He’s the finest shooter in the world, and in a few minutes, he’ll have an open shot at the president of the United States. He cuts a hole in the glass, assembles his rifle, and finds his target.
Five days earlier, Cory Williams made a bet that could save his life or get him shot to pieces. Deep in debt to his bookie, he wagered $10,000 on a single crazy notion: that he could shoot the president right between the eyes. Of course, he doesn’t actually plan on doing it—he’ll win the money simply for sneaking the rifle through the herd of secret service agents, setting it up, and taking a picture through the scope. If anybody sees him carrying the gun, he’ll be shot on sight. If he survives, he’s a free man. But when a real assassin takes aim at the president, Cory finds himself caught in the middle of a deadly conspiracy with no choice but to shoot his way out.
As compelling a piece of Cold War suspense fiction as The Manchurian Candidate, Game Bet grabs the reader on the first page and holds on tight. When it comes to political thrillers, no one does it better than Richard Forrest.
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By Richard Forrest
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1981 Stockton Woods
All rights reserved.
He would have a perfect shot at the President of the United States.
The motorcade would pass below his window, crowds would strain at the police barricades, and when the open limousine slowed to make the sweep around Gardner Street, his field of fire would be wide open. It would be nearly impossible for any competent marksman to miss — and he was the best.
Earlier, he had lowered the Venetian blinds in the vacant office, and now he raised one ten inches. He pressed the small dab of putty firmly against the glass at the corner of the window just above the sill. When the putty was in the center of the circle he intended to cut, he pressed the glass cutter firmly against the window and began a biting circular slash.
When the cutter's edged circle was complete, he removed the glass by holding onto the putty the glass pulled away from the window, and he laid it gently on the floor, away from where he would crouch.
The small hole would be undetectable from the street or nearby buildings. Now his line of sight was completely unimpeded.
He lowered the Venetian blind until its leading edge just tipped the top of the small hole. Stepping backward a few feet, he took a sighting. He shook his head. The blind was so low that it obscured vision and might allow for distortion in his estimate of the progress of the motorcade. He raised the blind halfway, stepped back again and nodded in satisfaction.
The felt-lined attaché case lay open in the center of the room, and he picked up the barrel and trigger housing of the field-stripped Garand. He hefted the pieces a moment before he began to assemble the weapon.
It was 10 A.M. Thursday morning.
It had begun five days before.
Cory kept the shotgun angled toward his feet until he saw the small clay pigeon whirl upward. He jerked the weapon to his shoulder, took a lead on the small disc, and immediately felt the reassuring recoil of the shot against his shoulder. The clay disintegrated within his shot pattern.
The shooter to his right shouted, "For Christ sake, Cory, don't you ever miss?"
"If I can see it, I can hit it."
"Modest fellow, isn't he?" was Joe Page's comment from the position to his left.
Ominous dark clouds that had been scudding across the sky all afternoon now merged into a large black mass that began to release a barrage of pelting rain.
"I'm for calling it a day," Ed Robinson said. "O.K. with you fellows?"
"Come on," Cory replied. "You're not made out of soap. A little rain won't hurt."
"Your shooting will," Robinson said as he slapped a twenty-dollar bill in Cory's hand and started back toward the clubhouse.
"Me too, Cory." Joe Page broke his shotgun and extracted the brass. Curling the weapon over his arm, he fished for his wallet and handed Cory another twenty. "Why do I bet against you? That's what I want to know."
"A fool and his money," Cory said as he watched Page follow Robinson back to the house. He ejected the remaining shells from his shotgun and deftly caught them as they flew from the chamber. He pointed the barrel upward and pulled the trigger on an empty chamber as a safety precaution, and turned to leave the post. He turned the shotgun upside down to keep moisture from seeping down the barrel and began to trot.
The slanting rain partially obscured the Norfolk Hunt Club buildings, which were set on a knoll overlooking the twelve hundred acres of its domain. The house's upper clapboard stories were now clouded in rain mist, giving the building an eerie appearance.
Cory put the shotgun inside the back-door vestibule and turned back into the rain. He began to run in easy loping strides down the main path that cut through the middle of waist-high meadow grass. The rain streamed over his face and down his forehead in short rivulets, partially blinding him. The synchronization of breath and body and the quiet pad of his boots against the soft ground gave him a feeling of well-being.
He came to a low stone wall. With no farmers to walk the walls each spring, the rocks piled so carefully for generations were now gradually falling to the side. He jumped the wall with ease and continued running.
The land for the Norfolk Club had been purchased cheaply fifty years before, most of it picked up for taxes from impoverished farmers. Although there were no official bylaws for the club, it had been understood that the initial fifty members could only be replaced by death or resignation. Membership was usually inherited, although occasionally, with no male issue in the area, a new member might be "invited." After his fourth term in Congress; Cory's father had been asked to join, and membership had passed to Cory on his father's death.
