It was like existing in a sensory deprivation chamber. There was no sound, the ambient noises of the outside world blocked by the thick concrete parapets surrounding the tower. Ditto for wind, the movement almost non-existent to begin with, what little there was completely blotted out by the structure.
Neither fact came as a surprise in the slightest, those two – and a host of others – all carefully considered when choosing the optimal vantage.
Lying flat and prone, the cool concrete of the floor passed up through the front of the jeans and t-shirt that Garrett Yaeger wore. A far cry from the heavy togs he was used to sporting, he could feel the lingering effects of late spring that had been absorbed into the structure he lay flat on, transference passing it on to him, lowering his body temperature accordingly.
For the normal person, such a drop could prove catastrophic. It might tighten the muscles, forcing a spasm that could lead to early action, or it could dull the reflexes in a way that would undermine everything that was planned.
For a man with his background though, such matters were of no worry. His body had been honed in conditions on the extreme ends of the spectrum, resulting in the abilities to focus past sweat stinging his eyes or snow swirling in his face.
Compared to what he was used to, circumstances didn’t get any better than what he was currently working with, an unspoken nod from the gods that they saw, and approved, of what he was doing.
He was on a mission, something far greater and stemming from a much higher purpose, than any other he had ever been on.
There was no way a little bit of cool concrete was going to stop that.
Heightening the effects of his particular situation was the visual field that he was working with. Already cut in half by his left eye pinched shut, the totality of what he could see was limited to a single circle, the four corners of his vision blacked out by the parameters of the shooting scope he was staring through.
No sounds, no weather, no vision save the single enclosed circle.
Not even a smell, his twice busted nose keeping all but the most aggressive of aromas at bay.
The moment had been more than a month in coming, every last day in the interim spent under intense preparation.
The most difficult part of the process had been choosing the optimal location. The goal was to find someplace that would reach out and slap people, would get their attention and demand they look his direction. Only once he had their focus, once he knew that they were sitting up and listening, could he truly begin to push forward with his plan.
His first thoughts had been to launch directly forward, to go with an approach that left little doubt, making sure that as fine a point as possible was put on his motives.
If that didn’t work, he would do it again. And again. And again.
As many times as necessary until the message was driven home and appropriate action was taken.
Over the course of his preparation such an approach was cast aside, reasoning winning out, managing to worm past the veneer of anger he wore like armor. Going straight to the final point right out of the gate would make it too easy. People may write him off as a crazy, another heretic with a gun, just the latest in the rash of domestic terrorists that had been ravaging the countryside in the preceding years.
Yaeger was none of those things. He was a patriot, a loyal soldier that had done everything asked of him. Never could he be considered a terrorist in any sense of the word, though he did share one key characteristic with them.
He had a message that needed to be heard.
Doing it this way was not his preferred delivery method, but after being ignored for the better part of two years, it was the only remaining way.
No part of him wanted it to be like this, but then again, no part of him remained that felt like he had a choice. If ever there was to be any progress, any change to the way things were, this was how it would go.
With the stock of the rifle wedged against his collarbone, Yaeger clamped it in place with his cheek on one side, his deltoids on the other. Running his hand along the bottom of the stock, he placed the familiar weight of the weapon into the palm of his hand, everything but his index finger used as support, lifting the base from the ground.
The barrel of the gun he supported with his opposite hand, his entire body flat against the concrete, his elbows pressed tight against it, scraping over the rough surface.
It was a position he had held no less than a hundred thousand times before, muscle memory converting the pose in an instant, reacting exactly the way he knew it would.
There was no accident to the fact that all other senses had been blotted away. Every fiber of his being had been conditioned to know what occurred when he took this stance, a single jolt of adrenaline passing into his system, warming him in a way he hadn’t known in a long time.
The faintest hint of a smile flickered at Yaeger’s lips, disappearing just as fast as it had arrived. Whatever joy he derived from the position, from the action he was about to perform, it was completely outweighed by the sadness that had precipitated it.
No part of him actually wanted to do this. Even less wanted to dwell on the reasons that had pushed him into doing so.
Still, he had no choice. It had to be done.
Pulling in long breaths through his nose, Yaeger made sure his heart rate was even, that every organ in his body was in sync, before putting his full attention onto the scene before him.
Only then, once he was certain of a target, did he curl his finger inside the trigger guard, feeling its weight against the pad of his index finger, knowing that once this started, there would be no stopping until it was finished.
Laura Coyne felt like she had three pieces of sandpaper affixed to her face. The first two resided under each of her eyelids, rubbing against the raw surface of her retinas. In equal measures the continued friction caused them to dry out followed by watering heavily, giving her the appearance of crying.
Not a great look, especially for the lone female agent in the Wyoming field office of the FBI.
