The Sniper Incident from Ro’s perspective: Fourteen

An Equal

Monday, August 20, 2007, 10:20 a.m.

“No, you don’t” Spencer agreed. “Here it is in a nutshell: On the one hand, you’re lucky to be alive because you were up against one of the deadliest and most feared snipers in Afghanistan. He had more than eighty unconfirmed kills, unconfirmed because he operated alone. On the other hand, Deputy, you must be one helluva sniper because you prevailed. I know it might sound a bit macabre, but you should be proud.”

Ro’s face scrunched into an expression of disbelief, “Wow!”

“Deputy, I was a cop once, before I went to work for the government. Just a street cop, though, I never quite got to be SWAT or a DM, but I’d like to think of us as colleagues in arms.”

Ro had strong feelings along those same lines; to her way of thinking all cops chose to put themselves in harm’s way to protect their citizens and therefore deserved her respect and support. She leaned forward and stretched her hand across the table as a gesture of agreement.

Spencer rose and took Ro’s hand in a single, slightly exaggerated shake.

When they were seated again, Spencer continued, “Airman Wade Meese was part of a special operations group. For two-and-a-half years he operated alone in some of the world’s most forbidding mountain terrain in and around Afghanistan, specifically where is still classified.

“Not to put too fine a point on it, his job was to interdict the flow of illegal drugs that helped finance the Taliban. In other words, he took down lots of drug smugglers,” Spencer said, then paused, “Do you know what Skassa means?”

“We thought it must be some kind of sniper’s handle.”

“In a sense, it was. In Pashtu, it means ‘ghost’ or ‘spectre.’ It’s what the smugglers called him because they never knew when or where he would strike from on the mountain trails. It was both an expression of their fear and respect.”

“That explains a lot,” Ro said. “I think I’m beginning to understand.”

Spencer nodded, “The truth is, Wade Meese didn’t know how to live in peace, in a quite literal sense; that’s what the reference to the Wallenda quote he left behind was about. We train them to be expert killers, we hook them on the opiate of war, then wonder why they can’t make the adjustment when they get home.”

“I had kind of wondered about that,” Ro said. “I feel like Airman Meese was a tragic figure.”

“He was that… But there’s a bit more to the story, which is what motivated me to come see you.”

Ro cocked her head.

“Airman Meese’s computer eventually found its way to my office. Deputy, it’s my job to take a special interest in cases like his. When we drilled down into the back-up of his Internet use, we found several dozen files concerning you, your shooting championships, your exploits as a deputy, being on the Joint SWAT Unit as its first DM.”

When she’d been on the firing line, so to speak, with the shooter, a small part of Ro had flirted with the idea Meese had set things up specifically to face her but had dismissed the idea as way to egotistic. Spencer was saying her instincts had been right all along.

“Deputy, I don’t want you to ever think of yourself as Wade Meese’s executioner,” – the funny part was Ro had, indeed, agonized about that – “quite the opposite, in fact. Whether you know it or not, you did Wade Meese a favor by giving him the soldier’s death he very much wanted. And you did the rest of us a favor because quite possibly he someday might have gone even further off the deep end and…uh…have taken more victims with him.”

Spender continued, “We buried Airman Meese’s body in a national cemetery near Chicago with full military honors, but we’d already ‘buried’ Skassa in a crypt of government secrecy long before that. At least someone besides me now knows his true identity, someone who can appreciate and maybe respect it.”

Ro nodded, “I do…” But then paused and looked askance at Spencer; she’d had an insight, “Ms. Spencer, you think that Wallenda quote was a message specifically for me, don ‘t you?”

“Yes, I do. Wade Meese, in his final battle wanted to face an equal, I think he found one.”

They were silent for a moment, then Ro rose and stepped over to a side table where she’d seen some legal pads and pens, she scratched something on one of the pads, tore off the top page and, returning, handed it to Cora Spencer; it was her e-mail address.

“If you can send me the location of where Airman Meese is buried, I think I would like to make a visit,” she said.

Spencer had to bite her lip and blink several times, almost losing her cool bureaucratic demeanor. Taking in a breath, she said, “Deputy, I believe Airman Meese would finally rest in peace if you were to do that. Thank you.”

Ro resolved that the first off day she had after receiving the info from Spencer she would drive up to the grave site and pay her respects; there would be no side trip into the city to visit Atti or Tag, this was just between Skassa and her.

The End

From the Ro Delahanty novel Twists and Turns © 2019 Dave Lager

The Sniper Incident from Ro’s perspective: Thirteen

Stone Wall

Monday, August 20, 2007, 10 a.m.

“Deputy,” Sheriff Ballard said, greeting Ro from in front of his desk in his main office in the courthouse in downtown Lee’s Landing, “this is Cora Spencer. She would like to talk to you.”

The woman standing next to Ballard was nearly as tall as Ro, but a good fifteen years older. Dressed in a very professional dark blue pantsuit, her hair in a very unfashionable bob and with very little make-up, she had government-type written all over her.

Having completed her community service requirement as of last Saturday from her guilty plea over last year’s episode with the DEA, Ro had hoped the whole business was behind her.

