Rose

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Chapter 36: Trap

Alex continued down the road, pointing out the home that Josh had given the address of when he sent Maitea the fake text from her brother. It was set among the sand and the rock formations, hidden from the road by a formation maybe a hundred yards long and fifty yards from the roadway. You could just catch a glimpse of it before the next set of rocks blocked it again. “There is nobody living there, right?”

“There is,” he said. “The Gila pack bought the property yesterday, we needed a target that would be remote enough humans wouldn’t get caught in the crossfire. One of our warriors, a man who looks something like you, is holed up inside.”

“Are you kidding me? You’re going to get him killed,” I said as I looked back towards the house.

“We took precautions, we’re not stupid,” he said. “He’s a volunteer, with strict orders never to leave the house or take his body armor off. He’s wearing it under his clothes, multiple plates on his chest and back. He’s complaining like a little bitch about how uncomfortable it is, but he’ll live.” I chuckled a little, the armor WAS a pain to wear. “Plus, we brought in pieces of ballistic glass and reinforced the windows she would have to take her shots through. He’ll be fine. We needed a target who wasn’t you since you have to be a shooter.”

I thought about it for a while as he pulled off the road on a trail that was barely visible. He continued until we were out of sight, then parked in between some large rocks. We got out and went to the back, pulling out our gear. I changed into my reliable desert camouflage, which had served me well in my tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. I took my rifle out of its case, loading the magazine and checking the scope mount to make sure it was all secure. I pulled the foil pack out of a side pouch, tearing it open I took out the unlubricated condom and pulled it over the barrel before securing it with a rubber band. “The fuck is that for,” Alex said.

“Sniper trick from Vietnam, it keeps the water and dust out of the barrel,” I said. “Here.” I tossed him an extra, he had to work it to get it to roll over the huge muzzle brake that his Barrett had. I slung my pack over my shoulders, then slung my trusty M40 rifle over a shoulder. I tested the comms again. “Lars, you in place?”

“I found a good spot, I’m digging in now,” he said.

“All right, we’re starting to move to our positions now.” I grabbed Alex’s shoulder. “Keep your eyes open, all right? And stay safe.”

“You too. I don’t want to have to explain to your mate how you got hurt.” I laughed as we went different directions, him staying to the opposite side of the road, while I crossed over and made my way through the rocks and sand towards the house. We hadn’t wanted our truck to be spotted, so it was a good couple mile hike to the area I had selected on the satellite image. I kept the rock formation between me and the house, hiding my approach from anyone who might be in the area.

I climbed to the top of the rocks and worked my way to the front, searching for something that had the elements I looked for in a good hide. I wanted a good field of view, while still having enough cover and concealment to hide my body. I also wanted to make sure my back side was protected, and ideally have protection from the sun. I passed up a couple possibles, they were too high and could silhouette me. I got lucky on the front side; a large chunk had fallen off, leaving a flat ledge about eight feet deep in between two protruding vertical ridges. Some loose rocks were near the edge that would help hide me from the front. It was perfect.

There was no safe way to climb my way down the near-vertical rock face in human form. Instead, I used paracord from my pack to lower my rifle, backpack, comm headset and clothes down to the ledge. I then shifted, shaking out my fur before moving down the rocks. My cat was a much stronger climber, and I worked my way below the ledge before moving across and back up. I shifted as I got there, pulling open my pack and getting dressed again. I laid the sleeping bag down first, moving the loose rock away so I’d be fairly comfortable. I’d be here for a long time, days potentially, until she showed up or we gave up.

The first thing I set up was my spotting scope, which had an integral laser rangefinder. I started drawing the scene, showing distances to the house and other rock formations and points of interest. The ranges were from four to nine hundred plus yards, all well within my abilities. I set my rifle up in front of me, on its bipod with the scope covers on. I chambered a round and removed the scope covers, checking the field of fire. I pulled out my ballistic computer and entered information for elevation, air temperature, humidity, elevation difference and range to the house. The house was a six hundred and twenty-two yards, which was a good medium point to adjust my scope to. I set the scope for the house, and wrote down the adjustments for other targets.

“Gunny’s set up, six hundred southeast of the house, halfway up the rocks,” I called out. “Can you see me?”

“I watched you climb up there, Gunny, and I still can’t see you,” Alex said. “I’m set up on top of the tower, two hundred yards off the road and four hundred from the turnoff. You find me.”

I located his rock tower and started searching. He was decent, but he was no sniper. At the school I ran, students had to move without detection over half a mile while three instructors looked for them. Then they had to find a shooting position and hit a target, all while we looked for them. They only passed if they could stalk and kill without us finding them, and many couldn’t pass. The washout rate was high. “Your ass is sticking up,” I told him, “and your rifle barrel is too damn shiny. Use some loose rocks, pile them up to give you some more cover. Wrap the barrel with strips from your camo shirt, mix in some grasses or other vegetation.” He got busy, and twenty minutes later he was much tougher to pick up.

Lars was much tougher to find, after twenty minutes with a spotting scope I still didn’t have him. He had to wave his hand for me to pick him up, and I had to do the same for him. We settled into a routine; five minutes focused glassing of the countryside, break a minute, repeat. Along the way, I would repeat the scope adjustments to the various points I had sketched, memorizing them for later.

