The Severn River –
Duncan Lewellen had always been a careful man. Tonight, waiting for the darkest hour of the night, would be no different.
There had been too many nights like this. Alone in the darkness Duncan remembered the long, dark hours spent in the remote, dangerous jungles of Viet Nam; missions when he waited for over a week to take his shot at a Viet Cong target. His old comrades in the SEAL team would have found these new night vision glasses almost a miracle.
Duncan graduated from the Naval Academy, was assigned to the Marine Corps, served his country for three years in the most dangerous duty ever imagined by the pentagon, and had returned home only after the Navy brass had hidden him away for over a year on a little piece of frozen waste called Shemya Island.
Shemya was stuck in the Bering Straits only six nautical miles outside the territorial waters of Russia. Shemya Island was the most important intelligence gathering complex in the world. It was also the best equipped radar early warning post. It was from this bleak, frozen hunk of rock that the first alert of a preemptive nuclear attack would come. Few of the troops and technicians manning the station knew it, but Shemya was virtually hollow. Under the island were tunnels filled with C-4 explosives. The tunnels criss-crossed the base, met directly under the Quonset huts where the top secret codes of the Russian fleet and air force were intercepted, re-coded and sent back to the crypto boys at Langley, Virginia for analysis. For three decades Shemya held the most advanced listening gear and radar on earth.
Duncan Lewellen was the chief security officer. It was his job to pick the sentries, keep them rotating from post to post, and to choose strategic positions from which only a few men could defend the island most effectively. In the event of an assault in force, it was also Duncan’s duty to blow the island, the troop, and himself to kingdom come before the spy equipment, top secret documents, or code books could be captured. Duncan would always remember the day he had come very close to blowing Shemya into oblivion.
During his three tours of duty in Viet Nam, Duncan had rarely seen daylight. Duncan slept in daylight because it was his job to be run up a river at night and dropped from the boat with his spotter, Big Mike, somewhere near the area where intel placed his target. It was then up to him to find a way through the pitch black jungle to a place where he could dominate a field-of-fire. The field-of-fire was important, but not as important as finding a specific spot where he could fire a single shot without being detected. Duncan remembered every detail of the hidey-holes that he and Big Mike had occupied. He also remembered all the men and women that he had targeted, then surgically killed, with the Remington bolt action rifle.
On Shemya, Duncan had not abandoned the habit of sleeping during the daylight hours. After dark he could be seen stalking the island dressed in a white camouflage parka and goose down pants, both covered with gray blotches. If Duncan remained immobile, or lay down in the snow anywhere on the barren island, he was invisible. His camouflage allowed him to disappear into the rocks and snow. The only weak points in the camouflage were his feet. Duncan always wore dull black, combat jump boots.
In a small, island community there are few secrets. It was well known on the island that Duncan had been a SEAL, a hunter-shooter. No one had ever seen him without a short barreled Swedish Mauser, 6.5 x 55 mm rifle slung over his shoulder. The Mauser rifle, topped with a 4 power Weaver scope mounted low over the receiver, was not issue gear. Where Duncan had acquired the rifle was never questioned, nor did anyone question the silenced, High Standard, semi-automatic pistol chambered for the .22 Short caliber cartridge. Duncan carried the weapon in a cross-draw shoulder holster under his parka. He also carried a razor edged KaBar fighting knife and a single willie-peter, a white phosphorous grenade, in the inside pocket of the parka. Duncan always thought it wise to have some secrets, even from his own troops.
When he was not stalking the island, making surprise checks on the sentry posts whose locations changed nightly and were known only to him, Duncan could be found in the radar shack or the radio room. There had been a pool among the enlisted men, they bet on the day that Duncan would be seen in either place without a cup of hot, black coffee in his right hand and a lit Pall Mall cigarette in his left. The pool never paid off.
When he was not silently watching the men and machines that were his responsibility, Duncan was asleep in the small hut which had once been the kennel for guard dogs. The cold and boredom had driven the dogs crazy. The dogs fought each other wildly until only one remained alive. Finally the last dog had been put down by his handler when the animal became uncontrollable, attacking anyone that approached. Fortunately, Duncan didn’t mind the smell of dogs; he had raised his share of puppies as a boy. It was a simple fact that on one protracted jungle mission, his C-rations gone, he had been forced to eat dog or starve.