The third piece of sandpaper felt like it was smashed to the top of her tongue – or rather, might have actually been her tongue. Regardless of how much water she had chugged before bed, or the amount of Starbucks she gulped down on the way into the office, there was just no way to keep it saturated.
Within seconds of the liquid passing over it, the surface was back to being a dry sponge, scraping against the top of her mouth.
Checking her reflection in the rearview mirror of her car, Laura made a face. The thick framed glasses on her nose did their best to hide the bags under her eyes, and maybe even a bit of the puffiness, but there was only so much they could do.
She had been out late the night before, much later than intended. She had also been pigeonholed into a second, a third, and finally a fourth drink, despite her many objections that one was her limit for the evening.
All of it she wore plainly on her features. Despite being just thirty-two, the days of her being able to stay out all night and show up for work looking fresh the next morning were now long past her.
She could only hope that her co-workers would be willing to overlook her current condition, or at least let it pass with only minimal comment.
Checking the clock on the dash, Laura saw that it was 8:15, a quarter hour past her usual starting time. Still the better part of an hour before most of her cohorts would arrive, she gave her hair one last vain attempt at a fluff before grabbing her suit jacket from the passenger seat and stepping out.
Unlike the FBI facilities in most parts of the country, the outpost in Cheyenne was a simple affair. A single two-story building, it had eschewed the need for a parking structure in lieu of an open lot, the prairie wind whipping over her body as she emerged. Moving in even gusts, it tugged at the collar of her dress shirt, twisting around her body and bringing goose pimples to her skin before exiting out the bottom of her suit coat.
Despite spring mercifully arriving a few weeks before, the wind was still far colder than a native of San Diego was used to. Clamping her jaw against it, she swung the jacket around her shoulders, the wind fighting her, plastering it against her back before she was able to wrestle her arms into place and button it across her torso.
By the time she was done, her hair was in a tangle around her head, adding to the disheveled look she’d spent all morning trying so hard to tamp down.
Glancing to her reflection on the driver’s window, a simple, “Great,” passed over her lips before she swung her attention back towards the building.
The structure was a near copy of most every other in Cheyenne, the buildings designed to withstand the harsh realities of their climate. Faced with the perpetual charge of standing right on the edge of the Great Plains and at the base of the Rocky Mountains, they had to be able to stave off the winds tearing across one and the snow unleashed above the other.
Some of the more enterprising in town had attempted to be artistic in their approach to architecture, an effort that had worked with only minimal success.
The FBI, and every other building financed on the government dime, made no such attempt. Constructed of white brick, the place sat low and brooding, a smudge at the foot of the mountains rising behind it. The only décor of any kind was a row of gnarled juniper bushes along the front wall, the windows all blanked out with blinds pulled low.
With her aluminum coffee mug clamped in hand, Laura cut a diagonal from her spot in the parking lot, only a handful of SUVs and a pair of trucks dotting the spaces around her. Moving her feet in a quick shuffle, she kept her pace just short of a jog until reaching the front walk and taking a hard left towards the front door.
Every step of the way the wind continued working at her exposed back, dropping her body temperature several degrees in the process.
No less than a hundred times she had been told that she would fast adjust to the cold and would soon consider this nothing more than t-shirt weather.
Many, many times that number she had alternated between thinking there was no way that would ever happen, and if it did, it meant she had stalled out and been in Cheyenne far too long.
As it stood, three months and counting already felt like an eternity.
With her gaze aimed at the concrete before her, Laura maintained her pace before passing through the outer glass door to the building. Pausing there, she let the heated air of the buffer zone pass down over her, continuing to push her hair in various directions, before stepping through a second door into the interior of the office.
The sound of each step was absorbed by dingy beige carpeting as she walked past an unmanned secretary’s desk and down a narrow corridor, only a few lights on at such an hour, that being the very reason Laura made a habit of arriving so early.
At 9:00 the rest of the crew would roll in, all fresh from working out at the 24 Fitness across town together, all throwing glances her way as they paraded past her desk.
Feeling her stomach clench slightly at the thought of what would occur soon enough, and what they would undoubtedly see and think as they marched by, Laura increased her pace a half step, stepping into her office exactly 20 minutes after the hour. With the coffee still gripped tight, she used her wrist to flip the light switch on the wall, pausing as the overhead fluorescents kicked to life and the dull buzz that always accompanied them appeared before stepping forward.
Technically it was the best office Laura had ever had, a designation made possible solely due to the fact that it was the only office she’d ever had. Measuring ten feet on either end, it held a few remainder items from the last government cast-off sale, furniture so old she doubted anybody had bothered to enter the serial numbers that were affixed to various corners using small metal tabs.
Along one wall was a bookcase with four shelves, the unit stopping even with her navel. Cutting the room in half was a battered desk of a different colored wood, a single chair on either side of it, one with a thin black cushion on the bottom, the other with wood rubbed free of stain or varnish.