The dues were remarkably low, since several large bequests, now held in conservative trusts, provided the bulk of the financing for the club — an important fact that allowed Cory to continue membership.
The original farms had long ago turned fallow, and were overgrown with second- and third-growth timber that covered fields so laboriously wrested from the land two hundred years ago. Only low stone walls and an occasional house foundation marked by a free-standing chimney signaled the graves of deceased farms.
While the rocky farm land, painfully cleared over the centuries, would return to its natural state in a few years, animal life that had been blown, blasted, and torn from the fields and sky was harder to replace.
Deer had eventually returned. Quail and pheasant brought in by the truckload had flourished, while wild turkey did not.
As Cory's run neared the tree line that was the approach to August Ridge, he turned and began to jog back toward the house. The center portion of the club building had once been a large farmhouse. Its square lines seemed to have invited additions, and now the internal structure was a maze of a dozen bedrooms, dining room, bar, game room, and kitchen.
It was a rough-hewn place, whose attraction was probably more its exclusivity than its accommodations.
In his room, Cory shucked off his clothes and spread a blanket on the floor. He sat naked, Indian fashion, on the blanket as he screwed a cleaning rod together and began to run cotton gun patches down the bore of the shotgun. He cleaned the weapon carefully, and left a thin film of oil in the barrel and working parts before he replaced the gun in its case. He showered, toweled, and dressed in slacks, a flannel shirt, and soft leather moccasins.
Page, Robinson, and Lewis were in the taproom sipping drinks when Cory entered and mixed a martini at the bar.
Thursday: 10:14 A.M.
He sat cross-legged in the center of the floor of the vacant office, with the rifle on his knees. He pulled back the bolt and left the chamber open for a moment before he reached in and pushed down on the receiver. The bolt snapped shut with a clack.
He worked the bolt several more times before he took a single cartridge from his pocket. He held the projectile between two fingers a moment, staring at it. With a half smile he inserted the bullet carefully into the rifle chamber until it was properly seated. The bolt clacked forward again, and he slipped on the safety.
Joe Page was an accountant, or more specifically, a CPA with his own large firm in downtown Deerford. He was a tall, thin, nearly cadaverous man whose years of meticulous work had imposed on him a sheen of quiet contemplation.
Ed Robinson was a vice-president of marketing for an insurance company. He was an affable man with a mane of white hair and a faintly flushed complexion. He drank Rob Roys.
"Don't spill martini juice on the news." Norm Lewis had spread a newspaper across the bar and was engrossed in the editorial page.
Ruth Lewis sat in a far corner of the taproom, with reading glasses perched on the end of her nose and a pencil between her teeth as she concentrated on a crossword puzzle. She was a honey blonde of thirty-two whose figure was lithe and athletic.
Cory looked at her as he drank his martini. The liquor burned and did nothing to decrease the feelings he still had toward the woman seated in the corner.
He had loved her.
He had known her for two months a year during his whole early life. Their parents had nearby summer cottages on the Connecticut shore, and their relationship had matured through the studied disinterest of preadolescence, the false disdain of pubescence, and finally matured into deep interest in their later high school years.
They had begun to date seriously the summer after her graduation from Deerford High and his from Choate. Their proximity during the warm summer, when they both worked as life guards for the Beach Association, had resulted in what Cory considered at the time a serious affair.
When they left for college, Ruth had cried and vowed to write him "nearly" every day and to see him at least once a month. It had started out that way, but Wellesley was nearer to Harvard, where Norm matriculated, than it was to Cory's dorm in New Haven.
He had never been sure which of them had made love to her first, and he wondered if she remembered.
After his father died, Cory had dropped out of Yale and hitchhiked across the country. It had been a bummer year filled with dark places, drugs, and a haze of events. It had culminated in a San Francisco recruiting office where he had barely passed the army physical. The constricted and structured army life had been a physical and mental salvation, and would have continued if his career had not been abruptly terminated.
Norm Lewis pounded the bar with sufficient force to startle everyone in the room. "That son of a bitch has done it again!"
"Who's done what?" Joe Page asked.
"That meatball we have for a President. This crap about arms reduction is going to put us in a red bed."
"They must know what they're doing down there," Page said.
The rain beat a heavy tattoo against the frame window at the end of the room, and the slap of Robinson's and Page's cards added to the rhythm.
"Like hell they do! Oswald, where are you when we need you?"
Robinson stopped with a card poised in mid-air and looked toward Norm Lewis with a wry face. "That's not even remotely funny."
"Sure." Norm went back to his reading, and the room was quiet again except for the angry weather.
Cory finished the last of his drink and poured another. He would have to watch his rate of consumption, or they would have to pour him into the dining room at dinnertime.
He leaned against the far end of the bar and watched Norm Lewis read, and wondered again at their adult animosity. As adolescents they had been close. Cory had looked forward to each Congressional recess and the family's return to the large frame house they maintained in West Deerford. Norm lived two blocks away, in a large rambling stucco house of Spanish motif partially surrounded by a high wall that contained one of the most important fixtures of adolescent life — an inground heated swimming pool.
