by B. J. Bourg
When Wayne Newman shot my sniper partner he ended a thirty-eight year streak wherein no Chateau Parish deputy had fallen in the line of duty. The vast majority of the parish’s 150,000 citizens were in agreement when it came to the fate of Newman. In fact, it seemed the only person not in agreement was District Attorney Allen Eddy.
I pushed through the door of the squad room. Four patrolmen sat at a round table. They didn’t even notice me. They were fixated on the television that blared in the corner of the room.
“Closing arguments begin tomorrow,” the anchorwoman said, “in the trial of the man accused of killing Chateau Parish Sheriff’s Office Sniper Jed Taylor early last year. Joining us now is the District Attorney for...”
“Turn that garbage off,” I said. Before the last word spat from my mouth the television went black.
Lieutenant John Bradberry mumbled an apology. “Didn’t know you were there, Rush.”
”Hey!” Some rookie deputy I’d never seen before jumped to his feet. “I was watching that.”
Bradberry shook his head. “Not any more.”
“What gives you the right to decide if we can watch TV or not?”
Bradberry pointed to the Lieutenant bars on his shoulder. The rookie smirked and leaned to snatch the remote from Bradberry’s hand, but he was too slow. Bradberry grabbed a fistful of his oversized uniform. “You’re about to make a big mistake, kid.”
The rookie pulled free. His hand was inches from his gun. “Don’t touch me. Ever.”
Bradberry frowned. “I hope you enjoyed your two weeks working patrol, because you’re getting busted back to the jail.”
The rookie spun to leave but I stepped in front of him. I looked at his nametag. Les Richard. When I raised my eyes to meet his I saw what I’d expected; fear. I guess I couldn’t blame him. I had a week’s growth on my face, my camouflage coveralls were caked with mud, the woodland paint on my face was smeared, and my eyes; on normal days they were brown, but lately they were red. The kind of red that only hate can paint. “Ever met Jed?”
Les Richard shook his head.
“He was my partner. Ten years. He’s dead now. Know why?”
Les swallowed. “He was killed during that drug raid last year. I heard about it when I was in the Academy. They told us-”
“Kid, I don’t care what you heard.” I stepped closer to him. “Fact is, he was murdered. Some piece of garbage gunned him down. Now that puke is on trial for Second Degree Murder. You know what the penalty is for Second Degree?”
Les thought for a second. “Life?”
He looked confused. “In the Academy they said if you killed a cop it was First Degree Murder. You get the death penalty.”
“This ain’t the Academy, kid. You know who’s worse than the puke who murdered Jed?”
Les tried to talk, but nothing came out.
“The spineless DA who can’t make the tough decisions.” I buried my finger in his chest. “And no one, including you, will watch that idiot showboat in front of the cameras.”
I shoved past him. I had to get some rest. Tomorrow was the most important day of my life and I had one stop to make before going home.
* * *
Sally Taylor was in her back yard watching Mickey and Seth swim. She looked up when I approached. Her eyes were swollen and bloodshot. “Rush, it’s been over a year since he died.” She sighed. “The twins still ask when daddy’s coming home.”
I sat beside her. The boys had just turned four. Etched in my brain was the memory of their tiny faces fifteen months earlier. They had stared wide-eyed when their mother collapsed to the floor while I tried to explain that I’d done everything I could to save her husband, their father, my only friend.
The bullet had come out of nowhere that night in April. Jed and I had selected a clump of bushes as our sniper hide. We were seventy yards out at the six o’clock position; well out of harm’s way.
The SWAT Commander had given the order to cut the power on the gunman’s house. The Entry Team had pulled the breaker and within minutes a shot had rung out. I’d heard a soft splat. Jed gasped. I felt him convulse. The blood, it was everywhere.
Sally’s voice wrenched me from the nightmare I relived every minute of every day. “He would have done it for you.”
I nodded. The twins bolted from the pool and slammed their wet frames into me. Mickey looked up with soulful eyes. “Uncle Rushie, where’s my daddy?”
My eyes burned. I squeezed them shut, but the tears fought through and slid down my face. I patted the boys on the head. I looked deep into Sally’s eyes. “Tomorrow.”
* * *
It had to be close to lunchtime. The sun was directly above me. I tilted my head just a little and sucked on the tube from my Camelback. Empty. I knew that. I had sucked the last of my water hours ago. I tried to blink the sweat off my brow, but it rolled into my eye, carrying traces of camouflage paint and mosquito repellent with it. On the previous day, a reporter had baked cookies on the hood of a car to demonstrate how intense the heat was. On this day, he could grill a steak well-done.
I stared longingly at the courthouse. It squatted in the cool shade, while I was perched on my exposed hilltop with nothing to protect me from the brutal sun. The cane fields behind me blocked any chance of a breeze blowing in from the south.
No matter. It would be over soon. The case was scheduled to go to the jury by lunchtime. I figured it wouldn’t take them too long, maybe a few hours, to find Wayne Newman guilty of Second Degree Murder.
