Sniper’s Day Chapter 36

36

R. Delahanty

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Skassa’s field of fire, though not necessarily an effective field, was a not quite two-mile wide crescent of Highway 20, the west end delineated by the island closer to the shore, the east side by the grove next to the water, the same trees he had parked near when first surveying the island. It was this direction he assumed the SWAT unit would come from and was therefore of more immediate interest. Closer than the island on the west, only twelve-hundred yards, the grove was twenty yards wide and thickly overgrown with a mix of mature and spindly trees. Because they were just beginning to bud out, he could see what was up on the road, but at the same time they screened out any effective shot, too many trunks and branches to deflect his bullet’s trajectory.

He waited and watched.

A little after ten-thirty it started to drizzle.

Two more Makuakeeta County patrol cars joined the scene to augment the opposite roadblocks. While most of the civilian vehicles did turn around as instructed, others instead pulled over to the highway’s shoulder, their occupants exiting the cars and gathering behind the police lines, the earliest phalanx of the unavoidable looky-loos attracted to cop scenes. No more trains lumbered through on the tracks, and no more Jon boats appeared out on the water, so he assumed they were being diverted as well.

At least a couple of deputies, one at each end, also maintained a constant surveillance of “his” island through binoculars.

He ate a protein bar and sipped from his thermos, mostly dry and comfortable under the tarp and poncho. He was, if anything, a patient man.

The drizzle let-up after forty-five minutes.

***

It was not quite eleven-thirty when another Crown Vic joined the muster of cops on the east; this one in the traditional black and white motif. On the front door was “Fort Armstrong County Sheriff,” the back door was emblazoned with a five-pointed star decal, and the unit number “19” was visible on the rear fender.

An officer in black tactical gear with “SWAT” in white letters across the chest climbed out of the driver’s seat. From his distance he could not read the tiny lettering on the name badge over the right breast. While the bulky vest and baggy pants masked any revealing details of body shape, and the squat ballistic helmet covered the hair, it did appear to be a tall, slender figure; however, the fine facial features he could make out were definitely those of a female.

His hopes rose this was indeed R. Delahanty.

She joined the other three officers on the scene, exchanging a greeting with the shorter state cop as if they knew one another, then introduced herself to the two Makuakeeta County deputies. When she jerked her head back to the east, which he took to mean she was telling them more SWAT people were on the way, the two deputies looked relieved.

There was several minutes of conversation. At first, he thought it was only to bring each other up to date. There was pointing at the disabled police vehicles in the middle of the highway nearly a mile from their position and many glances at his island.

At one point one of the Makuakeeta deputies handed her his mic and there was an animated discussion with whoever was on the other end. Swinging the scope around to his left, it appeared to be the sheriff, except his body language was emphatic, hinting there was some disagreement with what was being said.

Swinging back to the east, he was in time to catch her hand the mic back to the deputy with a half-smile like, “Well, we’ll see who’s right here.”

The deputy rolled his eyes.

The state cop and the new arrival exchanged a glance.

Disengaging herself from the others, she moved to the rear of the black and white squad car, used a fob to open the trunk and a moment later withdrew a long gun that was definitely not the distinctive stubby shape of a standard SWAT-issue AR-style carbine. He immediately recognized it as a Remington 700 mounted with a telescopic scope.

He smiled, sure this had to be R. Delahanty, the SWAT unit’s designated marksman, the sniper who would now be expected to neutralize the threat, namely him.

Sniper vs. sniper – good!

Next: The Van Bluff

© 2019 Dave Lager

I like this

 

“Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar.”

E. B. White (1899-1985) – Regular New Yorker contributor and children’s book author

Oh, and he also happened to write one of the standard college English grammar texts, “The Elements of Style”

Sniper’s Day Chapter 35

35

Big Fish

Saturday, March 24, 2007

He waited for the Makuakeeta Sheriff’s Department’s response; it took only fifteen minutes.

As before, he first heard the sirens, this time a pair, then saw two red-gray vehicles, one a standard patrol car in the lead, the other a big Ford Expedition – “Ah, the sheriff or a senior officer in a command vehicle,” he muttered – come to a stop just in view past the head of the island on his left. They were a good nineteen-hundred yards from his position, more than a mile. While it was within the rifle’s possible range – legendary kills had been made with a Barrett at up to two miles – he didn’t take the shot, partially because it was an iffy distance, but mostly because he had a different agenda.

