A novel is a big project, and this is a really large novel. Many scenes were written that didn't make the cut. To get to the final draft I worked with three starts and two endings. The two starts that didn't make the cut are set forth below. The third start is in the book, and you'll have to buy or borrow a copy to read it.
The second major event of the day was an assassination, later in the morning, in New York City. Like most assassinations, this one was brutal and messy. There was also some “collateral damage”, which meant that some people beside the target also got killed. Tragic, but that’s the way it goes in the assassination business. What made it a real dilly of an assassination was the fact that the target, the Democratic Nominee for President of the United States, was surrounded by and under the protection of the Secret Service, which has an excellent record of protecting its charges, all things considered.
The nominee, Cynthia Hinton, was the wife of a former president, Willie Hinton, who had served his two terms and gone off into retirement to make speeches for six-figure fees and supervise the family foundation. While Cynthia was Secretary of State, foreign governments contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to that foundation, which according to Hinton loyalists, did “good work”. How much of the money percolated to the Hintons and their political operations was a closely-held secret. What was known was that the United States government provided $16 million a year to the foundation, which paid all the staff’s salaries. In any event, the foreign governments’ donations while Cynthia was Secretary of State had led to a scandal, which Cynthia ignored. The flame of the hullabaloo died for want of fuel, leaving only a foul, greasy odor, the same odor, one wag remarked, that had clung to her and Mr. Hinton for decades. Mrs. Hinton won the nomination anyway. Some pundits said she won because she lacked any serious opposition and because her campaign was extremely well-funded. Be that as it may, she did win the nomination and upon her rode the hopes of the party faithful nationwide.
On the day she died she and two aides, protected by the Secret Service, rode an elevator to the penthouse suite on the 61st floor of a Madison Avenue office building to confer with the loyalists who ran the foundation. Mr. Hinton wasn’t there. As usual, the office complex was carefully swept for bugs that morning. Two agents preceded Mrs. Hinton on an elevator, checked out the offices and the people in it, and called for the agents below to send her and her aides up.
One Secret Service agent rode up in the elevator with them. The conference lasted an hour. What was said will probably forever remain a mystery because the foundation’s officers refused to tell investigators anything. When Mrs. Hinton was ready to depart, Secret Service agents checked both elevators and made a call to the agents waiting in the lobby below. Mrs. Hinton, her two aides, and one Secret Service agent climbed aboard one of two elevators for the descent.
Two seconds after the door closed and the elevator started its journey down, a small explosive device severed the cable above the cab. The elevator fell. The safety devices designed to prevent just such an accident in the event the cable parted had been sabotaged.
Down, down, down the cab went, accelerating to terminal velocity, a long sixty-one stories, past the lobby, all the way to the bottom of the shaft in the basement of the building. Along the way air compressed by the passage of that falling steel box moaned loudly around door seals, a mini-hurricane. If there was any screaming from the elevator, no one heard it. Or, if they did, in the aftermath they kept a discrete silence.
The Secret Service agents and building maintenance man, who were the first to arrive at the bottom of the shaft after the impact, found that the swirling air in the basement was almost opaque with dust. As the air cleared somewhat, they saw that exterior door to the shaft had been forced open several inches by the concussion of the elevator’s spectacular arrival. The door of the steel box, the actual elevator, was also badly sprung.
Flashlights revealed all inside were dead. The sudden stop at the bottom of the shaft had killed them, apparently. Smashed skulls leaked brains and snapped bones protruding whitely from clothing. The coroner later found that one body cavity had burst, but the contents were contained inside the clothing of the deceased. There was little visible blood. One engineer remarked later the impact was roughly the same as if the victims had fallen from the top of the building onto the street below.
