I’ve been shot three times. The first time, I was in my mid-twenties. It felt like someone had carved a hole in my leg and poured in liquid fire. The second time, I was in my early thirties. It felt like a bomb had exploded inside my chest. The third time, this time, it was like having a harpoon jammed into my shoulder. And then I felt . . . nothing. No pain. None. I remember looking up at the bare tree branches against the clear blue sky, startled by the strange beauty of their shapes. I remember the feeling of the cold, crisp air stinging my nostrils. The snow beneath my head was as soft as a Ritz Carlton pillow. It was a moment of transcendent clarity. And there was no pain whatsoever. Which was just as well, as I had to prepare myself to shoot a man at point blank range.
I have no idea how much time elapsed between the instant the bullet passed through my right shoulder and my first look at my would-be assassin. I vaguely recall hearing a distant roar; I think it was the gunshot echoing off the steep hills that formed the valley around me. As it faded, he appeared.
He was tall, dressed in a navy-colored pea coat with the collar turned up against the cold. His face was narrow, acne-scarred, expressionless. His hairline had receded to the point of near-invisibility. More to the point, he held a blacked-out Remington 700 SPS in his right hand. He used his gloved left hand to grab onto trees as he descended, carefully, gracefully, working his way down the slope towards me.
My head was tilted towards him; I’m not sure if I’d moved it or if that’s the way I’d fallen. In any case, I remained motionless. I concentrated and slowed my breathing as much as possible. Not to fool the killer into thinking I was dead, although it was worth a shot. Slow breathing helped me think.
I shuffled my thoughts, dealt them, examined them and arranged them like a solitaire player.
Why hadn’t the sniper finished me off from a stand-off distance? Judging from his birdlike head movements and the way his shark eyes scanned for danger, he was a pro. There were only two possible explanations for my continued existence: either he wasn’t going to kill me or he wanted to do it up close and personal.
I discarded the first option. Even though I knew a certain someone wasn’t too happy with my work, you don’t “warn” your enemies with a scoped rifle. You put them in your sights, squeeze the trigger and kill them. If you miss, you stay where you are (if you can) and shoot them again until they’re dead. Which hadn’t happened, apparently.
I thanked God for the second possibility. He hadn’t created a very nice place, populated as it is with men of unspeakable cruelty and unforgivable perversions. But He had given me a second chance—another second chance—to live. Once again, I was determined not to waste it.
My right arm and hand were out of commission. My Springfield XD-M was on my right hip. I’d have to unzip my jacket with my left hand, reach all the way across my body, pinch my gun with two fingers, pull it out of the holster, place it on my body, get a proper grip, raise the gun, aim it pea coat guy and shoot him. I knew I would be slow and clumsy at the exact moment I needed to be smooth and fast.
Time was running out. Pea coat guy had reached flat ground, about twenty-five yards away from the spot my body was busy staining dark red.
The chances of bringing my weapon to bear in time without being detected–and shot—hovered between slim and none. Still, experience had taught me that grace under pressure is an anomaly. I’ve seen stone cold killers make the stupidest mistakes imaginable: from carrying an unloaded gun to shooting their partner when startled.
Anyway, it was the only move I had.
I watched my aspiring killer’s hands as I unzipped my coat. His placed his left hand under the rifle’s stock as he trudged forwards. As I reached across my body, I willed myself to stop staring at the tip of the barrel. A raised barrel would presage my last moments on Earth. But I needed situational awareness. Shit happens. Both bad and good.
I was suddenly crushed mountain of pain. A Mount Everest of pain. I had no idea that a tiny shift in my torse would destroy my ability to think, move or breathe. But it did. For the longest instant of my life.
At some point, I became aware that my fingers were touching the cold metal of the XD’s slide. Pea coat guy was ten yards away, standing still, holding the rifle at the ready position, smiling the warmest, most beautiful smile I’d ever seen. Well, almost. It was my father’s smile on another man’s face.
Maybe that made me angry. I don’t know. Mount Everest was on top of my right shoulder, pressing down with all the gravity that Mother Earth had ever produced. I removed my XD from the holster and lay it on my stomach. I was panting heavily, sending plumes of hot breath into a stiffening winter breeze.
The bastard nodded his head, as if to say, of course you’d try something like that before I kill you. He brought his rifle to bear. I took my time and shot him in the head, just to the left of the gun, underneath the bridge of his nose.
It was a hell of a shot; the only instant “lights out” shot there is, really. His head snapped backwards. He fell to his knees and then to the ground. I think he twitched. Or something. I shot him in the head again. Twice. Little fountains of blood and viscera flew into the air with each shot. I swear I they landed on the snow with soft thuds.
Strangely enough, I brought my gun back to the ready position. Somewhere in the back of my screaming mind I felt an incredible sense of fatigue. I’d won. But I could very well die, anyway. Somehow, I had to get up.
And then I heard the unmistakable zip of bullets. Oh so NOW someone wants to shoot me from a distance.
“Police! Drop you weapon!”
Fucking cops. I had two thoughts before I passed out: I wonder if my client was still alive, and someone ought to train those guys how to hit something with a gun.
[Click here to read Chapter Two]