Copyright © Grant Leishman
The droplet of sweat rolled carelessly off his forehead, under his cap, and down into his left eye; his shooting eye. Angrily, Corporal Robert Sullivan rubbed his sleeve across his face.
It was always like this; the waiting was the hardest part of any operation. You had to stay focused at all times, waiting patiently for that one chance to do your job. He wouldn’t get a second chance, he knew that. When the target presented itself, you damn-well better be ready, ready to pull that trigger and send your projectile speeding across the void to that far, distant, point where it would splatter someone’s brains all over the show.
Robert had first volunteered for the Army back in 2008 when he realised he just wasn’t likely to get himself a job in his hometown. It wasn’t that he was particularly stupid; it was just that school didn’t seem to do it for him. He just couldn’t sit for hours in one place, reciting words written in some strange, old-fashioned, English, written by a person who had been born centuries earlier. He found the whole idea of learning stuff he would never use again in his life, to be just plain dumb. He would sit in class, gazing alternately at the clock and out the window. He’d always made sure he’d got himself a seat in the class, next to a window, so he could, at least, watch what was happening outside, if not be able to participate.
He grinned to himself, as he remembered the number of times he had sat in class watching the squirrels playing in the large oak trees that bordered the school grounds. He would spend hours daydreaming about being back in the great outdoors, roaming through the paddocks, the sun on his face and the breeze in his hair. Nope, he decided, very early on, school was not for him. As soon as he was allowed to, he determined he would head back to the farm and make his own way. Sitting still for hours and hours, listening to some old fart droning on, was not for a natural-born fidgeter, like Robert.
He wiped the back of his sleeve across his forehead and chuckled at the irony of the situation. Here he was now; his life and his job, totally reliant on his ability to remain stock-still for hour after hour, just waiting for that one opportunity to present itself.
From a very early age, Robert was an outdoors person. Growing up on the farm, he had learnt to shoot as soon as he was able to walk. His father would take him out on the weekends and they would hunt rabbits. He was an exceptional shot and his father would marvel at his ability to hit targets that he personally, would struggle to even see, let alone line up in the rifle sights. In a fair and equitable world, Robert would have grown up and taken over the farm from his parents. Farming was something he understood; it made sense to him. He loved the lifestyle and the freedom being around the farm gave him.
Nothing ever works out quite the way you expect, though, he thought sourly. Pops had intended to gift him the farm on his eighteenth birthday. That had always been the plan, but nobody had counted on the recession and the massive drop in farm earnings that resulted from it. The day those awful men from the bank had come out to the farm, in their Armani suits and their crisp, white, shirts, looking totally incongruous in their big, shiny, black, gumboots, had signalled the beginning of the end for Sullivan Farm. It didn’t appear to matter that the Sullivan’s had been farming that tiny corner of Ohio for the last two centuries. They couldn’t meet the mortgage payments, so they were out on their collective ears; as simple as that.
Robert’s parents were broken people after the mortgagee sale. They’d always been so strong, so dominant in his life and yet now they seemed to have both aged twenty years overnight; all their fight and their spirit disappeared. They packed up their meagre personal belongings and moved to a small house in nearby, suburban, Dayton. He was devastated by the change that had come over the two people he worshipped more than anyone in the world. How could life be so unfair; he had often cried out, to a God he no longer believed in.
He twisted in his position slightly to relieve the cramp that was climbing up his left leg and threatening to overwhelm him. “Must keep alert, must not relax too much,” he determinedly reminded himself. He swivelled slightly and rechecked his view of the potential target through his viewfinder. “Got it still,” he muttered to himself.
It was one Saturday afternoon when the die was cast that would determine Robert’s future. He had just graduated high-school and like so many other high-school graduates, who had neither the money nor the inclination to attend college, he was seeking employment, to try and help out his parents, whose Government benefits simply were not enough to survive on. He’d been at the Mall scouting around various work options. His plan had been to work in a fast-food joint, or even a supermarket, to try and get some work experience under his belt. He knew how hard it was to find a decent job. God knew how hard he’d been trying, but there was so little going those days; the global recession still biting hard.
