Long Shot (Kyle Swanson Sniper #9)@Jack Coughlin

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ROME, ITALY

THIS HAD TO BE a head shot. Under normal circumstances, a sniper goes for the chest, which not only provides a larger area and is thus an easier target, but the chest also is the gateway to the vital organs of the body. A big bullet in there goes spinning and bouncing around, breaking bones and shearing veins and pulping muscles, and collapsing the frail human machine that made life possible. Kyle Swanson knew that as he ignored the easy shot and instead dialed in on the head of Roland Lewis Martin from Bellwood, Indiana. The CIA sniper knew a lot of other things, the total of which meant that young Mister Martin had richly earned the .50-caliber bullet that would soon tear off his entire skull and leave his quivering body with a bloody stump of a neck.

Martin was a nice-looking young man, at least as seen through the powerful scope mounted on the Excalibur sniper rifle. Only twenty-nine years old, he still had the muscular build of his days being an offensive tackle on the Bellwood High Blue Jackets football team. The continued physical conditioning was a testament to the exercise he had received in his years of fighting for ISIS, the murderous Islamic State jihadists. His hair was black and cut short, and his cheeks wore a stubble of beard. The broad nose had been broken twice, healed a bit crookedly, and his teeth gleamed plastic and bright after so many caps and root canals. His white cotton shirt was open at the neck, showing the deep tan. The sleeves were rolled up, exposing the blue tattoo of a snake that coiled from his wrist to his elbow on the right arm. Martin had picked that up in Yokohama during his short career in the U.S. Navy, which had taught him computer science. The black slacks were clean and pressed, with matching socks and leather loafers. A tiny earring twinkled on the left lobe. The tip of his left little finger was missing due to a childhood tractor accident. In all, he looked pretty good; a capable poster boy for ISIS, a former cold-blooded killer turned recruiter.

Swanson had decided to use the new clear polymer-encased M33 ball ammunition for the job instead of the standard brass, primarily for the lighter weight. The 687-grain bullet was a shade under five and a half inches in length, would leave the muzzle at a velocity of 11,091 foot-pounds of energy to cover the 200 yards to the head of young Mister Martin in only two-tenths of a second, actually .231 seconds. It would strike with enough power to take down a tree. The plastic covering on the bullet interested Swanson. Trying out new things was part of his day job.

Rain was on the way and the air seemed heavy, even apprehensive, as if the weather knew something was going to happen and wanted to serve up an appropriate background of thunder and lightning. The skies would burst and the dark clouds would empty and the Eternal City of Rome would be cleansed once again. So far, not a drop. That was a good thing. The three young people at the table of the sidewalk café could remain outside, talking, as the ISIS recruiter slowly reeled in his catches in the sunlight. The sniper watched as a girl with long brown hair leaned close to Martin. She appeared to be in her midteens. Her friend, a brunette only a couple of years older, snapped their smiling picture on her cell phone, then showed it to them. They all laughed. Martin topped off the wineglasses of his American visitors. An unfolded street map of Rome lay on the table.

From his prone position on the third floor of a rather common yellow neoclassical villa on Quirinal Hill, Kyle Swanson could see an edge of the elegant Trevi Fountain, into which the girls and Martin had tossed a few coins and wishes before they all settled in at the corner café a few blocks away. It was hard to find a place from where you could not see any monuments or splendid ruins in Rome, for they were everywhere, old stones with stories to tell. The three million people in the city passed through the historic paths with a leisurely pace that was bred into them. Nothing ever happened fast in Italy. The brothers Romulus and Remus probably took their time while being suckled by the she-wolf in the founding legend. The dolce vita