When a sniper kills four people on Boston Common, Boston homicide detective Mike Houston and his partner Anne Bouchard are sent to investigate the case. Amidst the blood and terror, Houston discovers similarities, likenessesthe killer’s positioning, his choice of victims, and his code of ethicsbetween the crime scene and his own training as a US Marine scout and sniper. And with the staging of the scene set for prime shock value, Houston has to wonder what it is this murderer intends to accomplish.
The connection is confirmed in the worst possible way when the sniper strikes again, this time killing Houston’s ex-wife, severing what’s left of the bond between Houston and his estranged daughter, Susie. It’s personal now, and as the death toll rises, Houston and Bouchard will stop at nothing to find the cold-blooded sniper who’s making a mockery of their department. In a final gesture of cat and mouse depravity, the killer kidnaps Susie, luring Houston to an island on a remote lake in Maine for a deadly, sniper-to-sniper showdown.
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About the Author
Vaughn C. Hardacker is a veteran of the US Marines, and he served in Vietnam. He holds degrees from Northern Maine Community College, the University of Maine, and Southern New Hampshire University. Hardacker is a member of the New England Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America, and his short stories have been published in several anthologies.
Read an Excerpt
"... I decided that the best way to get the attention ... was to simply go out and kill a whole bunch of people."
— Gunnery Sergeant Jack Coughlin, USMC
Detective Mike Houston surveyed the carnage around him. The area around the bodies was cordoned off with yellow police tape. Teams from the crime scene unit and medical examiner's office carefully crossed under to begin their work. What had started as a beautiful late summer day on Boston Common had ended with the caustic sounds of rifle fire ... it looked more like Mogadishu after a skirmish between rival warlords than New England's most famous park.
"This," Houston said, "is going to turn into a real shit sandwich ... and fast."
Anne Bouchard, his partner, stood silently beside him. "I've never seen anything like this," she said.
Houston mentally blocked out the sight of the devastation around them and instead studied Anne. Her complexion was pallid. A normal reaction for someone who had never experienced a crime of this magnitude. They had been partners for five years and were as close as two people could get without being "in a relationship." Cops probably knew more about their partners than they did their significant others. But, Houston kept these thoughts to himself.
"I have — but not here ..." When he spoke, it brought him back to the present, away from a time and place he had thought he had put behind him forever. "Time to go to work." Houston approached the perimeter, stopping beside a uniformed cop. One glance was all Houston needed to know that he had never met this cop and he flashed his identification. "What do we have here?"
"Looks like a drive-by ... the shooter pulled up at the corner." The uniformed officer pointed toward Charles Street. "From what we've been able to piece together, it took him less than a minute to put four people down."
"Anyone get a license plate?"
The cop looked at Houston. "You're kidding, right?"
"Just answer my question."
"We should be so lucky. Apparently it went down so fast nobody saw shit."
"Looks like we're in for a long day." Houston clipped his ID to his chest pocket and pulled on a pair of latex gloves. The uniformed cop lifted the tape, and Houston and Anne stepped into the kill zone. They continued along the periphery of the crime scene, watching where they placed their feet. Walking a few steps ahead of Anne, Houston surveyed the Common. In spite of the throng of curious spectators who lined the police barricades, it was unnaturally quiet. The only sound was the murmur of the low voices of cops and investigators as they moved about performing their duties. Even the forensics team seemed reluctant to break the silence as its members gathered evidence and photographed the area from every angle.
Houston had dealt with violent death for most of his adult life and over the years had learned to control his emotions so that no matter how repulsive the act, he could analyze the facts objectively. Jaw clenched and eyes narrowed, Houston vowed to bring in whoever had perpetrated this butchery.
"I've never seen anything anger you this much," said Anne.
"What really pisses me off is that from now on the Common will be just another damned crime scene."
"Yeah," Anne said, "nothing is sacred to scumbags — sooner or later, everyplace in the city is going to be one ..."
