Title: The Angel of Death
Author: Blair C Babylon
Series: An Angel Day: Police Snipers and Hostage Negotiators #1
Release Date: December 23, 2014
Genre: Suspense, ThrillerSummary:
To protect and to serve, or to save her own brother?
Angel Day, the lead sniper for the Phoenix Police Department, got her nickname “The Angel of Death” the old-fashioned way: she earned it for her ruthless efficiency at stopping crimes with one well-placed bullet. When a massive call-out down by the Mexican Border reveals a terrorist cell and turns into a standoff, Angel’s youngest brother, the lost soul of her family, texts her that he is inside that barricaded house, and her orders are to shoot anything that moves.
CHAPTER ONE: THE STASH HOUSE
Angel Day focused the black tunnel of her gun sight and crosshairs on the man holding the shotgun, ready to shoot him.
In the magnified circle of the telescopic sight, under the thin black cross, spring sunlight poured as if from a hot bucket down on the suspect’s head, shining in a white circle on the top of his black hair, which hung loose and past his shoulders. His hair obscured the small sweet-spot where his skull met the rolls of fat on his neck, but she knew right where it was.
Angel pressed the stock of her sniper rifle against her shoulder, raising the crosshairs to touch the suspect’s neck. She was coiled around her gun and ready for the shot, dead calm.
A bullet to the brainstem, where the spinal cord connects to the brain, will drop a man without a twitch or a whimper, which was imperative because that blubbery walrus of a suspect had wrapped a bulbous wad of duct tape around his hand and the stock and trigger of the shotgun, and he had duct-taped the barrel of the gun to the back of a small woman’s neck.
Angel had wedged herself into an improvised sniper hide under a jacked-up pick-up truck. Her thick muscles cushioned her bones from the hot, pebbled asphalt. She felt like a hunting snake down there, perfectly still and ready to stab and kill the suspect.
The suspect yelled something to the police negotiators, who were taking cover behind their cars and trying to negotiate through bullhorns.
Angel could hear the hostage crying and begging, the slow beat of her own heart, and the grating growl of the police vehicles’ diesel engines in the street ringing the target, waiting for the suspect’s next move.
Her field of fire was across three large suburban lawns and a neighborhood street, over two hundred yards. She was lying prone behind a monster-truck tire, aiming around the hot rubber. Her body—her arms, her chest, her shoulder—interlocked around the rifle. The desert sun beat all around her, reflecting off the cement to bake even the undersides of her arms that held the gun. Her helmet was getting hot, and her sweaty hair stuck to her scalp. At least there was shade under the truck, even though the smell of dirty oil stung her nose.
If this were a long shot, like a mile or more, the sun warming the ammunition might make a difference in how fast the propellant in the rounds burned, and she would have to adjust her point of aim accordingly.
Angel waited, just as methodically she had waited during the last four hours of this stand-off. She had been aiming at the affluent house for most of that time, rotating her gun sight over the closed windows and doors until eight minutes ago,when this suspect had exited the McMansion with his hostage. She was always ready to squeeze the trigger and was always relaxed as she didn’t.
Even though the suspect was 209 yards away, through her scope, Angel saw the target as close as if the end of her rifle was resting on his fat neck.
The suspect yanked his shotgun and wheeled his hostage around in front of him like a spaniel on a choke chain. Angel followed him with her gun. The woman’s hands were duct-taped behind her, so she couldn’t catch herself when she tumbled to the sidewalk. Her knees bled through her ripped, pink pants.
Angel inhaled smoothly, then held her breath, and then exhaled smoothly, and held it again, always ready to take the shot. Her finger was taut on the trigger, but not jittery. Her body was trained to not squirt hot adrenaline into her blood.
This standoff was at a stash house, a domicile where human traffickers change the rules of the game. Most illegal immigrants cross the Mexican border into the US with the help of traffickers, called coyotes, who know the better routes. A few, like this woman, end up in the hands of truly evil men, who kidnap them and hold them for ransom, often sending small body parts to their families in Mexico or raping the women and children while their parents listen on the phone to hurry payment.
The evacuated neighbors had been shocked to discover such a travesty in their own neighborhood in North Scottsdale. Sure, this type of atrocity occurred in the Alhambra district, but North Scottsdale was a nice part of town.
Angel hadn’t been surprised. The best neighborhoods harbored the worst crime. There was more money to be made, and the police had to be more circumspect about busts and careful about bystanders. Criminals love that.
The gunman roared something to the encircling police cars and crouching officers. The wind corrupted his voice over the two hundred yards of lawns and asphalt, and Angel could only hear a harsh bellow as his whole body bowed back like he was belting out a high note. The woman cowered, bending forward as far as the shotgun attached to her neck would let her.
