A REECE CULVER NOVEL
Saturday June 8, 2013
Julian had been told the target would be traveling south along the coastal road. With a practiced hand he pivoted the stock of the Russian-made sniper rifle on its black steel swivel mount atop the bipod legs and aimed toward the highway below. The SUV would be passing right through his sight . . . there. A chilly breeze blew through the tent, rippling the damp cotton shirt that lay molded to his back. He wasn’t nervous, but he did tend to sweat as the killing hour approached. He regarded the unpleasant sensation as just part of the job. It wasn’t like anyone would ever find out.
Peering through the custom-made rifle scope, he adjusted the magnification between his thumb and index finger, zooming in on the worn white strands of the highway’s center line several hundred yards below. As he rotated the knob back out, he spotted the farthest flag he’d placed in the branches of a nearby tree. The strip of white plastic barely fluttered, telling him the wind was calm.
His square unshaven chin pressed firmly against the cold black stock of the Dragunov SVD, and he pushed upward, seating the steel magazine that housed multiple 7N1 steel-core sniper rounds. With its 151-grain projectile and velocity of 830 meters per second, it was perfect for this type of work.
A rifle was the best—precise, anonymous, and decisive. He ran the shot through his mind one more time. Envision what you want to have happen. He’d read about that in an e-zine, and he adopted it as part of his preparations, even though it was supposed to be part of his ten-year life plan. He didn’t need any plan. In ten years he’d be rich and retired on a private island in the Caribbean.
The tracking device he’d stuck under the rear bumper would tell him when the SUV was near. It would approach on its way south toward the city of Talbert. He’d picked the perfect spot. The narrow Scottish road curved left around a large hill, and the vast expanse of the North Atlantic Ocean spread beyond the guardrail.
Confirm the license plate BV-061-EK, lead the target, and pan upward to the windshield. He’d draw a bead on the man’s head, squeeze the trigger, and watch as the windshield filled with a fine red mist. He’d envisioned the heavy vehicle veering sideways and crashing through the flimsy rusted guardrail before plunging into the depths of the sea. The driver would be dead before he realized how freezing cold that water was.
As the assassin waited patiently enduring the wet chill that reminded him of his home on Bainbridge Island, he monitored the moving red dot on his cell phone. A young woman with a yellow scarf drove past in her blue Volvo sedan. His stomach growled, and he remembered the bacon he’d had at the inn. The slabs were thick and cooked only in patches. Typical British cuisine.
The dot was rapidly approaching, and he shifted his attention to a silver Nissan Pathfinder rapidly making its way up the road. It carried two occupants. Damn it, he thought as a maroon BMW X5 came around the corner. The Pathfinder would pass in front just as the BMW entered his field of fire.
He could feel a drop of sweat rolling down the knobs of his spine. He zeroed in the rifle scope on the BMW windshield. The cross hairs remained steady as the SUV slowed to make the curve. He saw the Pathfinder pass through in a blur. He had a split second of clearance as he squeezed the trigger. The windshield misted red and flashed beyond his line of sight.
Reece Culver was driving, and his good friend Haisley Averton sat opposite. He was finding that the Pathfinder he’d rented handled pretty well for a truck. Driving on the left was weird, though, just like the name of the town they’d just passed through. Who would want to live in a place called Lochgilphead? You’d have to check the spelling every time you wrote your address.
“The way I see it, we have two options. We can find a pub in town, grab a few brews, some chow, and find a place to stay tonight, or we can head straight up to that fishing lodge, check in, and hope their restaurant and bar are still open,” Reece said.
“I vote for the first one. On the flyer the lodge looks like it’s hard-core fishing only, and I’d rather check out some of the local scotch before we go camping,” Haisley said.
They were nearing yet another curve on the twisting coastal road. Coming around the bend was a maroon BMW X5. A lot nicer car than what we’re driving, Reece thought. Wouldn’t pay for the upgrade, though—
As the two cars passed, he heard the loud crack of a rifle. He instinctively ducked. In the rearview mirror he saw the BMW careen sideways, straight into the guardrail. The steel barrier was ripped open with an ear-splitting screech. The BMW carried on through—and dropped out of sight.
“Did you see that?” he yelled, jamming his cowboy boot down on the brake pedal. The rear wheels locked as the vehicle skidded. The rear end started drifting right, and then the truck’s automatic traction control system corrected their path. Reece could smell the tires burning from the friction.
“What the hell just happened?” Haisley said as he unbuckled his seat belt.
Reece flung open his door and jumped down, wanting to see what happened to the other car. He ran to the crumpled section of the guardrail that the BMW had destroyed before it went airborne. Springing off his right foot, he cleared the barrier like a hurdle. The grass-covered bank was wet and slick as he descended. He started to slide, then caught himself, allowing himself to fall on his behind. He half-slid, half-pedaled the rest of the way down to the water.
The sports utility vehicle was twenty feet out into the ocean with its front end already submerged below the surface. Reece didn’t have much time, if in fact the driver was still alive. He slipped off his Tony Lama boots.
“Reece, what are you doing?” Haisley cried from above.
“I’ve got to see if he needs to be rescued.”
The lapping surf felt cold on his shins, then his stomach, and shoulders as he plunged into the waves. The saltwater burned his eyes as he looked out toward the truck and wondered if he’d get there in time.
It seemed like it took ten minutes to swim to the sinking truck. Reece kicked through the water, taking big swipes at it as he alternated strokes with his arms.
Just a little more. I’ve got it now.
He’d finally made it just as the rear bumper plunged below the surface and followed the rest of the truck’s chassis, sinking remorselessly into the cold black depths. Reece stuck his head below the water’s surface as he followed the red SUV down. There was no way he could dive that far.
Pulling his head out of the water, he kicked to keep treading water. For the first time he felt the bone-chilling cold. His teeth chattered and his numb legs felt like two heavy clumps. The wind whipped at the water’s surface, spraying his face.
He turned back toward the shore and felt a strong current carrying him south. If he didn’t get back to shore, hypothermia would set in and he’d drown.
Come on, he told himself, focus. He swung into motion, feeling more sluggish now. His arms were heavy like wooden oars. Reece kicked his feet to propel himself forward, but felt the weight of his clothes. His friend Haisley was standing on the bank a few feet from the water’s edge. The older bald black man with his white goatee was waving to him frantically.
Just keep on rowing, he encouraged himself, just like a rowboat, looking for the right spot to fish. As he steadily made his way to shore, his mind filled with questions. What had happened on the road up above? Someone had shot at a moving vehicle, and that car was now sunk in the ocean depths. Whoever it was had to be a damned good shot. That meant that the killing was intentional
He’d been lucky. One second earlier, and he could have been the one who was killed. A burn of anger started spreading from the back of his neck. That was too close. That made it personal.