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