Two men emerged from the command vehicle, also in gray uniforms and campaign hats, one clearly older and heavier, who had and air of authority; Skassa had seen that look on colonels and generals before. The older man took a pair of field glasses from the car and began surveying the island, while his companion – Skassa could make out sergeant’s stripes on his sleeve, perhaps an aide? – held a microphone up to his mouth, probably getting an update from the deputies pinned down in the ditch.

“You’ve figured out I’m somewhere on the island but have no idea where,” he said to himself. “You can tell from the distance I have to be using a high-powered rifle but have no inkling why I’m shooting at your deputies.” He smiled to himself, “Whether you know it or not, gentlemen, the chess game is underway; it’s your move now.”

Through his scope, Skassa watched the sheriff – he was now assuming the authority-type was the top guy – continue to peruse the island, then pass the field glasses on to his colleague to have a look. He watched the three cops – the two from the command vehicle and the deputy from the other patrol car – engage in several conversations, their expressions grim, a combination of anger, concern and confusion. There were multiple gestures in his general direction, as well as toward the cornered deputies, a few appearing quite energetic, suggesting they were having a debate over what to do next. There was also lots of talking into the mic by the sergeant.

For the moment, the situation was at a stalemate.

Always the careful planner, Skassa knew his hide twelve feet up in the tree was roughly at the same level as the highway but at least three feet below the top of the higher railroad embankment beyond. The ditch next to the highway was shallow, so the deputies were effectively trapped; safe if they kept their heads down and stayed behind their disabled patrol cars, but exposed and vulnerable if they made a dash along the ditch for the three-fourths-of-a-mile needed to get to the sheriff’s position.

When an eastbound minivan came up behind the Expedition, Skassa watched as the deputy from the patrol car hurriedly flagged it down, then gestured for it to turn around and leave. He quickly returned to his car and repositioned it behind the Expedition, establishing a roadblock to stop any more highway traffic from the west.

A few moments later the flicker of flashing red and blue lights caught Skassa’s attention. Swinging the scope around, he saw another Crown Vic – this one cream-colored with “Iowa State Police” in block letters on the doors – come to a stop across the highway behind the grove of trees on his far right, now effectively establishing a roadblock on the east.

Skassa nodded, muttering to himself but addressing the distant sheriff, “By the book,” knowing the last thing LEOs – law enforcement officers – needed was civvies – civilians – blundering into what they now considered an active shooting situation. Except they didn’t, couldn’t know he had no intention of firing on civilians: Any civvies on the scene, like the deputies in the ditch, were only the bait.

“Okay, you’ve brought in state back-up, good move,” he said, knowing if the sheriff hadn’t done it already, he would soon be calling for the multi-county Joint SWAT Unit, with, Skassa assumed, their designated marksman, the “big fish” he really wanted to lure in.

Next: Finally, it was sniper vs. sniper

© 2019 Dave Lager

Sniper’s Day Chapter 34

34

Targets

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Skassa was used to waiting. It was not uncommon to wait hours, even days, for targets, usually perched on a hard, rocky ledge, often with a cold wind blowing in his face – compared, this was a piece of cake.

He arrived at the island a little after six o’clock; as expected, no fishermen yet out on the chute in the pre-dawn darkness. It took less than half-an-hour to deflate the raft, roll it up, wrap it in a camo tarp and stuff it between two trees so it would look like deadfall. Carrying the near thirty-pound Barrett in the crook of an arm, he hobbled to the lower end of the inclined truck, his intended hide, the cane and rifle case left in the car back at the barge terminal.

Using elbows and knees for purchase, he shimmied up the trunk – it was about the diameter of a main sewer pipe – to where it rested in the Y of the bigger tree, then, lying on his belly, wrapped the second tarp around himself and the trunk, securing both with paracord across the back of his knees and below his shoulder blades.

The daypack was hung within easy reach by its shoulder straps from a branch on the island side of the upright tree, where it wouldn’t be seen from the shore.

Finally, he draped the poncho over his shoulders and head, extending it out over the rifle’s four-foot length, becoming virtually invisible from even a short distance, let alone the nine-hundred-plus yards to the mainland.

While a gray day, it was a comfortable fifty degrees, the thick woods behind sheltering him from the gusty south winds.

For over three hours he patiently watched as dozens of cars, pickups, RVs and semis whizzed by on Rt. 20, as two freight trains rumbled past on the railroad line, and as a half-dozen flat-bottom Jon boats with their fishermen slowly trolled up and down out on the water – he let them all pass through the reticles of his long-range scope, unmolested.