Even though the incident was later recorded in the duty log as having taken place at 08:45 hours Duncan called it THE NIGHT when, a year later, at the wedding of another SEAL, he told Big Mike the story.
Duncan was sound asleep in his well-heated hut when the alarm klaxon sounded and he heard full auto gunfire coming from the beach. He smashed the thick glass that protected the oversized, red button which would start the automatic destruct sequence with the steel buttplate of the Mauser rifle, hit the button, punched in his code and waited only long enough to see the LED’s on the clock turn red and begin the twenty minute countdown. He forgot his parka and pants; he scooped up the grenade, knife, pistol, and rifle as he ran. He strapped the pistol across his chest, dropped the grenade and knife into the open throat of his long-johns and carried the rifle in his left hand. Duncan charged through the pea-soup fog, down the snow and ice covered hill in only his OD green long-johns and boots. As he rounded the point, where only hours ago he had stationed the sentry, he saw the bow of a Russian submarine resting on the beach. Several Russians were on the conning tower, eyes wide, with their hands over their heads. The enormous bow of the boat was pock marked with almost invisible dents made by the twenty rounds of .223 ball ammunition which the sentry had fired at the looming enemy. Duncan started laughing, he laughed out loud as he slid to a stop. The screws of the boat were turning, churning the water in full reverse. The Russians had beached their boat in the fog; they were scared and almost looked insulted that their boat had been fired upon. Now there was combat damage that they would have to explain if they ever got off of the damn beach. Duncan told the sentry to stop shooting at the Russians and started to jog back to his little hut, he needed to shut down the klaxon and the destruct sequence. He was as happy as he had been in months, maybe happier than he had ever been; he wasn’t going to be blown all over the Bering Straits today after all.
In the fog he took a wrong turn. He was one ridge too far from the hut when he realized that he had screwed up, had screwed up maybe for the last time. There was no time to run back, around the long, icy ridge before the island blew. Wouldn’t this be the perfect way to start a nuclear war, he thought to himself. The US would blame the Russians and the Russians would blame the US. There was an old phrase that fit perfectly – FUBAR – Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition. There was no alternative; Duncan had to find a way over the icy ridge. Jeeezus it was cold. He wasn’t laughing now. Despite the cold Duncan was sweating. He smelled bad, sour, even to himself.
The ridge wasn’t much of a ridge, no more than thirty feet high, but it was covered with frozen surf, jagged ice that could tear flesh, and jump boots weren’t made for climbing over ice. After three tries at climbing the ridge he knew that he was losing the race against time. He had been able to run almost to the top, but each time he had lost his footing and slid back. He had dived into the air on the last attempt, trying anything that might get him over the top, only to slide helplessly back down the jagged ice. The jagged, blade sharp ice tore his long-johns open, ripped at his flesh, the knife and grenade fell at his feet.
Duncan smiled, grabbed the knife in his left hand and the grenade in his right. He threw the knife sheath away from him as he ran hard up the frozen ridge. He planted the knife deep in the ice when, almost to the top, he fell. It held. He pulled the pin from the grenade but held the spoon tight against the body of the grenade. He lined up the pin with the hole from which he had just pulled it and released the spoon. The spoon spun away, he jammed the pin back into the hole and looped the wire pin of the grenade over the pommel of the knife. He counted to four and let go of the KaBar. As he slid back down the ridge the grenade exploded, a white hot blast of phosphorous burned at 3,000 degrees. The fireball disappeared as he tumbled to a stop at the bottom of the ridge. In an instant he was back on his feet, running up the slope. The grenade had done its work, rocks were now steaming, the ice melted. Duncan shot over the top of the ridge, jumped into the fog, hit the frozen ground hard and rolled as he had many times when leaving boats and helicopters that had dropped him into the miserable, hot jungle.
Duncan stopped the clock at 13 seconds. He never told anyone the clock was at 13 seconds, he knew that it would sound melodramatic; too much like something someone would make up.