Above Angel, flags snapped on another house’s flagpole. The wind had freshened, so she turned the calibration wheel on the turret of her sniper scope. At two hundred yards, a ten mile per hour wind will cause a bullet to drift six and a half inches.
The sniper rifle’s stock was hot against her cheek. “Bravo One to command post,” Angel muttered into her microphone. “I have a bead on the suspect. I can take the shot, cold zero.”
“Hold your fire. Repeat, hold your fire.” Tony’s voice was calm on the radio in her ear. Tony was her cousin and the Phoenix Police Chief. “The rules of engagement are still at compromised authority. The risk is too great for the hostage outside and the hostages still in the house. Let the negotiators do their job.”
Compromised authority rules mean that, if an authority team member is compromised, which means injured, grabbed, or shot at, then everyone—the snipers, the entry team, and the inner perimeter officers—has the authority to take any immediately necessary action to protect the team member, including sniping the bastard.
Angel had to wait until the gunman down there killed the hostage or shot at a police officer.
The hostage negotiators had been doing their job for four hours. When the suspect had been inside the house, he had been allowed to talk to his girlfriend on the negotiator’s phone, and he had told her that he was going to kill a hostage out front where the television cameras would record the splatter. A conservative radio station had interviewed him via another hostage’s cell phone because authorities cannot use cell phone jammers in any situation. Federal laws protect the nationally controlled airwaves. The hostage-taker had told the radio station that he was going to kill a hostage in plain sight and to keep the cameras rolling, evidently not understanding the video limitations of radio.
Since then, the television cameras had arrived and, despite the police’s best efforts, had set up their cameras at the end of the block where their telephoto lenses could capture every shot.
Now, that bastard was going to do it.
Angel’s calloused finger tightened on the trigger to two pounds of pull. At four pounds, the sniper rifle would fire. Angel had fired a thousand rounds a week through her rifle for six years, over three hundred thousand rounds. She knew the feel of her Remington .308 Police DM rifle far better than most people know the feel of their car’s accelerator.
She whispered into her mic, “I can make this shot.”
Through her earpiece, her boss Tony said, “Hold your fire. Rules of engagement are not, repeat not, at shot of opportunity.”
Shot of opportunity rules of engagement are a license to kill the suspect at the first chance, any chance.
“Come on, Tony. I can make this shot with a handgun,” she muttered into her mic.
“Hold your fire.”
The hot wind blew the target’s voice to Angel’s hide under the truck. His voice was tinny and too high. Through her scope, Angel watched the target roar, “Ten!”
Over the radio in her ear, Angel heard police near the scene confirm that the suspect was counting, beginning at ten.
The suspect was counting down. At one, the gunman would fire that shotgun and tear that terrified woman’s head off her neck. He was not negotiating his way out of a bad situation; he was a psychopath performing terror theater.
Angel said, “This is not a hostage situation. This suspect is an active shooter. He will kill her.”
Tony whispered into her ear, “Keep your position. Rules of engagement remain at compromised authority. Hold your fire.”
Angel settled herself and watched the target through her scope.
She breathed in, held it, and out, and held it. Her finger was tensed and strong on the trigger, ready to move it a fraction of an inch more and release the shot.
People think that sniping is sanitary, that the sniper doesn’t feel like a murderer because they’re hundreds of yards away.
Through the scope, Angel could see black hairs waving over the suspect’s neck, as close as if she were sitting on his shoulder with a revolver plugged into his ear, so close that he should be able to feel her breath whispering down his neck like the robe of the Angel of Death was blowing around him.
The gunman grinned, enjoying the spectacle he was making. All those cops were scampering around at his nutcase bidding.
Her own lack of authority to stop this evil act disgusted her. They should shoot him now and end this crime. She could do it. She wanted to.
The target threw back his head and hollered, “Nine!”
From her other radio channel, Jack Jordan’s deep bass voice whispered, “Bravo Three has an unobstructed shot with a stucco wall backstop behind the target. Do we have authorization to take the shot?” Jordan was her side two sniper, meaning he was the third-ranking sniper on her team. As the primary sniper, Angel covered the front of the building. Her number two sniper, Luke Johnson, covered the back.
“Negative,” Angel whispered to Jordan over the radio. “We do not have authorization. Rules of engagement remain at compromised authority. Maintain position.” Jack Jordan was a good sniper who probably wanted to tag this asshole as much as Angel did.
To Tony on her other channel, Angel said, “Bravo three has an unobstructed shot with a stucco wall backstop. If I shoot and have a through-and-through wound, the round will strike the house’s front wall. Other hostages are not in danger. We can take a sync’d shot that will stop him.”