It was a few minutes before ten when he spotted a medium-gray Ford Crown Vic squad car with a wide, horizontal red stripe running from headlights to taillights come into view from behind the island to his left, eastbound. On the doors in big block letters it said “Sheriff,” with “Makuakeeta County” in smaller letters below.

The target he’d been waiting for.

It was going slow, fifty miles an hour. He waited for it to move to his exact twelve o’clock position, then, centering the crosshairs of the Leupold VX-6 scope on the front fender just above the wheel well, fired.

Even from nine-hundred yards out he saw the car literally jerk to the left from the .50 caliber slug’s powerful inertia slamming into the engine. A cloud of white smoke billowed from under the hood as the shattered water pump sprayed coolant over the hot motor, then quickly changed over to thick and black when oil leaking from the now cracked engine block began to smoke. The car rolled across the highway centerline and came to a stop at an angle, blocking the westbound lane.

He watched the deputy behind the steering wheel glancing around, dazed and confused, wondering what the hell had hit him. The supersonic bullet had reached the car a second before he would have heard the Barrett’s report, so had probably not yet realized he’d been fired on.

He reached forward to grab his microphone and call in.

“Let’s give you something to really report,” Skassa muttered to himself, nudging the Barrett a fraction of an inch to the left and firing, putting a slug through the unoccupied backseat area behind the deputy, blowing fist-size holes in both the right and left doors.

Now grasping he was under fire, the patrol car’s driver’s side door flew open and the deputy threw himself down and out, soon re-appearing peering over the top of his trunk, his semi-automatic side arm pointed in the general direction of the island. His uniform looked to be charcoal gray and somewhere in the process he’d grabbed his campaign-style hat and slapped it on his head. Skassa grunted at the ludicrous thought of defending himself with a nine-millimeter that wouldn’t even reach a third of the way to the island, but then, the deputy had no clue who or what was out there shooting at him.

“You’re still not getting the point,” Skassa said aloud, although there was no one even close to earshot to hear him.

Re-sighting, he fired, this time sending the bullet literally through the width of the patrol car’s light bar, blasting it into a thousand shards of glass and shredded metal, and plowing a two-foot groove in the roof.

The deputy ducked, then, hunkered down, scurried from the side of the car and literally dove into the shallow ditch between the highway and railroad embankment.

“Good move, man,” Skassa said, “you’re safe down there as long as you stay behind the car. Now use your belt radio to call in a 10-78” – officer needs assistance – “I’ll give your back-up ten minutes…”

He was wrong by half, as it took nearly twenty minutes before first hearing the wailing siren of another patrol car approaching from the west at high speed, then see it charge into view from behind the island.

“Finally, a challenge,” he muttered at the fast-moving car, grinning to himself. “But this time I think I’ll shoot your ass off.”

Which he did, literally, sending a shot through the car’s rear deck, taking out both back tires, but aiming high so as not to hit the gas tank, not wanting any explosions or fires. With its drive wheels suddenly turned to mush, the squad car noticeably slowed and began fishtailing, the driver visibly fighting to keep from going completely out of control. It came to a stop a few feet behind and to the right of the first car, between them effectively blocking the highway in both directions.

Skassa didn’t have to take a second shot to make his point, as he could see the first deputy madly gesturing for his colleague to exit the car and join him in the safety of the ditch.

Next: The bait to lure in the “big fish”

© 2019 Dave Lager

Sniper’s Day Chapter 33

33

Head in the Game

Friday, March 23, 2007

Everything was in place; Saturday, the op would be set in motion.

There was no agonizing. If the last few days had taught Wade Meese anything, it was he had not felt this alive in two years. Committed now, it would come down to a challenge of skills and wills, sniper vs. sniper, to the death.

That there might be some sort of moral aspect to this decision never occurred to him. In Afghanistan he’d been a feared and effective sniper; had taken lives; had put his own on the line; had lived like a warrior; and so, had earned the right to die like a warrior. There was no question this was a path ending in death. Hopefully it would be a good death at the hand of a fellow warrior, at her hand. If not, then at the hand of some other SWAT shooter. And if not that, then his own.

As had been his habit in Afghanistan, the day before a mission was “getting ready” day, which meant not only making sure his equipment was prepared but his head was fully in the game.