What Duncan remembered most about that infinite stretch of time spent stranded on Shemya, aside from THE NIGHT, was the cold. It was always cold on Shemya, bitter, deadly cold. His little dog shelter, his hooch, was always as hot as he could get it with the propane stove running wide open. Duncan had hated the heat of the jungle; he hated the cold even more.
Duncan had been isolated, stuck on Shemya for one reason; he was too good at his job. Duncan was a hunter shooter, the man who most citizens and historians call snipers. Duncan was an exceptional member of a very small group of men who were too dangerous and well trained to turn loose. His experience and abilities were still needed to defense his country against new enemies.
At the end of Duncan’s last tour of duty Viet Nam was lost. The United States wanted peace at any cost, and the voters were willing to let all of the dead die in vain. Navy brass decided that Duncan Lewellen, even with his hitch legally and honorably completed, was too dangerous to be released directly into civilian life. Duncan had been a little too finely trained for killing people with a rifle at long range, and at killing people at close range with a silenced pistol or his KaBar knife. Twice Duncan had been forced by circumstance to kill with his bare hands. Once he used a pungi stake.
It seemed to Duncan that it all made sense, from the Naval Academy to Viet Man, to Shemya to… There were too many other places to think about, too many days and nights in green or black camouflage clothing, dull camo paint on his face. There were also the days spent dressed in a suit, white, starched shirt, and striped tie leading some wealthy Arab potentate or Swiss or Austrian businessman in and out of places where there was a 50-50 chance of someone just like himself waiting to get their own shot off. He had always worried that someday he would come face-to-face with one of his old comrades who was working for the other side. He’d been lucky there, all of his old friends had found decent employ, if not the reward they deserved.
Duncan was now semi-retired. With his retirement pay and the insurance money which Charlotte had left to him he was quite comfortable. Duncan Lewellen had few desires or needs.
When Duncan had finally come home to his faithful wife and friend, Charlotte, they had bought the old barracks with over a thousand feet of frontage on the Severn River from the Navy for so little that he thought it must have amounted to a pay back for sticking him out there on Shemya. He’d spent three years, almost full time, rebuilding and improving the barracks.
Duncan had also used the time rebuilding the old barracks to rebuild himself. He had cut every board and driven every nail. Charlotte had kept her job as Assistant Undersecretary of Agriculture and had never complained about living in a work-in-progress for six years.
When the work was finally done Duncan had returned fully to life. He no longer sat up all night listening to the sounds of the river. His last task was the pouring of a thick cement pad and the laying of a semi-circular, six foot high stone wall at the street end of the driveway. There he anchored a fifty foot high flag pole. Each day, when he was at home, he raised the American flag, saluted the flag, and strode down the driveway to make coffee for Charlotte. He brought her a fresh cup every morning in bed. He could do no less for the woman who had loved him through thick and thin, and who had let him love her in return.
Now, five years after Charlotte’s death of ovarian cancer, the barracks looked like an old ramshackle home, all vestiges of the Navy, except his father’s framed medals from the Second World War, were gone. Now Duncan kept himself busy as a consultant for the D.O.D., for the Department of the Navy, or for any of the Armed Forces that needed his special skills. Now and again, he got a good contract evaluating gear for some company trying to sell some new toy to the Pentagon. For the past three weeks he had been testing new night vision goggles for Bright Star Industries. Duncan had seen many different versions of the Star Light-Star Bright technology since Viet Nam, but each of them had common problems that got them bounced back to be sold to the stupid civilians who liked to play at war.
The technologies which depended on intensification of light, even starlight, didn’t do anybody any good if there was no light. Under the canopy of a dense jungle or when the clouds were thick at night, blocking out the moon and stars, there was no light to intensify. The competing technology, infrared goggles, used a lot of power to run the infrared lights which allowed the goggles to see in the dark. Infrared goggles were also short range tools. Past a hundred feet they were virtually worthless.
