The Dangle

April 23rd, 21:30 hours. Air temperature approximate 18C. Light westerly breeze. West Larkston Avenue, Salinas, California.

Lance Corporal Chavez approached the loose-barked trunk of a madrona tree tucked into the moonless dark behind a new-model McMansion on the outskirts of town. She checked the M24 slung across her back. Secure, though she’d have to watch that the barrel didn’t snag any branches.

She crouched slightly. Sprang upwards, catching one strong hand onto an angled branch.

She pulled herself onto the branch, making scarcely more noise than a cat. The next five meters went easy. Reach. Grab. Secure footing. Pull up.

Her head crested the domicile’s roofline. Clean, new asphalt shingles over a sheet-metal rain gutter. A far cry from the mud brick structures of Mosul, though her heart beat just the same.

This was it, slipping into position like a shadow, when the adrenaline always hit. She took two measured breaths, dropping her heart-rate back into the high 70s, and leapt across to the roof.

She landed on fingertips and toes, sinking into position. Minimal thud on landing.

Not that there was anyone home. She’d waited a long time, monitoring this house for months. It still amazed her what she could learn from a cheap Best Buy motion-activated camera stashed unobtrusively in the bushes across the street, and a little bit of going through their trash. By now, Jack Henderson, 42, his wife Elaine, age undetermined, and their second-grade daughter Claire should be happily bedded down at the Anaheim Camelot Inn and Suites, a hundred and sixty dollars per night, awaiting a full day of rides, Mickey Mouse, and overpriced souveniers tomorrow.

Relative to her mission, all that mattered was that they were 340 miles south of here.

She belly crawled across the slanted roof, the ridgeline blocking the amber streetlights lining Larkston, all the way to the far edge.

Across two narrow side yards and a wooden fence, the next house over. There. A dark, narrow, second-story bathroom window.

She’d seen the view from the other side of that window. Once.

Stay on mission. She pushed the memory out of the way. She concentrated on the smooth, practiced motions of setting up the M24 in tripod configuration. Her target was clearly not home yet. Predictable. People were so predictable. The cameras she’d positioned around the target’s property didn’t hurt, either.

This McMansion was taller than the other one. High ground. Good. But with the short range to target, angling down could be tricky. She lined herself up with the target, working the roof’s pitch to her advantage. Feet high, head low wasn’t the most comfortable position to hold for a few hours, but that was the mission.

Besides, she’d endured worse in Iraq. Hell, even in basic.

She sighted through her scope. The angles were still bad, even with the M24’s supports at their lowest position.

She removed the supports and stowed them. This range–fifteen meters? 17, maybe?–was nothing. The triple-glazed energy efficient window panes wouldn’t even matter at this distance. Not with a target roughly the size of a ripe apricot. She could easily hit a pencil-dot on the wall at this distance, and she knew it.

She rested the barrel over a forearm and sighted again. Much better. She dialed in the distance on the scope and settled in to wait.

22:00 hours. No target. Chavez took two small sips from her CamelBak.

22:07. The throaty rumble of a Camero slid down Larkston. This is it. The car approached. She suppressed the urge to peek around the edge of the roof, watching it pull into the driveway. Her target would be in sight soon enough.

The engine slowed to a purr while the garage door rattled upward on its tracks. She closed her eyes, listening. Car in garage. Engine off. Car door open. That would be the driver’s side door, she knew. Slam. Garage door descending. Passenger door opening. Reflexively, Chavez marked the glowing second hand on her watch. The garage thudded closed.

Pause. Chavez listened hard, only just making out the sound of the passenger door closing. She checked her watch again. Thirty-four seconds.

Go time. She chambered a .338 round and put her eye to the scope, watching the darkened window. The familiarity of the routine took the edge off the adrenaline. Index finger resting against the trigger-guard, she began her controlled breathing, feeling and steadying the rhythm of her heart.

From inside the house, a light flicked on, casting indirect light onto the window but bringing the scene into sharp relief in her scope. The front edge of the toilet bowl was just visible on the left. She’d thrown up into that bowl once. Or had it been twice?

She pushed that memory away, too. No distractions.

On the right, a glass-fronted shower stall. One corner of her mouth flickered in a brief smile at the thought of how much glass she was going to fuck-up tonight.

The view was a straight-shot through the bathroom, and into the master bedroom behind.

She watched as a man staggered into the room. A strawberry-blonde in a fireman’s carry hung over his shoulder. He flipped her onto the bed, arms and legs splayed haphazardly, her calves hanging over the edge of the mattress.

Part of her mind wondered what he’d used tonight. Flunitrazepam? Chloral Hydrate? Or just good old fashioned ethanol?

She watched him disrobe, dropping his clothes on the floor. He stepped into the bathroom and flicked on that light.

She remembered being the woman in the bed, her mind a haze, unable to get her muscles to do what they needed to do. To get herself out of there. To put up any defense.

“Chickenshit,” she muttered, as Lionel Munroe, 32, trust-fund baby and high school dropout, turned on the shower.

She remembered, too, what she’d heard from that bed. Lionel’s victory song, sotto-voce and off key, as he danced in front of the window waiting for the shower to warm up.

She remembered what she’d seen, from behind, dangling between his legs while he worked himself hard.

This memory, she did not push away.

Her finger slid onto the trigger, pulling just shy of the required weight. Wait for it.

Lionel went into his song, cock in hand.

There it was. The dangle, swaying in her crosshairs.

She synchronized herself with the motion. Exhaled. Waited for the moment of quiet stillness between heartbeats, and sent 12.96 grams of lead flying.

Lionel Munroe would not hurt anyone, ever again.

April 23rd, 22:12 hours. Lance Corporal Chavez stowed her weapon over her back and vanished into the Monterrey County night.

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