First on the agenda for Friday morning was retrieving the still-in-its-box raft from the back of the Focus. While it was only twenty pounds, it was an awkward size, which meant he had to carry it with both hands and forego the cane. Making sure his right foot, the artificial foot, was stable before he could then take a step with the left, it meant a slow and laborious trip from the parking lot to the apartment.

In the apartment, the raft was unpacked, spread out in an open area in the sparsely furnished living room and hooked up to the compressor. It had a kind of high-pitched hum, but he didn’t think it could be heard for more than fifteen or twenty feet away; it took only a little over ten minutes to inflate the raft.

He then unloaded all the books from the bookcase in the gunroom, laid the empty case on top of the raft and then reloaded it with the books, the idea being to leave the weight on the raft for several hours: He didn’t need to be a mile out on the river and discover it had a slow leak.

The next job was the near hour-long drive from the apartment in Grand Island to the shoreline next to Iowa Rt. 20 opposite Bandit’s Island to, first, make sure the GPS instrument actually worked, and second, to establish destination coordinates for the planned middle-of-the-night raft trip.

Back at the apartment by mid-afternoon, he spent the rest of the day methodically disassembling and cleaning his dozen-and-a-half guns. The ritual helped him focus, like a ski slalom champion carefully waxing their skis before a big race. All the guns went back to their appointed spots in the bookcases except…

The second to last cleaned was a favorite classic Colt Python, which he reloaded with six .357 magnum rounds.

The last was the Barrett, for which he loaded two, ten-round magazines with big .50 caliber BMG (Browning Machine Gun) cartridges half-again the size of his thumb.

He had taken his time, so it was almost sundown by when he finished.

Indifferent to food except as necessary to refuel, a can of beef stew was heated-up on the stove and eaten with crackers, which were stale, which he didn’t notice. After “dinner,” the pot, dish and fork were washed and returned to their appointed spots in the kitchen cupboards.

Meese had a small television, virtually never on, but tonight tuned it to the local evening news to check the weather for Saturday. It would be in the comfortable mid-fifties during the morning, slowly warming to the low-sixties by noon; intermittent showers were expected throughout the day, a few might be heavy; but he especially liked the forecast for gusty southerly and southwesterly winds all day – it meant they would be unpredictable and mostly blowing in her face, adding yet another challenge for her capabilities as a shooter.

The first half of Friday night was spent dozing intermittently in the gunroom’s high-backed easy chair, his hand resting on a Python. The irony he was treating the weapon in pretty much the same way a child might take a favorite toy to bed for comfort and reassurance was not lost on him.

At two o’clock Saturday morning he loaded a daypack purchased at the sporting goods store with several protein bars, a thermos of fortified hot chocolate, a spare Barrett magazine, the camo poncho for the rain, a length of thick paracord to anchor himself to the tree trunk, the two camo tarps and the Python. The Barrett went into its own long case. He carried them out to the Focus, the now rolled-up deflated raft, which no longer fit in its original box, having been loaded last evening.

But there were a couple more things that needed to be done in order to get closure.

First, he moved the framed medals from their usual spot on the now refilled bookcase to the desk. He wanted “them,” whoever it was that would inevitably come to the apartment to investigate, to know he was proud of what they represented, even if they didn’t know all the facts…

…and then wrote a short message on a piece of notebook paper, yes, also for “them” to find, but really intended for Deputy R. Delahanty. He had no doubt she would eventually receive it one way or another, and, if she was who he thought she was, a fellow warrior, she would “get it.”

It was a quote heard, usually paraphrased, almost always inaccurately, more than a few times in the military; he looked it up on his laptop to make sure it was right. It was attributed to the famous circus aerialist Karl Wallenda:

“Being on the tightrope is living, everything else is waiting.”

He set it next to the framed medals on the desk, and, as an afterthought signed it “Skassa.”

Of his several identities, at this point it seemed the most fitting.

Next: Targets

© 2019 Dave Lager

Sniper’s Day Chapter 32

32

Hiding in Plain Sight

Thursday, March 22, 2007

…if he could arrive at the parking lot in the middle of the night unnoticed.

Checking the gazetteer later, it told him International Grains was eighteen miles from Bandit’s Island, a near four-hour paddle, which is why he was back at two in the morning on Thursday.