Bright-Star Industries had taken two technologies, infrared and lasers, and had cross-bred them to create an infrared beam which could be collimated, focused, into a cone of light which was only visible to wearers of their new goggles. Each pair of goggles could be set to a slightly different wave length, allowing only the wearer of the glasses to see their own beam. Even if three or four people were wearing the goggles on a mission, they wouldn’t become confused or disoriented by the emissions of the goggles worn by the other team members. This technology was so well designed that Duncan wondered to himself if an engineer or scientist with real combat experience had been part of the design team. The goggles were also small enough to be practical while powerful enough to be truly useful in real warfare. Even at a thousand yards a target could be illuminated with this new laser-infrared technology. Like all hunter-shooters, Duncan knew that if a hunter – shooter could see it, he could kill it.
And the power requirement for Bright-Star Industries new goggles was much less than the old infrared goggles. The complete rig weighed less than five pounds, including the batteries and eyepiece which allowed the user to sweep the invisible beam back and forth across an area until the target was located. Duncan had been testing this technology for three weeks. He had spent hours submerged, observing the fish and crustaceans that lived in the dark waters of the Severn River. The size of several of the bluefish had surprised him.
When he surfaced, well after dark, he had been able to light-up anything which caught his attention, even a beautiful young woman who was skinny dipping three docks up river at the Senator’s home. Duncan wondered if she was the Senator’s daughter or just a weekend guest. She would be more cautious if she knew the size of the bluefish. If there were bluefish this far up the Severn, sharks were a possibility. Duncan knew that the deadliest shark attack in the United States had taken place over 20 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, in a small fresh water river in New Jersey.
Duncan had become so confident in the capability of these goggles that he had ridden his old BMW R69 motorcycle half way across Washington D.C., then through the twisting two-lane roads of Rock Creek Park, without the use of his headlight one sweltering summer night. After one more test, Duncan was going to give this new system his approval.
For the past two summers, Duncan had been having trouble with the crab traps that he kept well baited and tied under his own dock. He enjoyed fresh crab; he even enjoyed the tedious work of picking the meat from a dozen or more hard shelled crabs caught in his traps every day. Last summer his traps had been raided several times, pulled up, and the crabs either released or taken. Watson, his aging Airedale and constant companion, was too deaf to hear the thieves and offered no warning of their depredations. This summer his traps had been raided too many times for Duncan to let it pass. On one occasion, the traps had been cut free and left to be washed away in the current of the Severn. Duncan had been forced to spend hours in mask, fins, and snorkel searching the river for a full three miles downstream before he retrieved them all. Now, chained to the dock, the traps were safe, but the crabs, his crabs, still disappeared.
Though he suspected the teen-age sons of one of his neighbors were responsible for the pranks he would not make accusations against the young men without proof. It was unfortunate that he had purchased all of the components needed for an alarm system, even a remote video camera to provide proof if needed, only a week before he was contracted to test these new goggles. The goggles had given him a new plan which he would put into effect tonight. He would return all the now unnecessary gear in a few days.
The last test that Duncan would run on the goggles was more for his own satisfaction than it would be for Bright-Star Industries.
Duncan had, for this final test, returned to his hunter-shooter days of Viet Nam. He was hidden, still and quiet in the gun room of his house. The windows were opened wide. He was wearing the goggles. No lights would betray his position or intent. The gun room, the place where he stored his hunting rifles and shotguns, was his favorite room in the house. It overlooked the dock, the crab traps, and his two sailboats.
Here, in a black walnut gun cabinet he had made in his little wood shop, were the hunting rifles that he had carried to Africa, to Alaska, to Colorado, on many of the best days of his life. Alongside the rifles was his favorite 10 gauge shotgun which had never failed to provide a fat Christmas goose and an odd duck or two each season. On a shelf made of wormy chestnut were a few cartridges for each weapon.