I guess you Feds never got over a grudge, she thought. What new way have you come up with this time to extract another pound of flesh?

It was no secret Ezra Fisk, the Special Agent in Charge of the DEA’s Chicago office, detested Fort Armstrong County Deputy Sheriff Ro Delahanty, having twice humiliated him.

So, you’ve sent another goon, only this one’s in sheep’s clothing, to harass me, she thought, giving him some grudging credit for coming up with a creative way to try to get back at her.

“Sergeant,” – Ro was in full uniform, as she was still on duty, having come from the RLEC at the sheriff’s “request” – “it’s a pleasure meeting you,” the woman said, extending her hand. Her grip was firm but not assertive.

“Ms. Spencer,” Ro said, returning the handshake.

“Why don’t you use my conference room next door,” Ballard said. He tried to make it sound like a suggestion, even though it wasn’t.

Deputies being called to the sheriff’s office was nothing unusual given Ballard’s collegial, “We’re all in this together,” management style. It certainly wasn’t necessarily a sign you were in trouble, especially if he greeted you from out in front of his desk.

Ro’s curiosity was piqued, as it was odd that he was sending them to meet privately and that he apparently wasn’t going to participate. Having been one of her out front champions in previous adversarial encounters with the DEA, she couldn’t believe he was throwing her to the wolves now; that would be totally out of character for Ballard.

The conference room was definitely executive level, with a solid oak conference table – no cheesy plastic laminate here – and luxurious leather swivel chairs.

The two women took seats on opposite sides of the table, Spencer pointedly avoiding the chair at the head. Leaning forward slightly, she folded her hands in front of her. It was clearly a casual gesture Ro interpreted as the woman’s effort to be reassuring and not authoritative.

Okay, so I guess you’re not DEA after all, otherwise you’d have said so right off to scare me, Ro thought. So, then who the heck are you?

“I work for the government. I’d prefer not to be any more specific than that for reasons I’ll explain in a moment. I’ve shown Sheriff Ballard my creds and he’s reassured I’m the genuine stuff.” She raised her eyebrows slightly, as if silently asking, “Is that good enough for you?”

Ro’s eyes crinkled into a slight smile; she nodded assent.

“The wheels of government grind slowly, Deputy, but they do grind on. Recently some information crossed my desk that involved you and your…,” she paused, like she was looking for the right word, “…encounter recently with a former Air Force sniper.” There was no hint she was being ironic. “There are circumstances involved I think you should know about.”

“O-k-a-y,” Ro answered, not having to add, “You’ve got my attention now, go on.”

“Deputy, what I’m about to share with you is highly classified. Quite honestly, I could be in a good deal of trouble for revealing it. Can I trust your discretion?”

Ro straightened up in her chair. “Of course.”

“What do you know about Wade Meese?”

The sniper… So that’s what this is all about, Ro thought.

“The information we were able to get is that he’d been part of the perimeter security outside Bagram in Afghanistan for three years, that he had sixteen confirmed kills.”

Spencer smiled, “And…”

Ro narrowed her eyes, like she was asking, “Where are you going with this?”

“…you don’t think that’s the whole story,” Spencer said, completing the thought.

“You don’t get an Airman’s Medal for sixteen kills over three years,” Ro said, summarizing the skepticism the Grand Island detectives investigating Meese had shared with her, but who had run into a stone wall of silence in their effort to find more.

Next: A soldier’s death

From the Ro Delahanty novel Twists and Turns © 2019 Dave Lager

The Sniper Incident from Ro’s perspective: Twelve

End Game (Part Three)

Saturday, March 24, 2007, evening

They had planned for this. Ten minutes later, three officers from the Joint SWAT unit using a borrowed fisherman’s flat bottom equipped with a quiet-running trolling motor crossed the chute to the far upstream end of the shooter’s island, a thousand yards from his position, then hop-skipped their way along the shoreline, taking turns sprinting from tree to tree while the other two provided cover.

Ro was kept up to date on their progress by the lieutenant because throughout the team’s approach she kept her scope and rifle trained on the shooter’s position, just in case he was faking it and decided to pop-up and take a shot at the advancing officers. Even if she couldn’t hit him, she might be able to keep him pinned down.

Because her attention was focused twelve feet up, she didn’t see it when the cops reached the tree and so was surprised when Pease said into her ear, “The shooter is down. You got him.”

“Acknowledged.”

There were a few more minutes of silence while the lieutenant waited to get an update from the on-scene officers and then relay it to Ro. “You were right, he’s wrapped inside a camo tarp and tied to the tree. They said it was hard to see him even from ten feet away. I’m sending in a Zodiac with a couple of EMTs to help cut him down and haul him back to shore.”

Then added, “Good shooting, DM. You can stand down. Locari’s on the way in a car to bring you back, so you can get some dry clothes and a cup of hot coffee.”

“10-04 to that, L.T.,” Ro said.

