’t been on the ground when those claymores went off…” Gifford looked at Nathan’s fatigues. “You’re bleeding.”
“Those shots you heard,” Nathan offered. “The rock face above our heads took a few impacts. The shooter was hoping for a cornering shot. Nearly got one.”
“Do you need medical attention?”
He shook his head. “Fragments.”
“I’ll have our medic look at them anyway. Please bring Mr. Fontana forward.”
He turned toward Harv’s invisible position and signaled him with a slight nod. Two hundred yards distant, Harv stood and began jogging toward them, weaving his way through the trees.
Harv arrived thirty seconds later. Introductions were made.
“Nobody else knew we were here but you,” Nathan said.
“That’s right.” There was no apology in his voice.
“Understood. If you had told your team there were friendlies in the area, they might hesitate at the moment of truth, which could get them killed. They needed to know anyone not in a SWAT uniform was fair game. I would’ve played it the same way. Risky, to us.”
“The price of admission, Mr. McBride. I wouldn’t agree to your involvement any other way. I’ve also got a sniper team on the north rim of the canyon. They couldn’t see the tree stand where you nailed the shooter, but they followed your movements the entire way, reporting only to me on a different frequency. You want to talk about top-notch, they said you guys looked like part of the landscape.”
“What now?” Nathan asked.
Gifford looked back in the direction of the compound. “We’ve got an explosives unit being flown in from Sierra Army Depot. Two Black Hawks are on their way from Amedee Field as we speak. Should be here within the hour. We run an explosive investigation unit out of there.”
“The FBI does?” he asked.
Gifford nodded and looked at his agents, then pointed at Nathan and Harvey. “Collins, Dowdy, these two were never here. I want the compound’s perimeter secured out to a distance of two miles. Keep everyone well behind the first detonation ring. I want all the doors and windows of the main building constantly watched. I don’t want anyone firing a shoulder-launched weapon at the approaching choppers.”