The rifles were all Mausers, the best bolt action rifle design ever created. Invented in Germany by Peter Paul Mauser in 1898, the Mauser 98 design had never been improved upon. Even in the most horrible battlefield conditions, a model 98 Mauser is completely dependable. These rifles, even the most poorly made examples, are accurate and strong. Duncan liked Mausers so much that he had replaced the Swedish Mauser that he lost on Shemya with its identical twin sister. The other Mauser rifles were each custom made to his measurements and desires. Each stock he had hand rubbed with Birchwood Casey stock oil. They glowed with a luster that showed the quality of the wood but did not shine when the light hit it. A shiny rifle can give away your location and spook game animals. For the past two decades his favorite rifle had been a Whitworth Mauser, made in England and chambered for the .375 Holland & Holland Magnum, the most renowned cartridge of big game hunters around the world.
The cartridge, developed by the famous English gun maker Holland & Holland in 1912 remained the most used cartridge of professional hunters around the world. There are no big game animals on earth which could not be properly hunted and humanely dispatched by a good man using this cartridge. Using solids, bullets covered with a steel jacket to assure that they will not expand, Duncan could put a bullet through several feet of just about anything. Even the huge skull of an elephant could not stop the 300 grain bullet fired from the Holland & Holland Magnum rifle. It was this rifle that had felled enough game to feed seven entire African villages through three months of drought and famine in the fall of 1986. This rifle had only good stories to tell; it had never been to war.
The military arms supplied by the manufacturers or DOD for testing were all stored in a steel gun safe anchored to the foundation of the house. These guns, made of steel, aluminum, titanium, and stocked with graphite or composite thermoplastic, were dangerous, utilitarian, weapons of war. They were not beautiful; they displayed none of the facile grace of hunting rifles. They were the tools of the hunter-shooter. Duncan enjoyed this room, these weapons. He enjoyed almost all weapons. With reasonable cleaning and care, a good rifle or shotgun was always faithful; it would never abandon you. Another reason that Duncan liked the gun room was the smell. Like the lingering perfume of a desirable woman who is your friend, there was always the faint smell of Hoppe’s gun cleaning fluid in the air of the room.
Duncan took up his position sitting cross-legged on the floor. He wore a black wet suit. A camouflage pattern beret covered his now silvering hair. He had painted his face with dark green, black, and brown camouflage paint. Only the flat-black, rubber-coated goggles and the top of his head, camouflaged by the beret, protruded above the window ledge as he watched the dock. His plan was simple, as were most good plans.
As soon as he saw the thieves, he would slip out of the house, move silently behind the boat house and slip into the water. He would swim soundlessly up to the edge of the dock and grab the ankles of the boys and scare them half to death. This should make sure that his crab supply remained as generous as it always had been.
Watson had curled up next to Duncan. The old Airedale was never far from Duncan if he had a choice in the matter. Duncan was wide awake. He was thinking about the glasses, and how easy a shot would be if he were still hunting the enemies of his country. An hour passed, then two were gone. Duncan was ready to believe that the thieves were not going to visit his crab traps this night, when something upriver caught his attention. Moving his head so slowly and evenly that it would have not been seen to move at all, he focused his attention, and the laser-infrared goggles on the Senator’s dock. There were three small, black rubber inflatable boats inching their way down the bank of the Severn River. In each boat there were two people. Their bodies were encased in dull black wet suits which eliminated reflection. With no evidence to the contrary, Duncan was forced to assume that they were men. Each of them were identically dressed in black wet suits and dark pull-over masks. Each of them carried a silenced Heckler & Koch 9 mm MP3 submachine gun across their chest and wore a Heckler & Koch USP .45 pistol in a black, ballistic nylon holster on a wide, black nylon, webbing belt.
Duncan was again amazed at how easy it was to see every detail of the boat, the men, and their armament through the Bright-Star goggles. He was also certain that these people were not looking for crab traps. With silenced sub-machine guns and match quality semi-automatic pistols, they had a bigger target in mind. Their target had to be the Senator.