The building engineer, or maintenance specialist, or head janitor, whatever one wished to call him, became a minor celebrity by talking to any reporter with a television camera. He described in great and gaudy detail the gore he had seen when he looked inside the elevator. According to him, several inches of liquid blood covered the floor and was flowing out. Within a week he claimed he was suffering from PTSD and demanded time off, with pay, from his employer, which was granted. After two weeks at home he filed a social security disability claim. As far as anyone knew, other than life insurance beneficiaries, devisees and legatees under the victims’ wills, and recipients of survivors’ benefits, he was the only person to profit financially from the death of the nominee, her aides, and the Secret Service agent.
Tobe Baha was a Secret Service sniper. He learned the trade in the Marine Corps and had twenty-nine confirmed kills in Afghanistan on his record. Actually he had killed more than twice that many Taliban at ranges from eighty yards to over a mile. After twelve years in uniform, he left the Marines and was recruited by the Secret Service, who needed shooters on rooftops to protect their charges from unhappy voters, terrorists, and insane people who wanted to be famous.
This third Saturday in August he was perched on a rooftop in Madison, Wisconsin, with his spotter, a man named Elvin McDowell, who was known as “Skinny.” Skinny swept rooftops and windows with binoculars looking for suspicious people, and Tobe Baha lay behind his rifle, a Sako bolt-action in .338 Lapua caliber. It was an awesome weapon, capable of keeping its bullet supersonic to a range of 1,600 yards, which meant that Tobe Baha could hit a target at that distance more often than not if he properly doped the wind.
Doping the wind and keeping the crosshairs of the scope on the target and squeezing off the shot were the essence of the sniper’s art. Especially when the target was another human being. Most people became nervous when shooting at other people; their breathing became ragged, they couldn’t keep the crosshairs steady, and they jerked the trigger, which guaranteed a miss. Sniping wasn’t deer hunting: it was murder at a distance, pure and simple, and only a few people became good at it. Tobe Baha was good. Very good.
Today Baha was one of four snipers on the roofs overlooking the area where the president of the United States was going to make a short speech to bolster the candidacy of a party loyalist for the U. S. Senate, one the polls said needed help.
Anyone foolish enough to get on a rooftop with a weapon, or stick one out of a window overlooking the area, was going to be dead in short order, no questions asked.
The rooftop setup for a sniper was not ideal, Skinny had noted, and had been ignored by Tobe Baha. To get above the three-foot high safety barrier that surrounded the edge of this roof on a six-story building so Baha could shoot over it, they had brought a table and anchored it with straps and weights.
Baha lay on the table, from which he had a good view of the speaker’s platform, the dignitaries behind the podium and the area where invited guests were going to be seated. He could scrutinize the press area, which was off to one side. Television cameras were set up and the president had three teleprompters to work from. Secret Service colleagues were in abundance as members of the audience came in after walking through a metal detector, submitting to random body searches, and presenting their invitations. No voters would be allowed inside the security area unless they had been invited. Those members of the voting public who chose to attend were in the street outside the security area watching the proceedings on large monitors, listening on loudspeakers, and of course, a few were waving support or protest signs. Naturally the whole performance was being broadcast on television and would be shown statewide again during prime time tonight.
Baha the shooter and Skinny the spotter also had a good view of the packed street the presidential motorcade would arrive upon—right through all those suppoerters—and of the many windows of many of the buildings across the street. Another sniper/spotter team was on the rooftop across the street and had an equally good view of the windows of the building on which Tobe and Skinny were perched.
Skinny played with the laser rangefinder. “It’s exactly five hundred and twelve yards to the speaker’s podium. Angle a negative eight degrees.”
Tobe Baha consulted his chart and made the necessary correction to the elevation knobs on his scope. Like all military professionals, he liked to shoot with centered crosshairs, which meant the crosshairs in the scope were dead on the target. Not that he would be shooting at the podium, but he had to start somewhere.
Skinny held up a small wind indicator. “Five knots from the northwest,” he announced. “Fairly steady. Eighty-eight degrees.”
