world again and knowing then he’d never go near them, not one more time in his life. Also knowing the best way to go from
there on out was not to count on anyone ever again or even to care for anyone again or let anyone care for you.
And a few years later, dawn and warm rain falling on leaves and grass, mist above the rice paddies. Twelve hours in the “hide”
with gnats around your face and ants crawling in your ears and under your clothes… leeches hanging on to you… mosquitoes biting
and you can’t swat them away, no movement allowed. Becoming part of the landscape. Estimating windage by the feel of it on
your face and the bend of grass five hundred yards out, watching heat waves to get a sense of how the bullet will ride. Living
for a week on nothing but water and basic C-rations—peanut butter, jelly, cheese, and crackers. Four more killing days to
Christmas, as a major had said before the chopper took off last night.
Lying there, concentrating, looking for a movement of brown or green in a wall of brown and green. Scanning the natural lines
of drift where people tend to walk or rest. Mornings and evenings are best. Charlie’s just waking up or tired and careless
after a day’s work.
The beat of your heart against the earth, the smell of solvent residue coming off your rifle bolt, a flat-shooting Remington
700 with a Redfield nine-power scope.
“There he is,” your spotter whispers. “The hamburger in the door, epaulets and clean uniform, binoculars. NVA colonel.”
Officers: Always look for the clean uniform, the binoculars, the one with a radio man close by. Dumb bastard’s standing in
the door of a hut, yawning.
Check your body position and scope picture.
“I make it eight five zero yards,” you whisper.
“Eight fifty, eight seventy-five,” your spotter whispers back.
It all seems kind of… kind of dreamlike. “four teacher, White Feather, calls it his “bubble,” going into a place of concentration
and focus so clear that it becomes a universe of its own where nothing and no one can intrude.
Check again: the bend of grass, the heat waves.
Wait for the flattest part of your breathing cycle.
Control the trigger pull, the follow-through.
The recoil against your shoulder, and on the other side of the valley, a man jolts back into the darkness of a hut.
Your spotter gives you a thumbs-up, and the two of you begin a reverse crawl down your escape route.
The world of Clayton Price.
A strange world, and a long, strange life, aloneness mostly, loneliness sometimes. Never a woman for any amount of time. Nothing
like the one riding close behind him, the one he could smell in the compressed space of a Bronco called Vito when they slowed
and the breeze no longer blew away the pleasant mix of perfume and sweat coming off her. He straightened in his seat and glanced
back. Luz María was looking at him.
In the Learjet hammering southwest, different smells. The distinct, unalloyed scents of coffee and gun oil. Walter McGrane
glanced up when he heard the soft click of a rifle bolt. One of the men across from him was examining the sniper rifle. He
watched the man work the bolt, checking over the tool of graceful agony that could have been a candidate for an award in contemporary
design, curving metal and angular parts machined to a level of precision usually reserved for fine watches. The man, machined
to precision like the rifle and known to him only as Weatherford, ran a soft cloth along the barrel as if he were touching
The rifle, forty-four inches long and weighing a little over fourteen pounds with its scope, was chambered for a match-grade
7.62,173-grain bullet. One second after being fired, the bullet would hit the center of a man s chest at a thousand yards,
over a half mile away, every time, in the hands of a skilled marksman, and the men across from Walter McGrane were skilled.
Sometime in the next few days, if things went