I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. It would then be my turn to hand out his punishment. But for now, my job was to wait.
Two excruciating hours later my police radio scratched to life. “Breaking for lunch,” came the call from the deputy who was in charge of courtroom security.
I watched through my scope. The deputies escorted Wayne Newman to the prison van. I focused my crosshairs on his chin. The upper thick reticle was atop his head. It would be a two-hundred yard shot.
I tracked him from the courthouse steps to the van door. The only sure shot was when he cleared the giant oak tree that served as the Oak Alley Courthouse icon. Their walk was slow. Three miles per hour. I’d need to lead him thirteen inches.
Moving millimeters at a time, my right hand inched to the scope. With all the strength in me, I dialed twenty-six clicks right and nine clicks up to account for the moving target lead and bullet drop.
I blinked, and wished for a bead of sweat to lubricate my eyes. I lay motionless until the thumping in my chest slowed somewhat. I checked for moving grass between my sniper hide and the kill zone. Nothing. It seemed as though the wind stood still, as did the breaths of all the citizens in Chateau Parish.
I sucked in a mouthful of boiling air. I couldn’t remember ever being that hot. My eight-pound ghillie suit felt like an electric blanket. The strips of burlap and the camouflage coverall were designed to protect me from detection. It now served as a serious threat, and it was getting hotter as the hours snailed by. My eyes became heavy. My rifle seemed to sway in front of me.
Stark realization settled into my gut and disappointment rushed to my throat. My awareness was diminishing rapidly; my physical condition equally deteriorating. I sighed and allowed my head to sink to the ground. The smart thing to do was abort the mission. Live to shoot another day. That’s what I would tell any sniper in that situation. It would be impossible to last until the evening.
My thoughts began to drift...
Jed’s face came into view. It seemed so real. I reached out to touch it, but my hand slipped right through. I heard a voice. A woman’s voice. At first, I couldn’t make out what she was saying, but she repeated it over and over; “He would have done it for you!”
* * *
The screeching radio jerked me awake. I forced my eyes open. Jed’s face was gone. Voices scratched through my earpiece. I thought I heard someone say they were en route back to the courthouse with the prisoner.
As hard as I tried, I couldn’t catch a deep breath. I had to move. I was about to roll off of my stomach when the transport van came into view. I tried to blink away the blurriness. No luck. I couldn’t tell if it was the mirage or if my eyes had quit working. I had stopped sweating hours ago. My tongue was swollen and dry. The heat was literally killing me.
He would have done it for you!
My jaw burned. The image of blood squirting from Jed’s face stared me right in the eyes. This would be my only chance to keep my promise to my dead partner and his family. I had to do it now, while there was still enough strength left in my fading body to pull the trigger.
The van stopped by the curb. The doors opened and the jail guards led Wayne out of the van. I focused my crosshairs on Wayne’s ear and exhaled until I reached my normal respiratory pause. I held my breath. I was shaking too much. Come on! Pull yourself together!
I took another deep breath. My eye focused on the crosshairs. I tried to hold still. I applied steady, rearward pressure on the trigger. My hand shook. The crosshairs moved too much. Still, I pulled. Suddenly, the rifle butt punched me in the shoulder. The explosion was deafening.
I struggled to my feet to make my getaway. My breath came in gasps. I took two steps and the earth started to spin. I fell hard. I stared wildly around. There was shouting in the distance. I felt around on the ground for my rifle, took it in hand, and tried to crawl. The cane rows were only thirty feet away and I was nearly there. A few more lunges. My arms collapsed beneath my weight and I plunged to my face. I struggled to my knees and tried to spit the mud out of my mouth. I crawled. Fell. Tried to rise. Fell again.
Lying there panting, it suddenly hit me like a bucket of ice water. I had dialed in the moving target lead to the right — Wayne had been walking to the left!
* * *
I heard a familiar voice in the distance. It got closer...and closer. I wasn’t hot anymore. I was on my back and I lay on something soft. I eased my eyes open and shut them quickly. My head felt as though it would split. I peeked through slits.
I was in a hospital. An IV drip stood next to my bed. I looked in the direction of the voice. It was the television. There was a picture of the rookie, Les Richard. Why is he on television? District Attorney Eddy was talking. “My office is seeking the death penalty. Justice demands it. Deputy Richard’s wife and small children demand it! What Deputy Rush Chandler did was inexcusable. For that, I will try him. I will convict him. And I will see him put to death!”
I bolted upright, but chains around my waist and arms jerked me back to the bed.
Lieutenant Bradberry walked over to my bed. His eyes were red. “You killed my rookie, Will, you killed this department, and you killed yourself!”
My heart pounded in my ears. “But, what about Newman?”
“Manslaughter. He’ll be free in twenty. Jury said the State didn’t prove specific intent to kill.” Bradberry slowly shook his head. “But you! You’re gonna pay for what you did!”
Copyright © 2006 by B. J. Bourg