Stepping forward, Laura placed her coffee down on the desk and circled around to her chair with the thin black pad. Settling down into it, the item gave a low wheeze and the springs groaned slightly as she leaned back, the painted concrete wall behind her stopping her descent just a few inches after it began.
Much internal debate had gone into determining the best way to position the desk, not particularly wanting to face her coworkers each time they passed, but even less wanting them looking over her shoulder.
“Just remember,” she muttered, her voice just barely loud enough to be heard by her own ears, “it could be worse. Rookies in the big cities have to share desks, let alone offices.”
Hearing the words did nothing to lift her mood or the hangover, Laura reaching out with both hands simultaneously. With her left she grasped the mug and took a long pull of coffee. With her right she pushed the mouse across her desktop, the movement calling the screen of her computer to life before her.
Both caused her to wince slightly, the heat of the drink and the bright light of the screen both rocketing through her head and bouncing against the inside of her skull.
Neither boded well for the rest of the day.
Pinching her eyes as narrow as she could, Laura called up her email program, starting the day as she did every other, waiting for the list of tasks that always seemed to arrive sometime in the wee hours between when she left and returned.
How that happened she had long since given up trying to figure out, chalking it up to little more than some sort of email troll that apparently had a vendetta against her.
How or why he seemed so intent on making her life Hell she hadn’t a clue, but knew without a doubt that whatever she had done to deserve such wrath she was supremely sorry for.
Again leaning back in her chair, Laura watched as the green status bar at the bottom of the screen moved slowly from left to right, loading new messages. She allowed her eyelids to sag a bit more, wrapping both hands around the mug, trying to pull any residual warmth she could from it.
There she remained for a few blissful moments, allowing herself to put the animosity that was growing with each day she spent in the building at bay.
The respite was short lived.
“Coyne! Wake your ass up!”
The word choice was so harsh, the manner of their delivery so strong, that they jerked Laura forward. Rocking up away from the wall, she felt the base of her chair slam down against the metal pedestal it rested on, her hands only barely keeping a lock on the mug gripped between them.
Feeling her heart rate spike, her breathing grow rapid, Laura snapped forward, her stomach pressing against the edge of her desktop.
Across from her stood Special Agent Martin Cousins, a hand on each hip, the pose managing to flare out the sides of his ill-fitting suit, the solid gray garment filling the entire width of her doorway. On his face was an expression of pure disgust, the overhead light shining down off of his red forehead.
“Get a car from the motor pool and meet me out front in five.” He issued the words as a clear order, despite the fact that he was just a few years older than Laura and nowhere near her chain of command. “If you think you can keep your ass awake long enough, that is.”
Rhett Bomar snapped his eyes open the moment he heard the telltale sound, the same exact pitter-patter that woke him on the majority of mornings.
“It had better be a lot later than it feels,” he muttered, not bothering to even open his eyes, his entire body in denial that morning had arrived so soon.
The statement was met by a small groan from his wife Vanessa as she rolled over onto her side, her warm breath landing on his shoulder.
“Can’t blame them. They get excited.”
“Yeah, well, that makes one of us at least.”
“Actually, I believe that would be two.”
The comment elicited a half smile from Rhett, his eyes still pinched closed as the door to their bedroom wrenched itself open, a squeak from the doorknob preceding the moan of hinges by just a split second.
Just two more things around the house he had been meaning to get to, but hadn’t yet found the time.
“Dad-deeeeee!” came the sound of Breanne, the youngest of his two girls.
A moment later her sister Cadence joined in, her voice raised just south of a squeal. “Happy birthdaaaay!”
The combined sounds pierced through Rhett’s head, a momentary wince crossing his features before he forced his face back to neutral. There he remained, his nose pointed towards the ceiling, completely silent.
“Daddy! Come on, wake up, it’s your birthday!” Breanne called, a pair of tiny hands pressing into his hip, the sound of feet hitting the floor as she jumped up and down finding his ears.
“We made you breakfast and everything,” Cadence added, deciding to bypass prodding him and jumping onto the bed, the covers pulling around his legs as she walked up between her parents.
Still Rhett remained silent, allowing his bottom jaw to sag open slightly, a contrived snore rolling out from deep in his throat. At the sound of it both girls broke into giggling, Cadence leaping forward, the full weight of her small body splashing against his chest. With both hands she began to lightly tap at his cheeks, alternating them in order.
“Wake up, wake up, wake up,” she said in rhythm with the touches, her voice taking on a sing song pattern.
A moment later the additional weight of Breanne climbed up on the bed, joining her sister by patting him on the head.
“Wake up, wake up, wake up,” she yelled, falling into the same beat as her sister.