Knowing it wouldn’t take Locari long to get to her position, she thought to greet him standing next to one of the disabled cars, except she found it unexpectedly difficult to push herself up from the pavement. Partly it was she’d been awake for nearly twenty-four hours, having worked last night’s third shift, but it probably also had something to do with she’d been immersed in a tense life-death confrontation for something like eight hours, and had been lying on the hard roadway for five hours, to say nothing of getting soaked by a storm.

But being the competitor that she was, it was unacceptable he would have to lean over and pull her up, so she grabbed the front tire of the car she’d been hunkered down behind and used it to hoist herself into a standing position just in time to smile and wave to Locari as he stopped just short of the disabled cars.

***

After they’d lowered the body from the tree and the EMTs officially pronounced the mysterious sniper dead, the SWAT officers searched him. They found a loaded Colt .357 Python handgun and a wallet with an Illinois driver’s license in the name of a Wade Meese at an address in Grand Island.

As a result, the affair turned into a jurisdictional mess.

The Makuakeeta County sheriff’s department kept the body, eventually transporting it back to their county seat for an autopsy.

Sheriff Dahlgren held a news conference and while he acknowledged the involvement of the Joint SWAT Unit, he regularly used pronouns like “we” and “us,” clearly leaving the impression it was “his” unit.

Meanwhile, later that same evening the Grand Island PD conducted a search of the shooter’s apartment. What they found raised everyone’s eyebrows…

Nearly two-dozen fully loaded, mint condition weapons, including several more variations of the Python as well as a Kimber Desert Warrior 1911 .45, a Smith & Wesson snub nose .38, a Ruger Super Redhawk .480 and a Colt Single Action Army (Peacemaker), plus long guns like a Sig Sauer M400, a Henry Golden Boy .22, a Remington 870 12-gauge, and of all things a Daisy Red Ryder BB gun…

As well as a handful of medals, including an Airman’s Medal, the USAF’s next decoration up from a Bronze Star…

And a hand-written note consisting of the famous Karl Wallenda quote, “Being on the tightrope is living, everything else is waiting,” with a cryptic signature: “Skassa.”

The next day, within hours of the Grand Island PD making a routine inquiry with the Defense Department for any information they might have about a Wade Meese, they were told in no uncertain terms to back off, that federal authorities would take over the investigation from here on.

About all the feds were willing to confirm was that Wade Meese had, in fact, been an Air Force sniper and had served in Afghanistan…

…which left a whole lot of intriguing unanswered questions for the locals.

Next: The wheels of government grind slowly

From the Ro Delahanty novel Twists and Turns © 2019 Dave Lager

The Sniper Incident from Ro’s perspective: Eleven

NOTE: This will be the last chapter of The Sniper Incident until after the holidays; Ro will return Tuesday, January 12.

End Game (Part Two)

Saturday, March 24, 2007, 6:08 p.m.

In less than a second…

A shadowy head-shape materialized in the crook of the tree-hide…

Ro could not see the leaves in the top of her scope…

At not quite nine-hundred yards the standard .308 bullet she was firing would normally drop two feet. But against the brisk head wind now suggested by the absence of the leaves, it would probably be closer to three.

There was no time to twiddle with her scope to compensate…

Or do the trigonometry in her head needed to calculate an elevation adjustment…

The shooter, or what appeared to be the shooter, had revealed himself; he didn’t have a choice, it had been imperative for him to check his six…

Ro had no choice, either; her target was now clear…or as clear as it was ever going to be.

On instinct alone she dropped her left shoulder a fraction of an inch – Ro was a left-handed shooter – depressing the rifle’s stock very slightly and in turn raising its muzzle two degrees, her “aim” now three feet over the shooter’s head…

And squeezed the trigger. The Remington barked, like the sharp crack of a cherry bomb.

She counted quietly, “One-thousand and one,” because she knew her bullet’s flight at that distance was one second.

In her scope the shadowy shape disappeared. There was no obvious spray of blood and gore as if she had taken the top of his head off; no visible jerk, like the slug had slammed into his body.

The target simply disappeared; dropped out sight.

She held her breath, waiting for return fire, except she knew if he had found her and fired back, she would be dead before she knew it.

After two seconds that seemed more like two minutes, she took in a slow breath, glad that she still could.
For those two seconds nothing moved over on the island… Agonizing seconds, wondering if she’d hit her target or missed, and if she’d missed, what was he waiting for, and if she’d hit him, was he now dead or just wounded, and how could she find out which it was?

Another second passed…

Down in the very lower left edge of her scope she saw a slight movement. At first it looked as if a broken tree branch was sliding down the side of the angled tree trunk.

Is that all I hit, a limb?

But it was soon followed by the clear silhouette of a scope mounted rifle’s receiver and the distinctive shape of its stock.

The shooter had lost his Barrett.

What does it mean? Did he do it on purpose? Is it a ruse? Does he have a back-up weapon? What would he do with it if he does?

Another ten seconds passed since she’d taken her shot and she suddenly remembered there was a SWAT lieutenant, a county sheriff and a whole bunch of cops, to say nothing of the crowd of looky-loos and media types, all wondering what the hell was happening.

“Did you see the Barrett drop?” she said into her wand mic, knowing there had to have been more than a few sets of binoculars watching the island from on shore.