He found his guess – hope – had been right, it was a three-shift operation. He drove past it twice, each time a grain truck or car was leaving or entering, so traffic in-and-out was steady and frequent, even in the middle of the night. On the third approach he followed a pick-up into the complex; while the truck turned left heading toward the main area, he continued straight on, slowing down and circling the lot as if trying to find an open spot, but really just getting the lay of the land.

The busy loading and unloading complex and eastern edge of the lot were brightly illuminated by dozens of pole-mounted safety lights, but the western end, where the waiting trailers were parked, was in shadowy darkness.

The south edge of the lot butted up against the river, an even eight feet above the waterline – safe except for the most serious floods – a gently sloping, forty-foot wide gravel and sand shore descending to the water’s edge.

In the southwest corner he found what he’d been looking for. There was enough room to back the car in next to the river at the end of a row of empty trailers, now virtually invisible except for a car or truck passing directly in front.

He waited: To see what kinds of comings and goings there were; to see how often a semi came to claim one of the trailers; to see if other cars or trucks parked anywhere near him; to see if any security vehicles checked the site.

He waited: Forty-five minutes passed; an hour passed; ninety minutes passed, and no one seemed to notice him sitting there. He even climbed out and walked down to the river carrying a fishing pole – a lame but hopefully plausible excuse – to see if that raised anyone’s attention; it didn’t: perfect.

If this was indicative of the activity level at this remote end of the lot, there would be more than enough time to pull a raft from the back of the station wagon, inflate it, carry it down to the river, load it and launch it. And with no one apparently monitoring vehicles in the lot, the car might sit there all day “hiding” in plain sight.

Things were falling into place; now he needed to think about gearing-up.

At a little after six in the morning he stopped for breakfast at the always open, sprawling Truck King gas station, restaurant, and convenience store next to the Interstate 82-Old Post Road interchange on the outskirts of Lee’s Landing.

In yet another irony, just missing by a three hours the half-dozen Iowa State Police, Lee’s Landing officers and Fort Armstrong sheriff’s deputies – which today had included Ro Delahanty, who was on third shift patrol duty this week – having their mid-night lunch at the restaurant’s “Law Enforcement Only” table.

After breakfast he headed for a huge, big box sporting goods store in suburban Chicago a hundred-and-fifty miles away, where he intended to buy the needed equipment without arousing suspicion…

A one-man inflatable raft with oars for rowing and a battery-powered compressor to inflate it.

A portable GPS positioning instrument so he could easily locate “his” island in the predawn darkness.

Camo shirt, pants, poncho, and boonie hat, all in the grayish mottled MARPAT pattern he knew would be indistinguishable among the island’s trees, especially from the kind of distance she would be at, because, contrary to what people think, most tree trunks are not a pure brown, but a splotchy greyish-brown.

And a pair of camo tarps, one to wrap-up and hide the deflated raft, the other to cover himself on the tree limb, adding even more to his invisibility.

Next: Head in the game

© 2019 Dave Lager

Sniper’s Day Chapter 31

31

The Challenge was Getting to the Hide

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The location for the hide offered many plusses, not the least of which was it would be nearly impossible to be flanked. His six was protected by a couple hundred yards of virtually impenetrable underbrush, while the right and left flanks were open water, he would both see and hear anyone approaching by boat. But those advantages also presented a challenge: How to get out to the island and set-up in a hide in the first place, undetected?

In Afghanistan he’d operated in virtual wilderness: There might be an occasional goat herder or camp, but these were the exception rather than the rule. In Makuakeeta County, Iowa, though, there was almost constant comings and goings on the highway, on the rail line and out on the chute, which meant lots of chances he might be spotted. In the many hours of studying the island through his spotter’s scope, he’d never once seen anyone actually on the island itself, or even close to it in a boat, so someone seen poking around there would certainly raise suspicion.

So, he spent yet more hours early Wednesday pouring over the gazetteer, studying the Iowa shoreline under a magnifying glass for miles upriver from the island; if paddling was going to be involved, there was no point fighting the current coming from downstream. What was needed was a location immediately next to the river so he could launch a small boat or kayak in the pre-dawn darkness, yet where an empty car wouldn’t attract attention sitting unattended all day.

He identified several possibilities and spent the rest of the day checking them out.

There was the county’s riverside picnic area and fishing pier off River Road not far from the Illowa freeway bridge over the river. The map’s scale said it was seventeen miles upstream from Bandit’s Island. Taking into account the river’s current of roughly two miles an hour and a person’s ability to do sustained paddling at roughly three miles an hour, it would take a little over three hours to reach the island. Since he had to be on the island and set-up before dawn, it meant he would need to launch at the picnic grove sometime around three in the morning.