The sun was going to set in twenty minutes, and we still had nothing. Alex had stayed fairly busy watching the traffic, using his spotting scope to look for Maitea. “Wait a minute,” he called over the radio. “Possible contact. Southbound, older model F-150, red.”

I had a view of some parts of the road, so I waited for her car to appear. It looked like her, she had her hair back and a cap on, but the face was right. We watched as she drove past, I could see her looking towards the target house and then back to the road. She didn’t slow down, she just kept driving and was soon out of sight. “Do you think she made us,” Alex asked.

“No way she saw us,” I said. Sure enough, five minutes later her truck was back, this time she pulled into the driveway. She stopped just before she could be seen from the house; as she got out, she checked her pistol before easing the door closed. “Alex, link your guy and let him know what is going on. Remember, we want her alive.”

I had my rifle up and was tracking her as she walked up the drive. She was dressed in Wranglers and a plaid shirt with a ballcap, matched with heels. I watched her move slowly along the rocky drive. “Going for the damsel in distress routine?”

“I think so,” I said. “Alex, I want you to disable her truck when Lars takes his shot. Lars, we want to wound her. Can you do that?”

“She won’t go anywhere on one leg,” he said. “I’m ready on your signal.”

“Alex, tell your guy to turn a light on and show his silhouette in the window, draw her in.”

“Got it.” I saw the light, and she moved towards the house, one hand behind her back as she gripped the pistol in her belt. Lars wasn’t the kind of guy to get excited, his voice stayed even as he counted down. “Four, three, two, one, send it.” I heard two shots nearly at the same time, a loud boom from my left followed by a bang from the front. Maitea’s leg exploded in a red mist, blowing her left calf into a jagged stump as the high-powered round blasted through. Her truck caught on fire as the big fifty-caliber round tore through the gas tank under the bed.

The Scrabble Killer was rolling on the ground holding her leg, but she didn’t give up. I watched her raise her pistol and point it at the house, just before another shot from Lars hit her hand. The pistol shattered along with her fingers. “Target is down,” Lars said.

“Good shooting,” I said just before another shot rang out. This one was from my right, and I didn’t see from where.

“Fuck I’m hit,” Lars groaned. I looked at his position, he was holding onto his left shoulder and I could see blood on the rocks behind him.

“We’ve got a shooter on the east side,” Alex said. “I can’t see him from this angle.”

“I’ll get the shooter, you get to Lars,” I said. “Have your guy keep her alive after I stop him.” I ripped my clothes off and shifted into my panther, there was no time for my human. I leaped down the incline before taking off across the open ground towards the bluffs on the other side. Since neither I nor Alex had spotted him, I had a decent idea where he was set up. My cat was forward in our mind as I scented deeply, my ears forward to listen for any sounds of our prey. I leaped from rock to rock to get to the top of the formation, pausing at the edge to search and finding nothing. I moved quickly across the top, the wide pads of my paws moving me silently towards the far edge.

I smelled him before anything else. I moved to the edge, nearly invisible in the gathering shadows as I peered down. I could hear him breathing now, he wasn’t below me yet but it didn’t take long.

I stopped about twenty feet above his position; he was set up on the house, waiting for the door to open. I let my claws extend, and roared just before I leaped down onto him. He barely had time to register my presence before my front paws landed on his shoulders, breaking bones and ribs as I drove him to the ground below. He screamed, I roared into his ears.

He pissed his pants.

I batted him with a paw, knocking him out. I quickly shifted. “SHOOTER DOWN,” I yelled. I grabbed his rifle and tossed it into the rocks far below, then rolled him over.

I stilled as I saw who it was. I knew this man. I had trained this man. Hell, I had FOUGHT with this man and it felt like a knife to my gut. Gunny Clayton Matthews, USMC Scout Sniper Instructor. Medically retired after an IED took off his right arm and filled him with shrapnel during fighting in Colorado in the Were War.

He had taught himself to shoot left-handed.

“GUNNY, I NEED YOU,” Alex yelled. I looked up, he was stuck at the bottom of the rock formation. He was naked, having run there in wolf form, but wolves weren’t climbers. I left my former buddy behind and picked my way to the ground, then ran across to him. I didn’t slow down, I leaped high onto the rock and started my climb up. It only took seconds before I was next to him.

He was in rough shape. The round had hit him in the left shoulder and moved through his chest, exiting near his spine. “I’m fucked, Gunny,” he whispered. “I can’t move my legs, and I’m bleeding out.”

I pulled a shirt out of his backpack and applied it to the exit wound, trying to stem the blood. “Hold your fucking shoulder, we’ll get help here.”

“Don’t bullshit me, buddy. I won’t last until an ambulance arrives.”

My mind knew he was right, my cat didn’t like it. “Let me change you,” I begged him. “Let me give you a chance.”

“Do it,” he said. “I always liked cats.” Shifting back into my black panther, I watched as he closed his eyes and looked away. I pulled the shirt away from his injured shoulder and bit down, my saliva going directly into his system near the entry hole. I shifted back, resuming the pressure on his wounds, praying to God for a miracle.

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