“That’s affirm,” Lt. Pease said into her earbud. “Did you see anything else?”

“Negative. I think the target may have anchored himself to the tree, so we won’t know for sure if he’s down without going on scene.”

“What do you recommend?”

“Wait ten and send a team to confirm?”

“Agreed.”

Next: A lot of unanswered questions

From the Ro Delahanty novel Twists and Turns © 2019 Dave Lager

The Sniper Incident from Ro’s perspective: Ten

End Game (Part One)

Saturday, March 24, 2007, 4:45 p.m.

“Command,” Ro said into her microphone, “did it work?”

“Affirmative,” Pease said, relaying to her what Locari had just reported.

“Is everyone looking scared and confused?” she asked. It had also been part of the plan the cops and looky-loos on the scene should all appear genuinely surprised by the shooter’s unexpected gunfire.

“They are.”

“Good. I know where his hide is now, but still don’t see him – I have no target. Let’s let him stew for a while about whether he really got me…worry a bit about what’s gonna happen next. Go ahead and set-up phase three, but we’ll wait until closer to sundown to execute.”

Both she and Pease new that was about an hour from now.

“10-04,” Pease acknowledged, then added, “that was a great play, Deputy.”

“We’ll see,” Ro said, knowing there were still a great many “maybes” and “what ifs” yet to unfold.

In her sniper training not quite two years ago they had spent half-a-day explaining the differences between military and law enforcement DMs. For example, ninety-five percent of the time law enforcement snipers engage targets from under three-hundred yards, often much less, while military snipers typically take their shots at twice that range, frequently a good deal longer. Another difference was that a law enforcement sniper is almost never concerned about camouflaging his or her position or diverting the target’s attention, unlike a military shooter.

Which is why early in the encounter, when Ro’s instincts told her she was facing a sniper with military training, she had tried to think like one, tried to make moves that would not be expected from a cop. Thus, the elaborate aspects of phase three, all designed to be unpredictable, to confound the shooter as to what was really happening, so he’d be the one to make a mistake.

***

Ro spent the hour studying what she now knew to be his position, looking for any telltale sign, a small movement that didn’t seem natural, a shape suggesting a body instead of a tree trunk: Nothing. She’d always assumed he’d be using some form of camouflage, thinking maybe a ghillie suit, but then it clicked…

The tarp! You wrapped the inflatable in a camo tarp, why not yourself? Probably tied down with bungees or paracord… You’d blend right into the tree trunk – no wonder I can’t see you… But that would mean you haven’t moved for what, twelve, thirteen hours? You’ve gotta be really stiff and uncomfortable by now.

Given that, she tried to visualize his specific movements as the multiple steps of phase three were executed, so she could be positioned to take her shot by predicting exactly where and how he would reveal himself.

You’re gonna have to swing that Barrett back and forth to your right and left, she thought, not sure if there’s an assault coming from one or both directions… That’s a heavy weapon and won’t be resting on its bipod – it’ll be unstable… Then you’ll need to twist all the way around and check your six… That’s when I think you’ll give up your position…

So, she positioned the reticles of her scope in the crook of what appeared to be the empty V in the tree… And kept an eye on the fuzzy, slightly out of focus leaves just visible at the top of her vision.

She had spotted them earlier hanging from an overhead branch not far behind and a little above the shooter’s position. She’d figured out if they swayed right, it meant the wind had shifted around to the southeast; if they moved left, it meant the wind was coming from the southwest. If they weren’t visible at all, it meant the wind was straight from the south – right into her face – had picked-up and lifted them up and out of her sightline; it might be rough, but it was the best wind gauge she had.

***

The swath of brightness that was the sun behind the heavy overcast was just touching the tops of the trees to the west when she said into the wand mic, “Execute.”

“10-04.”

Thirty seconds later there was a loud “Whump” from a flash-bang grenade she had ordered detonated by the Makuakeeta sheriff’s people beside the highway off to her right, followed in a moment by a plume of thick black smoke from a pile of oily rags she had said to set afire. Five minutes later, that, in turn, triggered several wailing sirens, as if emergency vehicles were responding. All this was happening behind a smaller island closer to shore, which meant the shooter over on the big island could only see the smoke column and only hear the sound effects.

Do I have your attention yet? she thought.

Not quite ten minutes later she heard the faint beat of a helicopter approaching far to the left, but low, hugging the surface of the river, screened from the shooter’s sight by the trees on the upstream end of “his” island. She had insisted on it being a UH-1 Huey because she knew it was common in military operations and her shooter would recognize its distinctive rotor signature. It had taken numerous phone calls to locate one over near Chicago being used by a private contractor for cross-country pipeline route survey work and to negotiate its “rental” for the day.

What’re you thinking now? I hope it’s that’s there’s a dozen well-armed SWAT commandoes on the way to your island…

A few moments later, just as the helicopter’s thwump-thwump-thwump got very close, there was a series of bright, lightning-like flashes and sharp bangs on the back side of the shooter’s island.