Snipers don’t shoot to kill. Snipers shoot to stop, an important distinction. Police snipers aren’t killers, just highly effective at stopping a crime in progress.
“Negative,” Tony said. “No authorization. Remain at compromised authority.”
Down at street level, the police negotiators squatted behind their cars and held their bullhorns, talking, demanding, and pleading in English and Spanish for the suspect to respond. The long cable of a throw-phone snaked from their van to where the suspect had kicked it away from him.
“Eight!” the target yelled. He jerked the shotgun, and the hostage stumbled aside.
This was the kind of situation Angel had trained for: to save an innocent life by stopping the crime in progress. She thought of herself as a guardian angel for hostages.
She coiled tighter around her rifle, ready to strike. “Bravo One to command post. Bravo Three and One will drop him flat.”
“We can’t risk it,” Tony said.
“Request to elevate the level of engagement to shot of opportunity.” Her sight was dialed in so tight that she squeezed her stock to raise and lower her aim in rhythm with the suspect’s breathing.
“Negative,” Tony said.
Across the clean, green yards, the gunman yelled, “Seven!”
Through her scope, Angel could see the target sweating greasy streaks in the heat. His meaty hands were probably slippery, but the duct-taped one couldn’t slip off the shotgun. No chance of him dropping it.
“Let me put him down, Cuz,” she said to Tony.
Tony whispered through their radio, “There are more people behind him, watching from inside the house. The round might ricochet and hit one of them.”
Angel knew that. She knew it better than her cousin Tony because she was far better trained, but she didn’t wave that red flag in his face.
She also knew she could kill this target and save that woman.
Through her earpiece, another of her snipers, Hunter, said, “This is Bravo Eight, I have an unobstructed line of fire. I can take the shot.”
“Negative,” Angel said. “We are at compromised authority.”
“Goddamn,” Hunter said, and Angel wanted to agree with him but held her aim.
Through the radio, she heard, “Bravo Two, no clear line of fire.” Luke Johnson didn’t have a clear shot from the back of the house.
Angel and Jack could pick this guy off. Four snipers surrounded the house, but only one needed a clear line to stop this guy. They had three with clear lines. That was an heir and two spares.
In the heat of battle, her body didn’t respond with hyped-up adrenaline. She watched the suspect sweat. She might have been meditating, but for her steady stare down the telescopic sight on the rifle.
“Five!” the gunman screamed.
She whispered into the microphone, “Bravo Three has a bead with a stucco wall behind the target. I can make a brainstem shot from here. He won’t twitch. Give us the reins.”
Tony said, “Let the negotiators do their jobs. If you shoot him and that shotgun goes off and she dies, we’re liable.”
“The negotiators aren’t doing shit.”
The suspect screamed, “Four!”
They had been at the siege for over four hours. Angel’s head ached from the sun glaring on the cement and asphalt around her, and her eyes throbbed from peering through the scope. She whispered into her mic, “When are we going to shoot him?”
“We’re not,” Tony said. “Unless he fires at authority personnel, we can’t shoot.”
The bedlam of the negotiators’ voices hollering at the criminal from all sides escalated. Angel kept the crosshairs on the gunman’s neck and steady pressure on the trigger because, after he shot that poor woman, he would doubtlessly open fire on the police officers and then, finally, she could shoot him.
Light glinted off the sidewalk from the overhead sun. “Two!”
The woman hostage wrenched her head to the side, black hair flying in the wind.
The duct tape around her neck tore.
The shotgun blasted, spraying lead shot at the police cars, shattering glass and slamming on steel.
Angel squeezed her trigger the last fraction of an inch, sending the bullet through the rifle and into the gunman’s brainstem.
He dropped straight down as if through a trapdoor and lay in a glutinous heap on the sidewalk in front of the Desert Victorian house.
The woman hostage’s scream wailed high and tinny off the stucco houses and ascended into the clear, blue sky as she ran away. Her hair was a mess of blood, but Angel could see that the shotgun blast had only lightly scalped her. She would be fine.
Other captives, around fifty women and children, ran out of the house and grabbed the woman, crying over her. A small boy clung to her neck and sobbed.
Angel worked the action on the rifle to chamber another round and kept her sights on the gunman, in case the mound of blood and blubber moved.
Angel murmured into her radio, “That counted as firing at authorities, right?”
USA Today Bestselling Author Blair C. Babylon is the nom de plume of an award-winning author who used to publish literary fiction under another name. Because professional reviews of her literary fiction usually included the caveat that there was too much plot, too many interesting twists, and too much sex, she decided to abandon all literary pretensions, let her freak flag fly, and write intense thrillers and naughty romantic suspense.