"I wish I could think differently ... but I agree with you."
Anne scanned the area, paying particular interest to the throng gathered along the Common's periphery. "You think the perp is watching us?"
"It wouldn't surprise me. Perpetrators of crimes like this love to hang around and watch the aftermath — their way of confirming their kills."
"Well," Anne said, "we better get to it."
They headed toward the victims.
The four bodies lay within a few yards of each other. This told Houston that the shooter had probably picked his targets at random, concentrating on people who were in close proximity to one another. When Houston reached the geometrical center of the kill zone, he stopped and looked toward the corner of Beacon and Charles Streets, the location from which the uniformed officer had said the killer had attacked. Experience and the position of the victims told him that was correct — all four shots came from the same spot. Houston pictured the shooter as he calmly peered through his telescopic sight — ensuring that his sight alignment and sight picture were correct — and once he was satisfied all was in order, selected his targets.
The first victim was a woman. She lay on her back, head and torso obscured by a lush flower bed filled with radiant red and yellow flowers. Her skirt was hiked up, revealing her thighs, blood-splattered legs and lacy white thong. As hardened as he was to scenes of devastation, the sight of her scanty, intimate garment served to bring home to him the senselessness of this act. "Death doesn't give a damn about modesty."
They were silent as they continued through the kill zone.
The second victim was a white male. He laid on a sparse patch of grass, beneath the spreading branches of a gigantic maple tree, an ideal place for sitting in the shade and watching people as they strolled through the Common. It was a place for lazing about — not for dying.
"If he didn't have a bullet hole in his forehead," Anne said, "you could almost believe he was taking a nap." Number three was a large black man who lay on his side in the middle of the paved walk, one arm thrown up as if he were passing a football, the other tucked under his massive belly.
Victim number four was facedown in front of the park bench where he must have been sitting. A crumpled and bloodstained street map of Boston lay beneath him and an expensive camera was at his side, lying in a puddle of his blood; its strap was still looped around his shoulder. "Probably a tourist," Houston said.
Outwardly, it appeared that these people shared only one thing. They had all stopped to enjoy a warm late-summer afternoon in the park. A few fateful minutes later, each lay dead in a dark crimson puddle of blood.
He visualized tomorrow morning's headlines. They would all read some variation of COMMON SITE OF SECOND BOSTON MASSACRE! The Tribune would try to be tactful (if such a word could be used to describe a newspaper) and downplay it, but other papers would sensationalize the story to boost their flagging circulations. He paused and looked back at the woman, wondering which one would run a picture of her with her thighs and panties exposed on the front page. He noticed Tom Lukasic, a member of the crime lab, walking in his direction and motioned for him.
When the forensic scientist reached his side, Houston could see a shocked expression on his pallid face. "T-they never covered anything like this in school," Lukasic stuttered.
"Don't think about it. Just do your job." Houston nodded to the female victim. "Take care of her first. Okay? Try to get her body covered up before some press vulture photographs her."
Lukasic swallowed and some color returned to his face. "I'm on it ..." Houston stared at the cluster of forensics people, who were gathered around the spot from which the shots were fired. "Tom."
"How far you think it is from here to where the furthest vic is?"
Without rising, Lukasic looked toward the corner. "Three, maybe four hundred yards — why?"
On a summer afternoon, the Common was always crowded. Why had the shooter targeted victims so far out? Why not pick closer, easier-to-hit targets? Was this shooter leaving a message?
"Either way, if he hit what he intended to hit, he knows his way around weapons. Pretty stiff breeze today."
Exactly what I thought, Houston mused. It was time to look at the scene from the shooter's perspective. He watched until Lukasic knelt at the victim's side and then searched the area for Anne. When he found her, he motioned for her to meet him at the corner from which the killer had struck.
* * *
The brim of the tall man's Red Sox cap rested on top of his dark glasses, obscuring much of his face. He stood among the herd of gawkers and couldn't help but feel like a celebrity, which, in a way, he was. Without him, there would be no throng crowding the periphery of Boston Common like jackals around a ripe carcass.