“Regular” flash-bang grenades used by law enforcement are normally tossed into a closed room ahead of an assault team’s entry to temporarily blind and disorient any bad guys inside. But there’s also an aerial version of the flash-bang that can be fired from a handheld launcher over the heads of an unruly mob.

The final ploy in Ro’s diversion had been for two of her SWAT colleagues to quietly sneak up to the island from the main channel side and fire a trio of the aerial grenades over the trees above and behind the shooter’s position. It was supposed to make him worry he had somehow been flanked from the rear and force him to turn around to confront his attackers.

Next: There was no time to twiddle with her scope

From the Ro Delahanty novel Twists and Turns © 2019 Dave Lager

The Sniper Incident from Ro’s perspective: Nine

The Ruse

Saturday, March 24, 2007, 4:40 p.m.

Ro spent nearly two hours waiting and watching.

“Watching” the island in slow sweeps through her scope, pausing to study different parts just in case one of them might be where the shooter was actually hiding. She had no doubt he was doing the same in an effort to find her.

And “waiting,” as in also forcing him to wait and wonder, maybe even fret a little about what she might be up to.

Twiddling with the scope, she adjusted it to a fine and sharp focus, zeroing in on what her instincts had said all along was the shooter’s most likely hide, the angled deadfall tree trunk. It offered by far the most advantages for a sniper over any other possible hides she’d looked at.

She was about to execute a ruse she hoped would confirm her suspicions. Of course, if those instincts were wrong and he wasn’t where she was looking, well, then… At best it would be back to square one; at worst she might have revealed her position and that could become her fatal mistake.

“Phase two,” Ro said into the wand mic.

“10-04,” Lt. Pease acknowledged. Then into his handheld radio said simply, “Execute phase two.”

He heard the response, “Executing,” in his ear bud.

***

Jim Locari had been crouched behind the railroad embankment for thirty minutes waiting for the execute order. According to his earlier instructions from Ro, he had climbed over the railroad tracks using the big SWAT van as cover, then moved west, unseen, along the ditch until he was directly in front of the railroad signal light. The columnar base was two feet across and six feet tall, so it could be seen over the top of the tracks. Sticking out of the base was a pole with a pair over-and-under signal lights at the top.

As per Ro’s directions, with the “execute” order he now took the SWAT tactical helmet she had taped the ketchup packets inside and balancing it on the end of a collapsible baton raised it up sixteen inches above his head, positioning it so it would be just visible at the level of the railroad tracks…and waited…

Ro had explained what she hoped would happen, but after twenty minutes his arm was getting tired and he was beginning to think about calling in to Lt. Pease for instructions about what to do when the helmet was suddenly blasted backward, shattered into a dozen pieces, and a spray of dark red was splattered across the top of the signal light’s base behind him.

“Shit,” he said, as some of the spray splashed across one leg of his khaki uniform.

Even from his close viewpoint and even knowing what he knew about the plan, it still looked for all the world like blood, which he also knew was exactly what Corporal Delahanty had intended.

He was about to inform her, although rhetorically, as she was several hundred yards further west and therefore wouldn’t have heard him, that she was going to be getting the dry cleaning bill for his uniform when he then heard the distant, thunder-like thud of the rifle that had sent the big slug in his direction.

“He took the bait,” Locari announced to no one, grinning that Ro’s ruse had apparently worked.

***

Modern ammunition is smokeless, so, naturally, Ro had had no expectation the shooter would reveal his position with a telltale puff as the bullet left his rifle. But supersonic bullets, like those from a Barrett .50 caliber, do disturb the air as they leave the barrel, do create a kind of shock wave, that, if you know exactly where to look can be visible as a slight shimmering effect.

Her instincts had been right. She’d been looking directly at the spot where the angled downed tree was lodged in the crook of the larger tree, the spot she’d believed, hoped, was where the shooter was hiding.

There’d been no end of a rifle barrel suddenly visible… No shadowy head pop up… Nothing except a brief flicker against the mottled brown-gray bark of the adjacent tree, which she would have easily missed if she’d happened to blink just then, followed a second later by the deep thud of the rifle’s report.

Since she’d heard the report and wasn’t already dead, and since there had been no spong of a bullet smashing through the metal of the patrol car over her head or the scratchy growl of a slug gouging the pavement nearby, she knew the sniper had not taken a shot at her.

Which meant he must have taken the bait and made the shot at the empty SWAT helmet.

Ro smiled to herself, “Gotcha.”

Except her “triumph” was short-lived, for two reasons.

First, while she now “knew” where the shooter was hiding, it did not by any means result in being ready to take her own shot. She had a location, yes, but no actual target. She did not know exactly where he was in the hide, how far back in, whether positioned a little to the right or left, maybe further down than she assumed. At not quite nine-hundred yards against a brisk wind and her target being unseen, being off on a shot by even a few inches could make all the difference.

But at least her earlier dilemma was now allayed. He had taken the shot… He had tried to kill her… He had intended to kill her. In fact, he was quite possibly under the impression he had killed her, indeed, that had been part of her hoped for outcome of the ruse. So, any lingering quandary she might harbor about being this guy’s executioner was now laid to rest.