Visiting on Wednesday to check it out, he was just taking a fishing pole out of the back of the station wagon – to give him a plausible excuse for being there – when a Fort Armstrong County Sheriff’s black and white patrol car rolled in.

As it was a comfortable for March low sixties, the deputy had his window down, an elbow resting on the sill, so Meese could see the sergeant’s stripes.

Swinging the patrol car around in a gentle U-turn, now facing Meese out the side window, the deputy lifted a hand in a friendly greeting and said, “Good morning.”

Meese nodded and held up the rod, “Good morning, Sergeant.”

“Good luck,” the deputy said, pointing toward the pole as the car rolled slowly past, then added over his shoulder, “Have a nice day, Sir.”

“You, too, Deputy.”

That’s all there was to it; strictly routine. Meese detected not the slightest hint the deputy was in any way suspicious. But the mere fact a cop regularly checked the site meant it was scrapped as a launching spot; a car sitting there with no one in sight would, after only a few hours most assuredly raise red flags.

The next possibility was the Five Falls State Park boat ramp, which was rejected just as soon as he saw the gate across the entrance road with its sign announcing the area didn’t open until sunrise, way past when he needed to be out on the water.

He visited the small town of Sardee, which was right next to the river almost at the western Fort Armstrong County line. It would have been only a relatively short ten-mile paddle downstream to the island, but again passed on the site almost immediately. The area of town fronting on the river had two bars and a dozen homes; much too visible.

Having driven up and down the roads paralleling the river in his search several times, he’d spotted any number of fishing shacks, usually sitting up on stilts, many appearing to be abandoned or little used. But, again, the visible-strange-car-scenario was the reason to eliminate them as well.

By six o’clock in the evening he was nearing the eastern end of River Road for the third time, not far from Lee’s Landing’s western city limits, thinking about finding something to eat when he stumbled on what he’d been looking for all day; he smiled because he’d already been past it twice, but it just hadn’t clicked then.

It was the sprawling International Grains barge and railcar loading and unloading terminal alongside the river. What caught his attention this time was a semi with a loaded grain trailer pulling into the complex, his eye automatically following its possible path toward a huge parking lot west of the complex’s towering silos and loading chutes. There must have been forty or fifty employee cars and pickups in the lot, a couple dozen semi tractors with trailers lined-up waiting to be loaded or unloaded, plus several dozen more trailers sans trucks squatting in rows at the far west end of the parking area.

Okay, the best prospect so far if…

Next: Hiding in plain sight

© 2019 Dave Lager

Sniper’s Day Chapter 30

30

Going Fishing

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

On Tuesday morning Meese visited a local hardware store and bought its cheapest fishing rod and plastic tackle box, along with a folding lawn chair, and returned to the shoreline opposite Bandit’s Island to conduct a more thorough reconnaissance. The tackle box held a couple of sandwiches, a thermos of fortified hot chocolate and his spotter’s scope, but no fishing gear. The rod had a reel and line, but no hook or bobber.

He parked next to the grove, as far off the shoulder as he could, set up the folding chair at the edge of the water and cast his hookless line into the river. The few passersby on Rt. 20 who noticed him at all and who knew anything about fishing shook their heads in dismay at the moron sitting down there, knowing he wouldn’t catch much of anything because the water close to the Iowa shore was too shallow.

But they didn’t know Wade Meese was not there to catch fish; the gear was a cover to do his “sniper thing,” to meticulously study the island for potential hides, to more accurately gauge the distances of possible shots and assess potential fields of fire in both directions.

After four hours of study it was almost too perfect to the true, he thought, for him, not for her.

The open water between the shore and the island was, according to the spotter’s scope, a little over seven hundred yards across; add another fifty or sixty yards to allow him to find a hide on the island and for her to find cover on the shore, and it would be near the upper end of the range for her weapon; he didn’t want to make it too easy.

Examining the island, for his shooting position near mid-island he located a large standing tree where another fallen tree had become wedged in a Y-shaped main crook at roughly a thirty-degree angle from the ground. It stood five yards back from the edge of the island and offered a ready-made perch, as well as a narrow gap through which to fire. What’s more, while there was a more or less open shoreline around the perimeter of the island, which would make it relatively easy to get to the hide and spot any flanking forces, the island’s interior looked to be a thick tangle of nettles and spindly trees, making it hard for anyone to approach undetected from the rear.