Norm had taught him to swim and dive. Cory's rough form was a parody of the other boy's flawless technique. Norm had been the leader, and Cory had gladly followed. It had continued that way for years, through almost two score remembrances of pranks, girls, fast cars, and a slow march to maturity.
The relationship had taken years to change into a malicious competitiveness. Perhaps Ruth had been the beginning of it, but it seemed to transcend their mutual vying for a girl. Their feelings had somehow turned dark, into a skewered caricature of their early relationship. Now they dealt with each other in a cool accommodation. They had seen little of each other in recent years except for accidental meetings such as this weekend.
Ruth Lewis pushed away from her table and walked over to the window. "And to think I might have gone to New York this weekend and seen a show."
"Who gave you a choice?" was Norm's mumbled answer.
She gave him a darting look and walked to the door. "In case anyone is interested. I'm going to take a nap."
She looked past her husband, hunched over his newspaper, directly at Cory. Their eyes met. He returned her gaze until she turned and left the room.
He felt a little chagrined, engaging in a casual flirtation whose only purpose would be to "get" Norm.
Norm was still groaning under his breath as he finished the paper. The two men were both in their early thirties, and there the resemblance stopped. While Cory was over six feet, with wide shoulders and an open face, Norm was several inches shorter, thin, with narrow face and features.
Ed Robinson left the card game while Joe Page shuffled the deck. He stood-for a moment looking pensively out of the window. "There sure in hell won't be any more shooting today."
"What difference does it make as long as Cory's here? He always wins."
Norm looked up from his paper at Cory. "Is that right? There really is something you do well?"
"More than one thing."
"Claims he can hit anything he can see," Robinson said from the window.
"Anything?" Norm smiled crookedly.
"That's right. Anything I can see." He had meant it as a funny macho statement summing up a rainy day's reflection by several bored men, but now it had come out as an oblique attack on Norm Lewis. An attack demanding retort or acknowledgement.
There was a nearly inaudible sigh from Norm. "For Christ sake, Cory, that's a bunch of crap! There are a dozen factors involved in a shot: weather, type of ammo, motion of the target ..."
Cory looked toward the window and the distant ridge line. He envisioned a target three hundred meters away, near the trees. The driving rain would obscure visibility, and intermittent gusts of wind would rock a weapon, no matter how tightly clinched. A telescopic lens would streak with rain and fog, but all these factors could be accommodated for with the exception of one variable. He turned to face Norm. "I hold to my original point." He paused. "With one possible exception, motion."
Lewis guffawed. "OK, Cory. We get the picture. You can hit anything as long as it's stationary, on a clear day, with the wind to your rear and nothing making you nervous."
"And not hung over," Joe Page added and began to mix a drink behind the bar.
Cory held his hand in front of his body, palms out. "All right. So I'm qualifying, but I still mean it. Give me a stationary target that I can see and that's still for oh, say, three seconds, and I can hit it."
"Given the proper weapon?"
"That goes without saying."
A burst of wind rattled the shutters of the old, building and whined across the eaves as it skipped down the valley. Joe Page gave a final twirl to his cocktail shaker and poured a glass. "A couple more of these, and I won't even need a rifle to get a target."
"Back to the point," Norm said. "Given a choice of weapon, a temporarily stationary target, and you can hit it?"
"Bullshit!" They all looked toward Ed Robinson, now slumped in a large leather chair. "You guys don't know what you're talking about. Cocktail banter on a rainy afternoon. Verbal diarrhea. Go play poker, where you can bluff each other to hell and back honestly."
"I mean what I say, Eddy," Cory said levelly.
"You probably do, and you don't know what in hell you're talking about."
"I think I do."
"Let me ask you a question. Were you in the service?"
"Were you ever in combat?"
"Well, no. I trained at Fort Benning and served in Nam, but I was never in a line company."
"What's the point, Eddy?"
The white-haired man sat erect and sipped his drink. "You guys can talk about targets, scopes, windage, and all that from now till the eagle screams, and it doesn't mean bat shit. It's a different ball game when you face other men with loaded weapons."
Cory gulped the remainder of his drink and leaned against the bar. "I stand behind my statement."
"You're forgetting the human factors: nerve, imagination, call them what you will. Let me tell you something. I was a platoon leader at Normandy in World War Two, and I was recalled as a company commander during Korea. Facts — more than half the guys in my units would never fire a shot. That's right, not even pull the trigger of their goddamn weapons during a fire fight. And the other half didn't aim; no one did. Those of us who did fire, shot in the general direction of the enemy ... high, low, hell, just in the general direction."
"You're talking about eighteen-year-old kids in combat for the first time."
Excerpted from Game Bet by Richard Forrest. Copyright © 1981 Stockton Woods. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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