She – or at least who the shooter on the island had thought was she – had been fired on; for a cop and warrior, that’s all that was necessary.

The question now was how to use this to her advantage.

Next: A makeshift windsock

From the Ro Delahanty novel Twists and Turns © 2019 Dave Lager

The Sniper Incident from Ro’s perspective: Eight

The Tell

Saturday, March 24, 2007, 2:50 p.m.

Ro did find him; well, was maybe ninety-percent sure she’d found him.

A downpour began a little while after she’d emerged from the ditch and crawled across the highway to the position by the cars. One of those typical Midwest storms that begins with some spatters, then ebbs and flows between brief periods of heavy squalls and lighter showers. But since she’d already gotten pretty well soaked crawling through the partially flooded culvert under the embankment, the rain didn’t matter much.

Good cover, she’d thought about the rain, not yet knowing the passing storm would also turn out to be the shooter’s tell.

As a judo champion, Ro had been good at spotting an opponent’s tells, little signals, sometimes only with their eyes, that hinted at their next move, which then gave her the advantage to effectively counter it. Her sensei used to scold her for relying too much on being defensive, although it’s what won her many of her titles.

For nearly thirty minutes Ro had conducted a slow, what she thought of as preliminary sweep of the island just to get a feel for what was out there. Using the scope’s reticles for scale, she calculated the center of the island opposite her position was eight-hundred-and-ninety yards out, almost three football fields, at the upper end of her Remington’s range.

One more element probably not a coincidence, she thought. You sure don’t wanna make it too easy for me.

What was across the chute was a more than mile-wide island, with an open sandy shoreline of maybe a dozen feet that quickly turned into a solid wall of trees and underbrush offering literally dozens of possible hides for a sniper; tall mature trees he could perch in, thick stands of young trees he could blend into, deadfall he could crouch behind.

Having done one sweep of the island, left to right, she was now moving back to the left, only this time going more slowly, trying to take note of specific details that might help her decide which of the many potential hides were the most likely.

She had just paused on what looked to be a mature tree into which another tree had fallen, becoming wedged in a Y, when the rain squall passed through with its accompanying burst of high winds. Where the winds had been gusty all day, mostly from the south, straight into her face, this time they had shifted over to the west.

There was something “wrong” with what she had earlier taken to be deadfall near the base of the mature tree. Earlier, it had looked like any other log, a little over a foot-and-a-half thick, maybe six feet long, lying on its side, gray mottled with age, except now its bark sides appeared to be rippling – rippling?

At first, she thought it might just be the rain playing tricks with her, distorted by the foreshortening effect of her scope at a long distance. But then the “log” seemed to puff-up, to swell…but logs don’t “inflate”!

Then she understood; it wasn’t a log at all, but a camo tarp that had been wrapped around a deflated raft the shooter had probably used to get to the island and that the burst of wind had found an opening into.

If this is the raft, she reasoned, then it’s likely not far from the shooter’s hide, so focused more carefully on the mature tree and its leaning companion almost directly above.

At mid-afternoon, the sun’s diffuse glow behind the clouds was high in the sky right behind the possible hide, casting it in clear relief from her perspective. She could now see the mature standing tree had branched into two major trunks about eight feet from the ground, each one as thick as a muscle builder’s thigh. The fallen tree had become wedged in the Y at about a thirty-degree angle from the ground, which put it at almost exactly the level of the highway Ro was lying on.

The leaning trunk looked like it was easily wide enough to support a man lying on it.

And the space between the angled deadfall and the standing tree’s Y holding it offered a perfect sniper’s position; wide enough to give the shooter an unobstructed angle of fire on a mile-plus of Iowa shoreline, yet narrow enough to present a challenging opening for any return fire.

However, because the fallen tree was, from her perspective, directly behind the standing tree and in shadow, she could not make out any detail suggesting a man hiding there, which didn’t necessarily mean he wasn’t.

She had a moment of agonizing.

What if I’m wrong? What if this is so obvious a choice, he’s purposefully picked somewhere else? I could waste all kinds of time focusing on a decoy. And maybe give him time to find me.

But then figured going down that rabbit hole posed endless and pointless opportunities to second guess herself to no avail and instead decided to pay attention to her own instincts: It’s where I would hole up if it was me on the island.

Next: The shooter takes the bait

From the Ro Delahanty novel Twists and Turns © 2019 Dave Lager

The Sniper Incident from Ro’s perspective: Seven

The idea was to be invisible

Saturday, March 24, 2007, 2:18 p.m.

Ro waited five minutes for the van to get at least a hundred yards past her position, then, now hopefully with the island gunman’s attention focused in that direction, finished crawling to a spot in the ditch behind the disabled patrol cars.

“Check point two,” she said into her mic.

“10-04.”

Now safe, at least relatively speaking, she squirmed around, peaked over the edge of the ditch, pushed the prop package around in front of her and belly crawled across the highway’s westbound lane to a position next to the front wheel of the disabled patrol car in the eastbound lane.