For more than fifteen seconds Rhett managed to stave off any reaction, staying completely motionless, waiting until he felt
Vanessa pinch him in the ribs before allowing the smile that had been threatening to erupt to pass over his features.
In one quick movement he popped open his eyes, reaching out and grabbing one of the girls in either arm, pinning them tight against his chest.
“Look honey, we’ve got bed bugs! Two great big ones, right here!”
On cue both girls passed from giggling into full-on laughter, both writhing against him.
“We do?” Vanessa said, appearing at his side. “I wonder if they’re ticklish!”
The question was met by more squealing, the sound reaching an ear splitting decibel as the girls continued to squirm, the combined sound of their voices eventually causing Rhett to release them.
Once free, they bounded off the bed, Breanne sprinting for the door as Cadence stopped halfway between it and the bed.
“Come on, dad! We’ve got breakfast ready.”
The moment her message was delivered she was gone, following her sister out in a blur of lavender pajamas and blonde curls.
Once they departed, Rhett raised a hand to his brow and kneaded the soft skin there lightly, another groan rolling from his lips. “Do we even want to know what the kitchen looks like right now?”
“They get excited,” Vanessa repeated, pressing her body against his shoulder. For a moment she lingered there, her skin warm against his, as she leaned in and pressed her lips against his cheek. “And if you had any idea what I have planned for tonight, you would be too.”
Rhett’s hand stopped halfway across his forehead, another smile finding its way to him. “Oh, yeah?”
“Oh yeah,” Vanessa replied, kissing him once more before sliding out on the opposite side of the bed, the frame creaking slightly in her wake.
One more thing for the list.
Dropping his hand to his side, Rhett watched as she wrapped herself in a velour bathrobe and tied it across her torso, the same blonde curls as their daughters splashing down onto her shoulders.
“Don’t linger too long or I’ll send the bed bugs back.”
Making no effort to hide his stare, Rhett watched as she departed the room. Rolling onto a shoulder, he shifted his attention out through the picture window of their bedroom, another gray morning already well underway.
Given that it was late spring in Oregon, he had expected nothing less.
Thirty-nine years old, just one short year away from the one that everybody seemed to fear so much. How that had happened he still wasn’t quite sure, high school football and enlisting in the army both seeming like they were just yesterday, each having been more than half a lifetime ago at this point.
Even mustering out and returning home, taking up employment with the timber company Vanessa’s family owned, was now more than five years past, the days little more than a blur, time demarcated by nothing more than the growing of the girls and the addition of a few more gray hairs.
Somehow, he had to make it slow down.
“Daddy! You coming?” Breanne called from the kitchen, the same reflexive smile that always seemed to appear when being summoned by the girls crossing his features.
Without responding, Rhett reached out and snapped the covers across his body, a rush of cool air finding his skin. Both knees and ankles cracked as he stepped down onto the chilled hardwood and pulled on a pair of sweatpants, opting to stay with the same ribbed tank top he’d slept in.
Despite his age, from the neck down he still very much resembled Gunnery Sergeant Bomar. Aided considerably by the ectomorph body type inherited from his father, he was built of veins and sinew, a mere one hundred and sixty-five pounds stretched over a six foot frame.
The only indicators at all of his actual age was the graying that was taking place at the temples and filling in the stubble covering his jaw and the heavy squint lines framing his eyes.
Time and again Vanessa had told him she liked the changes, that they gave him an edgy look, a man reaching middle age, a perfect mix of youth and experience.
Time and again he had told her she was a sweet girl, but an awful liar.
The floorboards of the main hallway echoed each of his steps as he made his way towards the kitchen, the combined sounds of his children’s voices and the television pulling him forward. Mixed in was the scent of coffee, the aroma perking his senses, just as it did each morning.
“Happy birthday!” Cadence said again as he entered, standing proudly by the kitchen table. Spread out beside her was an oversized bowl of cereal, Apple Jack’s strewn across the table top. Just a few inches away stood a half-gallon of milk, a healthy stripe of it covering the wooden surface between it and the bowl.
Never in Rhett’s life had he eaten Apple Jack’s, the number of times he had consumed cereal in general able to be counted on one hand.
“Aw, thanks,” Rhett said, “my favorite.”
“Told you!” Cadence said, turning toward her sister and sticking her tongue out. In response her sister did the same, crossing her arms for added effect.
Continuing his path, Rhett walked past the table and on into the kitchen, accepting a cup of coffee from the outstretched left hand of Vanessa. In her other she held her own cup just inches from her mouth, blowing slightly across the top of the steaming liquid.
“Aw, thanks,” Rhett whispered, “my actual favorite.”
Smiling coyly, Vanessa pushed one more puff of air across her coffee before motioning with her chin towards the television sitting on the corner of the counter.
“You see this? Looks like another shooting, this one in Denver.”