When the army recruiter had approached him, in the Mall car park and asked if he’d ever considered the Army as a career, Robert’s initial reaction had been “No way man! I ain’t joining no damn army. I just got out of school and years of being told what to do by everyone. I’m not going to go back to being told what to do, all over again….no way!” The recruiter had not been deterred though and sat him down in a booth to explain the benefits of Army life to the young man. After about thirty minutes of hearing all the great benefits, Robert was sold on the idea. It seemed, to him, the perfect opportunity to combine his love of being active, being outdoors, and shooting. The way the man told it, the Army was like one, big, happy, family that looked after each other and cared for each other. The money wasn’t too bad either and the promise of the opportunity to visit strange and exotic lands was too much for him and he signed up on the spot. He received his papers to report for basic training, just a few weeks later.
While he had spent many hours grunting and straining his way, along with hundreds of other raw recruits, around the many obstacle courses designed to crush the spirits of the excitable, young men, he had been marked very early as someone with a special ability. His gunnery Sergeant-Major had been astonished by young, Private Sullivan’s scores on the rifle range. It didn’t matter how far the targets were from the muzzle of his rifle, he had this uncanny knack of striking the bulls-eye with every bullet. It was said, in hushed tones, his scores were the finest ever seen at basic training and he was earmarked as a definite candidate for the role of army sniper.
He was pretty humble about his abilities with a rifle; it was just something he’d always been able to do, but to the brass at the training camp, he was something special and was treated as such, being quickly promoted to Private First-Class, well ahead of his fellow grunts. What followed was months of specialist training and then his first deployment to Iraq.
He knew what he did was frowned on in some circles. Some members of the public it seemed viewed snipers as devious, secretive and perhaps slightly, immoral. Even his mother had expressed her doubts about his chosen path. “Robby,” she had said one evening just before he was set to leave for Iraq, “don’t you sometimes think what you’re doing is unfair? I mean, you shoot people from so far away; they will never even know what hit them. It just doesn’t seem right to me.”
Robert had thought about this very thing, long and hard. He respected his parent’s and especially his mother’s opinion, but this was what he was good at. He’d shrugged his shoulders and lamely answered; “well, Ma, I hadn’t really thought about it that way, but what can I say, war isn’t fair, is it? It’s kill, or be killed…and I’d rather not be killed, so I do what I’m told.” His mother nodded sadly and hugged her son tightly as they watched him leave…perhaps never to return.
The truth was those questions did haunt Robert, usually as he lay in wait for his subject to arrive. He tried hard not to think about the person whose life he was about to terminate, as a real, living, human being. He always pictured his prey as being a big Stag, silhouetted against the skyline, whose massive antlers would one day decorate the walls of the hunting lodge he had decided to open when he eventually retired from the Army. Deep down, though, he knew the target was a real person, with a life, possibly a wife and children, but certainly a mother and a father. It did bother him that the soldier, whose life he was about to end, probably had plans for the future, just like he did.
“Stop thinking that way!” he angrily admonished himself. “You do what you have to do; what they pay you for.”
Readjusting his position slightly, he tensed, as he saw his target hove into view. Right, this is it, this is the moment, he thought. Clearing his head of all extraneous thoughts he focused on the subject across the plain.
Taking a deep breath and flexing his fingers to steady himself, he narrowed his eyes and limited his focus to the one point in the distance, where all his energy was concentrated on.
NOW! This was the moment! With one final check he had everything lined up perfectly, he depressed the button.
Jumping to his feet, he turned to his parents, an enormous grin plastered all over his face. “Look Ma, I got it; a perfect shot. I got the leopard, just as he was leaping onto the back of that gazelle.”
He was bouncing up and down in excitement as he showed the screen to his father. “Look Pops, it’s perfect – everything in focus.”
He sat down and smiled; “this was a great idea, Dad, thanks. I’ve never been on a photographic safari before; it’s totally awesome.”
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