The prop package was, in fact, a sniper’s shooting mat she’d folded over onto itself several times, securing the ends with black tape, so it was now in effect a five-foot long by not quite foot-thick roll. In the center she’d used her pocketknife to carve out a notch deep enough to hide the Remington’s barrel.

The roll, as well as her black tactical vest and baseball-style cap, had all been “decorated” in a random pattern with irregularly shaped chunks of black tape, grey duct tape and white adhesive tape from the SWAT van. Her face and hands had even been covered with thumb-print daubs of black and tan camo cream, like a bizarre case of the measles.

While up close the get-up might look silly, from the kind of distance the shooter was at and taking into account the foreshortening effect of his scope, the intent was that visually she would blend in with the gravel side of the railroad embankment thirty feet behind her; that she would become invisible.

Yes, the thin foam mat offered zero protection from a powerful .50 slug if the sniper found her position, but the only truly safe hide in this scene, as in thick enough to offer protection from what she assumed was a Barrett, was behind the railroad embankment, twenty-five yards to the rear; she wanted – needed – those extra yards on her side.

“In position,” she said into the wand mic.

There was just the slightest pause before Pease responded, like he had let out a short breath of relief she had not been spotted and there had been no gunfire from the island, “10-04.”

***

Now settled into position behind the squad cars, the seed of the idea that had occurred to her in passing not quite three hours ago, but at the time was pushed aside by more immediate details, now blossomed.

If this is really a sniper vs. sniper thing, she thought, then who is it over there on the island and why would he start this ruckus?

When crawling across the highway she’d glanced up at the damage done to the two cars and was now more convinced than ever this shooter knew exactly was he was doing, that he had military sniper training.

Those shots are too precise to be random, one squarely in the middle of the rear passenger doors, the other taking out the rear tires but missing the gas tank and a possible explosion. And you didn’t fire on the van – you spared three lives on purpose, but why?

More than a few times while on routine patrol she’d been sent to assist a local EMT crew with an Iraq or Afghanistan vet who’d gone off his meds and was acting out a bit, although so far none had become dangerously violent like this guy. But her gut was telling her this wasn’t a simple case of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) gone rogue.

You’re in control here, she thought, addressing the unknown shooter, not some crazed shooter high on blood lust… You’re executing a plan.

She blinked several times not wanting to deal with her next thought, but knowing she had to. Oh shit, this is a suicide mission. Nobody’s gonna talk you into surrendering because you don’t want to surrender.

She took a breath as the chain of thoughts progressed. Those deputies were only the bait to set-up a test against somebody like me, a fellow warrior. This is a duel to the death.

She cringed at the idea.

Ro Delahanty did consider herself a warrior, she’d proven that in two previous shootouts in which she’d taken lives, and so saw a kind of perverse compliment in his presumed plan.

But you’re asking me to be your executioner, she thought, seeing that as the logical conclusion to where this was going.

But then two thoughts kind of tripped over one another.

The first was a bit uncomfortable because she found herself sympathetic to the idea he might want to die at the hands of a fellow warrior, to go out with dignity as he understood it. While she certainly did not dwell on the possible circumstances of her own death, she knew it could be under fire, and that she, too, would want it to be a “good death,” not a cowardly one.

To you, it’d be an honor for me to take you down… That’s what you want here… Hunh, that is, unless you get me first…

Everyday citizens would never fathom the truth of what she was thinking; only a fellow warrior might understand.

The second was that her “logic” for the inevitability of this outcome was based on a great many suppositions for which she only had at best circumstantial evidence; it was pretty much a house of cards.

Which is what allowed her to set aside the murky mental exercise…

We’ll just have to see how things unfold.

…and turn her attention to the more immediate task of locating her adversary.

For any of this to happen, I gotta find you first…

Next: The “log” that wasn’t a log after all

From the Ro Delahanty novel Twists and Turns © 2019 Dave Lager

The Sniper Incident from Ro’s perspective: Six

The Van Gambit

Saturday, March 24, 2007, 1:14 p.m.

When Ro completed her preparations, she said into the SWAT wand mic, “Ready.”

Pease acknowledged, “10-04,” and checked his watch. They had estimated it would take her twenty to twenty-five minutes to reach the first checkpoint.

They had decided all communications from Corporal Delahanty would be through the secure SWAT radio and only with Pease, who would, in turn, handle any necessary communication with everyone else.

“Phase one underway,” he said into the general radio, signaling to the sheriff’s group on the west to get ready to implement their role in the plot.

Using the big SWAT van as a screen, Ro scrambled up the side of the railroad embankment, crawled across the tracks and dropped down the other side. Turning left, she loped along the five-foot ditch, the Remington in her left hand, the prop bundle in her right. But she needed to be careful, partly because the footing was tricky, with mushy wet spots and lots of debris, and partly because she had to hunch over to keep her near six-foot height from being visible over the top.

Ro reached the fourth culvert under the embankment, which she had estimated was close to a hundred yards short of the trapped deputies, in twenty-two minutes.

“At first checkpoint.”

“10-04,” Pease acknowledged, then, using the general radio, Pease said simply, “Go.”

