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Target Unexpected

by Mark Leinwand

Part 1 appears
in this issue.


The sniper was careful. He had his own alarm clock. Asking for a wakeup call leaves a record that can come back to haunt you later. Not many of the cheap motels he stayed at offered that service anyway.

The clock went off a little after 1:00 a.m. He finished the sandwich that was left over from his dinner that evening and showered to clean and purify himself.

As he went out to the car, he noticed that there was little moonlight. This was a gift from God and would help with concealment. He closed the door gently, to stay quiet and not draw attention, and drove from the outskirts of Vegas into town.

He wanted a different location than he had used the last time he was here. He had driven around on a scouting mission that afternoon, and had found a place that looked promising. It was a gas station west of the Strip, a couple of blocks from an on-ramp to the I-15. It could attract his kind of target. Anyone near the Vegas Strip in the middle of the night, instead of being home in bed like decent people, had to be involved in evil.

The cover was perfect, he had seen. Across the street from the filling station was a hedge running outside a small office building. He could set up there, with the barrel of the rifle sticking through the bushes and the scope peering through gaps in the foliage. He’d pull some of the leaves off if he needed to improve his line of sight. Then he’d just wait and see who would show up, and trust the spirit to tell him when the right target appeared.

He parked his car around the corner, out of view from the gas station. He took the guitar case containing the pieces of the rifle from the trunk. He stayed in the shadows and hugged the wall of the building as he made his way behind the hedge to a spot facing the gas pumps. Nobody was walking on the street at this hour, but occasionally a car or truck went by, and he didn’t want to take any chance of being in someone’s headlights.

He assembled the rifle, clicked the scope and sights into their pre-set positions, screwed on the silencer, inserted the magazine, and chambered a round. The magazine only held ten rounds, but that was more than enough for his sort of work. It was rare that a second shot was ever needed.

He pushed the barrel through the hedge, cleared his view, and waited.

He could be as patient as he had to be, but tonight he didn’t have to wait too long. A little after three o’clock, a car came from the direction of the Strip and pulled into the gas station. Under the bright lights the sniper saw that it was a 2-door Lexus, a sports car. Upwards of $50,000. What do we have here? he thought with interest. He peered through the telescopic sight for a close-up look at the driver as he got out of the car and came around to the pump.

The driver looked to be around 30 or so and had a nondescript build. His medium-brown hair was nicely cut, with a curl that fell over his forehead. It was his clothes that gave him away to the sniper. A well-tailored, perfectly draped sports jacket. Expensive foreign shoes. No tie. A little too much color in the shirt. The sniper’s heart beat faster. A gambler! Had to be! At least something connected to that world. And that world was sinful and corrupt; it polluted all that was clean and right.

We’ll see about this high-roller who thinks the world owes him a living, the sniper thought. Probably been a rich kid all his life. He adjusted his grip on the rifle, turned on the electronic sight, and placed the red dot through the scope on the target’s heart. It’s not a living that the world owes him....

The target had just put the nozzle of the hose in the mouth of the tank when he felt something hit him hard in the chest. He stepped back in surprise. He looked down where he had felt the impact. There was a hole in his jacket. He pulled the front of the jacket out and stared at it. Then he looked up.

The sniper watched the target through the scope on the rifle. He saw him not only not fall down, but look up and around with piercing eyes and an expression of extreme annoyance.

Oh, sweet Jesus, the sniper thought, the guy must be some kind of cop. He’s wearing body armor! He saw the target’s eyes dart left and right, and then somehow, impossibly, he was looking straight at him.

He can’t be seeing me, the sniper thought, not back here in the dark! The target quickly looked around himself, as if to see if anyone else was watching, then seemingly locked his eyes again on the sniper. His face was hardening into anger. He started moving toward the sniper.

No, this is an illusion, the sniper thought. He’s just guessing. Anyway, so what? He may be wearing something, but it’s not covering his head. Must protect the mission. He aimed directly at the target’s forehead and fired. The target’s right arm seemed to disappear for an instant as a blur passed in front of his face. He tossed something aside and kept coming, faster now.

The astonished sniper managed to aim again and fire. Suddenly the target was to the left of the bullet’s path, swatting something away with a motion almost too fast to see. The sniper shifted his aim and fired again but, somehow, the target was now to the right of the bullet, and getting closer. Another shot and he was out of the way again, a blurry swatting motion each time.