Examining the Iowa shoreline, he found lots of possible firing positions for her, none of them ideal. He discounted any position along the face of or on top of the bluff. While there were plenty of trees for visual cover, it looked to him like they wouldn’t offer any real protection from a powerful incoming .50 caliber slug. Plus, there was the possibility one of his shots might hit a civilian or civilian’s house above the bluff: Unacceptable. In this case, a higher position didn’t give the adversary any real advantage.

If it were me on the shore side, he reasoned, I’d find a good position behind the railroad embankment.

She would have to peak over the railroad tracks, which would mean he might have at best a few-inch “tall” target, essentially the top of her head, at almost a thousand yards. Not an impossible shot, but certainly a demanding one: He liked that.

Finally, his field of fire on the Iowa shore would be wide open, defined to the west by the upriver end of another island closer to the shore and to the east by the grove of trees between the highway and shoreline. On the other hand, her field would be severely limited by the narrow spaces between the island’s trees and the extreme distance from which she would be shooting.

Maybe it was the bright sun and mild, early spring mid-fifties… Or maybe it was that he was finally back in full sniper mode with a mission… But for the first time in a long time, Wade Meese felt alive.

Next: The challenge of getting to hishide

© 2019 Dave Lager

Sniper’s Day Chapter 29

29

Island 318 (Bandit’s Island)

Monday, March 19, 2007

In yet another irony, like Deputy Delahanty on her patrols, Meese stayed ten miles under the posted speed limit for basically the same reason, less of a chance of missing something. He was westbound on Iowa Rt. 20, a two-lane blacktop meandering alongside the Mississippi River in a west-southwesterly direction – this was the area where the mighty river made a turn to the west, at the top of the western Illinois “hump” – for two dozen miles from Lee’s Landing to Makuakeeta, the next town of any size downriver from Lee’s Landing and the seat of the county of the same name.

Directly next to the highway to the north, on his right, was the Grand Island Railroad’s mainline on its own raised embankment, drainage ditches on either side. Beyond the railroad, the steep, thickly wooded Mississippi River bluff rose thirty to as much as sixty feet above the highway. Every so often he could catch a glimpse of a house perched near the lip of the bluff, offering what had to be a spectacular river view.

To the south, on his left, a mudflat gradually descended to the river; sometimes there was only a dozen or so feet from the road to the water, but generally the “beach” was twenty or thirty yards wide. While he passed an occasional grove of spindly trees or a clump of weeds on the highway’s waterside, for long stretches it was bare mud, sand and gravel.

Most of the time he could see all the way across the wide river to the Illinois side, with a flat-bottom fishing boat or a big towboat and a dozen barges sliding along out in the channel. But from time to time his view of the river was blocked by a long, skinny, tree-covered island, with a narrow, shallow chute separating it from the Iowa mainland.

He was not feeling at all good about what he was seeing. While the bluff offered both lots of cover and the advantage of high ground, any position up there was too vulnerable from the side or rear. The open river was too wide; at a mile-plus across it was at the upper limit of the Barrett’s range and beyond the range of the weapon she – and yes, he had begun thinking in terms of the female pronoun for his adversary – would be using. And most of the islands he passed were too close to the Iowa shore, too easily covered by fire even from the short-range weapons most law enforcement officers carried.

Then, ten miles into Makuakeeta County, just beyond another small stand of trees, he saw it; a much bigger and more heavily wooded island that, even by the naked eye appeared to be several hundred yards from the Iowa shore. He slowed down and glanced around, doing a quick assessment of possible firing lines. The highway curved gently to the left for well over a mile before passing behind another island closer to shore: Definite possibilities.

Turning around, he parked on the highway’s shoulder near the edge of the grove. Using his spotter’s scope, he did a quick survey of the island, but while it looked very promising, he felt too exposed standing alongside the busy road and didn’t want to attract attention, didn’t want to answer uncomfortable questions, so headed home.

In the apartment later he studied the gazetteer, which included not only land features, but islands on the Iowa side of the river channel. The island that had gotten his attention was what the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had given the prosaic designation “Island 318,” but what locals knew as Bandit’s Island. It was not quite a mile long end-to-end and just short of a quarter mile across at its widest.

Looking it up on the Internet, he learned the island received its nickname back in the area’s frontier days when river bandits had supposedly used it as a hideout. He also discovered the chute between the island and the Iowa shore was popular with fishermen because there were “deep holes where the big ones liked to hide.” It provided the perfect cover for the next phase of his recon.