He threaded his way through the herd of sensation-seekers until he reached the cordon of yellow tape. He watched the cops and smirked as they moved through the kill zone like hounds seeking a scent. Cops, like military intelligence, were clueless.
He rested his hands on his hips and watched. The cops performed their duties much like soldiers did after a terrorist attack — it was as if they worked from the same manual.
The two in street clothes were detectives, a woman and a man. The male cop, Houston, was the reason he was here. In truth, he was the reason for this entire show. The man studied the male detective closely, trying to determine if he had changed any. The man's eyes followed the cop's every move, taking in everything and paying attention to the smallest of details. A good sniper (which he defined as a live sniper) was always aware of several things: the environment, the behavior and the habits of his target. He committed his target's every move and mannerism to memory — one never knew when the enemy would unwittingly reveal a weakness. The man in the hat wondered if Houston was still the officious bastard he remembered.
Houston paused beside the female victim and said something to another man, who nodded and then quickly walked to the woman. After a minute or so, number two lowered the woman's skirt. The shooter grinned, twisting his mouth into a ghoulish smile. "You always were a compassionate piece of shit, Mikey."
He was unaware that he had spoken aloud until a woman next to him jerked her head and gave him a stern look.
He removed his hat, revealing a face so hideously scarred that it resembled a wax statue that had melted and then cooled. She recoiled at the sight of his damaged skin. Before she could apologize, he scowled at her and almost laughed when her disapproving look fled like a doe before a forest fire. He could have left things at that, but he had long since lost tolerance for the cretins of the world and their petty bullshit. "What's the matter, lady ... you got virgin ears or something?"
The sniper leered at the woman, closing in on her until his scarred face was only inches from her pallid one. He grinned, and her eyes opened with fear. He laughed a deep, condescending laugh as she scurried away, pushing her way through the crowd.CHAPTER 2
"When a bad guy hides deep in a building or mixes in among civilians, he cannot be readily seen and identified ..."
— Gunnery Sergeant Jack Coughlin, USMC
Houston perused the crowd that had assembled along the periphery of the crime scene. He felt sure that the shooter was among them. He studied the faces of the audience and saw nothing out of the ordinary, a lot of Red Sox attire and faces depicting shock, revulsion and disbelief that someone had perpetrated such a dreadful crime in their city.
A news van pulled up as close to the crime scene as possible and drew Houston's focus away from the throng. A petite brunette wearing a business-like top and cut off dungaree shorts jumped out of the truck while it was still moving. Houston immediately recognized Amanda Boyce, a local celebrity. She surveyed the area, no doubt looking for a broadcast position that would frame the activity on the Common behind her.
A few moments later, a man carrying a large camera got out of the van. The technician lifted the camera onto his right shoulder and placed his eye to the reticule. He slowly moved around, keeping the camera positioned so that her blue denim shorts would not be visible to the viewing audience. Boyce seemed to quickly assess the situation and then looked over her shoulder once again. When she seemed satisfied that the camera framed the scene as she wanted it, she turned back to face the lens, raised a wireless microphone to her lips and performed a quick sound test. As Boyce spoke, the camera operator tracked her like a smart bomb homing in on its target, moving in a circle as she squared herself in front of the action on the Common. She smoothed her blouse and shaped her hair with her free hand. Houston heard her ask the camera operator, "How do I look?"
The cinematographer replied, "You're ravishing ... get ready to go live. Three ... two ... one ... and ..."
"This is Amanda Boyce, WBO news, live at the Boston Common where a short time ago an unidentified number of people were gunned down in an apparent drive-by shooting ..." Although she spoke in a professional, yet subdued voice, in the unnatural quiet of the space her words seemed as loud as if they boomed from a loudspeaker.
Houston didn't want the media cornering him so he turned away.
"Now the media circus begins," Anne said.