***
A little over three-fourths of a mile to Ro’s west, Makuakeeta County Deputy Susan Rundle, who was the sister of Deputy Tucker Lind, one of the duo pinned down in the ditch, climbed into the department’s white, fifteen-passenger prisoner transport van. She had volunteered for the potentially life-threatening mission, overcoming Sheriff Dahlgren’s misgivings with a simple, “He’s family.”

While Sheriff Dahlgren watched with obvious disapproval, she slowly rolled past the cluster of police units out into the island shooter’s presumed fire zone and using her left hand deployed a make-shift white flag – a large kitchen towel from the courthouse’s cafeteria stapled to a broom handle – above the van’s roof, her lightbar going with the intent of attracting his attention.

“Underway,” the sergeant who was Dahlgren’s aide radioed to Pease, who in turn shared it with Delahanty.

***

With the shooter’s attention now, hopefully, fixed on the van to the west, Ro squirmed through the culvert to the low ditch next to the highway. Her guess had been on target, the disabled patrol cars were ninety yards to her right. She began literally crawling along the ditch, using her pad protected elbows and knees to move forward, resisting any temptation to raise her head and look toward the island.

But she could see the van, which had been instructed to move at a slow walking speed, getting closer to the deputies, who were both looking toward it in anticipation of being “rescued” and had no clue she was approaching their position from the other direction. She was about ten yards short when the van reached the deputies. She heard the driver, a female, shout out the window, “Get your butts in here you two!”

They obeyed, running to the back of the van and climbing in.

Just before giving the van a bit of gas to continue rolling east, Ro heard the driver order, “Stay back there and don’t look around, just keep your eyes on me, got it?”

The rumble of the van’s V-8 accelerating drowned out any response.

Next: Sniper vs. sniper

From the Ro Delahanty novel Twists and Turns © 2019 Dave Lager

The Sniper Incident from Ro’s perspective: Five

Operation Copperfield

Saturday, March 24, 2007, 1:05 p.m.

The black oversize SWAT step van arrived a few minutes after noon with Lt. Tom Pease, the SWAT commander, and four more officers. Pease called everyone together behind the van for an update and op briefing. As part of the briefing, Ro shared the outlines of a plan for dealing with the unknown shooter out on the island. Pease agreed it was only prudent to assume he was a trained sniper; to underestimate him could be a serious mistake.

When Pease asked for any questions, one of the SWAT team said, “That’s a lot of moving parts, Delahanty, what if something goes wrong?”

But then another member chimed in, “I think it’s brilliant. The secret to any illusion is to get people to look over there while you’re doing something else over here.”

Ro shrugged, responding to the initial question, “What we always do, improvise.”

Pease said, “The op needs a code name. What should we call it?”

“How about Operation Copperfield after that magician guy on TV,” suggested Makuakeeta deputy Knapp.

Pease looked around and saw nothing but nods. “Operation Copperfield it is,” he announced.

The first step in Operation Copperfield was for the four SWAT officers to move into ready positions among the patrol cars and in the grove of trees, but looking out at the island; to make things look to the sniper – who Ro was sure was watching, because she would be if she was the one out there – as if this was a routine, by-the-book SWAT deployment.

***

In the meantime, Ro pulled Locari, Ruiz and Knapp over behind the step van.

“I need you guys to go get me all of the leftover ketchup packets in the glove compartments of your patrol cars,” she said.

Knapp and Locari gave her a “How did you know?” smile and Ruiz just nodded. She knew cops and knew grabbing a burger and fries on the run was more often than not their mid-shift default meal option. She also knew there were at least a handful of packets in a tray under the dashboard of the SWAT step van. They returned in a few minutes with two dozen packets between them.

“What’re you up to, Corporal?” Locari asked.

“Come on, I’ll show you.” She led them to the side of the step van opposite the island and retrieved a black SWAT Kevlar tactical helmet and a role of tape from inside. She dumped the nearly three dozen ketchup packets inside the crown of the helmet and taped them in place.

Handing the now “doctored” helmet to Locari, she explained what she eventually wanted him to do with it.

Ruiz grinned, “That is s-o-o wicked.”

“I never knew you had such a devious side,” Locari added, but with a smile of approval.

“You guys get back out there where you’re visible, try to look casual, like everything’s under control,” she said, again wanting to reassure any observer nothing surreptitious was going on.

After the three cops left, Ro climbed into the van and spent the next thirty-five minutes putting together some special props needed for her part of the illusion.

At the same time, it took Lt. Pease almost that long in conversations with Sheriff Dahlgren over the radio and convince him to play his part in the plan.

Operation Copperfield had three phases.

Phase one involved distracting the shooter so Ro could get to her intended position undetected.

Phase two was a ruse designed to confuse the shooter, make him think he had eliminated his adversary, perhaps become overconfident and make a mistake.

Phase three was an elaborate charade designed to confound the shooter, make him think he was under assault from different directions; to get him to reveal his position so Ro could take her shot.

Next: “Saving” the pinned down deputies

From the Ro Delahanty novel Twists and Turns © 2019 Dave Lager

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