The sniper aimed again, but suddenly, as if in one long jump, the target was right in front of him, grabbing the end of the rifle’s barrel in the palm of his hand.

“What kind of demon are you?” the sniper hissed. “I couldn’t have missed you all those times!”

“Maybe you’re not the shot you think you are,” the target said, one hand still holding the end of the rifle barrel, the other pulling the sniper through the hedge, not caring that the bush scraped and scratched his face.

“No man could dodge all those shots!” the sniper gasped, his face bleeding, on his knees, still holding on to his end of the rifle as the target kept the barrel pointing to the sky. “You’re an agent of Satan, sent to disrupt me from God’s work!”

The target laughed — actually laughed! — at him. “God would have to be pretty desperate to do his work through a drooling lowlife like you!”

The sniper struggled against the target’s incredibly strong grip. “Let go of me, Satan!”

The target snatched the rifle out of the sniper’s hand. His face went serious as realization came. “It’s you! You’re the one who’s been killing people in California and Nevada!”

“Not people! Stains upon the land!”

“Oh. I see. Why’d you shoot at me?”

“You looked like a Las Vegas gambler. I didn’t know you were something worse!”

The target almost smiled again. “How bad could I be if I stopped the likes of you?”

“What are you gonna do now? Call the cops and I’ll tell them what you are!”

“Yes. Tell them I’m a demon from hell. Good plan.” He pulled the sniper’s belt off and trussed his hands and feet together.

The target stood up. “You don’t get to murder innocent people. I have a phone in my car. Don’t go anywhere.”

He turned to cross the street. Two more cars had pulled into the gas station. The cashier had come out and was looking at his car, probably thinking he was in the restroom. Nobody was looking over here.

As the target walked away, the sniper discovered that his opponent had screwed up. If he pulled hard and twisted, there was just enough play in the belt for him to work himself free. The stupid amateur had even left the gun behind. He reached for it. God won’t let me give up. Only a minor demon would make these mistakes. Maybe if he’s not looking at me....

The sniper glared at the target until the scope of the rifle came into his line of sight. He carefully placed the red dot on the back of the target’s head.

“Innocent people,” huh? Smoothly, precisely, he squeezed the trigger... And his world exploded into flame and thunder...

And ended.

When Carl Morningstar felt the dot on the back of his head and heard the imperceptible creak of the trigger being pulled past the point of no return, he had leapt forward, his motion a blur, invisible in the dark night, to put distance between the sniper and himself before anyone nearby would look toward the noise he knew was coming.

He stopped in the shadows at the side of the filling station. At the sound of the explosion, he stepped forward into the light, his hand covering the hole in his coat. He looked across the street at the fire, acting as surprised as everyone else.

“What the hell?!” he cried. “Somebody call 911!” The cashier scrambled as the other motorists kept staring at the fire on the ground and the shape of something limp on the strip of grass in front of the hedge.

It was his choice to pull that trigger again, Morningstar thought.

He walked back to his car. No one had noticed the flattened bullet lying at the base of the gas pump, and he slipped it into his pocket.

He wondered if the end of the rifle barrel had come out intact. But it didn’t matter enough to look. When he had squeezed it closed, he’d done it with the palm of his hand, not his fingers. His fingerprints were in the databases, because they’d been taken in the orphanage when he was a boy. No one had ever taken his palm prints.

He finished fueling his car. Now that it was over, he was a little shaken. He had learned in his life that there were things he could do that other people couldn’t. He didn’t know why, and he kept them under wraps. This freak stuff made him nervous.

Tonight was one of the things he had feared: a situation he couldn’t avoid and that might have exposed him. Sure, he could have run away, but that prick could have shot someone else. At least there weren’t many people around at this hour who could have seen what he had done.

Better pay cash tonight, Carl thought. No one needs a paper trail that I was here. That reminded him. The hole in his jacket went through the inside pocket. He pulled out the receipt from the 24-hour bank branch in the casino where he had deposited his winnings from the poker tables tonight. It was only nicked in the corner.

He could hear sirens in the distance, getting closer. He’d be gone by the time the police could organize a canvass.

Morningstar took a closer look at the hole the bullet had made in his clothing. The shirt was ruined, too, but it was just a shirt. No mark at all on his skin. But the jacket...

Damn! he thought with irritation. I liked this coat! I wonder if it can be patched or re-woven, or something...

Copyright © 2017 by Mark Leinwand

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