"They're like vultures ... as soon as they hear of a body they flock to it." He tried to filter the disgust out of his voice but was not completely successful.
"I don't think I'd characterize Amanda that way," Anne said.
Houston turned to her, a question written on his face. "You sound as if you know her. Do you?"
"Yeah, we knew each other in college."
Houston saw Barry Newton, head crime lab technician, straighten, place his hands on the small of his back and arch backward, stretching his taut muscles. He lifted the yellow tape and motioned Houston inside.
When he was inside, Houston asked, "What 'cha got, Barry?"
Newton dropped the tape. "What we have here is a stellar example of a Chinese fire drill."
Barry Newton was as good a crime scene tech as there was anywhere in the country. He had a reputation for being no-nonsense and up-front. Houston knew that Newton wouldn't string him along. If he had something, Houston would get it. On the other hand, if he had nothing he would come right out and say so. At this early stage of the investigation, Houston felt certain that the latter was the case.
"We got about what you would expect," Newton said. "Nothing, nada, zip."
"Well," Houston commented, "whoever this shooter was, he definitely knew his business. This wasn't haphazard — it was planned, right down to the location and time." He brought his arm up and moved his hand from side to side. "From here they have any number of escape routes. They could have taken I-93 north or south, crossed one of the bridges into Cambridge or disappeared into the city."
"We did find one thing." Newton held a plastic bag with a single expended cartridge in it.
Houston took the bag and inspected the cartridge.
"It's a .308," Newton said.
"Same caliber as the rifle I used in the Marines ..."
"As well as a million hunters."
* * *
The sniper watched the female cop as she sat beside a crying woman dressed in a nurse's light-blue scrubs. Another compassionate idiot, he thought in disgust. Whatever happened to the cops he knew as a kid in Louisville? Like Wilcox — that bastard would bust your head and place a size ten up your ass as he sent you on your way.
He turned his mind to other things. Without intending, he started computing distances, wind velocity and direction. His palms were moist with sweat as the need to feel the loving caress of a trigger's resistance against his finger swept through him. It would be so easy....
* * *
Houston surveyed the Common, looking for Anne. After a few seconds, he saw her sitting on a bench beside a grief-stricken woman. Although he was the senior officer, Anne was more adept when it came to dealing with distraught witnesses. As was their routine, he left her to do what she did best. Turning back to Newton, he asked, "You got anything else?"
"I won't have anything definite until we get to the lab."
"When can you get me a report?"
"I'll be here the rest of the day — how about the day after tomorrow?"
"I could use it sooner than that, if that's possible. Like, first thing in the morning."
Houston saw mock disgust in Barry's face when he heard the unreasonable request. Nevertheless, Houston knew he had been expecting it; if it had not come from him, it would have come from someone else. The murder of four people in the middle of one of Boston's biggest tourist attractions at the height of the season was certain to create a lot of heat fast. Every politician, from the most junior city council member to the governor, would be hot for a quick resolution to this case. He wouldn't be the only person putting in a lot of overtime to solve this one. "I'll do my best."
"That's one of the reasons why I like you." Houston scanned the surrounding area — the brownstones, Beacon Hill and the Cheers bar. In the near distance the gold dome of the state capitol shone in the sunshine. "You know, Barry, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that this site was chosen and this was staged and choreographed down to the second."
"Yeah, maybe our shooter was looking for maximum shock value. Not to mention publicity. I'd expect something like this to go down at a gang turf war in Dorchester or Mattapan, one of the more crime-prone neighborhoods."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Sniper"
Copyright © 2014 Vaughn C. Hardacker.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
I ONE SHOT; ONE KILL,
Prelude to the Kill,
II THE ISLAND,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I was a little afraid to try this book since I only saw a 2 star rating. Tried it any how and totally enjoyed the book. Thought the characters were excellent, actually would have liked to see it turned into a series. Very well written, although there were some typos, etc. Anyway I would definitely recommend this book.