Years ago, Horace Chase was told that an effective sniper was a man who could shoot another human being on nothing but an order and stop; also on order. The stopping is important.
He’d been told he was one of those people.
Which was why, years later and several shots in between, he was currently sitting on top of his rucksack, on top of the snow, on a foothill leading into the Medicine Bow Mountains of Wyoming, looking through a night-scope mounted on top of a sniper rifle, scanning his new kill zone. The chopper that had just dropped him off flew away to the north. It was just after dark and the moon had not yet risen.
Chase felt almost at peace for the first time in a long while.
He turned off the scope, pulled his head back and looked up at the stars and then the surrounding terrain. The High Plains were off to the east; the Rocky Mountains leading north up to the Grand Tetons behind him. Closer at hand was a rock spur, behind which he was hidden; laid out below him was a valley, running perpendicular to his position. According to the map there was a road running through the valley.
The road was only noticeable because it ran straight and level next to a small creek. It was unplowed and nothing had moved on it since last snowfall, which he had checked over the radio on the chopper flight here earlier today. To the right/south the road came up a wide valley. To the left/north, it climbed to the pass and the valley narrowed to an opening between two peaks, both taller than the one Chase was on. He had about five miles of visibility to the south and less than a mile to the north. There was a network of trails beyond the pass that he knew his targets could turn onto if they came through his kill zone. This would make observation and tracking from the air near impossible.
The intelligence on the targets he’d received on the flight up from Boulder, Colorado, had been terse and to the point: A Larimer County Sheriff’s Deputy had pulled over a truck on north-bound Route 287, about eighty miles south of where he was sitting. According to witnesses, the deputy had been shot several times with an automatic weapon by one of the occupants of the truck. It then sped away, leaving the deputy on the side of the road, like so much road kill. An update just before exiting the chopper reported that the deputy was DOA at the hospital in Fort Collins.
There was a crackle of static, and then a voice spoke in the small receiver in Chase’s right ear hooked to the satellite radio in his ruck. “All team members, this is Hammer.” Chase recognized the call sign and the voice: Fortin, his team-leader. “The latest. The dashboard camera in the deputy’s patrol car was checked. It confirms Wyoming plates on the truck. The passenger used an automatic weapon. AK-forty-seven. We ran the plates. The registered driver is in the FBI database; a Patriot.”
Chase knew that the Patriots were a small but dangerous militia group in central Wyoming that had defied both the local, state and federal authorities dozens of times over the past decade.
His team-leader’s voice continued. “We have no idea why these Patriots were in Colorado, but we want to make damn sure to catch them before they get back to their stomping grounds or else they’ll just hunker down in their bunkers in the Mountains with their heavy fire-power. Vehicle is a red Chevy Blazer. Two men inside. According to the video camera on the sheriff’s dashboard, the driver shot the deputy first as he approached. Then the passenger got out and finished the job with a burst of AK-forty-seven fire. The passenger is a big man, approximately six-two, large bushy black beard, wearing khaki pants and a black windbreaker.”
There was a brief moment of static, and then Fortin continued. “The Wyoming State Police thought they had the border sealed up tight, but the truck just ran a roadblock on the Wyoming border. Three state troopers wounded. They’re ours now. Out.” The radio went silent.
Chase pulled a pair of binoculars with a built-in laser range finder out of his pack. He got the distance to the road. Eight hundred and ninety two meters. He adjusted the sniper rifle’s scope for the distance. He checked wind. He’d been on enough ranges and parachute drop zones to be able to estimate wind speed within a mile an hour. Five or six miles per hour out of the north. At the distance Chase was from the road, which meant a three-click adjustment left on the scope.
Chase put the M-21 to his shoulder, turned the scope on and sighted in on the road. He held it there for a few seconds, and then scanned left and right, the scope illuminating the view. Nothing moving. There were no headlights, no sign of civilization along the road or anywhere within view for that matter. There wasn’t even a phone or power line. Chase could have been on the dark side of the moon. He pulled back the charging handle, letting it slide forward, loading a round into the chamber.
Chase put the crosshairs on the two-inch thick branch of a pine tree on the far side of the road. He cleared his mind, letting go of everything other than the sight-picture inside the scope, the press of the stock against his shoulder and cheek, his finger lightly resting on the trigger. Chase could feel the steady beat of his heart, a rhythm that he picked up. He let out a breath and then didn’t inhale. Right between heartbeats, his finger gently squeezed the trigger.
The 7.62 match grade round splintered the branch.
The rifle was zeroed.
Now the wait. One of the tenets on his counter-terrorist team was to always play a wild card. To do something, anything, that the bad guys wouldn’t expect. Chase, freezing his ass off on this mountainside, was certainly the unexpected.
There was a crackle of static, and then Fortin spoke again, this time directly to Chase. “Snake Eater, this is Hammer. Rest of the team is on the ground in their positions. We’ve got the FBI HRT team on the ground. They can be at your location in ten minutes. Your mission is to delay if the targets come by you.”
Ten minutes could be an awfully long time, Chase knew, but it was better than being two hundred miles behind enemy lines.
“Hammer, this is Snake Eater. Roger that,” Chase acknowledged, the mike wrapped around his throat picking up the words and sending them to the satellite radio. “I’ll be hanging around.”
It was going to be a long and cold night even for late April. Chase pulled a parka out of his pack and put it on underneath his combat vest, then sat the pack between his butt and the cold ground. He’d managed sixty-eight hours in a similar situation with two other men on his Delta Force team on the Afghan-Pakistani border, deep in bandit country before some drug smugglers stumbled across his element. That led to a ten-hour long firefight before a Night-Stalker chopper got them out of there, all three bleeding but alive.
Chase closed his eyes. He rolled his head on his shoulders. He didn’t like the situation. A good sniper needed surveillance in position well before having to take a shot, usually at least twenty-four hours. If the bad guys came up the valley, he’d have scant minutes to react with only an hour or so of surveillance.
He put the night-scope back to his eye and scanned beyond the road, to the ridge on the other side. He worked in small sections, left to right, from the top of the ridge down. He paused when he saw a line in the snow coming over the ridge, directly across. Slight, but visible even at over a mile’s distance.
It could be a deer, he thought, as he followed the line down about thirty yards. It disappeared into a copse of trees.
And no line came out of the trees.
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