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 District Attorney Allen Eddy..."
"Turn that garbage off," I said. Before the last word spat from my mouth, the television went black.
Illustration Copyright © Gin E.L. Fenton (GinELF)
Lieutenant John Bradberry mumbled an apology. "Didn't know you were there, Rush."
Some kid I'd never seen before stood to object. Lieutenant Bradberry grabbed a handful of the kid's oversized uniform and jerked him back to his chair. The kid pulled free, kicked his chair back and stood. His hand was inches from his gun. "Don't touch me. Ever."
The hothead spun to leave, but I stepped in front of him. I looked at his name tag. Les Richard. When I raised my eyes to meet his, I saw what I'd expected. Fear. I don't guess I could 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 only hate can paint. "Ever meet Jed?"
The rookie shook his head.
"He was my partner. Ten years. He's dead now. Know why?"
The rookie 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?"
The kid thought for a second. "Life?"
The kid 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?"
The kid 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. 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 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 came out of nowhere that night in April. Jed and I were in our sniper hide, seventy yards out at the six o'clock position. The SWAT Commander gave the order to cut the power. The Entry Team pulled the breaker and, within minutes, a shot rang out. I heard a soft splat. I heard Jed gasp. 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 two 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 newsman baked cookies on the hood of a car to demonstrate how intense the heat was. Today he could fry steak.
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, I eased my right hand to my scope. With all the strength I could muster, I dialed twenty-six clicks right and nine clicks up to account for the moving target lead and bullet drop. I blinked. I now wished for a bead of sweat to lubricate my eyes. I lay still until my heartbeat slowed somewhat. I forced my head up and 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 half the citizens of Chateau Parish. When Wayne Newman shot my sniper partner, he ended a thirty-eight-year streak wherein no deputies 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 Eddy.
I sucked in a mouthful of boiling air. I couldn't remember ever being this hot. My eight-pound ghillie suit felt like an electric blanket, and it seemed to get heavier as the hours snailed by. My eyes were getting heavy. My rifle seemed to sway in front of me.
The voices on the radio were vague, but I thought I heard someone say they were en route back to the courthouse with the prisoner. I pried my eyes open. 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 stopped working. I had stopped sweating hours ago. My tongue was swollen and dry. The heat was literally killing me. I couldn't wait...
The van stopped by the curb. The doors opened. 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. 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. I heard 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. I fell. I tried to rise. I 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 was he on television? District Attorney Eddy was talking. "My office is seeking the death penalty. Justice demands it. Deputy Richard's wife and two 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 in bed, 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, you killed this department. . .and you killed yourself!"
My heart pounded in my ears. "But, what about Newman?"
Bradberry shook his head. "Acquitted. He's a free man, Rush. Jury said the State didn't prove the specific intent to kill. But you! You're gonna pay for what you did!"
B.J. Bourg is a thirteen-year veteran of the Lafourche Parish Sheriff's Office. He draws upon his experiences as a detective and police sniper to create his short stories. He hopes to someday complete and publish a mystery novel.
Cartoon Copyright © Georgiann Baldino
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