Here Tobe’s experience came into play. The wind would not be steady over the entire 512 yars of the canned shot he was setting up. If the breeze were five knots here, it was swirling down between the buildings and probably dead calm at the speaker’s platform. He glanced at the little pendants that fluttered listlessly around the platform area, and at the prominent American and Wisconsin flags, which hung lifelessly.
Maybe two knots average, he thought, and decided not to make a wind correction to the scope.
Then he settled in behind the rifle and tired to get into his shooter’s mode; totally relaxed, at peace with his rifle. He scanned the people who were already inside the security area. Cops, Secret Service colleagues, television people, print reporters, all the usual suspects. The political bigwigs would straggle up to the speaker’s platform, but none of them were here yet. Due to the angle, this would be a quartering shot, with the target almost in profile.
Behind him Skinny was scanning windows.
“You nervous?” Skinny asked.
Tobe Baha didn’t bother to reply. He was getting into the zone. All that existed in his consciousness was the magnified picture in the scope and the crosshairs that moved from person to person, lingering as he looked them over, then moved on. His breathing was shallow and steady, his heart thudding slowly and rhythmically.
It was as if he were God. He could see them so well, magnified sixteen times, and could, with a gentle, eighteen-ounce squeeze on the trigger, send any one of them straight off to meet his maker. It was a feeling of power. Absolute power. The power of life and death.
They had been in position for thirty minutes when Skinny announced the arrival of the motorcade. The audience had filled the chairs, the television lights were on, the chairs on the speaker’s platform arranged just so. Some of the local dignitaries and the senatorial candidate were already seated on the platform.
“The guys across the street?” Tobe asked.
“They are there on their platform, same as us, seventy-two yards.”
Tobe swung the Sako and acquired them in the scope. It was a big shift, almost seventy degrees. That close, no reason to worry about missing. He should probably drop off the table to his left and swing the rifle, the forearm of which was on a bipod. That would work. He tried it once.
He got back on the table and settled in again to his rifle, concentrated on getting totally relaxed and back into the zone.
Three minutes later, there came the official party, President Barry Soetoro, Secretary of Defense Mike Margulis, Secret Service agents, the governor, the mayor… and they seated themselves while the governor manned the podium.
Tobe Baha watched the ceremony through the scope.
“Talk to me,” he muttered at Skinny.
“Everything is cool as a polar bear in January,” Skinny said. “Clear in all directions.”
The governor went on for a minute or two, then sat down. The mayor was next, another minute or two. Finally another official, a fat woman, took the mike and talked for a while. When she sat down it was Barry Soetoro’s turn. He approached the podium, waited for the applause to die, looked straight into the teleprompters, and began speaking.
Tobe Baha took careful aim at Soetoro, just in front of his left shoulder due to the angle. He kept the crosshairs there for five or six seconds, then lifted them. Just visible above Soetoro’s right shoulder was the secretary of defense, Mike Margulis, his bald head reflecting the television lights, which were on because the speaker’s platform was in the shade. He was sitting, not fidgeting, wearing a gray suit and blue tie. What is it about a blue tie? A man to Margulis’ right was trying to get comfortable and fidgeting around. Hold still, dude!
Tobe flicked off the safety of the Sako and carefully brought his finger into the trigger guard. Soetoro’s shoulder was in the way, then out. He steadied the rifle… watched as his heart moved the crosshairs, waited until he had exhaled and the crosshairs came in front of Margulis’ left armpit, and caressed the trigger.
The recoil of the rifle came as a surprise. He tried never to anticipate the moment the rifle would discharge, so it was a bit unexpected. Or perhaps not.
Tobe Baha came down off the table as he worked the bolt to eject the spent cartridge and chamber another round and swung the rifle toward the pair on the roof opposite. Got the crosshairs on the shooter, who was looking around wildly, remembered to aim low, and squeezed it off. Worked the bolt and came onto the spotter. Bang. Down he went.
“Both down,” Skinny announced. “And I can’t see Margulis with the crowd around him.”
“Did I get him?”
© Copyright 2016 by Stephen Coonts