Duncan slipped quietly down to the floor and slid across the room on his back. He opened the gun safe and found exactly what he had hoped he would find. The .300 Whisper rifle, recently cleaned, was only inches from the door. The silencer was in place, and three aluminum magazines, each holding twenty rounds of hand-loaded ammunition made by the famous J.D. Jones himself, were sitting open on the ammunition shelf. Duncan placed the rifle and magazines on his stomach and reached deep into an old, Viet Nam era Alice pack. He pulled out two phosphorus grenades, checked the pins, and then pushed himself across the room, his back sliding easily on the old oriental carpet. He moved quietly to his gun cabinet and swung the door open on well-oiled hinges. He snatched six 10 gauge #4 buck shotgun shells and pulled the big Saresquetta shotgun from the rack. Without thinking, he took the .375 Holland & Holland Mauser rifle and a hand full of solids with him. Mounted on the Mauser was the best scope sight he owned, a 1.5 to 6 power Swarovski.
The trip back to the window was slow. Duncan was balancing two rifles, a shotgun and two magazines of ammunition on his stomach and chest. In each hand he held three oversized shotgun shells and three .375 solids. The boats were now almost at the Senator’s dock as Duncan carefully and quietly loaded a full 20 round magazine of .300 Whisper into fat barreled AR-15 rifle.
The .300 Whisper rifle and its cartridges are rarely seen or known of outside the intelligence community and a small coterie of devoted, highly advanced shooters. The rifle and the cartridge which makes the converted AR-15 so useful to spooks and hunter-shooters were developed for the United States government by J. D. Jones, a famous gunsmith and inventor from Winterville, Ohio. The government had asked Mr. Jones to develop a rifle and cartridge which could easily be silenced, but would fire a projectile capable of penetrating a steel infantry helmet at 200 meters. This combination of rifle and cartridge would be the perfect tool for silently killing sentries when necessary. Mr. Jones, by every test Duncan could dream up, had succeeded on all points. The rifle, a specially converted Bushmaster AR-15, was very accurate. The silencer, while reducing the muzzle blast of the rifle to little more than a whisper, was not truly silent. Even after years of R&D, and countless man hours of computer modeling, no better silencer that would be small enough to be used on a shoulder mounted rifle or a hand-held pistol had been developed. The .300 Whisper cartridge had been designed for minimal muzzle blast and extreme accuracy. The 168 grain match bullet, with a muzzle velocity of 1046 feet per second, will punch a clean hole through a steel combat helmet at 200 meters. Together, the .300 Whisper rifle and cartridge were very special, very scary tools. At this moment, it was just the tool that Duncan needed to protect the Senator.
Duncan planned to place his first round through the buttocks of the first person to touch the Senator’s dock. The flesh wound would incapacitate the assailant and require another member of the team to help the wounded team member back into the boat in order to make an escape. It would also make it clear that the person doing the shooting knew exactly what he was doing. Duncan didn’t want to initiate a fire-fight with six unknown, but well-armed individuals. These people were obviously professionals, and therefore, very dangerous. All Duncan had really wanted to do was to catch the kids that had been stealing his damn crabs.
Through the scope of the rifle, Duncan followed every movement of the lead boat. The boats drew abreast of the Senator’s dock but none of the crew seemed interested. They were staring down the Severn and moving more slowly. It looked, through the Bright-Star goggles, as if the rubber boats were closing on his dock. Duncan waited as the sluggish current near the shore pushed the boats down the Severyn.
It took almost an hour for the boats to cover the distance to Duncan’s dock. As the boats approached his dock, Duncan loaded the 10 gauge and the .375 Holland & Holland Mauser rifle. The 10 gauge shotgun was loaded with two cartridges of number 4 buckshot. Each cartridge contained 54 round pellets of lead which were .24 caliber – almost a full quarter of an inch in diameter. Duncan could fire 54 bullets larger in diameter than the bullet fired by the M-16 rifle each time he pulled one of the two triggers of the double barreled 10 gauge shotgun. At close range, 50 yards or less, a shotgun is a terrifying weapon. Unconsciously, without willing it, or knowing it, Duncan’s breathing had slowed. Snipers shoot with only half a breath in their lungs. Exceptional snipers complete their trigger squeeze only between heartbeats. It is, when done perfectly, almost as if the rifle fires itself. Snipers call this almost Zen like state “the bubble.”
The rubber boats stopped at Duncan’s dock. A black gloved hand reached out of the boat and grasped the stainless steel support of the short ladder which led down to the sailboats.
The Severn River –