Next: Going fishing, but not for fish

© 2019 Dave Lager

Sniper’s Day Chapter 28

Part Three: Upper-Mississippi River Island 318 (Bandit’s Island)

28

Recon

Wednesday, March 14 to Monday, March 19, 2007

Even though he’d grown up in the area, to say Wade Meese was at all “familiar” with Fort Armstrong County would be an overstatement. As a kid, he and his mother sometimes went to the movie multiplex in Gilbert for a mother-son “date night,” usually combined with “dinner” at a fast food restaurant. They often visited the big mall in Lee’s Landing because she thought the department stores there had better sale racks. And he recalled an elementary school field trip once to the state park in the southwest corner of the county and what was said to be Iowa’s oldest tree, whose funny Native American name escaped him. But that was it, having never visited any of the county’s rural areas and backroads…and that was the problem.

He’d rejected out-of-hand and urban settings, like in Lee’s Landing, Gilbert, or small towns, for two reasons. First, while there might find a suitable hide in a building to shoot from, there was no real way to protect his back, it would be much too easy to be flanked by opposing forces; he needed for the encounter to be one-on-one.

Second, and even more importantly, there had to be at least a thousand yards between himself and his adversary, and it had to be a distance not easily shortened by a stealth approach. He intended to use his Barrett, which had an effective range of seventeen-hundred yards, a mile. He was relatively certain his adversary – now assuming, planning on it being Deputy R. Delahanty – would be using the standard law enforcement sniper’s weapon, a Remington 700P LTR, whose upper range was a little short of a thousand yards. He knew from his own sniper training that law enforcement designated marksmen rarely had to take on targets over three-hundred yards distant, so certainly had no need for the Barrett’s long-range capability. He wanted every advantage he could get.

So, using an Iowa gazetteer bought at a gun shop, he spent an entire afternoon carefully studying the topographic lines of the rural parts of Fort Armstrong County. While the overall lay of the land was gently rolling, as expected, the western half, with its multiple creeks and deep gullies and Mississippi River-facing high palisades in the state park, was the more rugged part. And it hosted the highest point in the county, Rickett’s Ridge, a steep-sided, more than mile-long hill.

When snipers recon a potential strike zone they look for four things: To shoot from a high hide with good sightlines; adequate cover for themselves; the target should be in as open a position as possible; and at least one, preferably two escape routes, although for this engagement he wasn’t concerned about the latter, as he didn’t expect to need one.

When he was at Camp Robinson, he’d bought a used 2000 Ford Focus station wagon, the Veteran’s Administration paying to install hand speed and brake controls. On Thursday and Friday, he put nearly four-hundred miles on the car, slowly crisscrossing the paved and gravel rural roads of Fort Armstrong County doing a preliminary recon.

What he found was not a surprise. There were only two sites in the county with any potential for his purposes.

One was Rickett’s Ridge. On Saturday morning he drove the roads leading up to and crossing over the ridge, spending an hour in the afternoon parked on top, studying the surrounding countryside through a spotter’s scope, a bit surprised during that time no sheriff’s patrol car ventured past.

The other was the cliff-like palisades of Five Falls State Park. He used Sunday afternoon to recon all around the park’s perimeter, as well as in the park, and even stopped to visit the “old tree,” now learning it was called Neshnala. He limped the half-mile from the Neshnala parking lot to the edge of the palisades overlooking the Mississippi River.

In one of life’s often strange ironies, on his visit Meese missed bumping into Deputy R. Delahanty by just a few hours. As she did several times a week, earlier that morning she’d parked in the same Neshnala lot and gone for a run on the hiking and equestrian trails in the back half of the park.

While Rickett’s Ridge and the park both had the advantage of height and good cover for a shooter, they also provided plenty of good cover for an adversary, including being able to move closer to the hide undetected. And for these reasons were vetoed.

He knew Deputy R. Delahanty was part of a multi-county SWAT unit, so on Monday decided to do a preliminary drive-through check of Makuakeeta County, immediately to the west of Fort Armstrong County. If any likely locations were found, a more thorough follow-up recon would be undertaken. He’d gone only ten miles into Makuakeeta County on Iowa Rt. 20 when he found exactly what he’d been looking for, albeit in a very unexpected location.

Next: A surprising discovery

© 2019 Dave Lager

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